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The List is the Overflow




The List is the Overflow

Jessalyn Hutto

I love making lists at the beginning of my day. They help me stay on task and give me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction each time I cross an item off. Dishes? Check. Laundry? Check. Budget? Check. A “good” day ends with all my little goals crossed out while the trying days end with unfinished work spilling over onto the next day’s duties. Perhaps you can relate. There are lots of lists in the New Testament; lots of virtues and character qualities that we are called to pursue as Christians. One of the most famous and widely studied of these lists among women of the church is found in Titus 2:3-5.

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 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 2:3-5, ESV)

This passage of scripture is commonly and rightly taught as a call for discipleship among the generations of women within the church. It also serves as a helpful blue print for the Christian woman’s life. Want to know what your priorities within the family and society should be? Look no further than Titus 2:3-5. Wondering what key concepts your mentorship of younger women should focus on? They are right here in this lovely little passage of scripture, just ready to be used for the sanctification of the body! My guess is that many of you have this passage underlined or highlighted in your Bibles, or perhaps you’ve even committed it to memory. If you’ve been a member of the church for long there’s a good chance you’ve attended a Bible study or women’s retreat revolving around the practical applications of these important verses. Many of us have even been blessed to have genuine Titus 2 relationships within the church where older (more experienced and wise) women have come alongside us, modeling and  teaching these godly virtues. Perhaps you’ve been that Titus 2 woman to others. These are good things. The Lord, through Paul’s hand, has given a very specific and emphatic description of how Christian women–both older and younger–should behave within their families and within society. However, a tragic mistake is made when these verses are taught out of their immediate and broader biblical context. Taken in isolation, these three verses can easily become nothing more than a spiritual check list for women to work on as they pursue holiness–a check list that is terribly difficult to make any progress on apart from the grace of God. We have the tendency to take our little notebooks or journals and map out these three verses, digging into the complexities of each virtue, searching our hearts and actions to see how we measure up, and feeling pretty sorry for ourselves when we realize just how awful we truly are. When was the last time you could feel good about crossing “love my husband” or “be self-controlled” off your check list consistently? Me either. But here’s the good news: These verses are not given to us with the understanding that we can achieve such godly behavior on our own. We are not meant to simply will ourselves to be more self-controlled or more submissive to our husbands. We cannot, no matter how hard we try, love our husbands and children the way we are called to without the life-giving, enabling power of the Holy Spirit, and this is exactly what our God supplies!  Deep within all the lists of character qualities found in the book of Titus–after Paul addresses the church elders, the older men, the the older women, the younger women, the younger men, Titus himself, and even the slaves–there is what I have come to refer to as the heart of this book. It’s the passage that pumps life-giving blood into every requirement and standard presented around it.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14, ESV)

If we do not treasure this beautiful, magnificent, and glorious truth of salvation within our hearts and apply it to our pursuit of holiness–to our pursuit of the qualities found earlier in the chapter–we will live in one of two ways: either we will live self-righteously (thinking that we can accomplish godliness apart from grace) or we will live defeated in our Christian walk (seeing each failure to live up to God’s standards as a way we have further disappointed our disgruntled heavenly Father). Most of us will swing like pendulums between the two extremes, some days feeling really great about our Titus 2 performances and on other days simply throwing in the towel. But this is not how we were meant to live out our Christian lives. We were meant to live in and through the glorious, freeing, and empowering news of the gospel. The salvation of God isn’t a tag line in the book of Titus; it isn’t something we have heard a thousand times and can quickly read through on our way to “apply” the commands of scripture. No, the life of a “Titus 2 Woman” is the natural overflow of the grace of God at work in her life. It is the fruit of her salvation–watered and grown by the Gardener of our lives. We must not start at the list, the list must flow out of the message. It is only when we grasp the message, and learn to live in a constant awareness of it, that we can truly make sense of the list and not feel overwhelmed by its demands. It is the gospel of Christ that frees us all to be Titus 2 women. Don’t miss it. Don’t skip over it. Let’s dive into it.