What a man needs to know

One writer recently compiled a list of “100 skills every man should know.”  It’s an interesting list.  The first 10 items on the list are:

  1. Tie a Necktie
  2. Build a Campfire
  3. Hang a Picture
  4. Shine Your Shoes
  5. Treat a Snakebite
  6. Read a Book
  7. Survive a Bear Attack
  8. Wet Shave
  9. Parallel Park
  10. Paddle a Canoe

The rest of the list follows in similar fashion — they are tasks related to the fundamental care of oneself (grooming, diet, exercise, relationships, protection, and preparation).  Yet there are some striking omissions from that list.  Preeminently, the author has overlooked the spiritual components of a man — what spiritual skills should every man know?  While the list is not exhaustive, in his counsel to the young pastor, Titus, Paul offers four characteristics that every man should be moving toward and cultivating:

“Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.” (Titus 2:2; NASB)

This verse offers four qualities that once a man reaches physical seniority should also mark his spiritual maturity. Here, then, are four goals for every man to pursue spiritually.

Be temperate. This man is physically and emotionally sober. Clear-minded and clear-thinking, he is fully rational in all his thoughts, words and actions.  He is not given to excess in any area of his life and he is able to say “no” with his mind and actions when his body and flesh are saying “yes.”

This is a man who is not in bondage to the desires of the flesh; because of that, he is always vigilant. He is always watching and alert to everything around him and anything that might divert him from obedience to Christ.

Be dignified. This man takes a moral and ethical approach to life, and earns respect because his life is essentially decent. The one who is “dignified” is one who isn’t double-tongued, addicted to liquor, or in love with money and dishonesty (1 Tim. 3:8).

He is serious.  That doesn’t mean he is a grumpy old man, but he does take life seriously. Not everything is a joke.  He is fatherly — grandfatherly — and paternal. He fulfills the role given to him.

He is serious because he has seen life and it has provided perspective for him about essentials.  One commentator has noted, “Frivolity in an older man is unbecoming, especially to one who has matured in the Christian life as well.”

Be sensible. This man is balanced and has a properly regulated mind. He is discreet and prudent, and is the one who provides spiritual balance for the church family, keeping it steadily on course in its pursuit of love and as the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 1:5; 3:15).

He is discerning and avoids extremes and is thoughtful and careful. He can evaluate and know what needs to be done and when and how it should be done.  It refers to someone who can evaluate life clearly because he has spent a life-time walking with Christ. The verbal form of this word is used in Romans 12:3 — he is discerning about himself and his position in life — he can distinguish truth from error and godliness from ungodliness.

Be sound. He has no internal weaknesses in the triumvirate of faith, love and patience. He is robust in his personal faith in Christ, tender instead of bitter in his demonstration of love, and courageously patient in the midst of trial and trouble.

The word Paul uses here means “hygienic” — the spiritual life of the elderly man is healthy and not diseased.  Specifically, his faith healthy.  To test this we might ask, “Does he believe what he believes about God?” In other words, does he trust God? Does he believe that God is good and wise even when the failures and disappointments are relentless?

There is a certain temptation to give up trusting in God later in life because disappointments are bigger and more numerous. As you read the Scriptures, it is sad to see how many men fail in the final years of their lives. Consider Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Jonah as just a few examples.

The older man, particularly, is to work hard at trusting God. He works hard to believe that God will accomplish what he’s promised. Though the storms of life may still be crashing in on him in his final years, he hangs onto the buoy that is Christ and the gospel.

What is striking about each of these attributes is how they begin in the mind. They are the product of a mind given to the control and domination of the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to conform their thoughts to the renewing power of the truth, and thereby also having their life activities become good and acceptable and perfect before the Lord (Rom. 12:2).  So the spiritual man must know how to control and order his thoughts so that he will move toward Christlikeness.  He is not controlled by his thoughts, but he controls his thoughts.  Rather than listening to himself, he speaks to and commands himself.

And note also that this is part of a process that culminates in the latter years of life. Gordon MacDonald rightly observes, “Unlike so many things in our age, genuine spirituality is, more often than not, going to be seen in older rather than younger people….[Youth] will rarely he found among the ranks of people possessing great spirituality. I make this observation not to discourage the younger person but to point out that spirituality is something that demands time and experience to develop. It is not found at a weekend retreat or after a year of seminary. Spirituality occurs as an accumulation of years of routine experiences and crisis moments.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to do this with maturity and wisdom at the age of 21.  One might be able to master the list of “100 skills every man should know” by the time he exits his teen years, but he will not yet be a master of the spiritual skills Paul encourages.  Those are mastered only over a lifetime of practice. And yet even at a young age, by the grace of God working through the power of the transforming Spirit and Word of God, those qualities can be present in incipient form.

So let us take the counsel of A. W. Tozer and begin to pursue today the skills of living honorably and spiritually before the Lord:  “Whatever a man wants badly and persistently enough will determine the man’s character.…At the root of all true spiritual [maturity] is a set of right and sanctified desires.” [The Root of the Righteous]

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