Imagine a world where women have been put on a bit of a pedestal. They are seen as the gentle sex. It is believed that they are born with higher moral standards than men, that they are not driven by sensual appetites the way men are. It is believed that men need to have a lot of sex, or else they will become too heaty and explode or something; but women do not have this problem.
And, in this society I am describing, this imbalance between male and female appetites is seen as especially unfair to women. It would be unfair for husbands to expect their wives alone to keep them from exploding. That would be a terrible burden, especially for wives who are also very busy mothers to multiple children.
And that is why, to protect wives and mothers from being worn out by this terrible burden, this society very generously allows wives and mothers to share their husband with other women. They do not have to carry this burden alone! There are plenty of unattached women out there, and it is only right that they help wives and mothers keep their husbands from exploding. For the good of society, you know?
In short, this society I am describing believes that it takes multiple women to keep one man from exploding. That’s just science, people!
But in this society, even though wives have been given freedom to share their husbands with other women, they have not been given freedom to manage their own property. When a woman gets married, the property she brings with her into the marriage legally becomes her husband’s property. And since husbands are men driven by sensual appetites, sometimes they lose control of that property: they invest it unwisely, perhaps; or they misplace it in some…gambling accident.
So, little by little, people in this society come to realize that this is also unfair to women. Since women have been born with higher moral standards than men, surely they can be entrusted with the freedom to manage their own property, and guide their own lives? They might even do a better job of it than men!
And that is why, eventually, the laws are changed: women are allowed to retain their property when they marry, and if the marriage ends in divorce or if the husband dies or something, wives and widows can get their property back, along with whatever else they may have earned during the marriage.
So at last, women have equal property rights with men. At last, everyone thinks, our society is really going to thrive!
But to everyone’s surprise, society does not thrive. Instead, divorce rates shoot up. Birth rates collapse. But, strangely, even as birth rates collapse, society becomes hyper-sexualized. External appearance becomes far more important than character. Abortions and other murderous forms of family planning become commonplace as more and more women are obsessed with staying slim, sexually attractive and available.
What went wrong?
Well, it turns out there was a critical flaw in the system. And that flaw lay in the foundational assumption that women are born with higher moral standards. It turns out that, when women are given the same rights and privileges as men, women become just as self-indulgent as men. To put it another way: this society I am describing discovered that the reason their women had seemed so good is not because they were born that way, but only because their rights were so restricted they had no choice but to be good; once the restrictions were lifted, women turned out to be just as bad as men.
Basically, the women in this society decided that it should also take multiple men to keep just one woman from exploding. That’s just equality, people!
Now, by this point I think most of you have realized that this world I am describing is our modern world: beginning with the industrial revolution about 200 years ago, leading up to the sexual revolution of the 1960’s, a revolution that has now gone global. But this is not just our history. The truth is I have not actually been describing the history of our modern world, I have been describing what happened in the Roman world 2000 years ago.
As we learned last week, during the time that Titus was church planting on the island of Crete, men in the Roman empire exercised a great deal of power over their wives, their children, even over their grandchildren. They had the right to kill any newborn child they did not want; they had the right to decide who their grown children would marry; they had the right to divorce or disown for any reason they chose.
But they actually used to exercise a lot more power.
For instance, one hundred years earlier, if a Roman husband caught his wife cheating on him, he had the right to kill her. But the laws have changed: now he is forbidden to kill her. Now the penalty is divorce.
One hundred years earlier, if a man divorced his wife, he kept her dowry, or sent it straight back to her father. But now the wife gets to keep her dowry, along with whatever she may have earned during the marriage. Even more importantly, if a woman divorces her husband, she only has to give up 16% of her dowry, with an additional 16% for each child, up to three children.
And I think most of us today would see these changes as a move in a positive direction.
Unfortunately, these good changes resulted in some unintended consequences. Once Roman women realized they had the freedom to divorce and still hold on to most of their property…they did. Especially if they were members of the wealthy upper-class.
