I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “toxic masculinity.” I think I understand—and even, to a degree, can sympathize with—the phrase. Terrible men have and do troll the earth. In their wake are hurt women, broken families, confused generations, and warring nations. They damage everything and everyone around them. Like nuclear waste, they’re toxic.
In many minds, however, the words have been reversed. For some, masculinity itself is what is toxic. And this negative view of manhood has created a general void in our society, one where boys have no good vision for how to be men, and many less than savory manhood-models have rushed to center stage, only worsening the problem. But the masculinity the Bible describes is like a tonic that brings healing to families, churches, and societies—tonic masculinity.
In Titus 2, Paul instructed a young pastor about how to exhort the people in his church. Paul’s instructions aim at the only four quadrants that exist in an adult congregation. Older men. Older women. Younger women. And younger men. Though we all go through a process of shifting from young to old, everyone falls into one of those categories. Today, we’ll consider the first category:
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. (Titus 2:2)
Paul starts with the older men for a reason—they can be an incredible blessing to the church.
The Bible is filled with examples of older men who blessed God’s people. Caleb and Joshua trusted God and led Israel into victorious battles in their old age. Noah built the ark to save his household and humanity all the way into his latter years. Abraham and the patriarchs did some of their finest work as old men. John wrote Revelation in his eighties or nineties. And Paul himself served Christ well all the way to his death as a relatively old man.
But who is this older man Paul tells Titus about? “Older” and “younger” are such relative terms. When I was twenty, I thought forty-five was ancient. Now I’m not so sure. And when it comes to the Bible, we’ve got a pretty wide range to work with. Jesus died at age thirty-three. Methuselah at 969. Who is the older man?
The term Paul used is the same one he used to describe himself to Philemon, and he was probably about sixty when he wrote that letter (Phil. 9). And John the Baptist’s dad used this term to describe himself, objecting that men his age didn’t have children. But the term was not unique to the Bible—it was used in other ancient Greek literature besides the Bible. For instance, Philo and Hippocrates used the word to describe the so-called sixth stage of life, identifying it as age fifty to fifty-six. Taken together, it seems reasonable to say this is a stage we enter around our mid-fifties or early sixties.
But the older men are not only mentioned first because they’re meant to be a blessing to everyone else—pillars on which the rest of the church leans—but because an others-centered and mature life is a life of blessing. In other words, if we live the way Paul says, we’ll bless, but we’ll also be blessed. To lose one’s life is to find it.
So what does Paul say about the older man whose masculinity is a tonic for his generation?
First, tonic masculinity is sober-minded (2). Other translations call this temperance or sobriety.
We take this first to mean that older men in the church should be physically sober men. There’s a temptation that comes in the last third of life. Much of the heavy lifting’s been done—the career is built, the home is secured, the income is solid, and the kids are raised. On top of all this is the temptation to be discouraged about life, no longer optimistic about the future.
The Christ-following man knows he still has work to do—it isn’t time to kick back and drink up. He might enjoy a glass of wine, but he won’t allow glasses of wine to fog his mind. He’s going to stay frosty, mentally sharp for the very real battle he’s still engaged in.
And this physical sobriety is emblematic of the way of his whole life. Everything about the older man of God is sober. He’s learned what is and isn’t godly. He’s learned what is and isn’t healthy. He’s learned the destructive nature of the passing pleasures of sin (Heb. 11:25). He’s weighed the cost of self-indulgence and determined that the price is too high. The payout isn’t worth it.
So the godly older man avoids excess and extravagance. He won’t let himself become deluded or intoxicated by anything in life. He’s still serious about God, God’s kingdom, and the potency of the Gospel. He knows he’s got to, like Caleb and Joshua and Moses, fight for holiness until the day of his death. His church attendance doesn’t slip into a sporadic affiliation with a local congregation but instead develops into deeper involvement with God’s people. He might be done raising his biological sons and daughters, but now he uses his time to raise God’s sons and daughters.
This sobermindedness doesn’t mean this man is no fun to be around—quite the opposite. But he doesn’t allow himself to become distracted with things that don’t matter. He stays focused on God. He meditates on the Word. He loves serving other people.
David’s life serves as a cautionary tale about the price of losing a sober mind. In his middle years, after becoming Israel’s king, he began to drift from the mission God gave him. He wasn’t sober-minded. And he fell. The Bible says:
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel…But David remained at Jerusalem. (2 Samuel 11:1, ESV)
Because he didn’t go out to war, because he stopped sober-mindedly pressing into God’s battlefield, he found himself with free time in the Jerusalem palace. It was then that he observed a beautiful young (and married) woman bathing on another rooftop. He called for and slept with her, and she became pregnant. This led David to cover up his sin by placing her husband on the front lines alone—left to die—the ultimate betrayal of his brother in arms. But this sin could’ve been averted had David stayed engaged.
And, especially in our older years, we must press in because we likely have more time on our hands than ever before. We must engage in the war by mentoring, serving, working, and growing.
