Titus 2 Woman – Do You Mean It?

I’ve had a number of young women approach me about the following passage from Paul’s Letter to Titus. Titus, a student of Paul, is a bishop appointed to Crete, tasked to appoint others as bishops and priests. He is also to teach the elders so appointed to be devout and trustworthy.

“But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: that the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness. not false accusers, not given much to wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the words of God be not blasphemed.”

It is quite evident to me, that taken in context (the appointing of elders and overseers), Paul is instructing Titus to ordain both men and women. Those who do not see the passage the same way at least see that elder women were to take some governance of the young people, and especially to tutor and lead by example, so tha the young women would know how to live in a Christian manner.

I readily admit I am counted now amongst the elders, as a woman over 50 years of age. I have been ordained, and I hope that, mostly, I have kept to Paul’s instructions here.

Young wives and mothers come to me, asking if I will be their “Titus 2” elder. All right. But this is the where it falls apart: they are happy to be instructed, some of them, as long as it doesn’t interfere with what they want to do. As long as I cheer them on, and give advice which they could probably reason out for themselves, they are obedient acolytes. But about half of them who have asked for this favour have dropped out of the relationship when I have offered correction instead of accolades.

One young woman described to me how she was led to dress modestly, in skirts, and to wear a head covering. She considered it an act of obedience to scripture, an honour for her husband, and a demonstration of Christian modesty. I encouraged her in this; she was called to it. This lasted a few months, but under pressure from other family members, she abandoned her modesty, bought a pair of jeans (which, sad to say, were too form fitting and, in my opinion, unflattering to boot) and took off her cover, with the excuse that she could be just a good a Christian in jeans and styled hair. When I reproved her for it, reminding her that she had invoked a call from the Lord to be apart from the ways of the world, she replied with a statement like this: “You don’t really understand my faith journey.” Oh, so was she lying to me all those months?  Was her sense of vocation to be a modest, head covering Christian woman all a pretense?

Perhaps it was. Perhaps she was looking for approval from others in that, and when the approval from the right sort of people didn’t come with it, she abandoned this notion and went back to worldliness. Maybe that is her excuse – she wasn’t really called, she had selfish reasons for adopting modesty. I can say to her, in that case, we all have selfish reasons. No one’s motivations to follow the Lord are entirely pure. We all put on an act at first, and it is probably necessary. Just as children pretend to be grown-ups in their play in order to learn their adult roles and duties, so new Christians need to “put on an act” even if their heart isn’t in it yet.

The best actors don’t just pretend when they take on a theatrical role; they become that character, and in the best of scripts, each character is an aspect of humanity and human relationships. At first, the actor has to pretend, has to mouth over the lines, and contemplate how to enter the character in order to project the deep reality in the stylized pretense of the play. Baby Christians have to do the same thing, with God’s help. They have to say no to the party, the illicit relationship, the old bad habits, the chatter and cynicism of the world, even when they would much rather hang out with their drinking buddies, have a fling, or lose themselves in the brittle public comedy of daily life. They have to look to a model of Christian behaviour in order to learn what “charity” really means in terms of sacrificing self gladly for the love of God and others.

God doesn’t call us to be just  good Christians. He expects us to be the best Christians, or little Christs, that we can be. We grow in faith as we grow in practice of that faith. Part of that practice is modelling behaviour on a mentor; the study of hagiography and iconography is to discover models for Christian living.

The women leaders in Paul’s church were to be exemplars. They were chosen partly on how well they could model that Christian behaviour, which means they were not neophytes. They weren’t just out of their catechism – Christian instruction – but had been living in the way of faith for years. They may have been teaching the catechumens, or students, and were experienced in guiding those young in the faith. I am certain that they did not expect the new disciples of Christ to tell them how it was done.

there is a contractual nature to mentorship. The instructor undertakes to be honest with the student, faithful and devoted to the teaching. The disciple suspends his or her own prejudices and preferences, is willing to let go of preconceived and possibly erroneous attitudes, and is obedient to the way of the mentor. That is usually where the contract falls apart.

I would say that young women, for two generations and maybe three, have had a false self-confidence. I know I had it as a young woman. Promotion of ‘self-esteem’ in our culture gives people a false sense of achievement. We think we know more than we do, that we are smarter than we are, that we can trust our own inner voice to guide us. It is worse than the blind leading the blind – although that is certainly the case with youth culture – it is the blind refusing to have their sight restored, and preferring to wallow in the ditch than walk clear-eyed on the high road.

