Meditations in Titus: 13: Teach older women
Titus 2:3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.
Paul moves on in his instructions to Titus from speaking about the older men to now speaking about the older women. Be aware that when a teacher brings a teaching it is to enable a new behaviour or attitude to be formed in the lives of the believers and often he has in mind failures or vulnerabilities that need correcting or addressing in his listeners. Sometimes it is natural tendencies that need addressing. In this simple verse Paul comes up with a general principle, two negatives to be avoided and then a lifestyle to be followed, and they are all specifics for older women.
His starting point is the principle: “teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live.” That is the general principle and he will touch on two specific potential problems afterwards that would stop this principle operating in the lives of older Christian women. The key word is obviously ‘reverent’ which simply means a life, showing, or characterized by reverence. ‘Reverence’ in turn means to honour, respect, and maintain a right attitude towards God. Thus Paul is saying teach these ladies to live lives that clearly revere and honour God. In other words, to put it yet another way, live distinctly different lives from the unbelievers around them. That, essentially, is what ‘holy’ means, to be divinely distinct and different. And of course we are called to live holy lives. Reverent lives? God-focused lives, godly lives.
Perhaps in what he says about the older women Paul is aware that later in life, the running of homes (and today career jobs) start to take a back place, being left to others, and so there is more time available to the older woman to be more leisurely in the way she spends her time, and leisure and pleasure are the things that can make us (unwisely and foolishly) thinks life is easy and we don’t need God. When Israel entered the promised land they were warned against this tendency once they settled down. When life is easier, and for these women, in some ways at least it was, then there is a tendency to lower our guard and be tempted into ungodliness. No, maintain reverent lives, Paul teaches.
Left and right brain theorists point out that the side of the brain given over to communication is more developed in women than it is in men. Whether you believe God made it like that or it evolved like that, the point is that there is truth here. A survey of young children noted that in a group of five year olds, the girls spoke as many as four times as many words as the boys in one day. This should not be surprising because when a mother is bringing up children words are her primary means of communication with her family. It is often laughingly said, that when two men get together they talk about football, and when two women get together they talk about other women.
Now that may be an over-characterization but again there is some truth there. So when elderly ladies get together over a cocktail or a coffee or a tea, what do they do? Talk about people. It may be family, it may be friends, it may be acquaintances or even merely about neighbours. And therein is the danger; the truth is so easily lost. Whether it is passing on news or speculating about possibilities, it is so easy to move away from the truth and that is what is called slander. Do we now see why the first of the two specific negatives is to teach against the older women being slanderers?
But, and Paul I believe continues to make the same assumption that elderly women have more time on their hands, what do you do when you sit around with friends. And what do you do to show hospitality? Offer a drink and if the chat goes on for any length of time, that drink turns into two or more. Today the options are much wider than in Paul’s day. Today we have at least half a dozen sorts of coffee to offer, or ordinary tea, green tea or fruit teas. In some circles it is considered the done thing to offer a sherry before lunch or maybe a cocktail. Drinks can soon add up and if it is true today then it was probably more true in Paul’s day and hence his second warning, to teach the older ladies not to become addicted to wine. It was a vulnerability in the culture then and can be so today. Meeting with a couple of friends in a local wine bar to chat and pass the time seems so innocuous but habits can form so easily that become harmful to physical and spiritual; health.
Then we find at the end of the verse some possibly surprising words: “but to teach what is good.” When we move on into the next verse, as we will in the next meditation, we see that teaching is in respect of the younger women. This teaching is a challenge. Have you the older Christian lady learnt through experience and time so that you have something to pass on to the next generation? Do you see the need the next generation has of your experience? Are you willing to give them that counsel? Will you be there for them? I suggest that when Paul says, “what is good” that is not only god in respect of caring for your family, but also what is wise and prudent as a Christian.
I observe there are many Christians in older age, in the present generation, who are now sufficiently well off they can spend much time traveling. Go on a cruise and you will find people there who are on their ninth or tenth cruise. Go to Tenerife and you will find ex-pats there who winter there and some of them are Christians. This doesn’t do much for the church at home where there are young women who need your wisdom and experience and input. I am not normally someone who motivates by guilt but being part of this fairly affluent older generation I can’t help wondering if when we get to heaven the Lord will ask us why we squandered our latter years so there is no fruit to show. What will our answer be? The calling is to be aware of His goodness to us and pass on what you have learned. May that be so.