Older women [must] 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.
Here in Titus 2:4-5 the Apostle Paul gives instructions to young women that fly in the face of today’s accepted western wisdom. These instructions will strike many as ridiculous, laughable, outdated, even patronizing. Surely, this can’t be God’s will for young women in our modern, western society!
Actually, it is.
Paul here is not stating something new – his instructions didn’t come out of the blue. What he writes here is built on God’s abiding revelation as first revealed in Paradise. When we look back through Scripture we see that Paul is simply echoing what God has said in the Bible many times before. Consider the following passages.
Genesis 2 wives
From the beginning God has given young women the important task of being wives, and in this role being a help to their husbands.
The Lord God put the man He created in the Garden of Eden, with the mandate “to work it and keep it” (vs. 15). The Lord observed the man-by-himself in the Garden, and determined that “it is not good that the man should be alone” (vs. 18). On his lonesome the man could not image adequately what God’s love and kindness and holiness and patience, etc., were like, for these qualities come out primarily in relationships. To overcome this lack that the Lord observed, He did not set beside Adam a penguin to be his companion, nor did He create a second male as a companion. What He did instead was fashion a new being, a woman.
Paul in the New Testament explains the significance of this divine act: “woman [was created] for man” (1 Corinthians 11:9). We also read that God ordained the married state (Genesis 2:24) with the divine intent that the man be the head and leader, and the woman be “helper” to her husband in his God-given task in daily life (see vs. 15). The woman was not created to be a lone ranger, living independent of man or for her self. To the degree that today’s way of thinking encourages women to be independent of men (or, for that matter, men to be independent of women), today’s thinking is simply not biblical.
Of course the fall into sin complicated the wife’s helping role greatly, if only because selfishness has now come to characterize every person (Ephesians 2:3). In fact, part of the curse on the fallen woman was that she would attempt to dominate her husband (Genesis 3:16b), something distinctly contrary to the ordinance of the beginning and therefore not tolerable among God’s people (see Ephesians 5:22ff).
Genesis 1 mothers
We also learn in the very beginning of the Bible that young women have been given the vital role of being mothers and teachers of the next generation.
The Lord God created male and female to, together, image what God was like. And, together, they were also to be fruitful so that they would produce more people on Planet Earth who could image God (Genesis 1:27,28).
However, the children that would be born to Adam and Eve in Paradise would not have some sort of instinctive knowledge about how they were to image God. No, they would need to be taught. Inasmuch as Eve would give birth and nurse the child, she would play a vital role in the child’s early physical, mental and emotional and, most importantly, spiritual formation. Mothering, we all realize, is much more than nursing or feeding; mothering is first of all training the child how to live in God’s world, how to image Him.
Even in Paradise training on that level was not to start when the child was a toddler or of school age or became a teenager; had infants been born in Paradise, they would have needed concerted instruction from day one on how to image God’s characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc.
This much is clear, then: as Eve busied herself with her tasks beside Adam in the Garden, she was at the same time to be diligent to mold her children, speak to them of their Maker, and show them what imaging Him was like in life’s changing circumstances.
Again, the fall into sin made this task so very much more difficult – if only because both the child and the mother were now inclined to any and every sort of evil. Even so, the task given at the very beginning remains. No mother is to permit evil, selfish attitudes to grow in the heart of her little one; from the day her child is born a mother is to show what love is, and demonstrate kindness, patience, self-control, etc. In fact, exactly because of the sinfulness of the child’s heart, the task is much bigger and more vital than it would ever have been in Paradise. To say it in Moses words:
“You shall teach [God’s words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand…” (Deuteronomy 6:7f).
Mothering is full-time commitment!
Proverbs 31 household managers
Proverbs 31 works out in practical terms the roles given in Genesis 1 & 2. The “excellent wife” (vs. 10) is busy in so many things – buying, selling, importing, helping the poor, etc.
A young woman should not think of her household task as a limiting one. The way the world portrays it a young woman can either become something… or stay at home and manage the house.
However, when we look at the woman of Proverbs 31 what we see is a capable, talented, ambitious woman. We see a woman who is certainly not limited in what she does. But she is also not career-driven. It isn’t self-fulfillment or a spirit of independence that drives her; instead her agenda revolves around her household: “the heart of her husband trusts in her…. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (vss. 11f) so that “her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land” (vs. 23). More, she recognizes her role with her children so that “she looks well to the ways of her household…. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (vss. 27, 28).
This woman is not the proverbial “super-mom,” but simply a God-fearing woman (vs. 30b) who takes the principle of Genesis 1 and 2 seriously, and works them out in the economic context of her day.
Titus 2 young women
Now let’s return to our passage in Titus 2.
