I’m not sure how I first came across True Woman 201: Interior Design: Ten Elements of Biblical Womanhood by Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss (now Wolgemuth). But I saw that it was a study of Titus 2:1, 3-5, a passage I’m very much interested in, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of Nancy’s writings. In fact, I’ve been asking myself why I haven’t read more of her. My “interior design” can always use some work, so this seemed like a good book to work through.
It is set up as a ten week study for either an individual or a group. Each week contains five daily 15-minute or so readings around one particular “design element.” There are leader resources as well as videos which run about 20 minutes that cover the highlights of the lessons on TrueWoman201. So a group studying together would work through the lessons for the week, meet together and watch that week’s video, and then discuss the lessons. I only watched 3 or so of the videos. Though they did provide a good recap, I just didn’t feel inclined to listen to the same things I had just read.
Normally when you hear Titus 2:1-5 preached or taught, people hone in on a woman’s responsibility to love her husband and children, be submissive to her husband, and be a “keeper at home,” with much debate over exactly what that last one involves. Off the top of my head I can only think of one time where I have heard the whole passage dealt with, and that was at a lady’s conference where there were sessions on each section. So I very much appreciated that the authors here dealt with every part of the passage, beginning with verse 1. Titus is told to “teach what accords with sound doctrine,” and the authors explain that one’s doctrine is a set of beliefs and that “sound” doctrine is healthy, without contamination. They discuss the use of a “plumb line” in decorating or building to help one’s work to stay straight and show how we need to use the “plumb line” of Scripture to make sure we’re “in accord with sound doctrine,” “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14).
There is so much in here that it would be hard to encapsulate it all, but here’s a little bit about each “design element” after discernment:
Honor: “A True Woman makes much of Christ…She is ‘reverent in behavior.'”
“The basic meaning of the ‘fear of God’ is ‘reverential awe.’ It’s a personal, jaw-dropping awareness of God’s majestic greatness and holiness, reflected in a commitment to honor Him by turning from sin and faithfully obeying His Word” (p. 41).
Slander and being “slaves to much wine” (Titus 2:3) are seen as a lack of reverent behavior toward God and our fellow man, a self-promotion and self-indulgence that dishonors His sacrifice for us.
Affection: “A True Woman values the family…She “loves her husband and children.”
The authors make some interesting observations in this section, one noting what’s not on this list. If we were going to come up with a curriculum for discipling young women, we’d likely list Bible study, prayer, etc. – which are essential for all believers. But the specific things mentioned in this passage emphasize God’s priorities for women, which in our day is countercultural. This passage also emphasizes that these things must be learned. And they observe that this passage is for all women, even for those who are single or without children (Nancy was single with no expectation of marriage at the time of this writing), because marriage and childbirth is part of God’s plan of redemption, the marriage relationship picturing that between Christ and the church.
“As God designed it to function, ‘family’ helps us to understand what it means to have a heavenly Father and be part of a household of faith….God gave us these images so we’d have human thoughts, feelings, experiences, and language adequate and powerful enough to understand and express deep spiritual truths” (p. 68).
Discipline: “A True Woman makes wise, intentional choices…She is ‘self-controlled.'”
“Sometimes we focus too much on trying to change or stop the behavior, when what we need to do is go back and find out what kind of thinking produced that kind of behavior in the first place. It’s easier to fix the ‘what’ if we understand the ‘why.’…Here are some examples of the type of false beliefs that may have accounted for your behavior:
I have a right to return tit for tat.
Life should be easy.
He’s the problem, not me.
I deserve to be happy.
I just can’t handle it!
Indulging is better than holding out.
What if you paused to recalibrate your mind with truth?” (p. 101).
Virtue: “A True Woman cultivates goodness…She is ‘pure.'”
“Virtue and purity are two sides of the same coin: the presence of goodness and the absence of defilement” (p. 111).
The authors discuss the difference between “positional purity” that Christ wrought for us when He died on the cross for our sin, and “personal, practical purity (sanctification)” in which our everyday lives grow bit by bit to match our “position.”
“Two of the three times when diabolos refers to slander, it’s speaking specifically to women. God created women as relators and gave us an amazing capacity for verbal communication. Unfortunately, Satan likes to turn this strength into a weakness. He likes to turn virtue into vice” (p. 121).
“The Bible’s definition is broader…Slander means to speak critically of another person with the intent to harm…even if the information is correct. That’s why diabolos has been translated ‘malicious gossip’ as well as ‘false accuser'” (p. 122).
“Getting rid of vice and growing in virtue isn’t easy. It takes work. That’s why the Bible says, ‘Make every effort to add to your faith virtue’ (2 Peter 1:5). That’s right: love-motivated, Spirit-enabled, Christ-glorifying effort” (p. 131).
“In ancient Greek, the word pure originally meant ‘that which awakens awe’ or ‘that which excites reverence.’ Purity is ravishingly beautiful. It makes the gospel attractive and believable. When you make every effort to cultivate virtue in your life, the great ‘Refiner and Purifier of silver’ will reveal His beauty in you, and others will be drawn to love and worship Him!” (p. 131).
Responsibility: “A True Woman maintains the right work priorities…She values ‘working at home.'”
“In our minds, the question isn’t ‘Should women work?’ but rather ‘What is God’s view of work?’ ‘How do I choose which work receives the most time and attention at this stage of my life?’ ‘Am I giving my home the focus and priority God wants it to have?’ And ‘am I determining the value of my work based on earthly or heavenly economics?'” (p. 135).
