This article is part of the Open Letters series.
I wish we could sit on my porch with a glass of iced tea and have this Titus talk. There are so many things I want to share with you, things I wish I had known at your age. Today let’s talk about why we should take the Titus mandate seriously. Let’s start with Titus 2:3–5:
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 reviled.
I was in my mid-forties before I saw the wonder and beauty of this biblical imperative. As a young pastor’s wife, my spiritual arrogance prevented me from valuing older women in my life. I judged their spirituality by my standards and failed to recognize their quiet, steady, decades-long obedience through times of weeping and rejoicing. I did not take Titus 2 seriously and missed one of God’s rich provisions for my growth in grace. My grief over my sin and loss is eclipsed by the wonder of God’s patience with, and love for, his prideful child.
It’s a lovely gift that now, in my mid-seventies, I’ve been asked to share my Titus adventure with you. It was never a solo journey. My Titus 2 convictions and commitments were formulated in the context of a church that preaches sound doctrine. The Lord used my husband and other godly male leaders in our church, many women, and two life events to shape the trajectory of this journey.
The first event was almost thirty years ago, when I became director of women’s ministry for the Presbyterian Church in America. I quickly realized there were few resources to help us navigate our way through the confusion about what women’s ministry should be and do in a complementarian context, so I went to God’s word and landed on Titus 2:3–5.
Slowly the Titus idea captivated my mind, but at first I had a minimalist perspective of it. I was frantic to develop a plan to match older and younger women and check this task off my list, but as I prayed over this passage, I began to look at the whole chapter, then the whole letter, and then the whole Bible. The Westminster Larger Catechism explains, “The scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God . . . by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God.”1 Seeing the “scope of the whole” helped me see this particular part of God’s word with more clarity. My passion for Titus 2 intensified, and my vision expanded, as I saw this covenant family responsibility as part of the grand story of redemption.
The redemption story began before the beginning when God chose us in Christ to be his own and to reflect his glory (Eph. 1:4, 6). Then he created man in his image: “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).
The first woman was perfectly happy being the helper she was created to be until Satan inverted the creation order and went to her, tempting her to question and disobey God’s command. When she and then her husband ate the forbidden fruit, they became covenant breakers. However, before creation the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit made a covenant to redeem a people, and the triune God is a covenant keeper. He did not leave them in their sin and misery. He promised that the offspring of the woman would defeat Satan (Gen. 3:15). In response to this first revelation of the covenant of grace,2 Adam “called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (v. 20).
Eve means “giver of life.” I don’t think this redemptive calling to be a life giver is only biological. The life of Christ in us enables women to be life givers, rather than life-takers, in every relationship, circumstance, and season of life. God’s grace empowers us to nurture covenant life—life based on the unfailing promises of God to us in Christ—in our homes, churches, neighborhoods, and workplaces.
The exquisite beauty of covenant life among God’s people is described in the Westminster Confession of Faith, where we are taught that if we are united to Christ, we are “united to one another in love, [have] communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to [our] mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.”3
Even as men and women find redemption in Christ, in a fallen world our creation purpose to live for God’s glory and our redemptive calling to live covenantally are counterintuitive and countercultural. Like Cain we ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). We need to be discipled in God’s word, which is exactly what Jesus commissioned his church to do (Matt. 28:18–20). Titus 2:3–5 makes this gospel commission gender specific. Some discipleship— not all, but some—is to be woman-to-woman, because one of the “all things” we are to teach is that God designed gender distinctiveness and assigned gender-specific roles. Titus 2 is so much more than a buddy system that pairs younger and older women. Titus 2 is about being our sister’s keeper and discipling her to live for God’s glory according to his word. Titus 2 is one part of the church’s obedience to the Great Commission. Titus 2 is about being life givers. By renewing my mind so that I saw the magnitude of this magnificent mandate, the Lord prepared me for the next step in this journey.
The second life event that influenced my Titus story was my husband’s call to serve a church with a rich generational blend of godly people. Titus 2’s theological hold on me became intensely personal and practical. I taught a Bible study with women older and younger than I, and I wondered: “Am I an older or a younger woman?” My passion about the Titus idea seeped into everything I taught, and we began to discuss the implications of T2D (Titus 2 discipleship).
Rather than being disappointed when older women did not take leadership, I listened to them. We asked them to share their stories, to tell us what they wish they had known at our age, and to tell us their favorite Bible verses and hymns. Soon older and younger women were getting to know, love, and learn from each other as we discussed the application of God’s word and prayed together. We came to the wonderful realization that each of us was a younger and an older woman; there was a vibrant mutuality as we learned from and nurtured the faith of one another.
Titus 2 begins, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” Paul wrote this to Titus, the pastor. The directive for women to disciple women is given to the leaders of the church. This ministry is to take place under their oversight and in the context of sound doctrine and covenant community life, that is, where the covenantal principle of one generation declaring God’s mighty acts to the next generation is practiced (Deut. 6:1–9; Pss. 145:4; 78:1–7). Paul’s description of this kind of discipleship is profound and timeless:
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thess. 2:7–8)
Jesus appeared in grace and he will appear in glory. Between his two appearings we are to make disciples.
Covenantal discipleship is educational, relational, and transformational. Women need godly, mature women to teach them “what is good” according to God’s word. Women need to learn the theological basis for our creation design, our roles in the home and church, and our calling to be life givers in every role and stage of life. Women need women who will share their lives to train them how to apply the word in all of life—how to love others, care for their families, cultivate community, work productively, and extend compassion according to God’s word. They need godly women who prayerfully and continually point them to the sufficiency of Scripture to transform them from life takers to life givers.
Titus 2:3–5 is a mothering ministry. It happens “when a woman possessing faith and spiritual maturity enters into a nurturing relationship with a younger woman in order to encourage and equip her to live for God’s glory.”4 A woman does not have to be a biological mother to be a spiritual mother. Some of the most extraordinary mothers in Israel I have known are single women who never birthed a child. The call to spiritual motherhood gives them great joy and comfort.
The more women in our Bible study shared our lives with each other, the more we realized that the call to life-on-life discipleship is costly. Physical mothering is sacrificial. So is spiritual mothering. We began asking the why question: Why should a woman make this investment? Whether we want to be or have a spiritual mother, if we are motivated by guilt, self-fulfillment, or excitement about a new program in our women’s ministry, we will fizzle when the relationship disappoints us. Paul gives the only reasonable reason to obey such a self-sacrificing calling:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, . . . [for we are] waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11–13)
The gospel is the only motive that will incentivize us to lifelong obedience—Jesus appeared in grace and he will appear in glory. Between his two appearings we are to make disciples.
Paul is also quick to assure us that it is gospel power, not our persuasiveness, that will save and sanctify the women we disciple. The passage continues:
. . . our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:13–14)
Jesus is redeeming and purifying his people. The pressure is off. When and how a woman responds to my nurturing is the work of God’s grace. But whether she responds or not, God will do his redeeming and purifying works in me as I share the gospel and my life with others.
This is not my story; it is the story of God’s grace. My delayed response to Titus 2 was part of his sovereign plan for me, perhaps to give me a passion to urge you not to miss any opportunity to become a woman involved in discipleship relationships with other women.
My young friend, I may not know your face or your name, but if you trust in Christ alone for your salvation, you are my spiritual daughter because God has adopted us into his family. Paul’s words to the Philippians express my thoughts about you: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you . . . because of your partnership in the gospel. . . . And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace” (Phil. 1:3–7).
This article is adapted from Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church edited by Kathleen Nielson and Gloria Furman.
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