Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles by Susan Shepherd on the topic of relationships in the church. To read the first post, click here.
One of my favorite “Peanuts” cartoons is a picture of Charlie Brown lounging on a bean bag chair, Snoopy resting on his head. The caption reads: “A friend is someone who knows all your faults but likes you anyway.” Snoopy epitomizes our idea of a good friend; he makes Charlie Brown feel good about himself (not an easy task!). Friends cheer us on and tell us how great we are…they make us laugh…they feel our pain. Which isn’t inherently bad, but it is a far cry from what God had in mind when He gave us to one another in the church.
Much like our Peanuts friends, we want to encourage one another, to make one another feel secure, and to support one another, but the goal of Gospel friendship is not primarily our comfort, security or encouragement. Our efforts are not meant to be an end in themselves, but to be a means to sanctify the church! Friendships in the church, like all of life, are meant to help us to be (individually and collectively) transformed into the image of the Son (2 Corinthians 3:18). You and I, then, actually grow in our resemblance to Jesus because of our friendship!
Paul reiterates this point in Titus 2:3-5 by offering three “categories” of influence between sister- friends in the church. He begins, remarkably, with DOCTRINE: “teach what is good.” This is significant given the context of these verses; remember that the Apostle is concerned about false teaching in the church. Paul was jealous for a “sound mind” – not only among the men, but the women as well! Sisters, we need to be thinking women who are helping one another to be thinking women! Doctrine matters. What we think about God, about redemptive history, about Christ and the Trinity—these things MATTER. Right thinking about God must underscore our relationships to one another in the church. It provides a mooring, an anchor and it is essential to our living. Our friendships in the church must have, at the core, sound doctrine.
Secondly, in verses 4 and 5, Paul suggests our friendships in the church are helpful for our PRACTICAL LIVES. He speaks specifically to loving our families (single friends, don’t check out!*). It is interesting that the Apostle is so concise here. It is a little more typical of Paul to pile up words to make a single point, but here he simply uses the word: love. Might he be more persuasive with: “train the young women to honor, cherish, lift up, serve, extend grace…”? Why the economy of the single word? He chose the one word that sums up all the others. A woman’s life marked by love is one of sacrifice, grace, patience, gentleness, tenacity, perseverance, courage, industry, creativity and, at least in the case of mothers, sleeplessness. It requires her to become organized, frugal, flexible, savvy, perceptive and hospitable. In short, love means dying to self. Our friendships in the church are meant to help us to do that, to learn to love like that.
Finally, Paul eludes in these verses to the CHARACTER of the women in the church. Not slanderers, not slaves to wine, self-controlled, pure…. This dynamic of friendship between women in the church in Crete would have been powerful, given the culture in which they lived. Their little island was well known for its crude lifestyle (see 1:12), and the Apostle longed for those who loved Jesus to live the kind of life that provided “legitimate grounds for the Gospel.” What was true in Crete is certainly true today in America. Can you see how women who are self-controlled, pure, and kind become a “city on a hill”? Our friendships in the church help us to have character that highlights the attractiveness of the Gospel.
Sisters, women’s friendships in the church are meant to help us to look more like Jesus. My ability, and my desire, to be this kind of friend is deeply dependent on my having this kind of friendship with Jesus. He is my comforter, encourager, and shelter. He understands my sorrow and fear and disappointment, but He never leaves me there. His love expresses itself in His sanctifying work in my life, so He gently corrects me, challenges me, forgives me, lifts me up and protects me. It is this friendship that enables to be a Gospel friend.
One more detail that I love about this text: I am both the older woman in verse 3 and the young woman in verse 4! I will always have something to gain from a woman who is a season or two ahead of me…and, by grace, I’ll have something to offer a woman who is a few steps behind. Something to offer. Something to gain. Gospel friendships in the church are reciprocal!
“A friend is someone who knows your faults but likes you anyway.” True. But a Gospel friend knows your faults, likes you anyway, and longs for you to become like Jesus. Something to aspire to, don’t you think?
Susan is the Director of Women’s Ministries at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. Her first book, Becoming Eve, is now available along with a study guide for personal and small group use. She and her husband, Charles, have two married children and two grandsons. While Susan loves cooking, photography, reading, writing and ministry, she mostly loves being Gigi to Micah (2) and Jack (8 months)!
 ESV study Bible notes on this text