“Grace is always the antithesis of the culture.” So went one of the especially pithy and memorable statements I heard from a favorite preacher. He was right. We often think of grace as simply the unmerited favor of God to sinful men and women—and it is! But grace is more than that; it is also a dynamic, sovereign, effectual, authoritative, conquering power that is mightily at work in, for, and through believers because of the work of Christ and in spite of their unworthiness. Grace is God freely and lovingly working on behalf of His chosen ones. And that grace both covers our sin and transforms us from root to branches into the image of Christ as expressed and outlined in the New Covenant law-word.
It is the antithesis of the culture because cultures are fallen. Not everything in every culture is bad, but cultures can and must be judged according to the Word of God—because cultures are the external expressions of the religious beliefs, worldview, and values of a people. These then shape things like dress, communication (including music and the arts), entertainment, etc. Culture also dictates our understanding of sexuality and gender. As the inheritors of a centuries-long experiment with varying aspects of ungodliness that have slowly decimated our culture, Americans find themselves in very confused ruins that at once bear some resemblance to the traditional beliefs and values that owe themselves to a Christianized worldview, and yet are covered with the fingerprints and graffiti of a thousand inconsistent, ungodly, and wicked ideas and assumptions.
As already hinted at, this is perhaps nowhere more prevalent than the ongoing national conversation about issues of sexuality and gender. Feminism, aggressive promotion of homosexuality, easy divorce, adultery, pornography, abortion, transgenderism, and a thousand other selfish and sinful practices are not argued for—they are assumed, promoted, celebrated. Even a cursory glance at the Bible would reveal that it stands athwart these expressions of human sexual and gender autonomy, just as it does in every other area. An especially strong sticking point in our feminism-ravaged culture is the distinct roles of men and women in the economy of God. Christians must be willing to assert the divine standard on this issue while doing so with equal parts sensitivity and boldness.
Paul is writing to Titus about the divine standard of holiness for different groups in the church. He has just completed God’s words to older men, and now embarks on His counsel to women. It is an enlightening study of our Lord’s wondrous and loving plan for them.
A. What Older Women Are to Be (v. 3)
“Likewise” tells us Paul is exhorting the women in the same vein as the men—God has an equally high calling for them. Their submission to Christ as Lord and entering the bonds of the New Covenant places an equal yoke upon their shoulders—women too are responsible to know and lovingly heed the God of heaven! Like the men, ladies are called to be reverent in their behavior. “Reverent,” then, is the governing category for both male and female conduct. All that follows explains what reverence looks like in varying situations, relationships, and attitudes. (The idea behold the Greek word is fitting in a sacred context, so we might also translate it “holy” or “consecrated.”) The woman of God is to behave in a way that befits her dignity and status as a Christian woman. Her life is to issue forth out of a rightly-ordered, consecrated heart. This life is most fully described for both men and women in Romans 12.
In application, Paul zeroes in on two temptations for older women: gossip and wine. A moment’s thought explains why he brings these up. Even in their more primitive culture, older women would not have had the responsibilities of child-rearing or other duties that tend to occupy the time of younger women. So what would be the temptation? To sit at home with other women in a similar stage of life, lingering over alcohol and spreading the latest bits of gossip about other church members and neighbors. “Gossip” is lit. “to be an accuser”! It is to either spread falsehoods about another or to spread true things with the intent of tearing down reputation and to shame. This cultivates lovelessness, hurt, loss of trust, and division in the church.
And of course, inebriation creates lowered inhibitions and loose lips—in that, it functions as a kind of gateway sin to gossip. Paul encourages the women to set a different example—one that builds up, rather than tears down, loves rather than condescends and judges, one that is alert and filled with the Spirit and holy song rather than the dulling pleasures of wine. Out of that kind of life they have the credibility to disciple younger women unto lived-out holiness. It is to the content of that discipleship we now turn.
