One of the first things we say when we meet someone new at a party is, “What do you do?” “What do you do with yourself?” You’re wanting to know what their job is. Or at least, what their course of study is at uni.
Now of course, that produces an awkward silence if the answer comes back, “Um, nothing at the moment.” A moment’s logical reflection tells you it’s wrong… I mean, they’re standing there chatting and having a drink. And no doubt they shopped for groceries or went to the beach or to a job interview that day. But you each know what you were getting at… And so the often embarrassing reply comes back, ”Nothing.” Meaning, “I don’t have a job; I’m unemployed.”
So trying to be sensitive, I’ve learnt to ask something like, “What sort of things occupy your time? Or, “How do you like to pass your time?” But sometimes people are so stuck in the define-you-by-your-job rut that they still reply, “Nothing, I’m between jobs.” And I say, “No, I mean what sort of things do you enjoy?” And it slowly dawns on them that I’m not trying to define them just by their job.
But there’s another reason for asking the broader question. That’s because I get so sad to hear a woman reply… “Oh, I’m just a housewife.” “What do you do?” “Oh,I’m just a housewife.” I get so annoyed that I sometimes find myself correcting them. “You’re not just a housewife. Being a mother, running a home, loving a family is highly significant. And it can easily be a full time job. Just because it’s unpaid we must not let society denigrate it.
Am I right? Is it sad that many women are made to feel being a homemaker is not so valuable, and perhaps should just be a pause between returning to a career? Or is the discouragement women still sometimes feel in making a career in the professional world only exacerbated by suggesting that they’d be fine working hard at home. After all, many women have experienced the near impossibility of having a career and raising children, when they still bear more than their fair share of the housework.
So what does God’s Word have to say about this issue? Is it still relevant? Titus1:1 spoke of the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness. And in chapter2, Paul spells out what godliness can look like for various groups in a church– men, women, young, old, slaves. It’s not that godliness is different for different groups. Men are to be wild, women to be mild, oldies tired and the young are to be wired! Godliness at its heart is the same – to be more like Jesus. And Steve showed last week that there is overlap between what Paul says to the different groups. In particular, for example, being ‘sensible’or ‘self-controlled’ (depending on your translation) is a quality he wants from church elders, older men, young men and for older women to teach younger women.
But Paul does say different things to different groups. And I am sure the Holy Spirit had a reason for inspiring him to do so. Presumably it’s because we do face different temptations depending on our gender and age, at least to some extent.
Tonight we’re focussing on what Paul says to women. And we begin by looking at what he says about godliness for older women. Of course, Paul never defines who is old and who is young. Indeed you could be young in one context, meeting with our morning congregations. And you could be old in another, say leading a youth group. And if you’ve decided you have enough grey hair to qualify as old, you still need to know what’s said to younger women so you can instruct them, as it says here. And if you reckon you’re young, then one day, unless Jesus returns first, you will be an older woman and you need to know what to aim at.
First Paul talks about personal godliness for older women, v3.
In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. [They are] to teach what is good [Holman Christian Standard Bible – N.B. we were experimenting with this different translation.]
Reverence means the holiness of someone who belongs to God. But it’s spelt out in terms of not being slanderers. Lesley Ramsey, of Evangelism Ministries, writing about this passage, suggests it’s an example where there is a particular tendency to sin for a particular group. She says, “Women, as a general characteristic, are very relational and conversational. We like talking, and sometimes our genuine concern for other people can degenerate into gossip, and if that goes unchecked, even into slander.”
Likewise the command not to be addicted to much wine. Of course, it applies to any Christian. But the woman of a home had constant access to the food and drink stores of a household. Often no one else is around to notice how much she snacks or drinks. So here, being sensible or self-controlled applies specifically to the need to avoid addiction to alcohol. And we could add, addiction to other drugs or maybe even to chocolate or caffeine!
