For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth. Titus 1:10-14 NKJV
Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you I am a “fixer”. As long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by how things are put together and how to fix them when they break. One of my earliest memories is an encounter with my father while fixing our lawn mower. Unfortunately though, it wasn’t broken but I had done a masterful job of taking it all apart and had pieces and parts scattered all over our lawn. My memory gets hazy about what the outcome was, but I still enjoy picking up the pieces of something that is broken and putting it all back together.
I confess, however, that if I was in Titus’ shoes when Paul told him he was going to Crete, I sincerely wonder what my reaction would have been? I believe Paul had a very high opinion of Titus’ abilities in order to appoint him the task of straightening out the Cretan church. I’m not sure the word broken quite captures the extent of the mess this church was in, but it was easily dysfunctional, probably ineffective, and certainly incapable of spreading the Gospel in such a way as to be attractive to non-believers. I confess I was a little surprised to read Paul’s description of these people, even when considering his penchant for bluntness. Yet my next thought was if this is how Paul chose to describe them, if he were alive today how might he describe the Church as it exists right now?
Paul expounds on the three attributes, “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” as the book of Titus unfolds and in today’s vernacular I believe what he is describing can accurately be summed up as “hypocritical, argumentative, and non-productive.” Using those terms, it would certainly appear to me that what Paul has to say about the Cretan church, and how to fix its problems should be examined closely by believers today with an eye to our own circumstances. As I read this book it struck me that the solution is contained in one word Paul chose to repeat several times as he instructed Titus, and it is the word “sober”.
For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. Titus 1:7-9 NKJV
Now like most of us, when I see the word sober my first thoughts are about drinking, and not being intoxicated, but if you look at the Greek you come up with something a little more complex than that. The word translated sober comes from the Greek word “sōphrōn” which means “of a sound mind, sane, in one's senses, curbing one's desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate”. As you read Titus, it seems clear that the issue of self-control applies to just about every facet of a believer’s life, especially as it affects and influences what others see by observing our words and deeds.
But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; Titus 2:1-2 NKJV
“The Church is full of hypocrites!” Have you ever heard those words? Isn’t it amazing that believers are so carefully observed and held to such a high standard? Of course not, yet somehow there are many who ignore the fact that the world will watch us closely to see if what we are trying to sell is really as life changing as we claim. If we don’t live up to the standard set forth in the Word of God, we become liars and the world rightly considers us to be hypocrites. In the believers life, being “sober” includes being of a “sound mind” which would certainly include being honest about how we choose to live out our faith
Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you Titus 2:6-8 NKJV
How often do you argue? Think back on this past week and see if you can remember having a disagreement and verbally trying to make a point. Could your words be described as “showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned”? Anyone who knows me would probably tell you I hate an argument. I mean I really would rather walk away if there is even the remotest chance of a raised voice. Have you ever had the opportunity to see another person’s reaction to someone who won’t raise their voice and argue? They always seem to get frustrated and angry as if getting you to come down to their level is important to them. Again, part of being sober is self-control, and that includes how we talk to others and the words we choose to use. Can you imagine living in such a way as that those who disagree with you end up “ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you”?
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, Titus 2:11-12 NKJV
Is it just me, or is it possible that the world is making our job of living differently easier? Truthfully, it appears to me that this world is descending into moral and social decay so quickly that true believers who choose to live according to God’s Word stand out like the proverbial “sore thumb”. Do you think Titus stood out in Crete? If things were as bad as Paul described them, anyone willing to “live soberly, righteously, and godly” would be as different from those around them as light and dark. Do you stand out like this today? Have you made the choice to live soberly in a world that seems to be falling apart all around us? Paul appointed Titus to teach the church in Crete how to live soberly, and the message he gave to him is more than applicable to us, especially in this present age. All of us need to look in the mirror and ask the question of ourselves, am I living sober?