B. What Older Women Are to Teach (vv. 4-5)
Contrary to what many may think, Paul certainly does believe women are to be in the ministry! What he withholds from them on the basis of role is the office and functions of elder. They cannot teach the church, but they may be effective teachers within the church. Here, he highlights the way older women can be used of God with great effectiveness in the lives of a key group of influencers—younger women. Paul tells these mothers in the faith to “encourage” younger women. This Greek word means “train in self-control, restore to senses, admonish and exhort earnestly.” Did you know Christians can be out of their senses through conformity to their flesh and the culture? The Word of God is given to restore us to right thinking and affections. Here, Paul says women have a high calling to train other women in the things of God. This is a gentle, insistently long-term relationship of discipleship, prayer, affection, instruction, learning, and examples. And if older women do not do this, from where will younger ladies personally learn the art of godly femininity? Only a host of carnal, immature, or otherwise wrong sources!
Paul gives three pairs of things women are to teach. As we will see, each pair goes together.
Love their husbands/Love their children
Lit. “husband-lovers” and “children-lovers.” A godly woman is to be characterized as a devoted lover of her husband and children. Interestingly, the word used for love, when applied to the husband, emphasizes neither sexual nor romantic love (though a godly marriage includes both), but the love of affectionate friendship. There is to be a warm delight in the wife’s heart towards her mate. As the years go on and more children sit in the pew between mom and dad, it is easy for resentment and small hurts to be built up. Paul encourages the older women to teach the younger to cultivate a whole-souled love for their husbands now, while they are young and have many years ahead to live it out.
Similarly, women are to be exhorted to devotedly and persistently shower their children with affection and kindness. One of the most stabilizing things for a small child, besides seeing mom and dad devotedly love one another, is to know he or she is unequivocally loved by their parents. Obviously, this is not a simpering love devoid of correction. But as women face the trials and challenges of raising children, Paul makes sure they are exhorted to sacrificially and devotedly love each child the Lord gives them—to keep choosing them in the often long nights and exhausted days of the littlest years.
How beautiful is God’s plan for the family!
Men are exhorted to sensibility in verse 2. Here, it carries the same ideas of self-control, of being well-regulated, of moderation. It calls both men and women to keep themselves in check and be able to evaluate problem, people, and situations from an objective vantage point rather than solely the inner, subjective one of shifting emotions and experience.
“Pure” is lit. “chaste.” It means to be undefiled by sin, especially sexual sin. (In that sense, we forget that married people are equally called to robust chastity.) Older women will know the unique pitfalls and temptations Satan throws at women, sexually and otherwise. They will be able to help younger women navigate them out of lived experience.
Workers at home/Kind
Elsewhere, Paul writes that wives are to “manage their households” (1 Tim. 5:14 ESV). The term is oikodespotes, which when applied to a woman would mean something like “mistress of the household.” In other words, (a) under God a woman has a definite and real sphere of decision-making authority in the home and (b) while it should not be exercised to undermine or overthrow the headship of her husband, her authority functions “as a check upon and limitation of the patriarchal authority of the husband and father,” as one author writes. Husband and wife have differing roles in the home, and neither has absolute authority in every sense. Both kinds of authority are to function together to upbuild the family and experience God’s blessing in the home.
If 1 Timothy 5:14 denotes the wife’s position, Titus 2:5 describes its exercise. The godly wife and mother is to be the keeper or guardian of the home. This does not mean what we understand as “housekeeping,” though obviously a godly wife will embrace that as much as she is able. Rather, it speaks of a kind of attitude and the actions which flow from it: The center of her life is to be the household. She is to dedicate herself, under God, to establish, cultivate, and upbuild the home. Anything that would cause the flourishing, fruitfulness, and godliness of the home, God gives the wife authority to do and expects her to do it as a helpmeet to her husband.
How does this fit with “kind”? Well, certainly a godly woman will do all of this with a sweet, joyful spirit. But “kind” really does not capture the nuance of the Greek word. More literally it carries the idea of useful or profitable, honorably so. A godly woman, then, is not to hinder her husband and children from fruitfulness by how she manages her home. She is to be an effective means to their (and her own! And others’ who visit!) flourishing and fruitfulness. She is to be an invaluable asset to her household, and not simply because she’s the only one who knows how to work the stove and turn on the washing machine—but because without her gracious and loving attentiveness to household details and the souls who inhabit it, the whole place would be the poorer.
How can women find fulfillment? The same way men can—by joyfully, freely embracing the design of their Creator. Far from being a misogynist, Paul longs for women to have true joy, freedom, and fullness. And that can only happen as they yield themselves to the design of God! May God help all of us exhort each other to the full embrace of God’s beautiful plan for men and women!