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Older men still have a job to do

Faithful children of God may look forward to sharing Jesus’ glory in the presence of the Father. “To live is Christ; to die is gain.” Why, then, does the Lord God not take people home to Himself as soon as they become empty nesters or, perhaps, when their spouse dies? Why does He let the older become old?

The question is important, if only because there are numerous older men in the churches who feel they have no task to do, are out to pasture. In this article we will consider Paul’s instruction concerning the “older men” as he words it to Titus 2:2:

Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.”

To give you the punch line right away, God keeps older men on earth because He uses them to build up His church.

Men are not women

God created two genders in the beginning, but did not make them at the same time. He first made a man, and placed him in the Garden with the command to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15). He was, in other words, responsible, and commissioned to take initiative in fulfilling his duties before God.

The Lord saw that it was not good for the man to be alone, and so made a “helper” (Genesis 2:18) to be with him. In the relation between the man and the woman in Paradise, he was the leader and she was not; she was the helper and he was not. So when God came to the Adam and Eve after their fall into sin, he sought out the man: “where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Similarly, when the Lord sought to call a family from Ur to go the land of promise, He did not call Sarah to take her husband and leave her mother’s household, but He summoned Abram to take his wife and leave his father’s household (Genesis 12:1).

The point is that the man is, by God’s ordinance, the leader in family and society. As leader, the man invariably gives leadership, whether active or passive, where positive or negative. When Paul, then, tells Titus what to teach the older men, he’s instructing him in relation to that part of the human race commissioned to take responsibility and give leadership.

How we view older men

The men Titus must teach are “older.” The term “older” is, of course, relative, and really depends on how old Titus is and perhaps depends too on the average age of the congregation where Titus ministered. Paul uses the same word to describe himself when he was some 60 years old (Philemon 9).

Irrespective, though, of what age one wishes to peg to the term “older,” the term certainly describes a person who has been around the block a few times. The “older” have, in other words, spent years in the school of life and so are in a position to show others how to do life.

Now, our Canadian culture says that “older men” deserve the opportunity to kick back, enjoy life and play with the toys they’ve accumulated. But beneath this seemingly generous attitude is the thought that the older men are actually out of touch, can’t keep up with the fast pace of the younger, and are beyond their “use by” date, so they should be retired from any leadership roles.

There is an echo of this thought in the church, to the effect that the older men (are made to) feel passed by and even uncertain about their purpose. The result is that they retreat into their seniors’ circle… and become an untapped resource.

Their role

This was not the intent of the Lord God. He created the first man (and woman) in His image, and gave the command to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over…” (Genesis 1:27f). Children born in Paradise, however, would not know by instinct how to rule over God’s world in a way that imaged God; the older generation was to teach the younger how to do this. Of course, the longer Adam lived, the better He’d know what God was like, and so the better equipped he’d be to teach coming generations how to “rule over” God’s creatures in a way pleasing to God. Clearly, as the God-appointed leader, the responsibility to train those after him was primarily Adam’s.

The fall into sin obviously complicated the task enormously. But it didn’t change the expectations God had for Adam as he grew older, or for the subsequent generations of older men. So God told Moses that He poured the plagues on Egypt “that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians… that you may know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:2). Moses, we need to know, was more than 80 years old (see Exodus 7:7) at the time God gave him this instruction. Talk about the role of “the older men”!

Fully in line with this command is the prayer of the psalmist: “Even when I’m old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (Psalm 71:18).

Because of this God-assigned role of the aged, the Lord commanded the youth of Israel to respect the seniors (and not just the grandparents). As an older man approached them, the youth were to “rise” and “show respect for the elderly” (Leviticus 19:32). Here was recognition that the older have learned so much in God’s school-of-life and were a reservoir of experience and wisdom for the younger to tap into.

Sadly, not all older men speak only wisdom. Job’s three senior friends spoke the language of fools in their reprimands to Job (cf Job 42:7; 32:6ff). Solomon advised older folk not to say, “Why were the old days better than these?” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Young people live in the present (not the past), and in the challenges God gives today they need encouragement – and not the signal that today is too hard. Older men, in other words, need to make it their business to be careful how they analyze the present in relation to the past; their analysis requires ongoing Bible study and thought.

