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Something’s Got to Give!

April 8, 2011
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“A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.But refuse to put younger widows on the list, for when they feel sensual desires in disregard of Christ, they want to get married, thus incurring condemnation, because they have set aside their previous pledge. At the same time they also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, talking about things not proper to mention. Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach;  for some have already turned aside to follow Satan.  If any woman who is a believer has dependent widows, she must assist them and the church must not be burdened, so that it may assist those who are widows indeed.” 1 Timothy 5:9-16

At first blush, you read the passage above and you see only guidelines for Timothy and other leaders to manage the church’s “widows indeed” list. 

Some of you feel compelled right now to type them up for the CHURCH POLICY MANUAL.

Yes, Paul takes time to sort things out. This must have been a source of some tension and frustration in the Ephesian body, and he wanted to create some order.

But I see some pretty challenging prerequisites to meet to get on the list, beside the passage of 60 years.

Namely a qualifying widow must have been the wife of one man (boiled down: not a flirt!), possess a reputation for good works (a reputation by definition is gained and proven over time), have brought up children (this is past tense; it means to “rear,” denoting proximity and involvement), shown hospitality to strangers (this would entail availability and interruptions by unsavory people at times), washed the saints feet (the woman of the house did this as a customary gesture, sorry), assisted those in distress (I guess, drop what you are doing and pitch in?), and devoted to every good work ( a little more than an occasional cameo appearance down at the church).

Try getting a 21st Century woman  to do all this, who daily dons the business suit, carts the kids to daycare, scratches and claws her way up the corporate ladder, races back to daycare or to school to take the kids to soccer practice, runs by to pickup dinner, finishes some e-mail in the car while waiting on the kids’ practice to be over, gets home, shoves the takeout in the microwave, greets her husband who has just walked in the door, does the kids’ homework for them, monitors violin practice, gets them ready for bed,  tucks them in, and, I guess, collapses in a heap.  No, I don’t think there would be enough time in the day to be “devoted to every good work.” Get real.

Can we assume that God understands the society in which we live and cuts the appropriate amount of slack? Do you think he cares less about a woman devoting herself to these higher callings? I don’t think so.

Perhaps the roles of women have changed in this age, but he hasn’t.

He goes so far as to imply that to not do these things puts women in danger of causing reproach to all Christians.  Look at verse 14: 

“So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.”

These are fighting words to most women these days, but I can’t see the Lord changing his perspective on his original model. And then look at Titus 2:3-5:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.”

Right now I envision women reading this having the same reaction that men listening to Stephen’s sermon had in Acts 7:57:

“But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.”

We have all heard the rationalizations and really good reasons for women weighed down in this fashion (e.g. husband is under employed or out of work, bad initial financial decisions, etc.),  but what are the root causes? I’ll just throw one out there and then stop there: Why do moms and dads push their daughters to be somebody? Hasn’t Paul laid out what women should aspire to?  Maybe I’m old fashioned. Maybe I’m a Neanderthal.

Here are some questions that must be answered by women in the church: Would I be qualified to make it onto this list come 60 years of age? Are these callings outdated? Does it matter to me to have “a reputation for good works?” Have I reared my children, or referred my children? Are these tasks demeaning to me?

If you can manage to do it all, more power to you. I sense though, something’s gotta give.

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