Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Drawn Away

“But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.”

It’s not just young widows who need to worry about being drawn away from Christ by worldly passions, and it’s not just women more generally. The symptoms and objects of earthly desire vary from person to person, but the unshakable conviction that the grass on the other side of the fence is somehow greener than the grass on my side is a lie of the devil we must all contend with.

Here, the specific passion in view is not anything evil. In and of itself, the impulse to marry is not abnormal or unhealthy. Everybody wants to know and be known, to feel secure, to have someone to care for and to care for them.

Good Girl Marries Bad Boy

William MacDonald suggests the problem is that these younger Christian widows became so desperate to remarry that they settled for unsaved men:
“When it comes to a choice between marrying a pagan or remaining unmarried out of love to Christ and obedience to His word, the young widow is apt to marry.”
With all respect to MacDonald, while we’ve all seen the “good girl” types unexpectedly run off with the bad boy, I don’t think the problem Paul has in view here is a lack of available Christian bachelors in the church at Ephesus or the temptation to marry outside of the faith. If it were, then Paul’s remedy makes no sense:
“So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.”
Surely he means he would have them marry in the Lord, no? And if the problem is that there are no suitable Christian men available to marry, even an apostle can hardly expect to resolve it by simply saying, “So get married then.” If remarriage is Paul’s counsel, then he is surely assuming that at least a few appropriate Christian males are available to be had.

Abandoning Their Former Faith

So, no, I don’t believe that’s the issue at all. When Paul says these women “incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith,” I don’t understand it to mean these young women were turning away from Christianity altogether, thus incurring the judgment of God. The issue seems to me more subtle than that.

No, I think what he is saying is that, by remarrying, these young women who had become dependents of the church were opening themselves up to public criticism for abandoning lives of full-time devotion to good works and to God’s people, which were the means by which they had previously demonstrated their faith. We would think similarly of a young man who loudly aspires to be a missionary at age twenty, and by twenty-five is working seventy hour weeks at the stock exchange instead. We would probably think it (though we might not say it) even if he still sticks his nose into his local church occasionally and maintains some connection to other believers. Putting one’s hand to the plow and looking back is evidence of a deficiency of foresight, commitment or both. I believe it is fickleness and lack of fidelity to a choice made before God that Paul is critiquing here, not the forsaking of church meetings or a departure from theological orthodoxy.

Do Not Take an Oath at All

The teaching in this passage is not dissimilar to the Lord’s teaching about vows: “I say to you, Do not take an oath at all.” One may swear and keep a vow, or one may swear and break it, but it is wiser not to make these sorts of solemn promises at all.

Hey, it can be very tempting to make a public show of our devotion to Christ by making grand verbal commitments we can’t follow through on in the long term. Often we mean well, but the day-to-day grind of service turns out to be more than we realized we were signing up for, and the things we feel we are missing out on become bigger and bigger issues for us as time passes. We come to resent the very life we have chosen because we have bitten off more than we can chew.

This sort of thing is especially dangerous for idealistic young men and women, who simply do not have sufficient life experience to assess the spiritual choices they are making. I think it is very unwise to draft young Christians into positions of significant responsibility before they have even figured out who they are, but I have seen it happen repeatedly. When they flame out and abandon their work, a few feel sufficiently shamed that they never really recover. Some impulse like this almost surely overwhelmed Demas, who may or may not have bounced back, and perhaps also John Mark, who did.

Two Roads

If we are wise, we will create opportunities for young people to serve — especially young women, whose window for forming families and bearing children is limited —that don’t require making serious commitments about their future; that don’t tie them to any sort of “official” roles or responsibilities, such as the “enrollment” Paul speaks of to Timothy.

This is not because we are looking to produce dilettantes, but because there are different ways to serve. A life spent managing a godly household and raising a godly man’s godly children is every bit as valuable and necessary to Christian testimony as a life spent devoted full-time to “every good work”. One is not more spiritual than the other, though the world often considers the former less godly. But there is no shame in choosing one over the other.

What is shameful is making a public commitment and then bailing on it. I believe it is this sort of failure of testimony Paul is trying to avoid.

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