All this Old Testament material comes along in Paul’s instruction to Titus. For the benefit of the churches of Crete, Paul draws out the implication of the role God has assigned to the “older men.” Given that role, Paul says these older men are to be::

  1. temperate
  2. worthy of respect
  3. self-controlled

1. Temperate

The term “temperate” in Titus 2:2 translates a word that appears elsewhere as “sober” or “sober-minded.” The term is often used in relation to drink and so becomes instruction in being moderate in how much you drink. Yet Paul’s point is not that older men are simply to exercise moderation in drinking. Rather, in all of life one is to be moderate, not indulgent, not extravagant, not into excess or glut. Herein the “older men” of the church would contrast with the typical attitude of the Cretans around them, who were “always… lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12).

What, though, is wrong with excess? Why must Titus make a point of telling older men to be moderate?

Older men (should) have learned the truth of Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 2, when he tried all sorts of excess in his attempt to make sense of life. As many young men do, Solomon sought fulfillment in wine, houses, gardens, women, song, parties, and more. But the more he tried, the more he realized that things do not lift us out of the thorns and thistles of a life outside Paradise. His conclusion was this: “when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). That was the advantage of older age: Solomon could tell the younger of his realm that he’d been there, done that… and they should take instruction from him and not repeat his futile search.

This is the message Titus was to instruct older men to convey to the younger. Those older men had been around the block, had tested the value of more and more stuff, and so were in a position to vouch for the truth of Ecclesiastes 2. These “older men” have “fought the good fight,” “have finished the race” (2 Tim 4:7), and now await the summons of the Lord to enter the presence of their Father. So their lifestyle was to model that life is not about food, property, looks, degrees, music, chocolate, gin or women. Instead, their lifestyle should reflect the delightful fact that “the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared” (Titus 2:11); Christ has come to redeem sinners, take away the cause of our eternal hunger and misery, and through His self-emptying on the cross restored sinners to Paradise.

Since that’s so, one needs to be consistent and say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions (2:12), “no” to more toys, more drink, more “buzz,” etc, and live instead “godly and upright lives in the present age, while we wait for the… glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (2:13).

When a “temperate” lifestyle is in place, a man will be moderate in his demand for food and drink, for wealth and holiday. “Older men” have learned through the school of life to get their priorities right, so that their emphasis lies on service to the neighbor, a service that reflects God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

2. Worthy of respect

Titus is also to instruct “older men” to carry themselves in a dignified manner. Again, the point is not so hard to grasp. Older men have buried parents, and perhaps also a spouse or a child. They have been through war, sickness, fire, flood, drought and more – and so learned through the hard knocks of life that life is not a joke. They’ve learned that trials come from God as so many divine teaching moments whereby the heavenly Father would train us in the school of life for further service and to be more fruitful for His glory. Older men (ought to) know this, and so take God’s reality seriously in the hard knocks of life; always the question presses on their minds: what is God teaching me through this?

No, this does not make the older boring or gloomy (as if life is not enjoyable). On the contrary, living every step of life in the awareness that you live every moment in God’s school makes life exciting and fun. Older men model this awareness – for the benefit of the rest of congregation. That’s the sort of leadership they are to give.

3. Self-controlled

Finally, Titus must tell “older men” to be disciplined. They, after all, ought to have learned how to get the passions and instincts of youth under control. As a result, they act less out of impulse, with decisions more thought through. They’ve learned to live life sensibly, seriously, and so with fitting restraint. So their lives displays good health (not necessarily in body but) “in faith, in love and in endurance…”

The same need today

This, then, is what Titus was to encourage the older men to exemplify among the Christians of Crete. But the sort of lifestyle this behavior encouraged, contrasted with the excess that Cretans typically celebrated. Recall again Paul’s summary of what Cretans were like: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12).

We can imagine the “lazy gluttons” of the island; we know the type: shrunken biceps and ample waistline assembled in the coffee shops and beer parlors, talking about the latest horse race, hockey game, cruise, property deal, woman. How thoroughly North American; truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

The new Christians of Crete were raised in that culture, and remained greatly influenced by what was accepted around them. How tempting, then, to adopt the same attitude; “eat, drink, and be merry…” Hence Paul’s instruction to Titus: since older men are by God’s ordinance to be leaders, instruct them to be temperate to be examples for the women and younger men to follow. This, Paul figures, is necessary to build up congregational life (1:5a).

Value

The Lord has prepared a glorious future for His (older) children, yet leaves older brothers on this earth for a purpose; they remain here to be examples for rest of congregation.

