One of the first friendships that I remember began with a handwritten note, passed from me to Diana. “Wanna be my friend? o Yes o No.” Fifty-some years later, I have come to understand that Gospel friendships are rarely that simple. In fact, Paul urges the women in Titus’ church to engage in friendships that are strategic, building relationships that have as their goal being transformed into the image of Christ.
But how does that happen? In the original language, there are two verbs that gives a framework for our strategy. In English, these verbs are translated “teach what is good” and “train” (Titus 2:3, 4). Together, they provide a picture of women who are engaged in strategic friendship by instructing, modeling, and exhorting one another. Each of these imperatives is loaded with meaning, helping us to understand how we are to grow together in our theology, our ability to love sacrificially and our desire to develop character that provides legitimate grounds for the Gospel.
When we think about “INSTRUCTION” we picture a classroom and a teacher. As we consider Gospel friendships, Paul’s admonition to “teach what is good” may have implied formal instruction, but it was likely intended to encourage seasoned women to “instruct” young women just in their everyday lives. This happens as an older woman leans into a young woman’s circumstance, helping her to see that circumstance in light of Scripture. God’s Word speaks to our habits, our standards, how we think about our possessions and gifts. It gives us instruction around priorities, anxiety, family, time…all of these aspects of coping with the demands of life matter to the Father. He has given us what we need to grow in our capacity for discernment and discipline as well as freedom and grace, all in His Word. Gospel friends “instruct” one another primarily by looking together to Scripture to understand life!
A MODEL is a vision of perfection, not a hair out of place, not a blemish or a wrinkle. We know, however, that, behind the scenes, even the most beautiful model is less-than-perfect. She’s been “touched up”. Her perfect image is an illusion. This is obviously not what Paul intended in his commendation to the sisters. Modeling, in this context, is less about appearance and more about personhood. In his letters to the churches, Paul repeats some form of this theme: “Do what I do.” He was not putting himself on a pedestal, but instead he has exposed his past, his challenges, his “thorn”, and his pride so that he could display the grace of God in his life. The pattern that he wanted the church to model was the work of the Holy Spirit in his character, his thinking, and his practice. He wanted the church to see God’s faithfulness to him so that they might have such faithfulness to hang on to in their own heartache. Gospel friends allow women to see all aspects of their lives, their progress and failure, happy times and excruciating heartache, fruitfulness and what appears to be wasteland. Why? So that younger women might model what they see! We watch one another “grow up” in our faith as we walk with God and it inspires us to grow!
Finally, Paul anticipates that these friendships will be marked by EXHORTATION, a word defined as “to give warnings or advice.” Which seems to suggest that people who need to be exhorted are those who are habitually doing something wrong, and that may be true. But the biblical approach to exhortation suggests that it is for every believer. 1 Thess. 4 is rich with this idea, urging those who are doing well to keep going, to do better, to continue doing well. Paul exhorts godly, effective believers in this text to press on, to be vigilant, to continue to grow and excel. Some helpful synonyms are challenge, stir, inspire (I love that one).
But exhortation does have another side to it. Paul addresses this kind of exhorting in 2 Corinthians 7. He’s referring in these verses to another letter that he had written (one not included in our canon). It was, apparently, a stinging letter of exhortation and rebuke. It actually hurt people’s feelings, “caused them sorrow”! Can you imagine writing a letter that you know is going to hurt people? Why would he do that? Because he was a Gospel friend! He wanted them to repent and their walk with God was more important to him than even his relationship with them!
Gospel friends exhort one another. They do so as a means to spur one another on in good things, and to correct and rebuke (from love) when that’s necessary.
Will you be my Gospel friend…check yes or no…but take your answer seriously. As my friend, I need for you to instruct me, to be a model for me to follow, to exhort me. Why? So that the church is strong and healthy and growing, and we can one day approach the Throne of Grace, reflecting the glory of the Son together. Won’t that be the best!?!
 Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:9
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)!