Even most of you young ones have seen the I Love Lucy show, haven’t you? Lucille Ball, who played Lucy Ricardo had a wonderful talent for physical comedy that allowed the show’s writers to create outrageous predicaments that left audiences doubled over in hysterical laughter at her antics. As a result, her character often got herself into ridiculous situations at the expense of her own dignity.
While we have to admire Lucille Ball for sacrificing her dignity in order to portray the madcap Lucy, we realize that a woman in real life shouldn’t be known for such outlandish behavior. On the contrary, Scripture says that a godly woman should be known for her dignity.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future. ~~Proverbs 31:17 (NASB95)
So what does it mean for a woman to be dignified? Does it require her to jettison her sense of humor? Can she play with her children and grandchildren? What about joining neighborhood games of flag football or cheering loudly at a baseball game? Do dignified women get to have fun? I think we all understand that dignity doesn’t preclude enjoying life, but perhaps we ought to spend a little time pondering how we can lead dignified lives that honor the Lord.
My pastor used to frustrate me! I knew, from my personal interactions with him, that he was well aware of the celebrity evangelical teachers who taught false doctrine. I don’t doubt that he knew that some women in the church practiced evangelical fads that contradicted solid teaching. I used to pray that he would find ways to call out false teachers from the pulpit because I thought it was the only hope of convincing those women of the dangers. Once, and only once, he actually named someone briefly. Otherwise, he just preached faithfully through the Bible, trusting the Holy Spirit to correct our wrong thinking through the power of God’s Word.
As I saw it, teaching the Bible never corrected error in the other churches I’d belonged to. Those pastors also preached through books, and home Bible Study leaders taught through books. So they took verses in isolation much of the time, emphasizing application over interpretation, and their interpretation often ignored context. They still used the Bible, didn’t they? And they encouraged us to read our Bibles daily, looking for things to jump out at us. Like my current pastor, they assured us that familiarity with Scripture would protect us against false teaching. But we still wandered into all sorts of error, including a few errors that our pastors endorsed.
This past Wednesday night, our pastor gave an overview of 2 Peter, a letter written in response to false teachers who had infiltrated First Century churches. Chapter 2 presents a blistering description of false teachers, showing no pity. Winsome, Peter was not!
We’ve all seen movies and TV shows portraying sour old women in dowdy clothes representing the local Temperance Union. Most of the time, these women represent some form of Christianity, purposefully implying that Christians oppose any form of enjoyment and work hard to make sure that everyone shares our life of misery. Thanks to the media, the very word “temperance” sends shudders down our spines.
Yet Scripture demands temperance from Christians.
Older men are to be temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance. ~~Titus 2:2 (NASB95)
Since Titus 2:3 states that older women must likewise exhibit the qualities and behaviors expected of older men (with an apparent emphasis on moderation in drinking), we ought to make sure we understand the meanings of the words Paul uses. Therefore we need to think about temperance. What did Paul mean then and how should older women in the 21st Century apply those meanings? Discussing temperance is important in understanding how an older woman can live in a way that brings honor and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Titus 2:3-5 seems to have become the definitive passage for determining the entire sphere of Biblical womanhood. It’s foundational, certainly, and a necessary corrective to the damage feminism has caused in recent decades. As Biblical women, you and I must obey its teaching, especially when it comes against the rebellious standards imposed on us by the world.
At the same time, some people react to feminism by making overly narrow applications of this passage, usually zeroing in on younger women working within the home. That assumption needs to be addressed at some point, as a few verses in Proverbs 31 provide qualifications that we have to consider. But as I’ve thought about taking you through Titus 2:3-5, it’s occurred to me that I’ve also gotten sucked in to the narrow discussion of a woman’s place being in the home. So I want to back up a bit and look more carefully at the passage. Specifically, I want to say a few things about Paul’s commands to older women.
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. ~~Titus 2:3-5 (NASB95)
Yes, the passage clearly says that older women are to teach younger women with the goal of encouraging them to be wives and mothers who work on managing their homes. But that just isn’t the sum total of these three verses. Look at the first few clauses.
Although I will rarely identity false teachers by name anymore, I believe in the importance of training my readers to guard against such people. Every New Testament book except for Philemon deals at some level with the subject, and many Old Testament books address the problem. From that we can surmise God’s deep concern that His people not turn aside to deception.
Most of us believe that Christ’s return, and thus the end of this world, is imminent. Since I’m not as well-schooled on eschatology as I ought to be, I’ll refrain from making dogmatic remarks based on the evening news. But Scripture indeed draws a connection between the last days and the increased proliferation of false teaching. Notice, for instance, Paul’s warning to Timothy:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. ~~1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NASB95)
Years ago, a church John and I attended did a series on Christian marriage unlike any marriage teaching I’ve heard before or since. The pastor used passages about Christian relationships in general and applied then to marriage in particular. Although his approach seems novel, it actually makes a great deal of sense if we want to teach younger women how to love their husbands and children. Being childless, however, I’m uncomfortable saying much about dealing with children, so I’ll follow that pastor’s example by showing you a few Scriptures that you can use to love your husband in ways that reflect Christ.
In considering where to begin these discussions, I couldn’t get away from the familiar passage in Philippians 2.
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.~~Philippians 2:5:11 (NASB95)
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.
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.
On the way home from church one Sunday, John and I found ourselves trying to witness to the rather belligerent para-transit driver. The more we presented the Gospel, the angrier he got. Through clenched teeth, he repeatedly snarled, “God is love,” in his desperate efforts to deny that the Lord had any objections to certain behaviors. As far as he was concerned, a loving God wouldn’t send anyone to hell. Surely John and I misrepresented Him!
This man said nothing I hadn’t heard countless times before. I’ve heard the same objections to the Gospel countless times since, and expect to hear them countless more times before the Lord takes me to heaven. Like so many people, that angry man understood love as unconditional approval of others, no matter what life choices they make. And God, more than anyone else, gives this approval without reservation because (after all) He is love!
So let’s think about that statement, “God is love.” Yes, it comes from the Bible. That being the case, maybe we should open that Bible and think about the context of the assertion.
Having said that we should major on studying Scripture rather than focusing on educating ourselves on every false teacher, I also recognize that sometimes Christians really need to speak out against those who distort the Word of God. Plenty of Bible verses instruct us to do just that. Take, for instance, Paul’s closing directive to the Roman church:
17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. ~~Romans 16:17-20 (NASB95)
Obviously, we can’t avoid false teachers and doctrinal error without some idea of who and what to avoid. As I said Friday, immersing ourselves in studying false teachers holds serious dangers, but totally ignoring them also violates Scripture. And when we find it necessary to speak out against those people and trends that undermine doctrinal purity, it helps to remember the importance of speaking the truth in love.