Ministry to Senior Believers, Part 3

Teachings Which Last for a Lifetime
Part 3 in a Series of 5

E. S. Williams, long time General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God, preached what proved to be his farewell sermon in the pulpit of the chapel at Central Bible College. He began by saying, “You young people probably look at me and think that it will be wonderful to be old and experience no temptations any more. However, I must be honest with you. This old man often kneels by his bed and petitions the Lord to help him overcome sin, the flesh, and devil. Then, like you, I must daily resist temptation and seek to live an overcoming life to the end of my days.”

Unlike Superintendent Williams, Solomon let down his guard in his senior years and failed the Lord miserably. Along the way in life he disobeyed the command of Jehovah not to marry foreign women lest they persuade the husband to worship their gods. In fact, Solomon married seven hundred wives and, indeed, they turned his heart away from serving his God. Concerning this, the Bible records, “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kings 11:4).

Then, experience teaches that the later years of life do not provide a period when one has little more to do for God. A Christian senior must not allow his spiritual fervor to cool. Until his last day on earth he must, like believers of all ages, keep on being full of the Spirit (Eph. 5:18). As he continues to resist temptations to sin he should keep in mind Paul’s declaration, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:16).

While one is wrong to live in constant fear of backsliding, it is possible that false steps taken in the later years can negate a lifetime of faithful influence on others for good. The writer experienced great pain as he witnessed just that in the life of a much revered leader in his fellowship. The person had been a noted officer at various levels in his denomination. In fact he has risen near the top of its structure. When he was discovered to have frequented houses of prostitution, shock waves rushed across the land as stormy surges on the sea. Of course, he lost his standing as a minister and his position of leadership in his group.

No doubt the possibility of things of this nature prompted Paul to write specific instruction to senior believers in the Pastoral Epistles. His teachings provide a solid biblical base for the pastor and the congregation to offer timely ministry to people in the later years of life. By heeding the teaching of the apostle to both aging male and female believers, seniors can continue to life holy lives to the end of their days. In fact, Garmartz says:

"Some describe dimming eyesight and hearing loss as a kind of ‘molting season’ for the Lord. The eyes and ears of this world are being transformed to eyes and ears for the next)a kind of shedding of stuff for a better life. Older adults don’t only get older)they get better” (Robert W. Garmartz, Never Too Old: How to Involve Older Adults in Your Church [St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992], p. 15).

Instructions to Aged Male Believers

Paul declares that Pastor Titus must address aging male believers in his teaching ministry in the pulpit (Titus 2:2-5). Some translations render the Greek word presbutas as “elders” (2). However, a better translation is “older men.” The context indicates clearly that the apostle does not have office holders in the church in mind. He speaks of them in 1:5 of this letter and uses a slightly different word in the Greek, presbuterous. The fact is, of course, that the early church, rather than coining a new word, simply used the common word for “elderly men” as a title for an office in the congregation. Here, then, Paul uses that word with its more general meaning of “old men.”

In Their Personal Lives: According to Paul, Titus has a responsibility to instruct the older men in his congregation to continue to conduct themselves uprightly in their personal lives.
In the first place, they must be “sober” (2).

Concerning the use of the word nephaleos in classical Greek, The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary of The Complete Biblical Library says, “Literally the term means ‘to be free of wine’” (256). The work goes on to explain, “When used of persons it sometimes describes those who totally abstained from wine, and thus was the opposite of ‘intoxicated.’ Figuratively, it is used to describe one who was clearheadedfree from rash, confused, or fanatical thinkingso as to be capable of sound judgment” (256). While both the literal and the figurative could be applicable here, perhaps the figurative is the dominant connotation. “Sensible” is an acceptable synonym for the godly trait the older believing males should manifest in their personal lives.

Second, Paul declares that such men must also show themselves “worthy of respect” (2).

They need to demonstrate dignity in their demeanor. Nobleness of character becomes them. It fits best when used most for those who occupy their station in life. Some translations render the Greek word semnos as “grave.” Such speaks of possessing a degree of seriousness about the things which matter in this world.

