Sounds like the kind of people you want to be your neighbors, right?
Well, for Titus, these types of people were his neighbors. Titus was stationed by Paul on the island of Crete, an island off the southeast coast of Greece, amidst this exact type of culture. In his letter to Titus, Paul quotes and validates a prophet of Crete’s description of the Cretans: “always liars, evil beasts and lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12-13).
Laziness and gluttony are not often preached against from the pulpit like the first two Cretan characteristics are. Lying is explicitly prohibited in the Ten Commandments, and even U.S. law in some circumstances punishes lying by imprisonment (as with federal perjury). As for someone who is described as a wicked, untamed, and ferocious animal, you can bet your bottom dollar that I would not want my daughter to marry someone like that. But loafing around and eating a lot of food? Are they really on par with habitual liars and rampant wickedness?
Regular exercise and controlling your food consumption can address some of the consequences of laziness and gluttony. However, in Titus 2:6, Paul offers a deeper and more comprehensive solution for the young men living in the Cretan culture. This solution has implications for both physical and spiritual health, and with the wisdom of a father, Paul pithily delivers his exhortation in one word. Sophroneo.
Sophroneo & Crete
The ESV translates the verb sophroneo as “to be self-controlled.” The NASB calls it “to be sensible”. But I think the NKJV probably gets closest to its meaning when it translates the word as “to be sober-minded.” And there wasn’t a lot of sober-mindedness in Crete.
To understand this word, we can look at one of the Cretans’ descriptions: “lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12 ESV). The word “glutton” used here means belly or stomach. In other words, someone who is a glutton is all belly, and he is that way because his mind is enslaved to the whims, desires, and wishes of his belly. His midsection expands, he becomes fat and obese, and his belly does not relent in demanding more from him, which results in more of him. And habitual laziness cannot remedy the physical or spiritual effects that gluttony has in his body and mind. The enslavement to his desires exacerbates. The Cretans were dictated by their wicked desires, and as a result, their minds were not under their own control. In addition to being controlled by laziness and gluttony, they were habitual liars, and thus forced to continue lying to cover their original lies. They were evil beasts, marked by subservience to primitive, wicked, and destructive instincts, with no ability for self-control, reason, or application of wisdom. They needed to become sober-minded (sophroneo).
Sophroneo and the Power to Do it
In summary, sophroneo means to be sound in mind, with the ability to control one’s passions and desires. Paul recognized this lack of sober-mindedness amongst the Cretans, and he exhorted the groups in the Cretan church to sophroneo. He admonished the older men to be marked by it (translated as “sensible” in Titus 2:2), the old women to teach it to younger women (translated as “self-controlled” in Titus 2:5), the young women to learn it from older women (translated as “self-controlled” in Titus 2:5), and then singularly commands the young men to live it (translated as “self-controlled” in Titus 2:6 ESV).
Notice that Paul gives multiple instructions to old men, old women, and young women, but he only gives one instruction to young men: to be sober-minded. By isolating only this one command, Paul emphasizes that young men should take the imperative seriously. They are to devote themselves exclusively and singularly to this pursuit. And young Christian men have the power to do it. To live sober-mindedly requires power over your mind, and this power is found in the intervention of Jesus.
Sophroneo and Christ
Christ’s power for sober-mindedness can probably be best illustrated in Mark 5 and Luke 8, where we see the word sophroneo again. The gospel writers tell us a story of a man possessed by many demons named “Legion.” The man lived among the tombs, overpowered anyone who tried to bind him, cried with a loud, insane voice, and inflicted injuries on himself with sharp, jagged rocks. It’s in this state that Jesus finds the man and then confronts his demons. Legion fully possessed and controlled the man, but they had no power when face-to-face with the Son of God, and with a word Jesus casts Legion out of the man into a herd of pigs.
The word sophroneo is used in both Mark 5:15 and Luke 8:35 to describe what happened to the man’s mind after Jesus exorcised the demons. Here, sophroneo is translated as “in his right mind.” Without the demons, the man was no longer captive or bound to their desires and whims. He was free after Jesus rebuked and sent the demons out, and the man once again had control over his mind. Christ’s intervention in this man’s life resulted in a mind free from the control of the man’s oppressive and destructive demons.
Back in Titus 2, we see sophroneo again in the gospel, the ultimate intervention of Jesus. In Titus 2:11-12, Paul writes that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passion, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:11-12). Here in verse 12, self-controlled is sophroneo in its adverb form, sophron, and it is the result of the intervention of the Son of God by salvation.
In other words, we find the power required to live a life of sober-mindedness by allowing Jesus Christ to train us in renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions. In Christ, we are no longer subservient to ungodliness and worldly passions that once ruled us. We are free! And with His power, we can be sober-minded amidst a lying, wicked, lazy, and gluttonous culture.
Sophroneo, Laziness and Gluttony
Young men need to cling to Paul’s command in Titus 2:6 and labor to sophroneo in all areas of their lives. For the Cretans, the young men’s challenge was to war against the culture marked by “always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” Without a doubt there are similarities between 21st-century American culture and that of the Cretans, and as it relates to fitness, there is work to be done addressing the lazy, gluttonous aspect of our American routines. As Christians, we can become more sober-minded by addressing our own laziness and gluttony.
Be sober-minded about your activity
The laziness described here refers to the habitually lazy person, and this person is a slave to his love of idleness. The Bible has a lot of examples of this type of person, and even has a name for him in Proverbs: “sluggard.” Proverbs is full of admonitions and warnings against the sluggard, and we must learn and apply them. Being a sluggard is a destructive sin and is dishonorable to God. With our thoughts in submission to Christ, we must learn to be in the driver’s seat over our leisure and lazy-loving desires, and to kill these wicked tendencies.
Our bodies were created by God for movement. The muscular, skeletal, nervous, cardiovascular, and endocrine systems (to name just a few) are all involved in every detail of your body’s movement. These complicated systems were designed by God to be used! If we have the ability and power to move, we should not let them sit idle like the motionless sluggard does (Proverbs 6:9).
There are physical consequences to your body if it remains habitually idle. Sleep, heart health, blood pressure, body weight, and bone strength (to name only a few) are all at risk of degeneration if the human body remains idle without exercise. Most men’s jobs today require long hours of sitting behind a desk and being sedentary, and the body’s movement systems are neglected. Fitness and exercise are ways for men to salvage the physical activity that your body was designed for, as well as tools that can be used to war against bodily laziness.
Be sober-minded about your food consumption
The glutton is a slave to his belly. His belly craves and craves and craves, and thus he eats and eats and eats, and the man grows and grows and grows. In our 21st-century American world, the temptation to live as a slave to your belly is everywhere. You can drive down most highways in America and see a host of fast-food places: Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, Popeyes, Pizza Hut, and KFC to name only a few. Grocery stores are full of processed food that are loaded with sugar and nutrient-void calories designed to make you addicted. Restaurants offer heaping portions of food, and we can order it from anywhere, anytime, using UberEats or DoorDash. With these types of options surrounding us, we as Americans eat and eat and eat. These are all traps and temptations for gluttony. It is no wonder that the CDC reports that over 40% of U.S. adults are obese.
As followers of Jesus, we cannot allow consumption of food to rule our desires. We must learn to be in the driver’s seat of our desires for food, out of submission to Christ, and renounce the worldly passion of gluttony. We can certainly enjoy the occasional Chick-Fil-A (as I most certainly do), but we cannot allow the love of food to turn into a desire we cannot control.
Let’s turn together from laziness and gluttony, turn to Christ and sophroneo.
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