This letter is written to the believers in Crete, where the gospel had only just come, so Paul saw need to list for Titus the bits and pieces required to build up church life (Titus 1:5), including instructions to the “young women” of the congregation. The older women (see “Older Woman have a lot to give“) were to train the young women to live in a particular way – and that training happens, of course, with the book of Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) laying open on the kitchen table.
“love their husbands”
The first thing the older women are to impress upon the younger is the need to “love their husband.” It’s striking: Paul’s opening instruction is not that the younger wives are to submit to husbands and serve them; it’s instead the command to love. The term the apostle uses has nothing to do with erotic love, but everything to do with the love of the gospel. The same word appears in John 3:16, “for God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son…” It’s the same word the Spirit uses to describe Jesus’ work on the cross: Jesus “loved them to the end” (John 13:1). He who was with the Father in glory from eternity laid down His life for His own, even though He knew that they would desert Him and deny Him.
The good news of Jesus’ self-emptying for sinners had come to Crete and for that reason the believers of Crete were expected to act in a certain manner (Titus 2:11). Specifically, because the gospel of Jesus Christ had come to Crete, the pious were to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” (2:12) – and that includes that they were to love their neighbor as themselves.
The closest neighbor God gave to the “young women” was obviously their husband, the man with whom she was “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Younger women, then, were duty-bound to love their husbands as Christ had loved them; how else could they image what God was like?
Christ laid down His life for the ungodly (Romans 5:8); that was the depth and color of His love. Since his people are to do the same Paul does not mention whether these young women’s husbands are deserving of love or not; the young women are simply to do to their husbands as Christ has done to them. To fail to love in that self-emptying manner is to send a signal into the community that prompts the community to speak ill of God’s Word – and the apostle won’t have that (vs. 5b).
“love their… children”
The people next closest to the young women are the children the Lord has entrusted to their care. It’s not surprising, then, that the apostle next instructs the women to love those children. Again, the point is not that these mothers are to be nice to their children or to feel emotional about them; the point is that they empty themselves for their children’s benefit as Jesus Christ emptied Himself for these women. Again, that self-emptying for the children’s benefit images what the Lord God is like.
The young women of Crete were undoubtedly as affected by the fall into sin as anyone else. In their midst will have been mothers who would have preferred to be in the workforce, who would have felt more fulfilled by whatever amounted to an “office job” back then, who loathed housework, or who didn’t have a “feel” for children. But Paul’s word is categorical; they were to empty themselves as Christ emptied Himself, and so show love for their children. Paul wasn’t so much encouraging particular feelings for the children as actions; the children should see from Mom what Jesus’ love looked like.
“be self-controlled and pure”
The next two terms Paul uses to describe what the younger women were to be, appears in our translations as “self-controlled” and “pure” (NIV and ESV). The first of these terms appears elsewhere in Scripture to mean “being in one’s right mind” (Luke 8:35) or exercising “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3).
Right-minded and sober judgment implies that one include all necessary facts in ones decision-making process. That includes the facts mentioned a few verses later in Titus 2:11: “the grace of God has appeared” in Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, “bringing salvation for all people.” The “young women” of the church are to factor that good news into their decisions as they set about loving their husbands and children. Including the gospel in one’s decision-making processes is being “right-minded,” thinking with “sober judgment.”
The term “pure” is used in pagan literature to describe the need to be chaste/pure when you enter the temple of your idol. The term, then, echoes the instruction of vs. 3, where Paul told the older women to act in a fashion “befitting a temple.” The younger women have also received the Holy Spirit, and so are temples of the Lord God; they demonstrate that reality by loving their husbands and children as the Lord of the temple loved them.
“working at home, [being] kind”
With the underlying attitudes made clear, the apostle again comes back to what outward conduct Genesis 1 and 2 requires of New Testament women. He uses a phrase that translates well as “working at home.” The point of the phrase is not that these younger women always have their hands in the sink; that is a devilish caricature not at all in agreement with God’s intent.
The Lord’s intent for the younger women is laid out in Genesis 1 and 2, and is drawn out clearly in passages of Old Testament Scripture like Proverbs 31. As mentioned earlier, everything that mother does (whether at home or at the market or in the office) is geared to what’s good for her household, be it first her husband and then her children. That’s taking the principles of Genesis 1 and 2, and working them out in the economic realities of the day. That’s “homeworking,” where all her activity is directed to what’s good for her family. The point is again: not selfishness, but service to the family as Christ served you.
The next term Paul uses dovetails neatly with the instruction to be “working at home.” In her “kindness” or “goodness,” she images God’s goodness and kindness to His children in Jesus Christ. So she “looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (Proverbs 31:27).
