Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.
These words were written as a warning blast fired at the church in Sardis. Their condition as a church was so dire that the Lord of the church skipped His normal order in His letters to the churches. He could not waste time for commendation, but immediately called them to correction. Their church was dead, simply going through the motions. It had a great reputation in its community, but it was just full of a bunch of unregenerate people “playing church.” As men, we need to be watchful. This can so quickly happen in the life of our church, our families, and in our individual lives. That means that our work in the ministry needs to be proactive, not reactive. We need to understand that complacency and contentment is our default position. When life gets busy, we tend to forfeit our life and ministry in the church and our families. We neglect the mandate to lead, and begin to just go through the motions of ministry to maintain status quo. After all, it’s a lot easier to live that way, but then we become like the church in Sardis. We must instead be “men of God” (cf. 1 Tim. 6:11-16). But what exactly does that mean? What does a man of God look like?
Sadly, our perspective on biblical manhood is more based on humanistic psychology than on biblical principles. Those principles, even from “Christian” curriculum, appeal more to the human flesh than self-denial. Very often, their motivation is to make you feel important, needed, and heroic. They praise us for being “risk takers,” “wild at heart,” and appeal to our “real need” to be a “knight in shining armor.” We are “wounded warriors,” they say, calling us Scripture’s high expectation for men, but besides a passing reference to “act like men” in 1 Cor. 16:13, and an overview of the life of King David (the “man’s man” of the Old Testament), we know very little of what this actually looks like.
At best, these “how to be a man” manuals are seeped in secular humanization and use a few verses here and there like sprinkles on an ice-cream cone. Then, when we look at many of today’s pastors, we are even more confused. More often then not, they look like they just came out of a high-school cheer-leading squad than the Refiner’s fire. Better adjectives might be “juvenile,” “childish,” or “youthful.” By that, I’m not referring to their age, but their behavior. They think they can pump us up like we’re at a pep rally and think they’ve been faithful to their job. They know most men have a Sardis-like approach to faith and ministry, so they try with all their might to make church “cool” and “manly.” If they can appeal to our testosterone, they can get us plugged into church!
Well, I’ll take a different approach – by not appealing to the flesh. God’s Word tells us very clearly who we are to be, and frankly, it is not at all appealing to the flesh. It is characteristic of self-denial. It’s hard and sacrificial. The Bible tells us precisely who we are to be as men of God, whether young or old:
Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance… Likewise, urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us (Titus 2:2, 6-8).
That summarizes it. That’s what the true man of God looks like. I remember we used to have a professor in seminary who used to always tell us, “Young men, grow old fast!” That exhortation stands in stark contrast with most of what we hear today. But what he meant was, “Men, you need to be men of God, and being men of God, you will leave behind childish things.” You might say, he was exhorting us to live out Titus 2.
And the key is in the word, “likewise” (cf. vs. 6). That means, the marks of a man of God should be identifiable in men both young and old. There are nine of them, but for now we’ll just look at the first three, and then come back next week to discuss the remaining six in Part 2:
- Temperate – This is rarely seen in men of our age, even among ministers. It stands in sharp opposition to the one who is loud, obnoxious, snarky, and hot-tempered. Originally, this word in secular Greek referred to someone who was “free from intoxication.” In the New Testament though, it came to describe someone who was “moderate.” In other words, you are “restrained in conduct,” or “self-controlled.” You are “level-headed.” The basic meaning is that you are able to keep your cool and think clearly even in otherwise volatile situations. It is one who is not given to pugnaciousness. Why is this important? Because we are called to be spiritual leaders in the church and our families, and as such we need to be able to make wise and discerning decisions based on truth, even if our emotions are screaming at us otherwise.
- Dignified – This is an interesting word too. It carries the idea of “seriousness,” but it might be helpful to think of this in terms of your “character,” rather than “behavior.” It isn’t saying we can’t have fun, laugh, or be funny. After all, if we have the joy of the Lord, we should be generally happy! Sometimes we might need to remind our faces! This is not a call to walk around grumpy with a scowl all the time. What it does mean is that we don’t treat serious matters flippantly or trivially. We take no pleasure in what is immature, ungodly, immoral, vulgar, or sinful. The word “dignified” can also be translated as someone who operates in a “mode or behavior that is extraordinary and therefore worthy of respect.” I find that interesting because very often, we try to demand the respect we think we deserve. In actuality, we should command it, not by our words, but by our character.
- Sensible – There is overlap in this word’s meaning with “temperate” and “dignified,” but here the emphasis is on the expectation that we be self-controlled. It carries the idea of one who is “distinguished,” or “set apart for a specific service.” You are thoughtful in your behavior. You are in control of your passions. We don’t allow our emotions to dictate our decisions. We know that sin causes us to think and behave irrationally, but we refuse to allow it to control us. We resist the lust of the world and all it has to offer, and work to “think so as to have sound judgment” (Rom. 12:3). We think rationally, because our eyes our fixed on the race before us (Phil. 3:13-14). Interestingly, we also see this same same root word used in verses four and five of Titus 2. In verse five, it’s again translated “sensible,” but verse four also translates the word from its verbal form as an one who “encourages.” Well, if we’re using the adjectival form to describe our character, then what Paul is saying is that our lives should be of such reputation that it admonishes others to follow in our steps. We should be able to say like Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I also follow after Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Can you say that? When another man asks you, “How do I be a good husband?” “a good father?” or “a man of God?” can you say, “Model my life; do what I do?”
So there you are.
Do you want to rise up and be the man of God He has called you to be? It starts with these first three principles: Be temperate, dignified, and sensible. That contradicts every appeal to our human flesh and what the world defines as what it means to “be a man.” It’s hard and it takes work. It doesn’t happen naturally. We don’t become this by just going through the motions. And these are just the first three! And these are quite enough to keep our plates full! But Paul isn’t done yet; he lists six more characteristics of the man of God as well, but for this week, take the time to meditate on these first three and how they should be manifest in your life, and we’ll come back and take a look at the last six next time.