In the heart of his letter to Titus, Paul dedicates three verses to Christian women:
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, 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 defiled. (Titus 2:3-5, ESV)
These short verses have become the focal text for many great ministries and discipleship programs among women in churches today. In fact, these verses have grown to such popularity among Christian women that the book of Titus is often known among women in reference to the “Titus 2 Woman.”
I have found myself treating Titus 2 as little more than a gender-identity workshop. Too often we tragically cut Titus 2 off from the larger context in an overly personalized way. For years I have been drawn to biblical verses and books dealing with womanhood, selectively zooming to passages that deal with the issue, and skimming through most of everything else.
But I’ve come to the conclusion that chopping off sections of the Bible, in the way I was doing, produces nothing more than obstructed and skewed identities. In other words, we understand our gendered Identity less clearly. We can have a narrow-mindedness focus about Christian womanhood. Our identity as women created in God’s image is at its best when received in the context of the entirety of God’s story, firmly rooted in all of God’s word, and distinctively placed in our local church.
That’s why before Titus 2 is about me, Titus 2 is about God. Titus 2 is not just about women; it is about the whole church, about the reputation of God’s word, and about the Great Commission. With that in mind, here are 3 points for women to think about, drawn from the large context of the book of Titus, that have revolutionized my understanding of femininity in the light of God, his word, and his church.
Women: In the Church
Paul begins his letter asserting that the message is for the benefit of the entire church (Titus 1:1). After spending the first half of the letter highlighting each of the people classes in the church, Paul switches the distinctive gears to the plural form of the collective “us”, “our”, “we”—referring to the church. The change happens in chapter 2 verse 11, featuring the church’s mission as a whole in adorning, in everything, the “doctrine of God our Savior.” It is clear to me, after studying the letter, that before God is crazy about me as a woman, God is crazy about us, as a church.
Then, in three short verses, Paul maps some key highlights for women. He oscillates between character and behavior, teaching and learning, in home and outside of home, husbands and kids. So, why such a concise list of feminine character traits and mission fields?
I believe that Paul’s intent in itemizing these spiritual bullet-points of character was never to encourage a segregated and inward-focused class of Christian women. Though a believing woman’s reverent, loving, pure, submissive, self-controlled, hard working, kind character is nothing short of wondrous gospel glory, a testimony to the Spirit’s work in our hearts. Viewed in the context of his entire letter, Paul’s objective has always been to anchor women deeper into the unity of the church so they can faithfully serve God in their roles as women. Like a photographer would focus on a pregnant woman’s belly, highlighting this beautiful and marvelous part of her body, so is Paul zooming into the gender class of women as connected to the whole of the church. As valued and intrinsic body parts, we live out our Christian femininity best when we are connected to the body as a whole!
In verse Titus 2:5, Paul pays a close attention to the women’s rapport with their own households through a series of words like “husbands,” “children,” “submissive,” “working at home.” When neighbors see us submit to our husbands and love our children, they will smell the beautiful aroma of Christ’s church. It is clear to me that Paul intends to call to the attention of each Christian woman that the way she builds (or tears down) her household reflects greatly on the reputation of the church in the world.
Women: Tied to God’s Word and Each Other
The list of godly characteristics Paul puts together for women in these 3 verses is not meant to cause women, especially the new Christians, to feel inadequate, or to showcase some others’ strengths and achievements. Nor are they means of gaining favor with God through great works. In fact, Paul clearly states later in chapter 3 that “our works done in righteousness” earn us nothing when it comes to God’s grace and sacrifice for us. Our salvation is based solely on God’s goodness, loving-kindness, and mercy offered to us freely as a gift through Jesus Christ the Savior (Titus 3:5-6).
Paul offers this list of characteristics as missional opportunities given uniquely to each woman for the purpose of adorning the gospel in the world. How else would the world understand the meaning of the church submitting to Christ, if not by watching Christian women lovingly, selflessly, and kindly submitting to their husband’s leadership? How would they know of the mystery of union of Christ and his bride, the church, if not by witnessing the very godly, marital, covenant between a husband and a wife? Where else if not in a Christian family would they see lives valued and children welcomed because God alone is the giver of all life?