So, older men, take up the task with confidence! You’ve been through the school of life, and so know that neither things nor pleasures give fulfillment, salvation, or purpose; by faith you know that Jesus Christ has restored us to God. That being so, model the gospel for the benefit of the rest of the congregation: be moderate, dignified, self-controlled in a manner that the younger of the flock can see. This is the service to which you remain called, until such time as God Himself relieves you and gives you the crown of glory.

Conclusion

There is definitely so very much in the congregation for which we may be thankful. That includes the large number of older brothers in our midst. They are here, by God’s providence, for a reason. My conviction is that they are under-utilized.

No, I’m not thinking now of consistory work; it may be that the Lord is no longer calling the (much) older brothers to this task anymore. I’m thinking instead of how the older, without exception, have a role to play in relation to the younger. Let the older men take their mentorship role seriously, being deeply aware that God leaves them in this life in order that they might model the gospel for the benefit of the younger and even seek out the younger to speak to them of the works of the Lord as they experienced them over the years. It’s a privileged fact: the younger need your leadership, example, and instruction. Recall Psalm 92:14f

“…the righteous…will still bear fruit in old age…proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him’” 

 Healthy church life needs the continued involvement of the older men.

Rev. Bouwman is a minister for the Canadian Reformed Church of Smithville, Ontario. This article was first appeared in the December 2012 issue.


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Older women have much to give

