May 14, 2008

Engaging Holiness

Last night I was doing a study on the use of the word 'encourage' as it is found in Scripture. As it turns out, encourage, sophronizo in Greek, is used only in Titus 2:4,

so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children (NASB).

The term refers to discipleship in a restorative sense, suggesting that the passage is emphasizing a better way for women to live than the way to which they were accustomed. A brief study of what Crete was like at the time reveals a society of great immorality. In contrast to what were the casual norms of that society, Titus was instructed to teach about conduct and character that "accords with sound doctrine" (2:1). For women, this meant that older women were to mentor younger women, exhorting them

to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled (ESV).

In light of the youthfulness of the church in Crete which is noted by the fact that Titus was there to appoint elders (1:5) in every city, it would make sense that the Christians had not yet learned to live in a way which brought glory to God and an opportunity for the Gospel. The Cretans, essentially liars and drunkards, needed to be discipled, to learn to live in ways which did not reflect poorly on the message of Christianity or the person of Christ. These were not believers who were solidly rooted in the doctrine of the church; heresy was rampant, not really at odds with truth because the church was too young to boldly proclaim truth. This climate enabled men and women to live in whatever way was pleasing to them. The instructions to women in 2:4-5 provided a dramatic change from the life they were use to.

So now I want to turn your attention to the fact that I began this particular study of Titus because women are often drawn to this and Proverbs 31 as core areas of study. Entire ministries are built upon these passages, used as platforms for promoting certain ideals for women that understand these passages through the lens of 1950’s Western culture. I am not in dispute with the clear message of Titus 2, that women are to love their families and keep their homes and to submit to their husbands, but 1) how this looks varies by era and culture and 2) displaces single women or forces them into marriages of spiritual expedience. How women live as believers in our culture is the same as it was for the women in Crete: to love their families, to live pure and holy lives, and to use moderation in all things. For women who are not married, these principles exist for them as well. From Titus 2:4 we get a general picture of the holy life, not a set of particulars on things such as homeschooling our kids, career and education, or an injunction that all women should learn to be great cooks. What we get is an understanding that Christian living involves setting ourselves aside for the benefit of others, an example of how Jesus lived and died. In Crete, men and women who identified themselves as Christians needed to be restored to the cause of Christ by learning how to live in a way that did not actively engage sin. And as the more mature believers were brought into a closer relationship with the Son of God and learning to live in a way that reflects this change, they then had the opportunity to influence more immature believers. As any good entrepreneur knows, an effective path to success is to be able to duplicate what you do. Titus was able to appoint and train elders, they in turn were able to train the more mature members of the churches, and they in turn were able to disciple the younger members. I’m excited to continue in this tradition, to mentor and be mentored, but not if that means understanding Titus 2 as a set of particulars that coincide with a certain subset of the evangelical subculture in the 21st century.

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