Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:6-8, NIV)
Self-control gets a lot of press time in the first six verses of the second chapter of Titus. On a theological level, I believe that self-control would most appropriately be labeled a response to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ rather than something that needs to be done in order to earn salvation. Thus encouraging young men to be self-controlled is simply a reminder of their sanctification in Christ.
On a practical note, self-control yields earthly as well as spiritual benefits. As noted in an earlier post, it has been my experience that young students fall into basically two categories. Those that exhibit some degree of self-control and those that don’t. Obviously, a youngster is still learning about what it means to be self-controlled, but it is clear that there are those who are learning and practicing the concept of self-control and then there are those that are not.
A child who is being taught, and is expected to learn, self-controlled behavior has a distinct advantage over the child who has no similar expectations in place. For all of those in our culture who tout education as a means of escaping a life of drudgery and poverty (read: salvation), where are they when it comes to educating a child in the ways of a self-controlled life?
A boy who is learning self-control is able to sit still, focus, and learn. A boy is not learning self-control can’t get past sitting still. If he isn’t able to sit still, how can he focus? If he can’t focus, how can he learn? This may be oversimplifying the process of learning, but I’ve seen enough of both types of boys to draw my own conclusions without the benefit of extensive, costly, and typically pointless scientific studies. The child that enters the classroom with less, or no, self-control than his peers will suffer at the hands of the very same system that claims to offer him a way of hope.
I digress…back to Titus…
Older men (in this case Titus) are to set an example of what is good. How many men set examples of what is good in our culture? Turn on the TV and you’ll think that there are no men left who know how to set a good example. Sports heroes and movie superstars are the most prevalent examples of those who set examples and typically the news is focused on their behavior when it is bad, not good. To be certain, there must be a least a few men (and women) who exhibit good behavior in both of those industries, but we don’t hear much about them unless you do a little research.
Unfortunately, our culture is obsessed with the idea of the hypocrite. Men who speak out against immoral behavior are carefully observed to see if they are walking the walk, or just talking the talk. And when one man is captured by the temptations he faces, the world is quick to pounce and shout, “Hypocrite!” Sadly, this shouting beats back any serious discussion of the behavior and whether or not it is actually immoral. Instead, we are lead to assume that the behavior that was considered to be immoral by this man was really, in fact, just a lifestyle “choice” and it isn’t necessary to decry it as immoral because there is no such thing as an absolute standard by which to measure morality.
Then again, Paul warns us of the importance of setting an example that is good. At the conclusion of the seventh verse, Paul instructs us to “show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned.” So, the poor bloke who spoke up about immoral behavior and then succumbs to it in the end, learns Paul’s lesson the hard way. Being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18b, NIV) is the only way to live a life that comes as close to pure as we can while living in the sinful, earthly vessels we call our bodies.
It is a goal of the Christian to be above reproach and to live a life of speaking and doing all good things in advance of the message of the good news of Jesus Christ. The goal is notable because by living the way God intended through faith in Christ, we might silence the critics of the faith for they will not have anything bad to say about the faith because of what we do. Hence, self-control is paramount to the lives we lead as believers.
The good news is that our behavior does not change who God is and what He plans to do for us. I can strive to live as Paul has instructed me in his letter to Titus, but it is still God who will complete the work. Self-control is not just a response to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life, but the act of yielding to the presence of the Spirit who will then direct my life on the path of God’s perfect will.