Look at it from their perspective: when they were little girls, they had no personal property. But when they got married, their fathers would send them with a dowry, sometimes amounting to millions worth of gold, jewellery and real estate. This dowry essentially went into a fixed-deposit account for the duration of the marriage. Which means that, even if a wife had three children with her husband, and then initiated a divorce, in the worst case scenario she would walk away from the marriage with 34% of the initial dowry in her possession — which is still 100% more than she ever owned when she was a girl in her father’s house. And 34% of millions is still a lot of money!
Now, it is true that, under Roman law, the husband almost always got custody of the children. So a woman who divorced her husband was almost certain to lose the kids. But most upper-class Roman women did not raise their own children anyway: they had nurses and tutors for that. And, again, 34% of millions is still a lot of money for a woman to live on! Even more when she does not have the added expense of child support.
Basically, upper-class Roman women proved very willing to give up their children and a certain percentage of their property in exchange for the freedom to live and manage their wealth independently.
But they also began managing their sex lives independently: sleeping with actors and other celebrities, seducing their neighbors’ sons and husbands. And if these independently wealthy divorceés remarried — which many of them did — they made sure to marry an upper-class man who had fallen on hard financial times. That way he would be dependent on her, and she could continue in her independent lifestyle without him daring to interfere.
Well, as we might expect, this sexual revolution began to spread. More and more upper-class married women began to flex their financial and sexual muscles. They began eating around, drinking around, and sleeping around, just like Roman men had been doing for generations.
And the men did not quite know how to respond, especially if their wives were the source of their wealth. In addition, around this time a number of Top-10 pop songs came out that talked about how it’s actually really cool and empowering when wives commit adultery, and how only the most old-fashioned, provincial, and selfish kind of husband gets hurt feelings about it. And since these upper-class Roman husbands wanted to be thought of as progressive, forward-looking, enlightened men, a significant number of them figured, “Okay! If I’m allowed to sleep around, I guess it’s only fair for her to sleep around too!” So they closed one eye.
And, of course, what began among the upper-classes soon trickled down to the lower-classes. Divorce rates shot up. Birth-rates collapsed. The Roman family began to fall apart.
And after a while, the Roman government realized they had made a big mistake. So they responded by tightening up the penalties for adultery: an adulterous woman lost 50% of her dowry, 33% of any other property she might own, and she was exiled to a small island — basically a prison colony — for life. An adulterous man lost 50% of all his property and was exiled to an island for life. But here is the real clincher: if a husband tolerated his wife’s adultery, he lost 50% of his property and was exiled to an island for life.
But it was too late. Society had developed a taste for this new culture of self-indulgence. Some upper-class men of the empire led a public protest against some of these new restrictions. And the attitude of some of the most powerful women in the empire was, “Go ahead, exile me! I dare you!” And in some cases it was the daughters and wives of Roman emperors who led the charge…!
The point I am making with all this historical background is this: Paul and Titus were living through the middle of what was probably the most intense war between the sexes in human history — until our own. Like most of us in KL right now, in just a few short decades the people of the empire had gone from super-conservative values to super-progressive values, and those super-progressive values were being pushed back in a conservative direction, just like China is doing today by banning certain kinds of music and media in order to reinforce the traditional structures of the family. And most people were really struggling to keep up with the changes: they enjoyed the increased independence, and yet they were also unhappy with some of the unintended consequences.
But here is an extra wrinkle to the situation that Titus finds himself in. Roman women had only gained the right to keep their property after a divorce about 80 years before, so they were new to eating around, drinking around and sleeping around. But in Cretan culture, women have had this right for almost 400 years! Cretan women have been enjoying a remarkable level of emancipation for a very long time. Which means that Cretan women have had a lot of practice at eating around, drinking around, and sleeping around.
To put this in our modern terms, we could say that Titus has been called to plant a church among some of the most liberated and empowered women in the world at that time.
How is he supposed to accomplish this? What is he supposed to say to them?
Well, last week Paul told Titus that church planting starts with the heaviest and roughest stones: the older men. As a Jewish scholar, Paul believes that the foundation of every society should be husbands and fathers and grandfathers who know how to take responsibility for their households without falling into self-indulgence.
