Paul's instructions to the older women have the same goal (likewise) of Christian respectability. In their case, respectable behavior amounts to "reverence," which above all means avoiding "slanderous talk" and "drunkenness," and teaching what is good. The term Paul chose to refer to "reverence" was used to characterize the conduct of priestesses, which suggests that he is advocating that Christian women fit an exceptional type. "Slanderous talk" and "drunkenness," on the other hand, were among the vices commonly associated with the negative type of older women in Greco-Roman society.
The positive quality of "teaching good things" reminds older women that they are responsible to model the acceptable and respectable life for younger women. The adjective teaching what is good denotes informal teaching by lifestyle, as verses 4-5 show. It leads directly to the stated purpose of their instruction (then they can train the younger women, v. 4). "Good things" in this context are acceptable patterns of behavior. But the term contains a hidden implication: one teaches with one's life either good things or bad things; pursuit of the acceptable lifestyle will ensure teaching that is good.
This is a resource the church today could draw on much more than it does. We have bought into the notion that older people have had their day of usefulness and ought to make way for the young. But the principle here is quite the opposite. With age and experience come wisdom, and many older women have discovered secrets of godly living in relation to their husbands, children and neighbors and in the workplace that could save younger women a lot of unnecessary grief. And when the unavoidable trials come to the young woman, who better to guide her through than an older sister who has been through it before? Somehow the church must see that younger women have contact with older women. The leadership must encourage (and equip further) specially gifted older women to seek younger women who desire to be trained.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.