Like most 21st Century brides, I was totally in love when I wheeled down the aisle in that white gown and veil. Being almost 49, I didn’t cultivate as many romantic illusions as younger brides do, but I definitely enjoyed the euphoric anticipation of spending my life with such an incredible man. How could loving him be anything but easy? And actually, 20 years later, I still find it easy to love him most of the time. In fact, it often puzzles me when people say marriage takes a lot of hard work — it has been relatively effortless for me.
Although I couldn’t be a mother, I was pretty close to my two nieces while they were growing up. Occasionally I’d inwardly grumble about playing with Barbie dolls or teaching them to lose graciously at checkers, but mostly I savored my time with each of them. Loving these little girls came effortlessly. I treasure memories of tender conversations and funny remarks, and I’m proud of the beautiful young women they’ve become. Loving them is difficult now only because marriage took me 3000 miles away from them. If I have such strong feelings as a mere aunt, I can only imagine the incredible love mothers have for their own children!
Doesn’t a women’s love for her husband and children come naturally? In one sense, it does. But let’s go back to Titus 2:3-5, focusing on verse 4.
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)
Why would younger women need encouragement to love their husbands and children? Was Paul really that ignorant of female emotions? To answer that question, let me take you to the two Greek words translated as “love,” and then discuss how to apply them as we relate to our families.
The first Greek word means having feelings of affectionate friendship towards a man. Thus, Paul wanted wives to view their husbands as friends. Although he calls for wives to submit to their own husbands in the very next verse, this idea of regarding husbands as friends denotes an attitude of spiritual equality. Peter’s instructions to husbands reinforce this concept by reminding men that their wives are fellow heirs of grace (1 Peter 3:7). A wife’s submission to her husband, then, doesn’t preclude a friendship with him. If anything, this type of love carries a marriage through the inevitable times when romantic feelings slip into the background.
The second Greek word Paul used is almost identical to the first. It means having feelings of affectionate friendship towards a child. Again, don’t forget that Paul also taught children to honor their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3). Motherhood requires so much more than being a complicit buddy to your children. At the same time, children need to know that Mom is their best ally and confidante, and they best develop this trust through friendly interaction.
So what does this friendship type of love look like in daily life? To answer that question, turn to John 15, and listen to a small portion of Jesus’ words to His disciples just before His arrest and crucifixion:
13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. ~~John 15:13-15 (NASB95)
Approaching this text backwards, we see that Jesus elevated His disciples from mere slaves to His friends. Bear in mind that these apostles, as well as the apostle Paul and the Lord’s half-brothers (James and Jude) later referred to themselves as slaves of Christ. In calling His disciples friends, Jesus in no way revoked His authority over them. As a matter of fact, in verse 14 He flat out said that their obedience to His commands evidenced that they were His friends. So the equality of being aware of His plans doesn’t erase the authority structure.
Similarly, wives should be friends to their own husbands, understanding where their husbands are leading their families. Wives should cultivate feelings of endearment for the men they marry, enjoying a spiritual equality to them (Galatians 3:28). Yet, as we’ll see in Titus 2:5, the equality of friendship lies in tension with the responsibility to submit to husbands. And as mothers, women still must maintain authority over their children, even while treating them as friends.
How do women achieve such a balance? Paul relied on older women to teach the practicalities of such love. But John 15:13 gives us an interesting starting place because the Greek word John used for “love” is agape. This usage persuades me to believe that love between friends involves the self-giving love that Christ gives to us. And that degree of self-giving definitely doesn’t come naturally!
Don’t balk at the idea of your older sisters in Christ teaching you to love your husband and children. Your love for them goes far beyond the natural love that non-Christian women have for their families, and only mature Christian women can teach the love that God calls believing wives and mothers to exercise. Praise God for godly older women who can apply Scriptural principles to our marriages and child rearing.