Third, the apostle advised Titus to instruct the aged male believers on the Island of Crete to be “temperate” (2).

Literally the Greek word shopron depicts one who is “sound-minded.” Related to conduct it speaks of one who is self-controlled. Aristotle concluded that the temperate man did what was ethical “to the right extent, at the right time, for the right reason, and in the right way” (Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, trans. Martin Ostwald [New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1962], p. 50). Some define temperance in terms of moderation in all things. Plato and the Greeks taught four virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. They defined temperance as moderation, "the golden mean."

However, the Bible does not teach moderation in lying, that it is acceptable to tell a few lies but not too many. Certainly nothing in Scripture sanctions stealing a little but not a lot. None would think of a writer in the Bible suggesting that one practice moderation as to the number of people he murders. Nor would Paul sanction the idea that it is acceptable for an aged male believer to turn into “a dirty-minded old man.” Obviously, in these areas what the Word of God teaches is complete self-control to the extent of total abstinence.

In Their Spiritual Lives: As to their spiritual lives, Paul told Titus to instruct an aged male believer to be “sound in faith” (2).

He must be whole, well, healthy with respect to his relationship to God. He cannot afford to be sick doctrinally. Such a disease could end up bringing an end to his spiritual life. His faith can no longer be shallow as in infant Christianity. Through the years he should have grown, matured. By now his faith should rest on a solid foundation of correct biblical teaching. It must no longer be so weak that he is “moved by every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14).  At this point in life he should know well what he believes and why.

In Their Relationships with Others: Finally, Paul told Titus to teach aged male believers to demonstrate love in their relationship with others (2).

Matthew Henry observes, "Aged persons are apt to be peevish, fretful, and passionate: and therefore need to be on their guard against such infirmities and temptations" (Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 6 [New York: Fleming H Revell Company, n. d.], p. 861). He says further, "Those who are full of years should be full of grace and goodness, the inner man renewing more and more as the outer man decays" (p. 861). Regrettably, not all believers mellow with age.

In relating to others aged male believers need also to be in possession of patience (2). However, contrary to the thinking of some, “patience” here has little to do with a quality needed when waiting for one who is late for appointment. The Greek hupomone speaks much more of endurance, steadfastness, perseverance. This endurance relates to steadfastness in the face of adversity and suffering. It is a quality much needed when loneliness comes with loss of loved-ones and friends. Further, The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary declares that it does not imply “passively waiting out difficult circumstances; rather, it is active, often being depicted in terms of work on behalf of the gospel or of suffering on behalf of it” (383).

Instructions to Aged Women

What Titus Must Teach Them to Do: The Pastor has an equal responsibility to give specific instruction to aged female believers. In essence the apostle told Pastor Titus to treat the ladies in the same manner as the men in this regard (3). He should exhort them to conduct themselves at the same high level of holiness as he did the men. As Matthew Henry says, "There is not one way of salvation for one sex or sort and another for another; but both must learn and practice the same things" (p. 861).

In addition to sharing the same general principles of behavior for both, Titus needs to give particular instructions to godly women as to their demeanor. They must demonstrate a “reverent” deportment in their conduct (3). Their “bearing,” life style must be that which becomes holy persons. They must not be “slanderers,” false accusers (3). The Greek word is diabolos from which comes the English word “devil.”  Accordingly, when one engages in one of the basic activities of the devil, he identifies himself with Satan (Rev. 12:10). Indeed, he assists him in his work! Matthew Henry says, "A slanderer is one whose tongue is set on fire of hell; so much so, and so directly, do these do the devil's work, that for it the devil's name is given to such" (p. 862).

Further, the pastor needs to warn aged godly women “not to be given to, addicted to much wine” (3). Otherwise, they will become “enslaved” to alcoholic beverages. Paul uses douloo, a form of a common word for slave in biblical times. Finally, aged Christian women must be “teachers of good things.” They were to pass on the heritage of the gospel to the young. Such women are not unlike the “mothers in Israel” in Old Testament times (Judg.5:7). Usually, they do this a bit at a time, one step at a time. As Exell notes, “A holy life is made up of small things of the hour, and not the great things of the age" (Joseph S. Exell, “Titus,” The Biblical Illustrator [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954], p. 61).

