A Pepper Grinder Post

Ministry for the Average Person - Part 4

This is the fourth in a series of posts (here are links for , , and ) looking at what Titus 2:1-5 tells us about ministry for the ordinary person. As a refresher, here is my translation of the verses that talk about women:

In the same way, teach the older women to be reverent in their behavior, not slanderous, not addicted to lots of wine, and teaching what's good, so they can encourage the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, busy at home, kind, and to submit to their own husbands, so people won't speak against the word of God. (Titus 2:3-5)

So here's the picture Paul has given us of women's ministry in this passage:

  • Older women were to be of excellent character.
  • Older women were to be teaching and encouraging the younger women (in a relational, rather than a programmatic way).
  • Younger women were to show love (in tangible ways) to their husbands and children, and their sphere of work was to be the home.
  • Younger women were also to be of good character.

At this point I can picture three possible responses (probably with some other gradations between).

  1. You might think I'm a patriarchal swine. To this group I have to say that I don't think I'm like that (and here again, you could ask my wife what she thinks), but the more important question is whether I am accurately representing the teaching of the Bible. If I am, then whether you are right about my character or not, your biggest problem is with the Bible rather than with me.
  2. You might be nodding your head and saying, "Amen, brother."
  3. You might be shaking your head sadly and saying, "It's a lovely idea, but it just wouldn't work for us."

cloudy skyIt's to this third group that I'd like to present some facts and figures about me and my wife. We were married in 1980 and had our first child in 1981. I have always been the sole breadwinner for our family. In 1981, I earned $9,062, and in 1982 I made $10,733. That was before taxes (not that we paid much in the way of taxes!) We gave away 10% of our income, and we saved another 10%. Granted, things were much cheaper back then. I'm thinking our first apartment was $200 a month. Nobody had cell phones or Internet, and we had no TV. We had a car, which usually didn't work, and we had no health insurance. Money was tight, but God took care of us.

Then, in 1983 through 1986, I was in seminary. We lived on $1,000 a month, tax-free. We gave away 10% of that, but I'm not sure we were saving. Although we didn't have to pay for my tuition or books at seminary, housing was much more expensive in the area where the seminary was--we were paying somewhere between $600 and $700 a month for our apartment. Groceries were more expensive too. We had a car, and we had the cheapo health insurance plan the seminary required (which might have cost something like $300 a year). Looking back, I'm not quite sure how we managed it. Our family grew to three kids while I was studying. Once again, God took care of us.

After seminary, until I got into computers, my income hovered in the $15,000 to $24,000 range, and our family grew to seven children. We were below the federal poverty threshold in 10 out of the first 21 years of our marriage. But, I need to say this again, God took care of us. I am not saying there is never a situation where a woman may need to work outside the home. There are cases where the man has left and is paying little or no child support. There are widows. There are extreme circumstances. My concern is that Christian couples are too quick to assume they are one of those extremes. I think we are too quick to call things essentials that are not essentials. "Well, I have to have my cell phone plan." "I had to get a car, and the payments weren't that much higher for a new car than for the used one I wanted." "We have to have cable."

I also think we are too quick to fall into a faithless way of thinking about money. One of the reasons I am SO glad we had a relatively low income for the first years of our marriage is that it gave us many chances to see God provide for us. One of the experiences I will never forget occurred when I was walking down the street with my oldest son when he was three or four. He told me he wanted a fast-food hamburger (I believe he called it a Whop-ee-eye.) I explained that we didn't have the money for that, but he could ask God for it. A few minutes later, a dollar bill came blowing down the street and landed at our feet--enough for a hamburger with some change left over.

