Selfless Self-Control in a Selfish Society

Selfless Self-Control in a Selfish Society

The communal life of Jesus’s followers described in the Bible comforts and challenges us. It comforts those who feel lonely and isolated and without social capital because it shows that deep connectedness is more than possible in Christ. And it challenges the current culture’s self-satisfied, self-actualized philosophy—in which anything or anyone that doesn’t fit our preconceived ideas about personal flourishing is passed on to the thrift shop—because it tells us that following Jesus pretty much has to involve other people, including people who are very different to ourselves.

Self-Control for Christian Community

Paul’s letter to Titus gives us a great example of doing relationally rich life together as God’s people. Paul’s instructions to Titus were designed to pull the Cretan Christians back from the selfishness of the society around them. For those who had decided to follow Christ, a new way of living was required. In fact, a new “self” was required—one that was shaped by the needs of others, not just one’s own desires. One that enabled and enriched community life.

Paul wanted Titus to teach “sound doctrine” (2:1), but this was no dry theology; it was practical. Self-control and selflessness were to be at the heart of the church:

Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. (Titus 2:2 –6)

Older men, older women, younger women and younger men: the common requirement for all four groups of people that Titus had to disciple was the quality of self-control. (In the case of the older women, Paul uses the word “reverent” instead, but follows it up with “not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine,” which sounds like self-control to me; it’s a prohibition against uncontrolled drinking and an uncontrolled tongue.) The term “self-controlled” appears again in verse 12. It’s also used in the list of attributes to be held by an elder in Titus 1:8.

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