Intolerance for biblical Christianity is seemingly on the rise. This shouldn’t surprise us—the Lord promised that His people would be persecuted. But it should sharpen our resolve to remain faithful and pure before a watching and increasingly hostile world. This series, first published in July 2015, is a timely reminder to that end. –ed.
We’ve recently witnessed some changes in the cultural landscape that understandably cause believers great concern. Is society turning its back on the church? Is this the beginning of a new era of persecution and political pressure for the church? And how should we respond to a world that is increasingly hostile to God’s Word and His people?
At times like these, it is vital that believers not give in to panic and frantic overreaction. Instead, we need to fall back on eternal truth, and rest confidently in the palm of God’s sovereign hand. These recent changes are merely cosmetic—the world has always hated God’s Word and His design. It will stop at nothing to silence the preaching of the gospel and the testimony of its power to transform lives.
How we respond to this hostility is vital. We’re not called to lives of compromise and capitulation, nor were we saved and transformed for the sake of mounting political counterattacks and redeeming the culture. Like Lazarus, we’ve been called out of the grave of our sin, bestowed with new life, and set apart as examples of God’s redeeming, transforming power. And in the white-hot light of persecution, the testimony of our faith and the quality of our godliness is perpetually under scrutiny.
In his letter to Titus and the churches of Crete, the apostle Paul makes that very point. “This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men” (Titus 3:8). In his commentary on the epistle, John MacArthur explains Paul’s point.
When Christians exalt the Word of God and demonstrate God’s power to transform lives, “these things are good and profitable for men”—for the believers themselves and, even more significantly . . . for the unsaved sinners around them who are drawn to Christ by the exemplary lives of those He has graciously transformed. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Titus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), p. 157.
What does that profitable behavior look like? How should our lives adorn the gospel in the midst of a world bent on antagonism to the truth? Earlier in his letter, Paul gave some specific instructions for holy living to his readers. Regarding those instructions, John notes:
They often have been unpopular and controversial, even in the church. At no time have they been more unpopular and controversial than in many churches today, where personal opinion and cultural standards take precedence over God’s truth and self-fulfillment is more important than holy living. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Titus, pp. 71-72.
All the more reason, then, to pay close attention to Paul’s teaching, and biblically discipline ourselves for godliness and kingdom use.
Paul addresses his instructions to specific groups within his audience—the first is the older men. “Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance” (Titus 2:2).
The fact that Paul began by addressing his older readers—or that he paid them any attention at all—flies in the face of our modern emphasis on always appealing to younger, hipper audiences. In recent years, as the church has chased and mimicked every conceivable trend and popular subculture, older saints have been routinely ignored or cast aside. In fact, one of the most consistent flaws in churches today is the utter lack of the spiritual maturity and godly examples of seasoned believers.
As John MacArthur explains, Scripture does not share the modern, dismissive perspective regarding older saints.
Moses was 80 years old when God called him to lead Israel out of bondage in Egypt and to the land of promise. But, like his poor speaking ability (Exodus 4:10–12), advanced age did not excuse him from the Lord’s work.
At the age of 83—after having traveled some 250,000 miles on horseback, preached more than 40,000 sermons, and produced some 200 books and pamphlets—John Wesley regretted that he was unable to read and write for more than 15 hours a day without his eyes becoming too tired to work. After his 86th birthday, he admitted to an increasing tendency to lie in bed until 5:30 in the morning!
Godly older saints who bring strength, stability, and wisdom to a church should be cherished. Ancient Israel was told by the Lord, “You shall rise up before the gray-headed, and honor the aged” (Leviticus 19:32; cf. Proverbs 16:31). The godly are assured that they “will still yield fruit in old age” (Psalm 92:14) and that “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day” (Proverbs 4:18). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Titus, pp. 72-73.
That’s not to say that age alone makes one a godly example or a spiritual leader. Paul’s instructions to older men make it clear that even they require spiritual discipline.
Specifically, he charges them to be temperate, dignified, and sensible. It’s a call to avoid extravagance and overindulgence, and to be sober minded (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:34; 1 Peter 1:13; 4:7) and discerning.
In his commentary, John explains the spiritual maturity Paul is recommending.
The “temperate” older man is able to discern more clearly which things are of the greatest importance and value. He uses his time, his money, and his energy more carefully and selectively than when he was younger and less mature. His priorities are in the right order, and he is satisfied with fewer and simpler things. . . .
The “dignified” person is never frivolous, trivial, or superficial. He never laughs at immorality, vulgarity, or anything else that is sinful and ungodly. Nor does he laugh at that which is tragic or at the expense of others.
Older believers have lived long enough to see many people, including good friends and close family members, experience serious misfortune, suffer great pain, and perhaps die at an early age. They may have seen a spouse or a child suffer leukemia or some other form of cancer or debilitating disease. They have learned the value of time and opportunity. They better accept and comprehend their own mortality, the imperfections of this present world, and the inability of material things to give lasting, deep satisfaction. They have seen utopian ideas fail and have learned how short-lived and disappointing euphoric emotional experiences can be, even those—or perhaps especially those—that purport to be of a higher spiritual order. . . .
They should have the discernment, discretion, and judgment that comes from walking with God for many years. They control their physical passions and they reject worldly standards and resist worldly attractions. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Titus, p. 74.
Paul underscores those important character qualities with the call to be “sound in faith, in love, [and] in perseverance.” As John explains,
First of all, older men who have been through 50, 60, 70, or more years of life are to be “sound in faith,” having learned that God indeed can be trusted in every way. They do not question His wisdom or power or love, and they do not lose trust in His goodness and grace or lose confidence in His divine plan and divine wisdom. They do not doubt the truth or sufficiency of His Word or waver in their divinely assured hope that His sovereign plan will be fulfilled.
Second, older men are to be “sound . . . in love”—toward God, toward His people, and toward those who do not yet know Him. They love by bearing one another’s burdens and thereby fulfilling the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). They have learned to love when their love is not deserved and to continue loving when it is rejected and even when they suffer because of it. They lovingly forgive and they lovingly serve. . . .
Third, older men are to be “sound . . . in perseverance.” They are to exhibit the ability to endure hardship, to accept disappointment and failure, to be satisfied despite thwarted personal desires and plans. They have learned to graciously live with such difficulties as physical weakness, loneliness, and being misunderstood and unappreciated. They do not lose heart when things do not turn out the way they had hoped and expected, but have the perfect confidence “that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Titus, p. 75.
While Paul directed his exhortation specifically to the older men in the Cretan churches, all believers ought to strive for the kind of spiritual maturity he describes. Not only is that maturity a great benefit to the Body of Christ, but it adorns the gospel of Jesus Christ and confirms the testimony of His people to the hostile, watching world.
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