“submissive to their own husbands”
The last instruction the apostle gives to the young women of the congregation is caught in the phrase “submissive to their own husbands.” We realize that here is again a distinct and clear echo of God’s instruction in Genesis 2. Though the fall into sin has made submission so infinitely more difficult than it was for Eve in Paradise, this posture has remained the will of God despite the fall. It’s God who once placed a particular woman beside a particular man, and it’s now His will that a woman in faith accept the head God has placed over her and submit to him. After all, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (2:11); in life’s multiple brokenness there is salvation from the torment of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. So we’re made able to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions (2:12), including the desire deep within women to resist submission (Genesis 3:16b).
So a woman who knows Christ’s victory is real demonstrates her conviction by submitting – in obedience to God’s ordinance – to the man God gave her. As a temple of the Spirit she has been made able to obey – and know herself safe in the hands of her faithful God and Savior.
“that the word of God may not be reviled”
Our modern western culture scoffs at the apostle’s instruction to younger women; it’s so archaic, so demeaning, so sexist! We’re inclined to say it’s precisely instruction such as this that makes God’s Word ridiculous, and if we could get rid of this throwback to an outdated culture, the gospel of Jesus Christ would be more acceptable to modern people.
In response we need to note two things.
- The first is that the cry for female freedom is not so new: cultured folk of Paul’s day called for the same thing. I mention this because Paul was definitely aware of the thinking of his time, and so very aware too that his instruction in Titus 2 was distinctly out of step with the finer tastes of society’s movers and shakers. Yet he dared to write what he wrote – and the reason for his daring is simply that he knew he was unpacking, for his modern time, God’s unchanging Word as first revealed in Paradise.
- Secondly, we need to note how the apostle concludes his instructions concerning the young women. They are to behave in the way he describes, he says, “that the word of God may not be reviled” (2:5b). It’s a statement we’re surprised at. Isn’t it precisely those instructions of Scripture that have a young woman work at home, submitting to her husband and devoting herself to her children that make the Word of God look silly? How, then, can Paul say that obedience is necessary lest the Word of God be reviled?
The point here is simply that anyone, whether godly or pagan, who reads the Word of God beginning at Genesis 1, can figure out for himself that the woman was created for the man, that her husband is her head, that she has responsibility for her children, and that her place is in the home. Any honest reader of Scripture can figure out that Paul’s instruction in Titus 2:4-5 is not new material, but simply summarizes what God had earlier revealed. If these Bible readers, then, see that you, a Christian who claims to treasure the Word of God, ignore God’s instruction in relation to younger women, then you give the unbelieving reader of Scripture reason not to take the rest of God’s Word seriously either.
If you insist, as it says in Titus 2:11, that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” and if you encourage the people you meet to believe in the good news of Christ crucified for sin, you would be shooting yourself in the foot if you then decided not to take Genesis 1 & 2 seriously. For if you don’t take God’s instruction in Genesis 1 & 2 about the place of women seriously, why should you expect somebody else to take seriously other passages of Scripture that describe Christ’s death for sin and His resurrection from the dead? If you don’t take Titus 2:4-5 seriously, on what grounds can you still take Titus 2:11 seriously? The result? The word of God is reviled. If any word of God is to be taken seriously, it must all be taken seriously.
Value beyond measuring
Let’s tie it all up. Paul had left Titus on Crete with the mandate to “put in order” details of church life on the island (1:5). The fact that he, in that context, included instructions about “young women” can only mean that these sisters have an invaluable role to play in church life.
And while the world doesn’t like the supportive role that God has given women, the popularity of the adage “behind every successful man is a good woman” shows how even they recognize how vital this support is. Young women’s husbands have a leadership role to play in society (Genesis 2:15) and to fulfill that task they need a helper (Genesis 2:18). Similarly, the behind-the-scenes (no big plaudits or public praise) support and love mothers give to their children is what allows them to grow in wisdom and knowledge. As another adage explains, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” There is no way we can overstate the importance of the role God has given to young women.
Young women, then, are not to think of marriage, mothering, and working at home as drudgery. Of course, keeping it from being so can be a distinct challenge in our fallen world. But the fact that it’s a challenge is no reason to flee from the task. Instead younger women, redeemed as they are in Jesus’ blood and renewed by His Spirit, are to lift their eyes above the snotty noses and the piles of laundry, above their tired husband and their own preferences, and fix their attention on what God is doing. He intends wives and husbands, in relation together, to image Him, and train the next generation to do the same!
To be allowed to be involved in His church gathering work is such a privilege! That church gathering work happens first of all in the home, where young women have been given such a critical role. Neither money or business makes the world go round, and it isn’t education either; rather, the home is where it’s at. How privileged the position of the young godly woman!
Rev. Bouwman is a minister for the Canadian Reformed Church of Smithville, Ontario. This article first appeared in the February 2013 issue.