Generally quiet and demure, my mom would let out her zingers when people least expected them. On her 75th birthday, she sat at the kitchen table surveying her cards and gifts while she relished her last bite of birthday cake. She looked at me in apparent seriousness and commented, “Well, I’m officially old now; I can wear what I want and say what I want without caring what anyone thunks!” Then she chuckled, anticipating the prospect of exhibiting outrageous behavior.
Of course she continued dressing and speaking appropriately. Having always insisted on proper etiquette, Mom had absolutely no intention of letting advanced age change her. When she died 23 years later, she remained the proper Southern lady that she’d always been, not allowing visitors while on her deathbed lest they see her without lipstick.
Mom’s sense of decorum wonderfully illustrates Paul’s requirements for the type of older women he wanted to teach younger women. In preparation for my articles teaching about Christian marriage, I think it would be good to first look at the type of older women who should deliver instruction to younger women.
Let’s go back to our text to see what God wants older women to be like in order to teach younger women.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, ~~Titus 2:3 (NASB95)
The word “reverent” intrigued me, so I will spend most of this post examining it. I consulted several Bible dictionaries in an effort to understand what the Greek word Paul used in this verse means, and learned that it carries the idea of living in a manner befitting holiness. Since the word only appears this one time in the New Testament, I couldn’t go to other passages for clarity on reverent behavior, but perhaps the connection with holiness can offer helpful insight.
Before we get into a discussion about holiness, however, it might be good to give a brief background on the epistle to Titus and specifically about Crete, where Paul left Titus to establish churches. Crete, much like Corinth, was known in the First Century for self-indulgence and deceit (see Titus 1:11-12 and Titus 3:3). Paul’s emphasis for Titus’ ministry to the Christians on Crete, therefore, focused sharply on moral and doctrinal purity, so that the Christians would live in sharp contrast to their culture. Reverent behavior would definitely stand out among the Cretans!
So let’s turn back to Titus 2, and think a little about the instruction for older women to be reverent in their behavior. To explore reverence, we should note that Paul introduces his section on older women with the word “likewise.” I believe this word gives us a clue.
Just a verse earlier, Paul told Titus to train older men to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. All these qualities are pretty much diametrically opposed to the prevalent lifestyle on Crete. Furthermore, they detail various aspects of reverent behavior. Thus, older women are charged with the same sort of reverent behavior expected of older men.
The added instructions against malicious gossip and addiction to much wine mirror the instructions that men be temperate and dignified. I could probably write separate articles on both gossip and alcohol addiction, but right now it’s sufficient to assume that Paul listed them as two examples in explaining how older women could be reverent in our behavior. Neither drunkenness nor a propensity for spreading vicious rumors exactly exemplify holiness.
If older women are to teach what is good, we cannot live in ways that contradict our teaching. James 3:1 makes it clear that those who teach will be judged more strictly. Older women, then, must take care to cultivate personal holiness before presuming to mentor younger women. And younger women must take care to watch the life of any older woman before submitting to her as a mentor. Sound teaching comes through words certainly. But it also comes through example.