As my friends and I moved through our late 30s without double rings on the third fingers of our left hands, we harbored ambivalent feelings about what older women should teach us. On the one hand, we did want teaching on how to be godly wives and mothers. Maybe learning these skills would nudge God into bringing us husbands, we reasoned. At least, that was my reasoning. Additionally, I believed older women could teach me how to attract a godly man in the first place. Hunger for marriage certainly makes a young woman eager to learn the things Paul lists in Titus 2:3-5.
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. (NASB95)
On the other hand, single women can feel left out if women’s Bible Studies revolve completely around marriage and child rearing. Not every godly woman has the opportunity to marry. Sometimes the only available men aren’t Christians, in which case marriage would be an act of disobedience. Thus, sitting through continual instruction on marriage and motherhood would just pour salt on the gaping wounds of singleness. Speaking from years of experience as an unmarried woman (who desperately wanted to be married), I really didn’t appreciate lessons on domestic skills.
As I’ve stated earlier in this series, I agree that the primary thrust of Titus 2:3-5 focuses on marriage and motherhood. That emphasis sadly gets downplayed nowadays, which I believe is a terrible flaw in typical women’s ministries. At the same time, however, I also believe that we must offer ministry to women who (through no fault of their own) have no romantic prospects.
Consider, please, the account of Martha and Mary.
38 Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; 42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” ~~Luke 10:38-42 (NASB95)
Martha, though apparently not married, did many of the tasks that we now associate with Titus 2:3-5 women. Furthermore, she thought her sister ought to be helping her with the womanly duties instead of presuming to sit with the men and listen to Jesus. Quite frankly, people who insist on a narrow application of Titus 2:3-5 would probably side with Martha, pointing out that a woman’s sphere is the home, not the halls of academia.
Jesus, however, defended Mary.
That passage makes me think that single women (like women in general) need doctrinal instruction. Single women may never have the opportunity to marry, and consequently they really don’t benefit from encouragement to love non-existent husbands and children. I do believe single women should learn the unparalleled value of marriage and motherhood. Please understand me on that point. I just believe that if we confine our woman’s Bible Studies to just those topics, we exclude women who very much need to be mentored and encouraged in their walks with the Lord. Jesus obviously thought Mary had a right to learn more than the housekeeping talents that Martha had taught her.
Similarly, the apostle Paul taught that unmarried women actually had an advantage over marriied women in the sense that they could give greater attention to the Lord.
32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord. ~~1 Corinthians 7:32-35 (NASB95)
Now I ask you: how can anyone be concerned about the things of the Lord, unless he or she is taught about Him? This being true, it appears necessary that older women teach them a wide range of Scriptural topics so that they can be sensible and pure.
If younger women, due to the Lord’s sovereign wisdom, never marry, they will eventually become older women with the mandate to teach younger women. It follows that, since their experience with marriage and child rearing is second hand, we must give them other nuggets to pass down to the next generation.
While they can (and absolutely should) affirm marriage and motherhood. they won’t have the practical experience needed to guide women through the specific challenges of those vocations. But a broader understanding of God’s Word could enable them to encourage young married women to draw strength from Jesus during trials. A solid grasp of Scripture will transcend the differences, equipping single women to minister with the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we older women need to teach them the Word of God so they’ll be prepared to teach their younger sisters in Christ.
Titus 2:3-5 is primarily geared toward teaching younger women to fulfill their roles as wives and mothers who honor God. We should make no apology for that fact. But we mustn’t neglect unmarried and childless women who also require nurture and encouragement. They need our support as they serve God with their singleness.