And Cretan women would have agreed with the first part of that philosophy, by the way: the biblical idea that men ought to take responsibility for their households — because that way the women are free to take their money and run if they want, knowing that the men have to stay back and raise the children!
But Cretan women would not have agreed so much with the second part, the idea that men ought to learn self-control. Because if Paul expects Cretan men stop practicing self-indulgence, then — in all fairness and equality — he is probably going to expect Cretan women to stop their self-indulgence. And where is the fun in that?
Well, sure enough, Paul does turn, today, to the question of how Titus should disciple the empowered Christian women of Crete. And — yep! — right away it becomes clear that Paul believes true equality between the sexes is achieved when both men and women practice self-restraint:
 Likewise, he tells Titus, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live.
Now, these ”older women” are basically the counterparts to the older men: they are wives and mothers who have been married for a while, whose children are mostly grown up and married and do not need them so much as they used to when they were small.
And just like the older Christian men, these older Christian women are supposed to learn how to be reverent in the way they live.
In the original language, this word “reverent” means “like a sacred person”. Older women should live with the dignity of a priestess who is representing her God.
Now, if these older women were priestesses of Zeus, then it would make sense for them to be self-indulgent liars, since Zeus is a self-indulgent liar. But if these older women are now Christians, called to represent Jesus Christ…then they ought not to be self-indulgent liars. Right?
Right. That is what Paul says next: older Christian women need to learn not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine.
In the original language, this word “slanderer” is literally the word “diabolical”, which is where we get our English word “devil”. And the devil — Satan — is a famously contentious liar.
In other words, Paul is saying, teach the older women not to cause division through rumors and false accusations; like Jesus, they need to learn how to speak truth.
And, he is saying, older women should not be drunkards. They should not be self-indulgent with wine, food, sex, or any other kind of pleasure.
And the fact that Paul felt like he needed to say this tells us that older Cretan women had a problem with slander and drunkenness. Which makes sense: remember, these older women are mothers and grandmothers who rule over well-established households. Their kids are old enough to work in the family business. Which means that these older women — just like the older men — are finally able to relax a bit, sit back and enjoy the fruit of their labour. Which means more drink, more food, more self-indulgence of every kind.
Basically, these older women are the matriarchs of the community. They have power and the free time to use it. And how do they typically spend their free time? Apparently, they spend it on manipulating others and indulging themselves in irreverent, undignified ways — which was culturally acceptable on the island of Crete!
And that is why Paul goes on to say that the reason older Christian women need to get rid of all this time-wasting irreverence, slander, and self-indulgence is so they can learn how to teach what is good instead:  Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands.
Now, it is interesting to notice that — last week — Paul outlined four distinct qualities that older men ought to have. Today he has just outlined four distinct qualities that older women ought to have. And when we compare today’s four qualities with the qualities of last week, we find that they are almost identical.
For instance, Paul told older men to be worthy of respect. In the same way, older women should be reverent in the way they live. Just like older men, older women in the church should not demand respect from others, they should learn to command respect by being worthy of it.
Paul also told older men to be self-controlled: not impulsive or quick-tempered. In the same way, older women are not to be slanderers. These are actually the same instructions adapted for the different sexes: generally, men exert power directly, through more forceful speech; women often exert power indirectly, through more manipulative speech. So, just like older men, older women need to learn to control themselves, and resist the temptation to always be trying to control others.
Paul also told older men to be temperate, which meant “careful drinkers of wine”. In the same way, older women are to avoid being addicted to much wine. The point is clear: just like older men, older women should not be self-indulgent, ruled by their appetites.
And just as older men are supposed to be sound in faith, in love and in endurance, older women are to teach what is good. These are also the same basic disciplines, adapted for the different sexes: instead of using their greater free time to indulge themselves, older men and women ought to be focused on building up their families and their broader Christian community.