What the Aged Female Believers Must Teach:

Most would readily agree that older women in a congregation have the position and ability to teach more fittingly some things to young women than the pastor can. Sadly, though, in some cultures older women do the opposite. For example, in Africa older women sometimes seek to counter the good instructions of some teachers. Younger women of Africa may attend classes on how to care for their babies. They learn that sometimes water needs to be boiled and then let cool down before using it. This removes its disease carrying abilities. As they leave the class, older women of the village may scoff at the idea. They ridicule the younger women who are eager to learn good health habits: "Why waste wood to heat water and then have to let it cool before using it? Further, "The African's stomach is stronger than that of your American or European teachers! We don't need to take on the White man's ways."

Obviously, things must be different in a Christian culture. Older women need to instruct the younger ones to “love their husbands” and to “love their children” (4). One might conclude no need of teaching mothers to love their offspring. Doesn’t that come naturally? For some, apparently not. Elsewhere Paul warns against being void of “natural affection” (Rom. 1:31). His word is astorgos. Stergo, one of four basic Greek words for love, speaks of love between parents and children or between other family members. Thus it concerns familial love. With the addition of the negative particle “a” the word becomes “without familial love.” Further, the wholesale murder of unborn children in our times graphically demonstrates that many mothers do not love their children or at least that they love themselves more than their unborn children.

Older women need to also teach the younger ones to be “self-controlled,” where Paul uses an identical word as in discussing instructions to aged men above (5). In this context possibly the concepts of decency and modesty are included. Further, the younger women should be told that they must be “chaste” (5). The Greek word hagnos is often translated “holy” and implies the possession of purity, freedom from every fault. In addition, such women need to take pride in being busy with noble “work at home” (5). All wives and mothers have a high calling. When women can remain at home they find the occupation of a home-maker is a demanding full time job.

On an occasion when each person in a group circle introduced themselves giving their names and telling where they worked one declared, “My name is Mary Smith. I am a household executive!” She depicted the pride in that position that is implied in this verse.

Paul also declared that Titus should instruct the older women to teach the younger ones to be “good” (5). Agathos is one of two commonly used Greek words for “good.” Among the synonyms in English are upright, kind, benevolent, and wholesome.

Finally, older women should teach the younger married women to be “subject to their husbands” (5). Regrettably, some ladies in the world of today raise their eyebrows at that word “subjection.” However, when Paul gives the same instructions in Ephesians it follows the injunction that every believer must engage in the activity of submitting to every other believer (5:21). Then, rather than viewing submission in the context of a husband-wife relation as a demeaning term, it is one of the highest in the Bible. Not only must every believer submit to every other believer, but when the apostle tells wives to submit to husbands he goes on to instruct husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (25).

Further, Paul offers a noble reason for the submission of wives to husbands. He explains it was “so that no one will malign the word of God” (5). He had a grave concern about that. He instructed slaves, Christian employees to perform well on the job, again, “so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered” (1 Tim. 6:1). Further, he counseled young widows to marry again rather than face certain problems and being forced to resist some temptations, once more, that they “give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1 Tim. 5:14).

Then, Paul’s teachings in his letter to Titus provide a solid biblical base for the pastor and the congregation to offer timely ministry to people in the later years of life.

By heeding the teaching of the apostle to both aging male and female believers, seniors can continue to life holy lives to the end of their days. The apostle advocated instructing aged males concerning what to do in their personal conduct, in their spiritual journey, and in their relations with others. He exhorted that older women be taught how they should live in this world as well as what they should teach to younger women.

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Aristotle. The Nichomachean Ethics. Trans. Martin Ostwald. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1962.

Exell, Joseph S. “Titus.” The Biblical Illustrator. Vol. 20. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1954.

Garmartz, Robert W. Never Too Old: How to Involve Older Adults in Your Church. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1992.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 6. New York: Fleming H Revell Company, n. d.

“Nephaleos.” The New Testament Greek-English Dictionary of The Complete Biblical Library. 1986 ed.