When someone says to me, “You don’t know my faith journey,” I can state, with a bit of humour, that I indeed know it, because all of us walk that same road. We may be on different stages of it. We each walk the road of faith alone, in a way, but we are never the first over that stretch of ground.

The requirements Paul sets forth as to be achieved by those who will call themselves experienced Christians are fairly straightforward: A serious frame of mind, reliability, faithfulness with other people, great love at heart, action rather than talk; a settled person who practices patience; someone who is satisfied with her or his place, who knows the obligation of obedience. These virtues take diligence. They come by prayer, meditation, and practice.

This is the exchange: True peace at heart rather than false self-esteem; humility rather than hubris; true companionship rather than shallow friendship. Self-esteem is casting but one vote for the best person in the world (me); hubris is faith in one’s self rather than God, a rather sad and desperate form of idolatry; shallow friendship is looking for fellowship that is no more than a mutual admiration and a support for vices.

The Lord chastises those He loves, and sometimes He allows that discipline from the hearts and mouths of people who truly act in our best interest, even if it hurts our feelings.

16 thoughts on “Titus 2 Woman – Do You Mean It?

  1. But do you hold yourself to the same standard? For example, you entered into facebook as a ministry, writing about it extensive, then withdrew due to “compassion fatigue.” Perhaps she had “modesty fatigue”?

    • It is a funny comparison, and I know you mean it light-heartedly. Still, there’s a grain of serious thought in it to address. I suspect, in her case, it was “mother fatigue” on two counts, with her own mother not only withholding approval, but pushing her to give up her principles; and she has small children, so she may have felt that it made her too different from other young mothers. She was trying to stay modern modest, as well, and unless a woman sews for herself, that is hard to practice. the subculture in which she lives is one that practices, even among Christians, an absorption into modern fashion. To put on a long skirt and loose blouse, like Michelle Duggar, is a big step for a young woman raised in a city environment. The isue, though, isn’t that she had “modesty fatigue,” but she refused to admit it. Rather than seeking support and solace, she casually threw aside what she had held up as a principle for others.

      I did have to set aside facebook ministry, at least for now, and take a sabbatical from it. I will probably go back eventually if other ministry opportunities don’t take up that time. I’d like to say I would handle it differently, but knowing my personality, that isn’t likely. Some ministers can sort of hover above their congregations, and act as administrators and advisors, but I’m always in the middle of things, down on the ground. It’s more intense, and more emotionally involved, but we do have to step away occasionally for a rest and renewal. Jesus used to leave the crowds of followers and even the disciples to withdraw alone for prayer and refreshment.

  2. It takes maturity to be able to accept constructive criticism well. I agree that this instilling of self-esteem is not good for young people, a child should be praised when they do good, and encouraged to do better when they fall short.
    Giving endless “feel good about you” messages no matter what the child does is not helping the child and perhaps is the reason there are so many young adults who are narcissists.
    Your story about the young lady reminds me of the parable of the sower, some fell by the wayside and were trodden down, some fell on rocky ground and withered as soon as they sprung up, some fell among thorns and the thorns sprung up with it and choked it, and some fell on fertile ground and sprung up and bore fruit a hundred fold. Continue to sow Magdalena.



    • It’s been a summer of people losing ground, in my opinion. I attribute most of it to family pressure. Worldly parents and siblings can be difficult when one is called to a different way of life. For those in Protestant circles, they have no “lives of the saints” to give them example and support. The Book of Martyrs and The Martyrs’ Mirror used to do this, but only the most conservative groups rely on them as historic literature now. Protestants are more likely to read contemporary Christian literature, books of sermons, or books of spiritual instruction by modern authors. I find most contemprary Christians writers to be very, very worldly.

  3. If the young woman was merely taking up modest dress and covering to “be a good girl” then family pressure to be ‘more normal’ will of course win out. It is hard to live in a way that displeases our loved ones.
    If she really was called by God to dress modestly and to cover then she will miss it in her heart, and I imagine will return to it.
    I admire your willingness to be a mentor. When a young friend recently refered to me as “an elder woman” and spoke of how much I have to teach the young women it shocked me into laughter. Me? An elder? I haven’t even got life figured out myself.

    I very much agree that we have created a generation of young people with self-esteem far beyond what is warranted by their accomplishments. We need to bring that into balance somehow.

    • I feel the same way, but no one ever gets life figured out. I have figured out some of the bits that young women are going through now, though. I’ve seen young women go through phases of “modest” and even “Plain” before settling on something else. But it was an abrupt about-face, so I suspect she is quite undecided yet.