It is also interesting to notice that the qualities Paul expects younger women to learn are of the same kind: they are to love the people under their care. They are to be self-controlled. They are to be pure, which means moral, sexually self-restrained. They are to be busy at home — not lazy, self-indulgent Cretan gluttons — and they are to be kind: not impulsive, quick-tempered, manipulative slanderers.
So what we are seeing is that Paul is all about equality between the sexes. There is no double standard here: older men, older women, and younger women are all called to develop the same qualities of character. Temperance, reverence, dignity, self-control, honesty and soundness of faith are not male or female qualities, they are Christian qualities. And the point of these Christian qualities is to build up the family and the church.
But even though men and women are called to develop the same internal Christian character traits…men and women are different from one another. You may have noticed this from time to time? Which means that men and women are actually called to act out their Christian character in different ways: men and women are actually designed to build up the family and the church in different ways. Men and women have different roles in the walls of the Church, because they are different kinds of living stones.
For instance, older men have been specifically called to be sound in faith, in love and in endurance: as the bottom-most layer of stones in the walls of the church, they need to be solidly committed to modelling and maintaining a Christ-centered culture for all the rows of living stones above them. But older women have been specifically called here to be solidly committed to treaching what is good; in particular, they are to urge the younger women to practice these Christian qualities in particular ways.
But it is at the point that many modern people begin to ask questions about these different roles.
For instance: if older men are supposed to be responsible for the whole family, why does Paul tell older women to teach the younger women? Does this mean older men are not supposed to teach younger women?
And why does Paul say that younger women in particular should be learning how to love their husbands and children? What about single women? And what about younger men: don’t they also have to learn to love their wives and children?
And why do young women have to be busy at home? Why aren’t they allowed to have jobs outside?
And what does it mean for younger women to be subject to their husbands? That does not sound very much like equality.
Those are all good questions. And the good new is, they are easily answered by going back to the original historical context, which is what we are doing. We have to remember that Paul is not writing abstract sociological theories here, he is solving particular discipleship problems in the Cretan Church.
So: why does Paul commission older women in particular to teach the younger women?
Basically, because he needs to. Older men were required by law to give an appropriate education to their sons and daughters. They had no choice: if they failed to raise decent Roman citizens, men could suffer some uncomfortable penalties. But older women could legally goof off if they wanted to.
So Paul says, “Please, ladies, help the older guys out! Don’t leave them hanging, especially with the specialized education young women need!”
Okay. But why does Paul say that young women in particular should be learning how to love their husbands and children? What about single women?
Well, Roman law required all women between the ages of 20 and 50 to be married. So there were no single women in the empire. The law also required all men to be married between the ages of 25 and 60. So the the law was…fair, in that sense.
But then, why does Paul give younger women this particular instruction, but not the younger men?
Again, because he needs to. Young husbands were required by law to love their wives and children: they were required to take responsibility for their households. But young wives…were not. And during this generation there were an increasing number of younger women who were abandoning their families and pursuing a self-indulgent lifestyle. And they were simply imitating the older, more established women who had made their own bids for independence during the previous generations.
So Paul says, “Please, ladies, teach the next generation of wives and mothers that independence and self-indulgence are actually self-destructive! Teach younger wives to join their husbands in taking responsibility for the families they helped start!”
But now: why does Paul say young women have to be busy at home, that they aren’t allowed to have jobs outside?
Well, that is not actually what Paul is saying. We modern people interpret it like that because our modern society has two main divisions: home-life and work-life. So when Paul says young women should be busy at home, we hear him saying, “Stay home! Don’t go out to work!”
But ancient Roman society had different divisions: home-life and public-life. For them, home-life included work-life: most households participated in some kind of family business. But public-life meant a life in politics, in civil service, in the court system: the machinery that keeps society running. So when Paul says young women should be busy at home, he is actually saying, “Work! Don’t leave your husband hanging! Help him manage your household! Help him provide for your family!”
But does this mean women should not be involved in the public sphere, in politics and law and civil service and all that?
No. Even in ancient Rome, women were involved in the public sphere: there were female magistrates and lawyers and politicians. But they were all older women whose children were grown up and married.
