Older women are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They 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 2:3-5)
This is a well-known passage, isn’t it? But maybe it’s one that we prefer to ignore, rather than dwell on, with its old-fashioned, apparently chauvinistic emphasis on feminine virtues and the importance of loving and submitting to one’s husband, caring for one’s children, and working at home.
I think it’s time we stopped and took a closer look because this passage tells us a lot about the responsibilities of pastors, older women and younger women. In Titus 2, Paul tells Titus what to teach various groups in the churches of Crete—the older men, the older women, the young men and slaves. But when it comes to young women, his instruction is one step removed: it is older women, not Titus, who are to teach younger women about the qualities of biblical womanhood. Older women are to train young women in loving and submitting to their husbands, loving their children, managing their homes, and being self-controlled, pure and kind.
This is not an exhaustive list of topics. If we looked elsewhere in the Bible, we could add other qualities to the teaching curriculum for women: being faithful, loving, holy and fearing God (Prov 31:30, 1 Tim 2:15); being rich in good deeds, like hospitality, service and helping the poor (Acts 9:36, 39, 1 Tim 2:10, 5:10, Titus 3:5); using words for faithful instruction, rather than gossiping and quarrelling (Prov 21:9, 19, 31:26, 1 Tim 5:13, Titus 2:3); being hardworking rather than idle (1 Tim 5:13, Prov 31:27); and possessing the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Tim 2:11, 1 Pet 3:4-6). (I’d like to write a follow-up post on this, so tell me if you think of any others.)
Young women are crying out for this kind of teaching. A man in university ministry told me recently that, of all the training offered to female students, the most eagerly attended were the sessions his godly, faithful wife led on marriage, motherhood and managing a home. This doesn’t surprise me; I remember my own unsatisfied longing, as a young women, for a godly older woman to mentor me in Christian womanhood. To my shame, when I was a young woman mentoring younger women at university, it didn’t occur to me to talk much about qualities like inner beauty, purity, and a quiet and gentle spirit, let alone marriage, motherhood and homemaking, or godly singleness.
I don’t think the situation is better in many churches. One woman I know who wanted to start a training day for women was told that women should be teaching mixed groups, not women-only groups. There’s often little mentoring of younger women by older women, perhaps because of the gulf between generations, cultural embarrassment about giving advice, and lack of training in one-to-one ministry. Where churches have a strong and vital ministry of women to women, the influence of feminism often prevents this ministry from focusing on the practice of submission or the care of a home.1
Yes, I know that women are Christians before they are women. I know that, like men, women need to be pointed to Christ alone for salvation, encouraged to walk the way of the cross, and exhorted to God-glorifying obedience. Women, like men, are called to pray, to love others, to share their faith, to be patient and to give thanks—all the common responsibilities of a common faith. But God has made men and women different, with different primary spheres and different responsibilities, and the teaching and training of women should look different from that given to men.
If you’re a pastor or leader of a Christian group, why not think about how you can enable older women to teach and train younger women in the qualities of biblical womanhood? This may happen through books, training days, mentoring, study groups, seminars and personal encouragement, but it probably won’t happen without your leadership, oversight and courageous teaching on biblical manhood and womanhood. Paul doesn’t give pastors direct responsibility for training young women in the qualities of biblical womanhood, but he does seem to give them responsibility for making sure the older women in their churches are equipped, enabled and encouraged to teach younger women.
And if you’re an ‘older woman’, experienced in the Christian life, let me encourage you to think about how you can mentor younger women in the practice of godly womanhood. Young women are thirsty for your help, encouragement and advice. If you’re too busy, you may need to restructure your priorities to give yourself time to spend with younger women. You don’t need to be able to teach; it’s enough to offer practical help to the struggling single mother, the single woman and the newly married wife. It’s enough to be there to answer their questions, share with them what God has taught you and give them an example of the beauty of Christian womanhood.
Perhaps you’re a young woman at the start of the journey of learning how to care for your husband, children and home, or learning how to live a godly single life. You don’t have to do it alone! Look around. Who are the godly older women in your church who can help and guide you in biblical womanhood? Remember, they may not want to push themselves forward, so you may need to take the initiative. Perhaps you could write a list of questions. Ask them how they love their husbands, raise their children and manage their homes, or how they express the qualities of biblical womanhood as single women.2 You will find that most will be delighted to be asked for help, advice and counsel.