When Titus 2 is taught in any women’s gathering, we almost always hone in on what older women are instructed to teach the younger: “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (verses 4-5).
But we either lightly touch or skip over what Titus 2 says older women are to be in the verses preceding these.
But before we get there, let’s zoom out a bit to see the context. Paul is writing to one of his coworkers, Titus, whom he had left in charge of the church in Crete. Paul had directed Titus to ordain elders in the churches from among those with certain godly characteristics in Titus 1. Paul sums up that instruction with verse 9: “He [an elder] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
Then Paul describes those who contradict sound doctrine: “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers . . . upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach . . . their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (1:10-15).
Remember there are no chapter divisions in the original text. When we study chapters individually, we sometimes forget to connect them to what came before. The very next paragraph in Titus begins, “But as for you”—in contrast to the kind of people he was just talking about—“teach what accords with sound doctrine” (2:1). Then Paul gives specific instruction to older men, older women, younger men and women, servants.
So these instructions aren’t just nice thoughts or ways to have a happy church or for everyone to get along. These behaviors that Paul wants taught are “in accord with sound doctrine.” Our beliefs and our behavior should work hand in glove. Our actions shouldn’t contradict our doctrine.
So what are older women to be like?
“Reverent in behavior.” Most of the non-paraphrased translations use the word “reverent.” The KJV says, “in behaviour as becometh holiness.” The commentary at the bottom of this page says, “The Greek word rendered ‘in behaviour,’ or ‘in demeanour,’ includes dress, appearance, conversation, manner; includes an outward deportment dependent on something more internal. The elder Christian woman in her whole bearing should exhibit a certain dignity of sacred demeanour; there should be something in her general appearance, in her dress, in her speech, in her every-day behaviour, which the younger and more thoughtless sister could respect and reverence–an ideal she might hope one day, if the Master spared her so long, herself to reach.”
Being reverent or dignified or holy doesn’t mean one never has fun, laughs, or tells jokes. Joy is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Proverbs 17:22 tells us “A joyful [merry, KJV] heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Richard Baxter said, “Keep company with the more cheerful sort of the godly; there is no mirth like the mirth of believers” (The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, p. 24). Henry Ward Beecher said, “A man without mirth is like a wagon without springs, in which everyone is caused disagreeably to jolt by every pebble over which it runs.”
There’s a joy and humor in keeping with reverence and holiness.
But a godly older woman knows the things of the Lord are serious. She takes care to honor God in her life and teaching, whether formal instruction or just sharing passing encouragement.
“Not slanderers.” Some translations say “false accusers” or “gossips.” Obviously we shouldn’t spread anything that is untrue. Lying and slander are definitely not in keeping with a God of truth.
Gossip is a little harder to define. It’s not always wrong to talk about someone else’s wrongdoing. Paul mentions people by name in his epistles who have erred in various ways. Sometimes talking with another Christian is a way to process whether someone’s actions are right or wrong. As we’ve encountered problems in various churches we’ve attended (and there is no church without problems), we’ve discussed the issues with our family. But discretion is needed as to what is discussed with whom and how. There’s a difference between needful processing and just gossiping. Gossip seems to have malicious intent.
As an example, years ago a couple who had been members of our church went out as missionaries to another country. They seemed exemplary in every way, having a real fervor for the Lord. After some years of seemingly successful ministry, the husband was found in an adulterous relationship with another woman. Their mission board called them home. When the church leadership met with the man, he refused to repent, saying he loved his sin too much to give it up.
Of course, this situation sent shock waves through the community he left, his mission board, our church, and probably everyone at every level that he had ever dealt with. It wasn’t something that could be kept quiet. There was much discussion. How should we respond to him? How can we minister to his heartbroken wife? And most of all, how could this have happened?
We all needed to work through that kind of processing. But to talk about the situation just to talk would have been wrong.
I think we have to show restraint sometimes even in sharing good news that might not be ours to share. Once at a church committee meeting I attended, one newly-pregnant lady lamented that she didn’t even have a chance to tell her closest friends that she was expecting because word spread so quickly. That convicted me. There’s something delicious about being the one with news to share.
So if our motive for talking about situations is to feel important because we have news, or to feel superior because someone has done wrong, we’d better put the brakes on. We need much wisdom and Holy Spirit leading that our conversation would be edifying and not destructive.
“Not slaves to much wine.” I think, in context, this phrase is not just saying older women shouldn’t be drunkards. This verse uses the word “likewise,” pointing back to what had been told to older men, that they should be “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (v. 1). Self-control is also mentioned to the younger women (verse 5) and younger men (verse 6) with another “likewise.” So I think the larger picture is that she shouldn’t be enslaved to anything, that she should live a life of self-control (another part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23).
“To teach what is good.” To teach what is good, one has to know what is good. We can’t teach subjects we don’t know, can we? We need to spend much time in the Word of God not only so that we know what He wants to teach us, but also so that, as we have opportunities to share with others, we can direct them the right way.
To “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (verses 4-5), we have to have enough experience walking with God to be able to share His truth in these areas.
That makes the whole thing scary. None of us has lived in this way in perfection. But God knows that. He doesn’t ask us to teach from our perfection, but from His. Sharing our own failures and stumbles helps other women to know that God gives grace. Pointing, not to ourselves, but to Him helps others to look to the only One who can enable them.
Older women have a reputation for being cranky, crochety, and critical of anything that’s not done like it was “back in my day.” Thank God, most of the older women I have known have not been like that. God has put some sweet, godly women of stellar character in my path over the years.
May we all seek His grace, whatever our ages, to please Him and to be a godly influence on those around us.
Some of my past posts related to these subjects:
- How Not to Become an Old Biddy
- I’m an Older Woman . . . So Now What?
- Mentoring Women
- Organic Mentoring
- Mentoring Is More Than Affirmation
- “Just Wait: It Gets Harder“
- Why Don’t Older Women Serve?
- How Older Women Can Serve
(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)