Paul’s emphasis here is on family first, especially when there are young children in the household. After that — after younger women have grown up to become older women, matriarchs over their households, then they will enjoy more independence.
However — as Paul has already made clear — once they become older women, they must not use their greater freedom for self-indulgence, but rather: to help train up the next generation of young women. This does not exclude involvement in politics or law or other things in the public sphere; but whatever else they may decide to do with their lives, younger women must not neglect their responsibility to manage their young households, and older women must not neglect their responsibility to pass on the wisdom of their experiences in managing a young household.
In short, Paul is not telling young women to completely set aside their ambitions, whatever those might be. He is simply reminding them of this universal truth: only those who prove themselves trustworthy in the little things will later on be trusted with greater things.
Okay. But then, why does Paul say younger women should be subject to their husbands? That does not sound like equality!
Well, this is really Paul’s recap of the all points he has just made. He is saying, “Look, sisters, your husbands need you. If you goof off and live a life of self-indulgence, it has the potential to cost him far more than it costs you. So, please, have compassion on that poor schmuck you’re married to! Help him fulfill his responsibilities. Don’t hinder him. Make his job easier, not harder.”
All this is really just basic Christianity: the command to love, the command to compassion.
And look: when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he is not saying that our enemies are more equal than we are. In the same way, when Paul tells wives to love their children and be subject to their husbands, he is not saying that men are more equal than women. This is not inequality.
On the contrary, what we are learning through all this is that Paul believes men and women are essentially equal, and equally essential.
Remember, the Cretan churches are being torn apart by purposefully divisive false teachings. Paul is in the middle of teaching Titus how to put these broken churches back together. The key to putting broken churches back together is: start with the families. The first step to putting broken families back together is: start with the older men. But do not stop there! Older women and younger women are just as important. Without them the Church will have no families, and — to be honest — without families the Church will have no future.
That is why Paul finishes his instructions to women by saying, “The reason you need to develop these Christian qualities is so that no one will malign the word of God.”
All over the empire, pagan Roman families were falling apart under the pressures of peace and prosperity leading to boredom, superficiality, and a hyper-sexualized society. Women were divorcing their husbands and abandoning their children and pursuing independent, self-indulgent lives in ways never dreamed of before. And men were not sure whether they should respond to this revolution by accepting it or by becoming even stricter than before — ?
And into this complicated social situation here comes this new religion called Christianity that promises to turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents. Unlike all the pagan religions that are just focused on external rituals and do not care about a person’s character, Christianity promises to change people from the inside-out, making them better than they were before.
And so: “let’s face it,” Paul is saying, “if our new faith proves unable to turn the hearts of younger women back to their children, and the hearts of older women back to building up families and communities, then Christianity is no better than paganism, and everyone will call Jesus a liar.
“But if our Christian families are able to stick together, sound in faith, in love and in endurance, in the face of all the families that are falling apart around us, then you will shine like stars in a warped and crooked generation.”
In other words: putting our broken families back together is not just the key to putting our broken churches back together, puting our broken families back together is the key to our evangelism.
Too many of us today are tempted to believe that effective evangelism depends on cooler music or a slicker media department, but this belief simply reveals that we Christians have become just as superficial as the modern culture we live in. So: no, Paul is saying, the true key to effective evangelism is this: be busy at home. Get your households in order. Disciple your families. Teach men and women to love one another as Christ loved the Church. And then open the doors to welcome the flood of pagan refugees who are desperate to escape from societies that are dying of superficiality.
All right. So now we have to ask: what does this mean for us, today? What are we supposed to believe or do because of what Paul has written here?
Well, first: let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past. Our own recent history, as well as the history of ancient Rome, shows us that men and women are equal in their potential for sin. And this is especially important for us to remember now, because certain social theorists are arguing that men are the real problem with society; if women were in charge, everything would soon be set right! Friends, this is just not true. It has been tried many times, in many different cultures, and it does not work.
So let’s start our application by believing this truth: we do not have a male problem or a female problem, we have a human problem.