  4. I think one reason so many women embrace covering and modesty and then abandon it is because there are so many conflicting views on it directed at them, even among Christians. Most are not part of a larger faith community that encourages them in it, and the people they are around in everyday life have more of a voice than even a mentor.

    You are also right to point out that many people seeking a mentor really do want a cheerleader or voice of approval. It is hard to admit our own faults, and even harder to accept questioning or correction from another, but I thought that was part of the value of mentorship – having guidance and accountability beyond our own understanding.

    As far as modesty, one thing I see among a lot of women is a conflict of authority. Most women who are called to, or interested in, headcovering and modesty, are also concerned with obedience and headship. Many of us (I say us, because this was my experience) feel led to modesty and covering, before, or without our parents’ or husband’s approval and then end up dropping or compromising our standards because we are told we should obey them, as the headship or godly authority in our life first. Others pick up certain standards as parts of pseudo-Messianic or other almost cult-like beliefs and subcultures (which are spreading like crazy through blogs and Christian women’s online forums) and then abandon the good along with the bad when they give up those beliefs. There are also some people who feel like they are being legalistic and, rather than trying to overcome being judgmental yet still keeping their convictions, begin dressing more like the people they judge.

    I don’t really know the answers myself, these are just a few trends I’ve noticed. Right now, I cover for church and for prayer and Bible study at home, and dress modestly most of the time, but do wear loose jeans some and longer shorts when I go to visit my family at the beach. I was more comfortable when I was dresses-only and wore a covering full-time, but I don’t know how much of that was really being led and how much was wanting to fit in with a type of woman I admired. For me, it is more important now to obey my husband and not create another grudge for him against God and religion than to be so stringent about dress. Once he is saved, I hope he will be convicted about modesty and headcovering but, for now, I feel sort of like I’m trying to balance between the two and trying to find where I should be.

    • I realize that I was blessed with a husband who was already Plain-leaning and Spirit-led. You may have seen that I have advised women to come to some compromise if they must, rather than appearing nothing more than stubborn and headstrong. This was very well-said, Raine. I came to Plain life through the example of Conservative Quakers and a couple of Mennonite families. The Messianic connection and some of the other groups were all new to me. Within the Anglican tradition there have been communities that lived and dressed more like Quakers.

  5. I am OK with pants myself but not once that are close-fitting unless I wear them under a skirt like leggings or tights. I wear regular store-bought clothes but I choose modest ones or combine things so that I acheive modesty. I have had no problem finding clothes that conform to my idea of what is modest. I am not plain however and although I see many things that are good with plain I do not think I will ever reach it. I do headcovering but now I no longer wear caps, only scarves. Why? I simply feel more comfortable like this and I do not stand out as much. I still cover so I am odd enough for my taste but people do not stare. It is hard to find a balance between wearing something that distinguises you from non-Christians while still not alienation them completely.

    My partner supports my dress and my covering of the head and with my family I have sort of an agreement. They do not ask about my faith and my covering and I do not tell. We have plenty of other things to talk about and there is nothing awkward in our relationship despite that. They are not religious and I came to believe only a couple of years ago. I was baptised as a child but I had no interest in faith at all most of my life. I feel that I cannot be as good a role model as others because of this but I can be a role model in the fact that I actually found my faith and could stop wandering around trying to find the truth. I have too many flaws to be seen as a good Christian but I trust that if I do my part and try to make myself better Christ will do the rest. I still know because I am a Christian people will expect things from me and I want to change in some areas to become what I believe is a better Christian.

    • I can imagine that if you wear a cap on the street people might think you were in historic costume, as Sweden doesn’t have a history of Plain faith groups. I used to wear 19th century Swedish dress when I worked at the museum, and a cap was part of the outfit. I would vary it with a plain white scarf, or a straw hat if I attended a museum activity outdoors. Some of the ladies had rather elaborate caps, depending on the region from which their family came.

      Just living your life as faithfully as you can, and with God’s help, is witness indeed.

      • Scarves were common in the past in Sweden too, in my region they were the normal covering both for everyday life and on holidays and parties. I would like to have a folk dress but they cost quite a lot to have sewn by someone else and I am not sure I am up to the challenge of making one myself.

        The purists would demand that everything is handsewn but if I am to make one that would not be an alternative to me. I would perhaps do the parts that are clearly visible by hand but not the sides of the skirt or blouse. I don’t have to make a cap and embroider it if I go for the dress of my hometown and it is comparetively plain but still nice in its simplicity. The one for the area I live in now is very plain compared to most elaborated ones but still less plain than the one of my hometown. As my grandmother comes from the area I live in now I would be able to wear both dresses as the tradition says that you can wear any dress which originates from the same place as your mother’s family.