Truth is, what we believe as women is reflected in how we live. Sound doctrine is intimately tied to sound living. Here’s the bottom line: our living as godly women either validates the Bible to the world, or it condemns it, since most of the world doesn’t judge us by our theology but by our behavior.
The challenge at the end of the third verse has always fascinated me, though it is very easy to miss. “Older women likewise […] teach […] and train […] that the word of God may not be reviled” (Titus 2:5, italics mine). Paul is basically challenging women to teach other women how to live the gospel because the honor of God is at stake. Paul esteems God’s honor above everything else, therefore he never takes the teaching of God’s word lightly. Paul is not concerned about our convenience or self-confidence. Teaching other women the Word of God is not an optional extra-curricular activity, nor one that requires a theological PhD degree. In fact, Paul calls women to simply use the open Bible and their testimonies to come alongside others, for the purpose of sharing Jesus’ good news of salvation.
I love how the passage calls women to move toward one another for the purpose of training and teaching. The unifying intimacy between women in the church was (and still is) rooted in learning God’s word together. And Paul knew that unity and intimacy was exactly what the women in this new church needed. To many of those first generation believing women of Crete, the Christian worldview was radical, counter-cultural, and dangerous. Many were undoubtedly persecuted by their family, some even cut off from them. Exiled from their families, embraced by the new family in Christ. How were they to live now as God-honoring believers in a hostile world? That’s when Paul connects them to one another through the teaching and studying of the very transformative and powerful words of God.
Women: The Great Commission
Before Paul’s letter is about the church, Paul’s letter is about Jesus, the one who came to save the lost. Paul’s missional letter is meant to prepare men and women to be better better missionaries for Jesus. After all, seeking the lost and building up the saved is what Jesus calls his church to do. With this in mind, Paul calls women to share Christ inside their home and in neighbor’s homes as well. Paul is reminding us that homemaking and discipleship of other women don’t exclude the great commission, but rather they embrace it fully. Because our theology is missional, our teaching and training at home and with other women should be missional as well!
Imagine the effect our sound, missional theology will have on our homes: a godly home, orbiting around Christ, teaching children of the good news of salvation daily. In our churches, it will strengthen and firmly plant the future generations on Christ. And in the world, it will point hurt women to Christ, the Savior!
Women are called to active, missional lives, busy intentionality and purposeful living. The dominant thread throughout Paul’s letter is that we are saved to serve. The salvation we’ve received in Jesus prompts us then to a life of godliness and service to God our Savior. Seeking the salvation of the lost, and growth in godliness in the life of the saints is what Paul and Titus were passionate about; what the church is passionate about; and what we, women, should be passionate about.
Throughout the letter, Paul calls the believers in the church to get busy. To be busy with “profitable, “excellent” and ‘fruitful” works. He wants us to be “a people…zealous for good works,” “ready for every good work,” devoted to good works, excellent and profitable for people.” Paul is calling all Christians to a more meaningful way of life. Though it is easy to be busy in general with all kinds of menial things, getting busy with gospel works requires dedication, planning, and seeking of opportunities. But notice the goal of such devotion to good works: “bearing fruit” (Titus 3:14).
Women teaching women a Titus 2 worldview involves more than just tiny inspirational piece on womanhood. Viewed in its proper context of the biblical narrative and the church, women teaching women is a gospel charge to uphold the great commission in her family and from one woman to another. Teaching other women God’s word (discipleship), and caring for our home (homemaking) are two of the greatest mission fields women have been called to. In the end then, it boils down to this: the way we apply ourselves in sharing Christ where our feet are, either adorns the good news, or reviles it.
As women of God, we don’t draw our identity from the list of things Paul urges us to do, but rather we use our daily opportunities to reveal our identity in Christ and his good news to a world that is watching. I do not know about you, but I am deeply comforted to know that my femininity should point to something bigger than myself, bigger than all the “to do” lists and jobs. My femininity and all my roles as a woman of God should point everyone, including my own self, to Christ and him alone.