Thursday, November 6, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 25)

Continuing what has turned out to be a rather lengthy dissertation on widows (a normally dismissed and marginalized segment of the populace---Paul’s extensive treatment of widows should tell us quite a bit about the way the church should operate), Paul goes on to write “So I want younger women to marry, raise children, and manage a household, in order to give the adversary no opportunity to vilify us” (1 Timothy 5:14). From whence might this vilification arise?  It could arise from younger widows “going around from house to house,” learning to be lazy, while also being “gossips and busybodies, talking about things they should not.”  Again, the directive to marry, raise children, and manage a household fits well with that which has been said about overseers and deacons.  The overseer “must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity” (3:4).  Likewise, “Deacons must be husbands of one wife and good managers of their children and their own households” (3:12).

To the avoidance of vilification, Paul adds “For some have already wandered away to follow Satan” (5:15).  Here, he still writes about widows.  Lest one think that Paul is specifically singling out widows or that he is calling out women in general for being gossips and busybodies, it can be seen, once again, that the same type of language has already been on offer in his talk of overseers.  One must not allow the thinking that Paul is being overly harsh with the women of the body of Christ.  Rather, he must be heard within the context of his efforts at leveling out the church, realizing that Paul believes that all classes of people are to be treated equally. 

Whenever an initial reading of a passage leads one to believe that Paul is placing general restrictions on a class of people in such a way that could lead to the structuring of spiritual hierarchies, to the demeaning or restricting of a group based on ethnicity (Jew/Gentile), gender (male/female---especially the passages about women being silent in the church), or social status (slave/free/widow/children), or the erection of a spiritual authoritarianism inside the church, it serves the reader well to re-read and re-think the text until the conclusion concerning the text accords with the egalitarian nature of the church as it was envisioned by Paul (as he attempted to live out and encourage what he understood to be the mission and vision of the church as enacted by Jesus and informed by the prophets). 

Paul demands to be heard in his historical and cultural context, as the church found itself attempting to countermand, through the manifestation of the Spirit of the Creator God, the spirit of death that animated the world into which the church had been placed and out of which it had been called, that it may serve that world well (a bit of the paradoxical mystery of the faith---called out to be separate so that it may serve and transform, functioning as the kingdom of the covenant God and being the point of overlap between heaven and earth---the Temple---as an ongoing foretaste of the new creation and restoration of the earth).    

So as one considers whether Paul is being heavy-handed with groups of women, upon returning again to the third chapter, one reads “He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact.  And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap” (3:6-7).  This has followed from “But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?” (3:5), which has followed the fourth verse and talk of managing a household, controlling children, and maintaining dignity.  Remember, an observer needs to encounter the text on the lookout for Paul’s efforts at leveling out the body, in contrast to the culture, rather than setting up hierarchies.  

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