“Work…exists because we’ve been made in the image of the great worker, God. We work because He works. Work is a God-ordained activity. Honest, diligent, attentive, productive, innovative, creative, faithful, fruitful, conscientious, hard work bears witness to God’s nature and character” (p. 142).
“Work does not primarily exist for the purpose of financial gain (though we may get paid). It’s primary purpose is to glorify God” (p. 142).
“No legitimate work, undertaken for the glory of God, is menial or meaningless. Hard physical labor wasn’t beneath the dignity of the Son of God. Jesus worked as a carpenter for about seventeen years and only about three years doing itinerant ministry. Carpentry was a lowly, ill-paying profession. Yet Jesus was doing God’s work when pounding a nail just as much as He was doing it when preaching on a hillside–because He was doing what God wanted Him to do when God wanted Him to do it” (p. 143).
“[The Proverbs 31 woman] could be a bit intimidating for the most energetic, gifted woman. But the thing that stands out in this passage is not so much all this woman’s abilities or all the things she does. What makes her extraordinary is the fact that she is so utterly un-self-centered and that she consistently demonstrates a heart to serve her family and others–all grounded in her reverence for God” (p. 149).
“To be idle is to ‘not be working or active,’ to habitually avoid one’s responsibilities, or to fill one’s time with things of no real worth or significance. Idleness is not the opposite of busyness. Idle people are often extremely busy. Take the woman of Proverbs 7 for example: “She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait” (Prov. 7:11-12). Though this woman was busy, she was actually being idle; for she wasn’t doing the ‘good work’ she was supposed to do” (p. 151).
“The reason we give priority to managing household responsibilities is not that vacuuming, dusting, or cooking are intrinsically valuable or satisfying tasks. It’s that we want to create a peaceful, orderly, welcoming environment conducive to nurturing and growing disciples for the kingdom of God” (p. 154).
Benevolence: “A True Woman is charitable…She is ‘kind.'”
“In the type of ‘random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty’ that society commends, the benefactor and the beneficiary generally have little if any awareness of each other’s deepest motivations and needs” (p. 159).
“For a believer, kindness is a fruit of the Spirit that is empowered, enabled, and directed by God. When our kindness extends beyond those who deserve or reciprocate our benevolence, when it reaches out to those whose shortcomings and failures we know full well, that is when we reflect the heart of Him who is ‘kind to the ungrateful and the evil'” (Luke 6:35) (p. 159).
Disposition: “A True Woman cultivates a soft, amenable spirit…She is ‘submissive.'”
“Jesus Christ is the epitome of submission. His ‘not-My-will-but-Yours-be-done’ attitude is at the heart of the gospel story” (p. 182).
Legacy: “A True Woman is a spiritual mother…She ‘teaches what is good.'”
“Deborah had a God-given nurturing instinct that gave her courage and compassion. She wasn’t driven by the things that drive many modern women–power, control, position, or recognition–but by a mother’s heart. She saw herself as ‘a mother in Israel'” (p. 211).
Paul’s use of the Greek word neos in Titus 2:4 “indicates that his categories of older and younger had more to do with experience, life stage, and spiritual maturity than chronological age. A neos is a newbie, a ‘greenhorn’–a fresh, inexperienced novice. It’s a woman new to the circumstance in which she is placed. The point is, if you want to be the kind of woman who brings glory to God, you should actively learn from the lives of women who have walked the path before you, and actively teach those who are coming after. Regardless of your age, the Lord wants you to be both a learner and a teacher” (p. 219).
“The older we get, the bigger the catalog of failures Satan can throw in our faces. You may think, ‘I don’t have anything to offer.’ But you can teach out of your failures as well as your successes” (p. 223).
Beauty: “A True Woman displays the attractiveness of the gospel…’So that the word of God may not be reviled.'”
“A Christian woman whose life doesn’t bear witness to the transformative power of the gospel causes the gospel to be blasphemed, defamed, and dishonored–it’s as though she invites vandals to deface it with foul graffiti. If, on the other hand, she cooperates with God and allows Him to change her, she ‘adorns’ the gospel. To adorn means to beautify it and make it attractive. Outsiders will look at her life and say, ‘Wow! Her life makes me think the Bible is true!’ We can’t just tell them it’s true. They need to see and feel and experience that it really is true through our lives” (p. 235).
They stress that God’s design for genders is not fluid according to whatever the world’s thoughts are: they’re a part of “sound doctrine.” On the other hand, they agree that God’s design doesn’t turn out cookie cutter Christians who all look the same, that how this works out in a life might differ from woman to woman. I appreciated that while they held fast to those areas where Scripture is specific, they dealt evenhandedly with controversial issues like a woman working outside the home, sharing a list of Biblical women who had other kinds of jobs, but stressing the primary ministry of home and family. They mention also that though many of these characteristics should be true of men as well, there are reasons that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to list some characteristics for men and some for women.
If there is a “201,” there must have been a “101,” and there was: True Woman 101: Divine Design, which focuses on God’s plan and design for womanhood. I have not read it yet but probably will some day. It looks like it’s laid out the same as this was with 5 daily readings for each chapter, covering eight weeks rather than ten.
Back to True Woman 201: I thought the layout was a bit distracting at first. The spiritual “interior design” theme was couched in a similarities to the design of a home, and there are lots of photos relating to that kind of thing scattered throughout the pages. Verses and quotes are in sidebars. I got used to it after a while, and it’s a minor complaint. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this study. I appreciated the authors’ thorough and gracious treatment of the topic and I can enthusiastically recommend it to you.
(Sharing at Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)