Monday, September 1, 2008

Chapter 1 - Transformed by Titus 2

3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Over the last decade or so, since I first got married, I have become increasingly convinced of the desperate need in our churches for the kind of ministry described in Titus 2:3-5 and celebrated and modelled in this book.

The culture we live in is constantly undermining what the Bible tells us about how we are to live our lives as women who follow Jesus. Our churches ought to be places where we help each other resist that pressure and learn how to be creatively, intelligently, joyfully counter-cultural in the details of our lifestyle.

In reality, most of the time in our contemporary church culture, several factors converge to prevent us from doing anything serious of this nature. In our church gatherings and small groups, more often than not, we separate ourselves off into narrow generational bands, segregated from those whose example and encouragement we need most. And just when we're in a position to begin mentoring younger women ourselves, we let ourselves get sucked into a maelstrom of busyness that prevents us from any serious ministry of discipleship and encouragement to the generation coming through behind us.

The women's ministries that we do run are often fluffy, emotional and purposeless, or else they're abstract and generic Bible studies with little real application to the specifics of our lives as wives and mothers. Our tentative forays into application are stymied by our fears of the gender-political minefields that we would need to walk through to get to anything concrete and practical; these fears are magnified by the self-protective, competitive instincts that drive us to hide away from anything that would make us feel guilty about how we're doing.

That's why I was so overjoyed to discover a book like Feminine Appeal. Despite the somewhat misleading title, what it's really about (as the first chapter-heading makes clear) is a systematic attempt, chapter by chapter, to think through the Titus 2 agenda for encouraging each other as Christian women (and as Christian wives and mothers in particular). Reading the book, with its chatty, practical, anecdotal style, is a lot like getting to know an older Christian woman; we learn from the example of her life and the wisdom of her years, as she's reflected on how to put these verses into practice over the decades.

Carolyn Mahaney writes: "More than any other, this section of Scripture [Titus 2:3-5] has shaped my own understanding of biblical womanhood. This passage set the standard and provided the direction I so desperately needed in those early years of marriage. And for the past twenty-nine years, these words have guided me in my role as a wife and mother."

Of course, a belief about the necessity and the authority of Titus 2:3-5 doesn't imply a belief in the sufficiency of Titus 2:3-5. These particular instructions to women in Titus 2:3-5 are meant to sail on an ocean of general instruction given in the Bible for all of us as Christians: without an awareness of that big ocean of the Bible's teaching about Jesus and the kingdom of God, the Titus 2 boat can end up bobbing around harmlessly and inoffensively in the backyard swimming pool of suburban materialism, going nowhere. (More about that danger in a couple of later posts!) I was glad to get to the end of the chapter and read Mahaney's words (p.28) about how the gospel of God's salvation in Christ undergirds everything else in the chapter.

As we read this book and discuss it together, I want to encourage you to keep prayerfully considering your life and thinking through ways your own life might change in response to what you read. Please don't feel compelled to agree with everything - the aim is not for us all to become Mahaney-clones! But don't let yourself fall into the temptation of reading as an armchair critic either. Here is an opportunity for us to learn something from an older and wiser Christian woman and from the ways in which she's tried to put God's word into practice in her own life. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we all were challenged in some way by her thoughts on Titus 2 to live more Christ-centred, gospel-oriented lives to the glory of God?

I'm planning to go through the book chapter by chapter with a short post for each chapter (two posts a week, probably on Mondays and Thursdays).


Jean said...

Excellent post, Nicole, thankyou so much! Very helpful reflections on the need for women to teach women. Also on Titus 2:3-5 and its place in wider Scripture (loved the bit about the boat - so true!!). Looking forward to your posts ...

Nicole said...

Rachael made this comment below, but I thought I'd copy it here as well in case the rest of you miss it!

Thanks for this post, Nicole. I think it’s a great idea to do one chapter at a time. I like what you say about necessity, authority and sufficiency, that’s really helpful.

I want to comment about the quote from Elisabeth Elliot on page 22. The quote goes,
“It is doubtful that the Apostle Paul had in mind Bible classes or seminars or books when he spoke of teaching younger women. He meant the simple things…”

While I agree with what she says, I just want to suggest that such more formal bible teaching is not inappropriate. If we look at the whole book of Titus we find an interesting and necessary correlation between the teaching of godliness (like Titus 2:3-5) and the teaching of doctrine. For example,

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness-” (Titus 1:1)

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…” (Titus 2:11-12)

In 3:3-5 Paul explains the gospel and then says, “And I want you to stress these things [that is, 3:3-5], so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” (Titus 3:8)

And when Paul instructs Titus to ”teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” he goes on to talk about teaching godliness. (Titus 2:1-10)

So, what is that teaches us to be godly? What produces good in us? It is not just having a godly mentor who will tell us the right things to do and model these things for us (although this is right and good), but it is also being taught the gospel, sound doctrine, the truth that leads to godliness. So perhaps there is a place for more formal bible teaching… what do you think?

Nicole said...


I agree! I think the key is making the connections - doing the formal teaching in ways that help people see how it connects with following Jesus in everyday life, and doing the "how to" stuff in ways that show its connection with the gospel. I do think that the particular responsibility Paul gives to older women to teach these things to younger women suggests that there is a 'how to'/example component, not just abstract, generic theology that could be taught by anyone to anyone!

Hannah Blake said...

Thanks Nicole. I'm really looking forward to chatting about this book. Your comments on how best to read it are so helpful- being thoughtful and prayerful about what we read, learning from an older Christian woman but under the ultimate authority of the Bible. It really challenged me about how I need to be reading Christian books.