Editor’s Note: This post is the fourth part of a series. Previous posts include: “Men and Women in Household of God,” “A Word to the Older Men,” and “A Word to the Older Women.”
Paul’s exhortation to the older women in verse 3 overlaps with his exhortation to younger women in vv. 4-5:
“and so train the young women to love their husbands and children” Titus 2:4
Verse 4 focuses on marriage and childrearing. The older women are supposed to teach the younger women how to be a good wife to their husband and a good mother to their children. And the first thing these younger women are supposed to learn from these older women is how to love well.
“Train the young women to love their husbands and children.” Literally, they are to be husband-lovers and children-lovers. Why would the younger women need to be taught this? Anyone who has been married for any length of time or who has had kids already knows the answer to that question. It’s because love within a household is often difficult and beset by obstacles. Sometimes those obstacles are in our own hardened hearts. And sometimes those obstacles are due to the faults in the ones we are called to love. And sometimes it’s both.
If you don’t believe me, come ask my wife. This may be hard for you to believe, but I am not always as lovable and irresistible as you may have imagined me to be (tongue firmly planted in cheek). And those little munchkins we’re raising aren’t always running around wearing halos and saying, “Good morning, dear mother. How may we be a blessing to you today and every day?”
No. I tend to be cranky and uncommunicative in the morning. The kids have their own interests and conflicts and are often a handful. So much of what a wife and mom is called to do is thankless and sacrificial. And often the people who she’s closest to don’t give her the affirmation and encouragement that she needs.
That is why it can be hard to love. She has to learn forbearance and forgiveness. She has to learn how to love when loving is hard. And the older women are supposed to be there for the younger women to show them the ropes. To show them how to do it and to persevere and how to engage and communicate and to be patient when her husband is a crank and the kids are disobedient.
And there’s more for these younger women,
“to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Titus 2:5
Again, Paul focuses attention on duties that are specifically related to the covenant of marriage.
“Self-controlled” is the same term that was used of the men (cf. Titus 2:2). It indicates “avoidance of extremes and careful consideration for responsible action” (Aristot., EN 3, 15; BDAG). It is the one term that appears in connection with each of the age and sex groupings: older men, older women, younger men, and here younger women. But the rest of the characteristics relate uniquely to marriage.
“Pure” means moral uprightness. In connection with women, it often bears the idea of chastity (BDAG). And of course sexual faithfulness means chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage. This kind of purity entails no sexual activity outside of the covenant of marriage.
“Working at home.” The term could be translated literally as “house worker.” The wife has the particular assignment to care for and manage the home. Whatever else she does, she cannot shirk her primary duty to care for the home and those who live in it.
Does this mean that she can never leave the house or that she can never work outside the house? I don’t think it does. Just look at the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:10-31. Here is a woman who considers a field and buys it and brings an income for her family. There are a wide range of activities that this virtuous woman does. Still, no matter her occupation, she never leaves off of her duty to love her husband and children by caring for the home.
“Kind” probably has specific application to her relationships in the home. And it calls on her to have a generous, sympathetic, and warm-hearted nature.
“And submissive to their own husbands.” We might also render this as “being subject” to their own husbands. The term means to recognize and follow the leadership and direction of a recognized authority. And in this case, wives aren’t to submit to all men but to one man—her own husband.
But notice what Paul doesn’t say. Paul could have said, “Husbands, subject your wives to yourselves.” In other words, Paul might have spoken in such a way that called on husbands to compel or coerce submission from their wives. That would have fit well the spirit of the age in the first century Roman world. But that’s not how Paul talks. He addresses the wives and says “be subject” in the passive voice.
This means that wives are called on voluntarily to submit to their husbands. The responsibility falls to the wives to submit themselves, not to the husbands to make them submit.
Husbands, if you ever find yourself trying to force your wife to follow your leadership, then you need to know there’s a problem—especially if it is a pattern over the course of your marriage. You need to be asking yourself, “Why isn’t she following me?” The answer may be that she is in rebellion against God and His role for her in marriage. That’s possible. If that is the case, you can pray for her and tenderly exhort her.
But it is often the case that the reason she’s not following is because you’re being a crummy leader. You need to become the kind of leader that inspires love and devotion, not the kind that stirs anxiety and resentments. But no matter what the reason is for her failure to follow your leadership, you must never attempt to coerce or force submission. Obviously, you must never physically coerce your wife to do anything, but neither can you be verbally abusive or manipulative to get your way. If you attempt to verbally and emotionally intimidate your wife into submission, then the problem is not her. It’s you. You are sinning, and you must repent.
Wives, this means that the onus is on you affirm the leadership role that the Lord has given to your husband (1 Cor. 11:3). You are not to submit to every man, just to one man—your husband.1 In Ephesians 5, God calls you to submit to your husband “as to the Lord,” which means that you should view your submission to your husband as a part of your commitment to the Lord Jesus (cf. Eph. 6:1, 5, 7; so Thielman, p. 376). A wife’s faithfulness to Jesus includes affirming her husband’s headship in the home. Marriage is more than headship, but it is not less than headship. And that is what Paul means to emphasize in the final words of this verse.
1Paul’s words about a wife’s “being subject” to her husband have caused some readers to wonder if there are any limits to this obligation. Paul says elsewhere that “wives ought to be subject to their husbands in everything” (Eph. 5:24). Does this really mean that a wife has to submit to her husband no matter what he says? The answer is no. That is not what Paul intends. No authority on earth is an absolute authority—not even a husband’s authority. When submitting to a husband requires submitting to abuse or to sin, then the Christian wife must follow the example of Peter and the apostles who said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Act 5:29). She shouldn’t submit to any human authority that would require her to defy God’s authority. A husband has no authority to subject a wife to abuse or to sin. Therefore, a wife should not submit to either of them. For further reference, see CBMW’s Statement on Abuse.
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