Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk through the book of Titus and learn what the Lord would have to teach us through this great book.

titusheader2As a young college student I suffered from a frustrating disorder: impulsive young man syndrome. It brought me a great deal of frustration and heartache because at its heart the “disorder” is a lack of personal self-control. It still rears its head from time to time, though my youngness can now be debated. Young men, however, seem to experience it acutely. Perhaps that is why, with all the counsel that Paul gives to Titus, he tells him to teach young men to be self-controlled. Self-control is essential to a young man’s spiritual growth.

Self-control is a relevant issue for all of us. Paul tells us it is one of the Fruits of the Spirit of God in the life of every believer (Gal. 5:23). It is to be hallmark of a godly woman (1 Tim. 2:9), and older men too are to be “self-controlled” (Titus 2:2). But there’s something unique about its application to young men.

Researchers in at Durham University in the UK, found that impulsiveness among men was significantly higher than among women (“Sex Differences in Impulsivity: A Meta-Analysis”). The study “focused on theoretical approaches to impulsivity, highlighting the extent to which [men] emphasize over-attraction to reward (strong approach motivation), under-sensitivity to punishment (weak avoidance motivation), or problems with effortful or higher order control.” Simply put, men are more impulsive than women. While many psychologists attribute this to evolutionary design and active aggression in males, it’s difficult to determine an exact etiology. Whatever the causes, popular knowledge recognizes what research is validating: young men are impetuous.

So, while Paul has multiple instructions for older men (v. 2) and older women (v. 3), and even for younger women (v. 4-5), he only gives one piece of counsel for younger men: urge younger men to be self-controlled (v. 6). It’s one piece of instruction, but it’s not insignificant, for it is the one area where younger men seem most prone to sin and irresponsibility. In fact it’s not enough for young men to have some self-control, Paul tells Titus that they must seek to be self-controlled “in everything.” It’s an all-encompassing restraint.[1] What is this all-encompassing self-control supposed to look like? Titus is to set the young men an example in modelling good works, integrity, dignity, and sound speech.

As we think about applying this passage in our own contexts two principles should govern how we do that: (1) clear and precise instruction accompanied by (2) faithful examples. It is not enough simply to tell young men, “be self-controlled.” Our counsel to them needs to come with very detailed instructions about how to implement such restraint. We need to equip them with specifics. The area of sexual purity seems an easy case study.

I have counseled more men on addiction to pornography than likely any other subject. It is the area of least self-control for young men. The ubiquity of porn and its easy access make it a constant temptation for the undisciplined. It is not helpful to tell young men to simply, “Stop looking at porn.” Nor is it enough to warn them of all the consequences of long-term exposure to porn, and the damage it does to women and to relationships. They need specific help in establishing boundaries, along with regular accountability. Specific instruction is what makes the difference in “urging younger men to be self-controlled in all things.”

Likewise, we need to give younger men good examples. If it’s somewhat cliché, it is nonetheless true that “more is caught than is taught.” Younger men need role models to help them live out the specifics of self-control. It is one thing to tell young men what to do; it’s another thing entirely to show them how to do it. If we rely solely on information transference to create disciples, then we will find that we don’t make very many disciples. Modelling is a part and parcel of the Biblical model of discipleship. This is no less true in training up young men.

For such a short piece of counsel, Titus 2:6-8 is packed with wisdom. It is sensitive to the unique struggles of young men, and offers wise counsel fitting to their discipleship. We do well to heed it in our own churches and mentoring relationships.

[1] Though grammatically the “in all things” could go with either verse 6 and the “self-control” or verse 7 and the “set them an example,” I think it makes best sense of to connect it to verse 6. Paul’s use of the reflexive pronoun for emphasis works best at the beginning of a new idea. Though others disagree.