When running a long endurance race, the second half requires special attention. In his book on how to train for a marathon, legendary coach Hal Higdon said, “Focus hardest when it counts most. If you find it difficult to concentrate during the full twenty-six miles of a marathon, save your focus for the miles when you need it the most—the second half.”1
His exhortation to runners is a better exhortation to us as humans. Focus at all times, but especially knuckle down in that second half of your race. Don’t slip. Be sober-minded.
It was sober-mindedness that enabled Nehemiah to rebuild Jerusalem and revive God’s people. It was sober-mindedness that enabled Luke to research and write Luke and Acts. It was sober-mindedness that enabled Aquila to have a great marriage, produce a business that blessed the church, and disciple Apollos into maturity. Sober-minded men get it done.
Jesus, of course, was sober-minded. This doesn’t mean he was hard to be around. His accusers said he was a winebibber—they thought he was a party animal. He wasn’t, but he had so much joy they thought he was. But he was also beautifully sober-minded. He refused a mind-numbing concoction on the cross, choosing instead to suffer the full brunt of the crucifixion’s pain. He refused to bow down to Satan as a quick way to gain the kingdoms of this world but chose instead to do the hard work of redemption. He never lost focus. He never got distracted. He pressed in. So should we.
Second, tonic masculinity is dignified (2). Other translations render this word as worthy of respect, venerable, sensible, and serious.
The godly older man is substantive. He’s the right kind of serious. Not gloomy, dour, and self-consumed, but real, unnerved, and focused. He’s worthy of respect from others. And he treats others well. He’s not too comfortable, casual, or loose with the opposite sex. He doesn’t talk down to the young. And he stays out of the gutter because he has honor.
His life is not frivolous, trivial, or superficial. He’s not vulgar. He takes immorality seriously. He craves holiness. He’s dignified, impressive, and worthy of respect.
Older men like this have learned so much about the Lord, themselves, and life. They know God is faithful, so they don’t panic and fret like they did when they were younger. They know God is good, so they trust that he’ll somehow repurpose every trial for good. They know God is love, so they’re secure in their relationship with him as sons of God. They know God is holy, so they avoid anything that would pain his heart while pursuing ever-expanding levels of personal holiness.
This man finds the phrase in Psalm 1 that the blessed man will bear fruit in his season and craves that season (Ps. 1:3). He abides in Christ every single day, not as a way to earn God’s favor or as a paranoid lucky charm before God, but because he’s learned that those who abide in Christ bear much fruit (John 15). So he abides in Christ.
His heroes aren’t actors who live in luxury or leaders who have great power. He isn’t distracted by shiny objects or beautiful women or thrones of power. His heroes aren’t The Godfather, Tony Stark, or John Wick.
Instead, he resonates with men like the Apostle John, a man whom it’s said had to be carried up to the pulpit in his old age just to tell the people to love each other. He admires men like John Wesley, who, after his 86th birthday, expressed remorse that he was no longer able to read and write about Scripture for fifteen hours a day and was now sleeping in all the way to 5:30 in the morning!
His heroes keep their marriage vows, serve their wives through illness, and lay down their lives for others. He’s drawn to men like Joseph, whose branches ran over the wall so that others could partake of his fruit (Gen. 49:22).
The dignified older man doesn’t have a feeling of immortality or invincibility. He’s seen too much. He’s buried people he loves. He’s seen terrible things—wayward children, church splits, unwanted illnesses, surprising divorces, failed businesses. He’s seen betrayal, death, and decay. He’s seen presidents and their promises come and go. Life has sobered him, so he’s decided to spend his well. He no longer believes human effort and plans can produce the utopia we long for, but he’s not hopeless. His eyes are on God and his kingdom. He believes the Gospel. He longs for Christ’s return. And he’s dignified about it.
The dignified man looks into the Word and loves the dignified way Jesus led his life. He was ever focused on the cross—his face set like a rock to get to Jerusalem so he could die there (Isaiah 50:7). And when he spoke, people said no one spoke like him—he had an incomparable confidence, clarity, and authority. His life and words had weight. Father-focused and people-oriented, he lived a life that counted. Dignified.
Third, tonic masculinity is self-controlled (2). Other translations render this word as sensible, using good judgment, prudent, and wise. They have gained self-mastery—not perfectly, but generally.
This self-control is the key term in Paul’s exhortations to everyone on the grid. When he described pastors, he said they should be self-controlled (Tit. 1:8). When he described godly older women, godly younger women, and godly young men, he wanted all of them to learn to be self-controlled.
But what is self-control? Here’s one definition: “Obedience has to do with actions, but self-control has to do with emotions and how we deal with them. Do our emotions control us, or do we control our emotions?”2 It’s a decent definition—and it came from a book about parenting! Toddlers need it, but so do older men. We must all learn self-mastery, self-rule, and self-discipline.