        Folkdresses in my area are constructed though as women dressed the way they liked here but probably there were regional and local ‘fashion’.

      • Many of the women of Swedish descent in Maine have made their own folk costumes. Some are authentic, but others are just the basic dirndl skirt, vest, blouse and cap. I suppose most of the ancestors came from the same area of Sewden, but I know that immigrants were recruited from several of the rural districts over a few years. They had expected that the land would be cleared for farming, but it wasn’t, and they arrived late enough in the year that they stayed together in a communal building. They lost many children the first winter to diptheria. Because the immigrants were mostly farmers to start with, they had an easier time of getting established. I have read some of the old letters written both to and from Sweden, and it sounds as if they were still using the technology of the 1600s in 1880. This was to their advantage. They were almost scandalized at the amount of wheat bread local people ate, soft, yeast-raised bread, while they were still making and eating rogbrod, the flat rye bread with a hole in the middle so it could be threaded on a pole to last the winter.

  6. Oh, that type of bread is still eaten quite a lot here in Sweden. I don’t eat much bread of any kind since my stomage doesn’t do too well if I eat bread. But I really enjoy that type of bread so if I eat bread it is often of that kind although the more modern versions are squareshaped but the recipe of the dough is still pretty much the same. The traditional bread of my area though is made out of barley and it is very thin almost like communion bread and breaks easily. It is called tunnbröd, which is ‘thin bread’. It is not as steady and practical as knäckebröd (hard rye bread) but due to the harshness of the climate they could usually only grow barley and sometimes buy a sack of flour from the south and that was the best bread to be made under the conditions given.

    I have baked tunnbröd the traditional way in a traditional stone oven a couple of times as well as some other flatbreads. It is really fun but hot and hard work. I can make the dough, kneed and make the actual bread as well as man the oven but I do not know the techique of heating the oven which is done over a period of two-three days but I think I could easily learn that if I talked to some people I know. In my part of Sweden the oven was often outside of the house in a separate cottage used mainly for baking and perhaps as a cooler summer house in the summer. Some of these houses survive on farms still today and others have been moved to open air museums but usually you can rent these baking cottages even once they are moved to the museum areas. I have done so with some people at least three times in the past.

    • I used to buy the knackebrod as Wasabrod, but there was a traditional kind that was round, flat, had a hole in th emiddle and came in a paper wrapper. I don’t remember the brand. We ate it with good butter or with canned fish, often with tsihl (pickled herring, I don’t remember how to spell it.) I would love to try my hand at baking the tunnbrod. The masonry ovens are heated by keeping a fire going in them until the interior is quite hot, and the heat has penetrated the bricks or stones. One can bake for quite a while in a masonry oven. I hope to have one built outdoors eventually. I have had that type of oven in houses but the masonry was never in good enough shape to use it.

  7. One doesn’t have to be around too long before noting the puzzle of women feeling themselves sincerely convicted to take on an observance or discipline – then seeing many later adapt their understanding and practice back out of it. There’s mentors to be found for every heart’s desire and mind’s understanding, the same as with churches or pastors or sects. I feel sincerely thankful that there are places for so many different “styles” of Christians, yet I have seen it too not make the greatest example to nonbelievers when the guidance of the holy spirit is apparently (in their eyes) whatever any person wants it to be.

  8. The Wasabröd and the more traditional onces are largely the same dough but different shapes. You can buy several different brands of the traditional round ones here in Sweden so I don’t know which one you can find ‘overthere’. My parents always bought a particular brand of the traditional round ones but for the moment I cannot remember what it is called just what the wrappings look like.

    Inlagd sill (pickled herring) is eaten all over Sweden still today but not everyday like in the old days. Saltströmming (salted small herrings) and surströmming (fermented small herrings) are other varieties of typical Swedish fish. Surströmming is a mainly northern Swedish custom and one that is an aquired taste. I like it but the smell is, well, that of rotten fish. The taste is fish, salt and an umami flavour which is hard to describe. Most people who first encounter it can usually only notice the strong smell and find it hard to actually eat it but I think it is worth trying if you get to do that. Now I started thinking about how nice it would have been to eat a tunnbröd sandwich with potatoes, surströmming, onions and sour cream and of course plenty of butter…

    Unfortunately R is allergic to fish so I don’t get to eat it as much as I would like because he feels bad from just the smell of fish so I can only eat it when he is away or certain cold fish that does not smell that much.

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