Paul cared so deeply for the church. Even as he considered his persecutions and trials, his concern over the churches remained his heaviest burden (2 Cor 11:24-28). Imagine the care he took in choosing exactly what he wanted to say to the churches and their leaders in the years leading up to the end of his life. That’s part of what we see in his letter to Titus. Paul had entrusted the church in Crete to Titus’ leadership and in his last brief letter, he tells Titus precisely what the church needs to know and why.
Paul instructs Titus in Christian responsibility first then presents the foundational doctrine for that behavior. In chapter one, Paul describes Christian conduct within the church; in chapter two, the home; in chapter three, the world. Within the church, Paul advises Titus to teach three groups of people: Older men, younger men, and older women. Yet, when it comes to young women, Titus is instructed to step aside and to allow the older women instruct them. What an honoring gesture, to call older women to this role! It testifies to the unique capabilities of mature women, as well as the unique needs of younger women.
Before calling these women to teach, Paul explains the type of moral character expected of older Christian women: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine” (2:3). They are to live lives of holiness, to exercise self-control in their words about others, and to avoid addictions. Then, Paul gives them the special task of teaching younger women “what is good” (2:1). The older woman isn’t left to wonder what good might mean; Paul specifically provides six informal, relationally-oriented, home-centered teaching points. “[Older women] are to teach what is good, and so 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” (Titus 2:4-5).
Train the Young Women to Love their Husbands and Children
It may seem strange to have to train young women to love their husbands and children, but distractions and difficulties will threaten their priorities at every turn! Christian women are to prioritize these familial relationships, even when feelings are lagging and relationships outside the home seem less complicated and more fun. Older women can remind younger women of the beauty of respectful and honoring love.
Training in self-control, means the older woman offers good advice that will bring a young woman to her senses. Self-control might be applied in a variety of ways from parenting to maintaining purity, or having upright moral character.
Working at Home, Kind
The younger woman should also be trained to be creating and maintaining her home, to love caring for her family, and to delight in the domestic sphere because it is the main context in which love and kindness occur. The older woman is also to teach the younger to be kind, not only to those within her household, but perhaps also by welcoming outsiders into her home.
Submissive to Their Own Husbands
Deferring to another’s leadership is not something that comes naturally, so the older woman should help the younger to recognize and affirm her husband’s role as spiritual leader of the family.
Let us not overlook the potential impact of this teaching role on the teacher. The older woman who regularly reminds the younger woman to prioritize her family and to show kindness to strangers will also be reminding herself. Ideally, both women will be both encouraged and more deeply committed in their relationships and responsibilities as a result of their time together.
Embracing these home-oriented issues is a weighty responsibility—the world around us is watching! In fact, these attitudes and actions are so important they determine how others view the gospel. We must do this so that the word of God may not be reviled. Our overarching concern is to glorify God through spreading the gospel and reflecting God’s grace—and a woman’s activities at home serve that evangelistic end. What a privilege!
At the end of chapter two, Paul offers the theological foundation for his instructions. John Stott summarizes it in this way: “The particular doctrine in Titus 2, on which Paul grounds his ethical appeal, is that of the two comings of Christ, which he here calls his two ‘epiphanies’ or appearings” (1). Jesus has come and is coming again. “For the grace of God has appeared” (2:11) and we wait for “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2:13). Paul challenges us to look in opposite directions at the same time, “to look back and remember the epiphany of grace (whose purpose was to redeem us from all evil and to purify for God a people of his own), and also to look forward and anticipate the epiphany of glory (whose purpose will be to perfect at his second coming the salvation he began at his first).”(2) This deliberate orientation is a daily discipline and will give purpose to our duties at home. Indeed, make us “zealous for good works” (2:14).
When we understand Paul’s desire to leave behind a strong church, we might expect that his letter would emphasize evangelism or church growth strategies. Instead, he reveals his convictions that the family unit is vital to the church and society, and that relationships between women are vital to that family unit. He enlists all women by calling them older and younger! All women have a responsibility to other women—to remind one another of theological realities that give meaning to otherwise mundane days. Today, this instruction to welcome an older or younger woman into your life might seem uncomfortable. Perhaps in Paul’s day it was more natural to have more than one generation living under one roof—and maybe that means we have to work a little harder to make it happen. Churches can inhibit intergenerational friendships by grouping people by age for classes or fellowship. It takes intentional effort and often some discomfort to buck age segregation in the church and have meaningful discipleship relationships between generations.
Are you a spiritually mature women who could sit with a younger friend over coffee and remind her of priorities at home? Don’t be intimidated by the unique contours of her life. Though she primarily communicates via texting and has a Facebook friendship circle of one thousand, she is not that different from you! Like many women, she may face insecurity, loneliness, competition, exhaustion, and overcommitment. She is challenged to love and submit to her husband, and she needs to be reminded of the gospel and the second coming of Jesus.
Are you a younger woman who could summon the wisdom of one who has walked with the Lord longer than you have? Don’t be intimidated by the unique contours of her life. Though she has an empty nest and doesn’t have an email address, she is not that different from you! She is waiting to be humbly invited to speak into your life. She has the wisdom of years that will help you to see that your work in your home and family is meaningful because of what Jesus has done and because of what he will do. She can help you to create an environment where love, purity, kindness, self-control, and submission flourish.
Together, we can teach and live what is good because we live between Jesus’ comings—and we can do so with gratitude and great hope.
(1) John Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1996), 192.
About the Author: Donna Thoennes (Ph.D., Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) serves on the faculty of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. Donna and her husband, Erik have two daughters, both adopted from Taiwan. At church, she enjoys discipling younger women and leading an orphan ministry called Project Hope.
[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry 2.2.]