Our church has a sizable number of older women. Why? What task would the Lord give these sisters in His church? Like the older men, the older women of the congregation are a God-given resource for building up the congregation. This is what Paul draws out in his instruction in Titus 2:3-4a when Titus is told to ensure that: “older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women…” Who is Paul talking to? The term "older women" directs our thoughts to those sisters in our midst who have been around more years than many others. By virtue of the time they’ve already spent in God’s school-of-life, they have the life experience to be able to touch others in a helpful manner. We do not know whether the “older women” Paul speaks about on Crete were married, single or widowed. Undoubtedly, as with us, some were married, while others were single – be it that they had never married or were now widowed. In any case, Paul does not speak here about the “older woman’s” role in relation to a husband; he speaks instead about their role as “teachers.” So it’s this role we need to draw out now. A teaching role The Lord God in the beginning created two people, a man and a woman, to image Him, and He gave them the command to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over” all creatures (Genesis 1:28). God’s intent was that the earth would be filled with people who, in the way they interacted together and cared for God’s world, would reflect what God was like. Yet the children to be born would not know from instinct how to image God; they would need to be taught. This was, of course, the parents’ task, with Eve as mother to play a central role. The longer Eve spent in the school of life, the better she would get to know God – and so the better equipped she’d be to teach those who came after her what service to God ought to look like. This task would, of course, be true not just for her, but also for her daughters in the coming generations. Older women, wizened by years in God’s service, have a vital role to play for the benefit of those less schooled in life. The fall into sin complicated the task profoundly, but did not alter God’s intent for the older women. It’s no surprise, then, to find Miriam teaching the women of Israel. She’s Moses’ older sister (cf. Exodus 2:7), and Moses was 80 years old when the Lord sent him to Egypt to deliver His people (Exodus 7:7). With the exodus now behind them, Miriam led the women with tambourines and dancing to sing the Lord’s praise on account of His redeeming work (Exodus 15:20f). Similarly, the “excellent wife” of Proverbs 31 “opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (vs. 26). And in the New Testament we read of Anna at 84 years of age speaking readily of the newborn Savior “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36ff). Examples such as this form the foundation upon which Paul builds his instruction to Titus concerning what needs to be done to build up church life on Crete. Titus must ensure that “older women… teach what is good” – an instruction fully in line with God’s earlier revelation. Yet to be effective in teaching, these older sisters need particular behavior, ie, they need to walk the walk before they can credibly talk the talk. So Paul tells Titus to ensure that the older women are “to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine.” "Reverent in behavior" The term translated as “reverent in behavior” is literally: “in behavior befitting a temple.” It’s a formulation full of gospel, and hence of grateful obligation. The Lord God had told His people at Mt Sinai to build a house for Him, so He could dwell with them. The tabernacle Israel built had the Holy of Holies in the back and the people outside, with the altar for sacrifices in between. The altar spoke of the work Jesus Christ was going to do; He’d sacrifice Himself on the cross to atone for our sins so that sinners might be reconciled to God. Years later Christ Jesus actually did come to pay for sin, and triumphed too; the curtain preventing access to the presence of God in the Holy of Holies was torn at the moment of His death (Mt 27:51). After His ascension into heaven, Christ poured out His Holy Spirit so that in Him God might dwell in sinners’ hearts. The result is that Paul can say that believers are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). That was a reality that was also true for the saints of Crete, including the older women. That’s the force of Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” It’s obvious that if you are a temple you need to live a lifestyle befitting that status. That’s what Paul wants Titus to impress on the older women; they are to act the part. Of course, others of the congregation are to act the part too, but Paul is now concerned specifically that the older women be what they are, because God has entrusted a teaching role to them. What does that look like? What might a lifestyle “befitting a temple” look like? Here I need to refer to Leviticus 10. As you’ll notice from what follows, themes from Leviticus 10 come back repeatedly in Paul’s instruction in Titus 2:3. The book of Leviticus assumes the completion of the tabernacle God wanted Israel to build. The first 7 chapters detail how the sacrifices on that altar-between-God-and-the-people had to be done, while Leviticus 8 explains who had to perform the sacrifices on that altar. Chapter 9 describes the ordination of the priests, and then ends with Aaron blessing the Israelites and the glory of the Lord appearing to the people. What an exciting day: God and sinners living together in harmony – something of Paradise is restored! And then the sons of Aaron got caught up in the excitement of the moment – so says Leviticus 10 – and in their enthusiasm they volunteered a sacrifice on that altar. Bam: “fire come out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord” (vs. 2). How tragic! And the lesson is clear: God is holy. Somehow, spontaneous sacrifice was behavior not “befitting the temple.” Now that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on Pentecost, the point is even truer for New Testament temples. The older women, teachers (and hence models) that they are, need to adopt behavior “befitting a temple,” that is to say that in their service of God they are to be even more particular & careful than the priests of Leviticus 10 (and hence of the Old Testament). For God remains God! That’s why can Paul can work out in Titus 2:12 what this looks like. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared” and it “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions” – including the inner urge to serve God in a self-chosen way. Instead, our identity as "temples" teaches us – Paul continues - “to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” That "teaching" happens through the example of the older women – and Paul is happy to flesh that out in further detail still. "Not slanderers" Paul follows the instruction to live in a fashion “befitting a temple” with the command “not to be slanderers.” The word translated here as "slanderers" is actually the same word that appears repeatedly in the Bible as the name of the Devil, Diabolos, a word that describes the notion of sowing confusion. Slander does exactly that to someone’s reputation, and so is evil and ungodly. The older women of Titus’ congregations were to avoid it. One wonders, though, why Paul feels the need to tell Titus to teach the women not to slander. Were the Cretan ladies excessively guilty of this evil? The fact that “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons” (as Paul affirmed in 1:12) leaves room for that understanding. Yet I suspect that more is involved here. In Leviticus 10 the Lord God responded to