Then at the end of v3, alongside personal godliness, we see that older women are to exercise a very important teaching ministry. They are to teach what is good. Now the good they are to teach is spelt out in vv.4-5, which we’ll look at in a moment. But it’s worth reflecting on the fact that Titus is not instructed to teach the younger women. He’s told to teach every other group. But why does Paul tell Titus to get the older women to teach the younger instead of doing it himself?
Partly it would be unwise for a man to spend so much time with young women, perhaps of similar age. There is the potential for inappropriate intimacy to develop. Butsurely the sort of personal and family attributes and skills mentioned in vv.4-5 really need to be taught by women who have already “been there and done that”.
In fact, what this gives us is a restriction on men’s ministry. The implication is that it’s not appropriate for a man to do this particular teaching ministry - with younger women. And it’s a great affirmation of women’s ministry. Here is a teaching ministry that women ought to engage in actively and positively. How do they teach? Presumably by direct instruction. But also by example.
Now these days we have our traditional service for oldies. And family services. And then our young adult congregation. Of course, it’s normal for people of a similar age to congregate together and to like similar things. But how many women of a different age do you know? Titus 2 says that it’s a great thing for women to hang out with women of different ages. It’s wonderful that older women attend the 7pm congregation. It would be a good idea for parents at 5pm to invite their kids’ Sunday School teachers or youth leaders over for a meal. Likewise the words of such teachers and leaders are just so important to the kids you lead in those ministries. But a lot of the teaching will be simply what rubs off from chatting and hanging out. So a question for women: how could you take some intentional steps to spend time with those who are older or younger than you?
Let’s turn now to godliness for younger women.
And this means loving husbands and kids. You see it clearly in v.4. The older women are to teach the younger women…
4. so that they may encourage [or ‘train’ NIV] the young women to love their husbands and children, 5. to be sensible, pure, good homemakers, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered. [HCSB]
Lesley Ramsay said, “Do you think this is a strange instruction? Isn’t training a wife and mother to love her husband and children a bit like training a fish to swim? Doesn’t it just come naturally?” We might fall in love. But staying in love in the nitty gritty of long work hours and dirty nappies and high rent or loan repayments is another matter. And in fact the so-called maternal instinct develops differently indifferent women.
Many young women can testify to the great help a more experienced wife or mother has been in these mysteries. Not so much as the dogmatic know-it-all voice-of-experience. But if she just gently comes alongside to listen and help and offer a quiet suggestion here or there.
The truth is that it’s hard to love people. It doesn’t come naturally. Looking after No. 1 is what we do well. So the New Testament constantly commands love. We are to love God, to love our neighbour, even to love our enemies. But sacrificial other-person-centredness is costly. This is true of men and women.
But let Lesley Ramsay apply it to the women. “Husbands and children are so close to us and our relationship of wife and mother demands so much of us. They will try our patience and test our commitment to love them more than anyone else. If weare to love them, we will put them first. In this godless society, Christian women need to be encouraged to put their own goals and ambitions to one side in order to fulfil their God-given responsibilities of wife and mother and lovetheir husbands and children!”
Titus2:5 also mentions that women are to be homemakers; literally, home-workers. Aparallel passage in 1 Timothy 5:14 says, “So I counselyounger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their home…” Now it’s important to avoidstereotypes. The home was not just a reference to 2.2 kids and the dog, letalone a white picket fence. Managing a household could involve an extendedfamily, various servants, as well as operating a business out of the home.Proverbs 31 reminds us what a wide range of activities the wise wife could beinvolved with: farming and trading and investing and so on. But both there andhere, the fact remains that the Bible presents the home as the key arena forher activities, and serving her husband and children her key focus.
LesleyRamsay again, “There is no biblical injunction to say that a married womancannot work outside the home, but there are clear responsibilities, undernormal circumstances, on a wife and a mother to make the home a first priority.And if there are conflicting demands, then home must come first.” We musthonour this as a high calling. And we should remember that Paul calls it work.It may be unpaid. But we should highly esteem the role. They are not ‘just’housewives.