I do need to add one caveat. My wife and I did have one great advantage. Neither of us was in debt. I used to believe the Bible forbade Christians to go into debt, for any reason. I don't believe that now, though I still think the Bible teaches that being in debt is a position we should always try to avoid, and that we should get out of as soon as we can. However, I'm very glad we had a firm no-debt policy at the start of our marriage. If you are not in debt and are thinking of going into debt, I would say this: debt will tie you down and severely limit your options. That being said, if God is able to provide for your needs when you are on a single income, I believe he can do it when you are on a single income and in debt. It may be a struggle, but I believe God will help you.

sun breaking through cloudsThere is one more part of this passage I have not mentioned. It is the last phrase of verse five, and it's important. This is where Paul gives the reason for what he has said before. He says, "so people won't speak against the word of God." One could make the following argument: "In the time Titus was written, women doing the things Paul said would be seen as virtuous. Times have changed, and now, women who don't work outside the home are just seen as oddballs." This is not a crazy argument. If Paul had said, at the end of verse five, "this has always been God's plan for women and always will be," everything would be clear and plain. Since he ties this in to people having a good opinion of the faith, however, it definitely opens the door to the idea that some of what Paul is saying might be limited to that culture.

I don't totally discard that argument, but I have two big problems with it.

  1. How do we know which parts of Paul's command are culture-bound (and thus can be ignored) and which are still relevant for us? I assume we would agree that older women still shouldn't be slanderous or alcoholics, and it's hard to argue that it's a bad thing for them to be teaching what's good and encouraging the younger women. As for the younger women, aren't we going to want them to love their husbands and children, and to be self-controlled and kind? The problem with taking a list like we have here and deciding what parts apply to us and which don't is that we are the people making the decision. It is far too easy for it to turn into a popularity contest, where certain commands get voted off the island because we don't like them.
  2. It seems to me that Paul's commands for older women to teach younger women, and for the identity of younger women to be bound up with husband-loving, child-loving, and home-working, are part of a package deal. This package is one which puts relationships above programs, and which sees making the home a place of love, safety, and beauty (rather than just a comfortable wifi hotspot) as of more value than money and the things it can buy. To me, those are values that seem much more in-line with the teachings of Jesus than the idea that the woman MUST work so you can have good healthcare, a good retirement plan, and save up so your kids can attend good colleges. I believe the choice many American Christian couples are making is to put material comfort and security first. We couch this in language that implies we have no choice in the matter (most modern women have to work outside the home), but I think this is usually a smokescreen. Given the choice between being poor and espousing Biblical values, and being wealthier and espousing materialistic values (albeit with plenty of Christian virtues and language), most have chosen the path that fits with our culture. Most churches I have seen, rather than encouraging people to think harder about this choice, simply rush in to tailor their programs to fit the new reality. In doing this, they make it much easier to believe that a couple making the decision for the wife to be one of the wage-earners is doing something totally acceptable and good for a Christian to do.

I don't like legalism. I have no desire to promulgate a teaching that women who work outside the home are "bad" and women who do not are "good." I just wish more couples would very seriously consider the option NOT to have the wife work outside the home. Doing this makes all kinds of statements without saying a word. It says that the husband-wife relationship is more important than money. It says that relationships, peace, and beauty are more important than a successful career. It says that raising children is such an important calling that it shouldn't be delegated to someone else. It says you are willing to pattern your life after the teaching of the Bible, even if that makes you a bit odd.

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Comments on this post:

Thank you so much for this series. In addition to being fascinating I think it is a great corrective to our tendency in American culture (and the Christian variations of American culture) to value the heroic over the ordinary. In general we assume that getting up each morning and being faithful in ordinary ways does not count as much as doing crazy things. My question for you is, how might this interact with Ephesians 4:11-13 which talks about how God has given different gifts (for that matter is the list exhaustive or representative? The only talks that I can remember tended to assume exhaustive but I suspect they were wrong) to the church in order that the church may be built up for ministry. Whenever I've heard people talk about this the tendency is to take it for granted that ministry that people are built up for is of the whacky heroic kind. Thus we're building people up to go to the Amazon or to hold a weekly barbeque for their neighborhood which results in a revival. I'm not saying those are bad, but how might one build up God's people for ordinary service, like being faithful in trust and prayer and love with the same people over and over? What does Paul think?
-Joshua   February 26, 2017

You bring up a lot of good questions. I probably left some unanswered, but I took a stab at an answer in the piece I just posted: Equipping.
-Pepper   May 27, 2017