The word Paul used derives from a combination of the word for save and the word for mind. The mind has been saved, so life is filtered through a new grid. The godly man knows who he is in Christ. He’s saved, new, redeemed, born again, a new creature, filled with the Spirit, under the New Covenant, and able to live in the resurrection power of Christ. He’s been saved from the old, unregenerate, deathly life far from God under the law, lived in his own strength. He’s saved; as he abides in Jesus, he can be self-controlled.
And what a weapon at this man’s disposal! Self-control is powerful. Dallas Willard described it this way:
“Self-control is the steady capacity to direct yourself to accomplish what you have chosen or decided to do and be, even though you “don’t feel like it.” Self-control means that you, with steady hand, do what you don’t want to do when that is needed and do not do what you want to do when that is needed.” — Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
This man has ample self-control. He’s a calm and measured man, even in the face of disappointment or discouragement. He treats men and women, young and old with total respect. He spends his money with wisdom. He uses his experience and position to raise up, develop, and bless others. He always makes himself the last.
The self-controlled man knows that he needs Christ’s power to help him, so he spends time in the word and prayer with Jesus each day. The self-controlled man knows that frayed nerves and fatigue war against his resolve, so he fights to eat and sleep well. The self-controlled man knows that even God rested from his work, so he uses times of Sabbath as a way to protect him from sin-inducing busyness. The self-controlled man knows there’ll be times when he’ll feel weak against temptation, so he develops and leverages godly friendships to help him stand. The self-controlled man knows that he’ll lose some battles with the flesh, so he practices honesty with all the right people as a way to cast disinfecting light on the bacteria of sin.
To illustrate self-control, let’s consider two men. First, think about Joseph. As a teenager, he was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, ending up in Egypt. A man named Potiphar purchased this young man, and Joseph served well. Potiphar’s house prospered so much that he ceased involving himself in any of the details of household management. He entrusted everything to Joseph. Except for his wife, that is, but she didn’t like that arrangement and threw herself at Joseph. He feared God and respected his master, so he always resisted her until one day, she caught him alone, begging him to lie with her. But Joseph wriggled free from his garment and ran from the house. He then suffered false accusations from this woman, but at least his integrity was intact. He was self-controlled. He fled sexual immorality.
Now, consider Solomon. He began well, but as he prospered as Israel’s king and aged as a man, he wandered from the Lord. Foreign women stole his heart. Soon, he amassed a harem beyond the fantasies of any ancient king. And, as his heart drifted, so did his life. He was controlled. Self-control was a distant memory. He sank into despair and powerlessness, coming under God’s disciplinary hand. And, as he sank into the slough of despond, he took Israel with him. The man who should’ve been a blessing to all of God’s people had become their Achille’s heel, all because, as he grew older, he grew less self-controlled. His passions enslaved him.
The self-controlled man looks at Jesus and sees how he always did that which pleased the Father. When he was reviled, he ruled his spirit and did not revile in return. When beaten, he mastered himself and submitted to the cross.
Finally and fourthly, tonic masculinity is sound in the areas of faith, love, and steadfastness (2). To be sound is to be healthy, true, strong, whole, or well-grounded. And the three categories Paul thought older men should be sound in are repeated throughout the entire New Testament—faith, love, and hope. The only change in this list is that—for an older man—hope has turned into the action of steadfastness or endurance. Because he has become totally sound in hope, he endures.
The idea here is that the older godly man has fully entered into and embraced the pillar attributes of Christianity. He’s strong in the faith—meaning he understands and is mature in the truth of the Bible. Their doctrinal convictions are not strange but sound. He’s also strong in love, meaning he’s adopted a lifestyle that’s completely others-centered. He’s not spending his time completely on himself, but he wants to go to his grave loving other people. And he’s strong in steadfastness, meaning he’s not thrown in the towel but is pressing, with hope, into what God’s doing here on earth. When he prays, “your kingdom come, your will be done,” he believes and toils for that kingdom. He doesn’t sit alone in his living room, watching cable news, bemoaning everyone and everything, waiting for the day Christ comes. Instead, he works hard to bring Christ to people right where they are, believing wholeheartedly in the power of the Gospel for salvation to all who believe (Rom 1:16).
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I’d like to conclude by sharing my heart about the type of man Paul describes, men who are sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness (Titus 2:2). Especially if you are a man in your late fifties and beyond, and you’re clear-minded about the Lord, serious about the right things, have gained self-mastery, are solid about the faith, love people well, and are working steadfastly to make disciples, we all thank you. You’re a pillar for us to lean on. You’re a vision for us to acquire. And you’re a blessing to our church and community. You’re the version of masculinity our world needs right now.
References Hal Higdon, Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide: Advice, Plans, and Programs for Half and Full Marathons,5th ed. (New York: Rodale Books, 2020).
 Diane Comer and Phil Comer, Raising Passionate Jesus Followers: The Power of Intentional Parenting (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).