But this first, negative truth leads us to a second, positive one: if men and women are equal in their potential for sin, that means men and women are also equal in their potential for redemption. But this cannot be self-redemption! It is impossible for self-indulgent humanity to also be self-redeeming: we need to be saved from the outside by someone who is not self-indulgent. And that person is Jesus Christ. How do we know? Because no other man or god from any other religion has ever even attempted to claim that they have the power to redeem mankind from self-indulgence. And no other man or god from any other religion has ever proven his point by dying and then rising again into a completely new kind of divinely-human life.
So let’s continue our application by believing this second truth: our human problem can only be solved by Jesus Christ.
And this second truth leads us to a third truth: true equality between the sexes cannot come from letting women indulge themselves until they have surpassed men; nor can it come from restricting men’s and women’s rights so that everyone has no choice but to “be good”; rather, true equality is a gift that comes through Jesus Christ alone. The only true end to this ancient “war between the sexes” begins with the blood of Christ, spilled as a ransom for all people equally: male and female, old and young, attractive and unattractive.
So let’s continue our application by believing this third truth: in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. This is the Gospel truth that lies at the very foundations of the Church.
Okay. But these truths that men and women are equally available to sin, equally available to redemption, and ultimately equal only in Christ…that is nice and all, but also pretty abstract.
What practical difference should these truths make in our lives?
Well, since this passage addresses women in particular…if you are here today and you are a woman — older or younger — then this is your application: now that you know that Jesus Christ has given you, as daughters of God, the same infinite value as the sons of God, this really sets you free from the need for self-indulgence in your words and actions. All that you are, everything you need, is being deposited to your account by the Saviour who died to redeem you from uncertainty and fear. You are free!
But, looking around here today, I don’t think I am seeing a congregation of especially Cretan women. Most of you were raised in fairly conservative Asian patriarchies that made sure you were well-behaved. As a result, you are already convinced that irreverence, slander, self-indulgence and abandoning your children are not acceptable behaviours. You may still struggle with some of these impulses, but you resist them because you know they are wrong.
But there is a generation of young people rising around us right now that will not have those same restraints. There is a cultural tsunami that began in the west and is even now sweeping over us, a tsunami of lies that is teaching women everywhere that independence and self-indulgence are the measure of true, fully realized femininity. We can tell this tsunami has already arrived here because divorce rates are exploding throughout Asia. So do not be surprised as, over the next 10 years or so, we begin to see self-indulgent behaviours in young people that meet or exceed what is now going on in the west. And do not be surprised when, just as in Roman times, panicked governments respond with strict — and even oppressive — legislation designed to reinforce traditional family structures.
What can you do, as Christian women, to prepare for this rising flood?
First, remember that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” You are well-behaved because you were raised to be well-behaved, but it is easy to forget that and take credit for your goodness as if you were born that way. You weren’t. If you had been born in Crete, into a broken family and a broken society with almost no moral restraints left, you would be just as self-indulgent as any ancient Cretan woman. You have been saved by grace alone, not because you were “good”; and it is grace alone that will save the self-indulgent young people of the next generation. So remember this, and be merciful to them.
But, second, even as you extend mercy to the troubled and confused younger women of the rising generation, make sure to teach them how to see through the lies. Independence and self-indulgence lead to misery and slavery, not to empowerment! Some of you know this from your own experiences. So please: preach and warn and teach! Urge younger women not to make the mistakes you made. Show them how to flee temptation, how to be busy at home and at work: faithful to husband, children, family, and church. Older men and younger men — all your brothers and sons here — need you to teach what is good. Our community will not survive without your feminine strength and wisdom. Our evangelism, our preaching of God’s Word to the world around us, will not work if you do not help us build up the families of Jesus’ Church.
So, sisters: be merciful to those who doubt. But at the same time: tell the truth. Because whoever turns a sinner from the error of her way will save her from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
The floodwaters are rising around us. But together we are building an ark of salvation that will lift us up to heaven when all around us has crumbled away.
Please, do not give up on us!