Thereis a strong emphasis on marriage and family here, partly because most women inPaul’s day married as soon as they reached marriageable age, unlike us.However, Paul also talks about personal godliness for younger women in v.5.They are to be sensible and pure. ‘Sensible’ is that quality we’ve alreadymentioned. For the Cretans Titus taught at least, it cut across all the genderand age groups. But ‘purity’ is the desire to be uncontaminated, a commitmentto holiness. I know how hard it was for me to arrive at marriage as a virgin.And the pressure has only increased in the nearly 15 years since I married. Menstill hit on young women, saying, “If you love me, you’d do it.” And the onlyreply should if, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t pressure me.”
Butas Lesley Ramsay says, “It must be extraordinarily hard to live in this ‘Sex inthe City’ world, where moral purity is a joke and you’re a dinosaur if you’restill a virgin at 18. But God’s standards of sexual purity are as absolutetoday as they were in the first century – no sex before marriage, andfaithfulness to one partner within marriage. And that’s not because he’s acosmic kill-joy, it’s because His design for faithful monogamy works best.” Andolder Christian women need to find ways to reassure the younger Christian womenthat it’s actually true.
Nowwe move to perhaps the most controversial bit of this short passage, the bit inv.5 about wives being submissive to their husbands. I have to say this is notwhat I was taught as a kid. And it did not sit well with me as a youth growingup in my culture. But I have come to believe it and want to say a word or twoabout it.
Firstlya word to the blokes. You can all wake up and stop replaying Australia’s WorldCup qualification triumph in your minds! I want to say loud and clear thatwhatever else the Bible says about wives submitting to their husbands, it isnever, never, ever an excuse for domestic violence. It is never, ever an excusefor verbal or physical aggression towards your wife, or to any woman. Pleasenote that the Bible never tells the husband to make his wife submit. It is herfree choice, not your job to attain. Your job is to love her sacrificially. Tolay down your life. Not just to protect and defend her. But to give up yourrights. To consider her thoughts. Indeed, on the matter of sex, 1 Corinthians7:3-5 says she owns your body as much as you own hers. And it presents mutualagreement as the right way to proceed in regards to having sex. Men, there’s noexcuses on this one.
Howevernow a word to the women. I need to say that this teaching about submission isrepeated many times in the New Testament; by Paul in Ephesians, in Colossians,here in Titus, but also from Peter in chapter 3 of his first letter.Furthermore there is no doubt that it refers to making yourself subject to theauthority of another. That’s what this ‘submit’ word means when used in allother contexts in the New Testament and in other ancient Greek literature.
Toface this is undoubtedly difficult when it refers to sinful men, and living ina post-feminist world. However, if we wish to be faithful to God’s Word, weneed to understand it, rather than seek to explain it away. Submission does notmean giving up your personality. It does not mean being a doormat. But positively,it does mean leaving room for your husband to exercise leadership, offeringloving loyalty to him even though men are so often slower to express theirfeelings or thoughts or even to take action. It will look different indifferent marriages and with different personalities. But it will show up inyour attitude to him.
Myconclusion more broadly today is that this little section of Titus 2 teaches usto prize women’s ministry. We must value the ministries of women. This passageis one of the clearest biblical rationales for having a formal women’sministry. There are things that men just can’t do in this area and shouldn’ttry. Some things women need to hand on to the next generation. This is not byany means the only ministry women can do. But it is critical and central.Further, again I would challenge those women responsible for thinking about ourparish’s women’s ministries to ensure there are opportunities for crossgenerational ministry. And I repeat that so much can be done informally. But tothink that men and women should be happy to do everything interchangeably inthe church is to acknowledge only the similarities, but fails to see thegenuine, God-given differences. There is no reason for any women to say, “Ihave no ministry” when there are many women with whom we can developsignificant relationships and urge them onto godliness.