The Loveliness of Reverence

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Older women . . . are to be reverent in behavior. (Titus 2:3)

Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, as a young girl I was always watching the older women in our small local church. I remember them — their faces, their names, their lives.

Without being overly serious, they were serious about their walk with God. They weren’t public speakers, but when they spoke, others listened. Though they didn’t draw attention to themselves, my attention was drawn to their grace and beauty, a beauty that transcended current fashion and hair trends. In many ways, they were just ordinary women, but there was something about them, a sense of depth and solidity that I remember to this day. In Titus 2:3, Paul calls this something reverence.

What is reverence? Would you be able to define it for a third grader — or for your neighbor or coworker? I’m guessing that you (like me) might falter, because reverence seems to have gone the way of the wall-mounted telephone. Reverence demands a fitting response to the true nature of things — whether persons, circumstances, or natural wonders. Someone who is reverent respects the respectful, laughs at the laughable, mourns over the mournful, and glorifies the glorious.

In Titus 2, Paul expects of the older women conduct that fits a holy person — conduct that corresponds to reality, to their redemption and sanctification in Christ. In a word, reverence.

Redeemed for Reverence

Such reverence may seem obsolete in our day, in part due to our society’s strong resistance to any sense of givenness — of reality — to which we must conform. Humans claim the right to determine their purpose, their gender, their identity, their authority, their morality. At the heart level, this is the creature’s rebellion against the Creator God, who alone determines reality.

“Reverent behavior is the overflow of a heart that lives in the presence of God.”

Since the fall, humankind has bent toward irreverence: demanding self-rule and autonomy, “seeking to transcend creatureliness and become one’s own origin and one’s own end,” as John Webster puts it (Holiness, 84). Such rebellion is as unfitting to reality as a gold ring in a pig’s snout or a king drunk in the morning (Proverbs 11:22; Ecclesiastes 10:16–17). Restoration to reverent living as a creature in renewed fellowship with the Creator requires nothing less than a work of redemption.

And that is exactly the reason Paul gives for the reverent behavior of older women in Titus 2. Reverence is in accord with sound doctrine (2:1) — in other words, with the gospel. “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (2:11), and the right response is that we “renounce ungodliness” and “live . . . godly lives in the present age” (2:12). Reverence fits redemption like laughter fits a good joke, or lemonade fits a humid summer afternoon, or books fit a library. It is as beautiful as expensive ointment poured out on Jesus’s feet (Matthew 26:10).

What sets godly women apart, then, is that their lives correspond to the reality that Jesus reigns and that he is their saving Lord. They trust the Trustworthy One. They serve the Sovereign One. Their lives are increasingly a testimony to the way life was meant to be. No longer curved in on themselves, they are oriented toward Jesus in all things.

Alive to God’s Reality

Reverent behavior is the overflow of a heart that lives in the presence of God. A godly woman doesn’t “temporarily disable” his holy presence, even for five minutes. Her speech is not slanderous (Titus 2:3) because she speaks the truth about others, even in the privacy of her own thoughts. Because Christ is her sovereign Master, she isn’t enslaved to anything (2:3), whether wine or working out, appearance or attention, envy or anxiety, fears or fantasies.

She loves her husband (2:4), because God has given her this one man to bless, serve, care for, and help in every way possible, so that he might be the man God has called him to be. She gives of herself to bless her children (2:4), even when she least feels like it, because Christ gave himself for her when she least deserved it. She is not controlled by her emotions (2:5), because her emotions are properly ordered under Christ. She is, as John Calvin writes, “consecrated and dedicated to God in order that [she] may thereafter think, speak, meditate, and do, nothing except to his glory” (Institutes, 3.6.1).

Maybe we should read that again. “Think, speak, meditate, and do nothing except to God’s glory”? Nothing? The sobering (and inspiring) answer is “Yes — nothing.” The call is inspiring because it gives us a glimpse of the beauty of gospel obedience. It is sobering because it leaves no part of our heart or life outside of the loving reign of Jesus.

Growing up, one of my cousins often refused to let me play with a handful of her toys on the grounds that they were “special to her.” (That was a long time ago. Today she is one of the most reverent women I know!) In our flesh, sometimes we hope for a similar loophole. We want just a little tucked-away corner, a junk drawer where we can stash our most “special” idols that we would prefer Jesus not touch, a small realm where we can keep our self-rule. But that little junk drawer is a place of irreverence, of absurdity, where we still try to live in unreality, sitting on an imaginary throne in a personal insurrection against God.

Housekeeping of the Heart

A life of reverence is a life of increasing surrender to God’s will. Even our reverence comes to us on God’s terms, not ours. We do not instantaneously become creatures who “do nothing except to God’s glory.” He made us creatures who grow — slowly, with intentionality, over time.

The pursuit of reverence is less like a clean house before guests arrive, and more like a perpetual cleaning day. It is like housekeeping our heart: turning on every light, opening every cupboard, and chasing away every remnant of rebellious self-rule, every stronghold of the world, the flesh, and the devil (1 John 2:15–17). This is the work of every day, not a one-and-done affair. To be reverent is to regularly repent of irreverence and always trust in the gospel reality of our forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ.

This steady drumbeat of repentance and faith is the means by which the reverent woman opens up her whole life in obedience to God, no exceptions, and the fruit of such reverence is stunning. By her reverent speech, appetites, affections, emotions, attitudes, actions, and submission (Titus 2:3–5), the gospel is magnified, not maligned (2:5), and the reality of the glorious reign of Jesus is adorned before an irreverent world (2:10).

Road to Reverence

What other means has God given us to cultivate godly reverence today? He has given us his word as his revelation of reality and of his will. We cannot merely consult it. We need to read and read and read it again, until we find God’s word “reading” us. He has also given us his ear. We go to God in prayer, asking of him the growth that he has already promised to give. God delights to answer such prayers.

He has given us his Spirit, who convicts us of our own false living, prompts us to specific surrender and obedience, and guides us into all truth (John 16:13). Finally, he has given us examples to follow. Besides the reverent women in our own lives, we have biographies of seasoned saints that both encourage and challenge us on the road to reverence.

As we grow increasingly reverent, we become more of who we truly are: children of light (Ephesians 5:8–10). With our gaze fixed on our Savior, we may wake up to find that a younger generation is watching us, learning to treasure the beauty of godly reverence.

is the women’s discipleship coordinator at Cities Church. She and her husband, Jon, have four children and live in Minneapolis. Before returning to the United States, the Hoglunds served as cross-cultural missionaries in Ukraine and Vietnam.