Aaron’s sons’ spontaneous worship with heavenly fire and death. One could understand if Aaron was tempted to respond to God’s deed with some serious criticism of God’s high standards. Moses, however, reminded Aaron of God’s holiness, with the result being that “Aaron remained silent” (Leviticus 10:3). He did not slander God’s good name despite the anguish he undoubtedly felt at the death of his boys, nor did he sow confusion among the people about what kind of a God they had. Since God had come to live among the people in the tabernacle, the people needed to conduct themselves as persons “befitting the temple” – and by his remaining silent, not slandering, Aaron exemplified precisely that sort of behavior. The older women of Crete, now, were to adopt behavior befitting a temple. Part and parcel of that behavior was that they would not slander God’s good name, be it through their own misconduct or through giving someone else occasion to think or speak evil of God. In fact, their words were always to be inspiration for others to think highly of God and of His deeds in our daily lives, and so to praise Him. "Not addicted to much wine" Wine (and it’s true of all alcoholic drink) is a gift from God. God told Adam and Eve on the day of their creation that, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth…” (Genesis 1:29). God also told them that they were to “rule over” all creation (Genesis 1:28) – and that obviously means that they were to see to it that no created thing ruled over them. To be ruled by alcohol, then, is sin. That’s true in terms of addiction, and is true too when one is "under the influence." Hence the Bible’s repeated instruction to use wine in moderation (cf. Prov 23:19-21; 1 Tim 5:23). The older women of Crete were to take this Biblical instruction to heart. Again, though, one wonders why Paul would mention this matter to Titus. Did the older women of Crete have a problem with alcohol? That “Cretans are… lazy gluttons” (1:12) could suggest it was so. But again, Leviticus 10 sheds some other light on the matter. For after the bodies of Aaron’s two dead sons were carried away from the tabernacle, “the Lord said to Aaron, ‘You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting” (vs. 8f). As the priests labored at the altar in God’s presence, they should be clear-headed and in full control of their faculties; God, after all, was holy. Given that the older women of Crete – teachers as they were to be - were to behave in a manner befitting temples, it follows that nothing should becloud their judgment; they should always be clear-headed. "Teach what is good" Good judgment, of course, is what one requires if one is to “teach what is good” and so “train the younger women” (2:3,4). We’ve already drawn out that the Lord assigned a teaching role to the women, with its focus on the coming generations. Strikingly, though, this again is an echo of Leviticus 10. For after the Lord had forbidden Aaron and his sons to “drink wine… whenever you go into the Tent of Meeting,” the Lord added this instruction: "You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses" (Leviticus 10:10,11). In chapters 11-15 the Lord expanded on clean and unclean foods, animals, fish, clothes, houses, etc. The point of the instruction was that Israel was to know that they were holy, and therefore different from the nations; they were to tolerate no sin in their lives. This point required teaching, and that task fell to the priests as they labored in the tabernacle – and they, for the sake of teaching clearly, had to be alcohol free. Again, the priests were to “teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord had given,” and that includes instruction about all the main points of doctrine as the Lord taught it through the laws. This teaching function belonged to the priest. But Paul in Titus 2 harks back to Leviticus 10 to undergird how the “older women” are to teach. Their conduct is to be consistent with the Christians’ identity as temples of the Holy Spirit, they are not to slander God’s works and words, and they are to be consistently clear-minded as they join Titus in teaching the younger women the implications of the faith. Let no one misunderstand. Paul is not saying – and I am not either - that the older women are to receive a place of leadership in the church. The Holy Spirit moved the apostle elsewhere to write, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). Yet Paul would not have women pushed into a corner as if they have no role in the congregation! Very deliberately Paul uses language in Titus 2:3 that is borrowed from Leviticus 10, about the priests’ role as teachers, and applies that instruction to the older women. As Paul seeks to build up church life in Crete, he would have the older women play a vital role! Yet that vital role is not directed to the congregation in its entirety, but is directed to the younger women of the flock. These younger women also have a critical role to play but Titus can’t reach them so easily. So, in relation to these younger women, the older have that position of teaching – as a clear echo of God’s intent in Genesis 1. Value Paul would not have the older women of Crete – or of today - cloistered in some seniors’ club, or perhaps forever away on a cruise. He sees the women playing a vital role in the growth of the congregation. These sisters – they’ve spent years in God’s school of life - are a rich resource in the church of Crete, for the congregation’s edification. The same is true today. The Lord God has left a goodly number of older women in the congregation. Why? Because God says that we need them! There are so many younger women in the congregation, from mothers of busy households to mothers of small households to sisters with yet no children or even no husband yet. These younger women are, by God’s ordinance, helpers to (today’s and) tomorrow’s office bearers, school board members, businessmen and fathers; these young women are also mothers to the next generation of church leaders. Obviously, these young women play a pivotal role in the church life. That is why they need all the guidance, encouragement and help they can get. By God’s ordinance, it is the role of “the older women” to give that help. The older are under divine obligation to speak with their daughters (in-law), their children’s friends, and other “young” sisters of congregation. Certainly, women’s society is one forum where that conversation can happen. But be honest: when the older sisters were younger years ago, they didn’t commonly open up on life’s real burdens to a virtual stranger, let alone in a public meeting. Asking for help takes privacy, and the openness that comes with familiarity. Point: let the older sisters get into the homes of the younger; nothing beats a coffee together. Instead of lamenting how younger mothers struggle to cope with the challenge of keeping their children under control, invite a couple of these mothers over for a visit (ah, yes, let the husbands join the ladies…), and share some nuggets on childrearing as you’ve learned it over the years. Encouragement Older sisters: the Lord God has not put you out to pasture! On the contrary, you have received the Holy Spirit in full measure. Pentecost is reality: “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:38). In the confidence that the Lord gives a task and equips to carry it out, search for ways to touch the younger of the congregation. So you can “still bear fruit in old age… proclaiming, 'The Lord is upright; He is my Rock'” (Ps 92:14f).   Rev. Bouwman is a minister for the Canadian Reformed Church of Smithville, Ontario. This article first appeared in the January 2013 issue.  ...


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