By Kim Shay
How old is the “older woman” described in Titus 2:3-5? This is a question that comes up when we study this passage. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of information to provide the reader with a definitive answer. The greek word presbytis is used only in this one place in the New Testament, so we can’t compare its use elsewhere. The ESV translates it, “older women.” That could mean someone 70, or it could mean someone who is 40. I don’t think the specific age is what is important. Instead of asking ourselves “Am I old enough to be an older woman,” perhaps a better question is “To whom am I an older woman?”
A woman of 75 may have years of wisdom and experience to impart, but that does not rule out the fact that a woman of 35 has something she can pass along to a newly married woman or a college student. A woman of 35 may not have 50 years of marriage behind her, but she can still encourage a newly married woman. A woman doesn’t have to be old enough to be a grandmother to advise a young mother about loving and caring for her children. Furthermore, there is the reality that we may not realize that we are seen as an older woman by others.
This was driven home to me a few years ago when I taught a bible study for young mothers. Among the ladies in the class was a woman whom I taught as a teenager. Now, she was a mother of two little boys. We were studying the book of James, and one day in discussion, this young woman proceeded to recount something she’d learned when I had taught James to her as a teen ten years ago! It wasn’t something wrong that I had said (thankfully!) but something she remembered positively. It was encouraging but frightening at the same time. Younger people are watching us, and they may remember us as being models to follow or examples to shun. When I first taught this young woman, I was not even 40 years old, but she looked to me as an example.
There are areas of encouragement and instruction that I, despite being almost fifty, cannot provide. My being older does not necessarily mean I have experience or wisdom in some areas. A young mother with a special-needs child would probably find a mentor with a similar situation more helpful even if she wasn’t what we think of as an “older” woman. A young woman with sexual abuse in her past would find a 35 year old woman with a similar experience more helpful than she would me, a 48 year old woman with no personal experience in that situation. I don’t think the success and failure of mentoring relationships rest with a woman being a particular age, but being in a position to guide, instruct, and model.
I worked in youth ministry for many years, and I came to the place where I believe mentoring relationships can begin with teen girls. While many young women have mothers or sisters or aunts to help guide them, many don’t. I, at the age of 20, had no clue as to what was expected of me as a Christian woman, or that there was anything in particular that was expected of me. I would have loved to have had someone come alongside me. I have a young adult daughter who lives away from home; if there was a 30 year old woman who came alongside her to teach by word and example, I would be thrilled for her.
When we consider the picture painted for us in Titus 2, a picture of relationships of accountability, I don’t think the specific ages are nearly as important as being faithful to the call to serve the younger people in this way. Being an older woman is not necessarily about being a certain age. It is about being willing to look at the younger women coming behind us and desiring to see them be nurtured in their faith. We should desire to invest in the Body of Christ through teaching by word and example those who are younger, whether we are 30 or 80 years old.
Kim Shay has been a child of God since 1985, married to Neil since 1987, and has been home full-time since 1989. She has three young adult children. She is currently a blogger, bible teacher and Curriculum Co-ordinator for her local church’s women’s ministry committee. She blogs at The Upward Call and Out of the Ordinary. You can follow her on Twitter @upwardcall.
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