A TULIP Repost: Mary Knew Where To Sit

Originally published September 17, 2018:

Learning

I know you’ve heard this Bible story a million times. Every women’s ministry gets to it eventually — usually with warnings against becoming like Martha.

38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” ~~Luke 10:38-42 (ESV)

But I’m not bringing the story up today to scold you if you’re an overly diligent housekeeper or pat you on the back if you neglect your house in favor of studying your Bible. Again, you’ve heard both those applications a million times, and you’re certainly not interested in hearing them from me. Furthermore, I’m equally not interested in writing about them!

But I thought about this passage in the context of our painfully evident preoccupation with secondary matters. Most of those matters desperately require attention, just as managing a household requires attention. Longtime readers undoubtedly know that I believe it’s absolutely crucial to examine trends within evangelicalism that seriously damage the Church and distort people’s understanding of Who Christ is.

All the issues we look at on this blog, from the problems with false teachers to the Social Justice Movement, are as important as cleaning the bathroom and serving nutritious meals. Neglecting them causes problems that usually harm us spiritually. Poor Martha only wanted to attend her legitimate responsibilities, just as Christians who address hot-button topics only want to attend to legitimate concerns.

But sometimes we get so caught up in dealing with secondary matters that we obscure the Lord from our conversation.  When that happens, we need the same rebuke that the Lord gave Martha.

If we’re too busy with whatever issue dominates our thinking to open our Bibles and enjoy God’s revelation of Himself, we’ve made a lesser choice. Martha was, after all, giving her all to serve Jesus because she genuinely loved Him, but Mary chose to sit at His feet and soak in His teaching.

I don’t want you to neglect the issues that cause trouble in the Church today. But neither do I want those matters to end up distracting you  from the Lord Himself. Mary knew where to sit. Do you?

Will I Have An Occasional Glass Of Wine?

If you want a lively debate with other Christians, just mention alcohol! You’ll get impassioned responses from people on all sides of the issue, and you may even damage one or two of your friendships in the process (I say that mostly in jest).

Alcohol consumption among Christians has always required a careful reading of Scripture and an understanding of Christian liberty in the light of exhortations towards temperance. It’s a sensitive topic, requiring extensive study coupled with prayer for wisdom to apply God’s Word accurately and lovingly. Therefore, this small blog post can’t thoroughly examine the matter.

Truth be told, I really don’t want to blog about alcohol. But we can’t work through Titus 2:3-5 unless we deal with Paul’s command to older women women regarding this topic.

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Older Women Need Instruction Too

Titus 2:3-5 seems to have become the definitive passage for determining the entire sphere of Biblical womanhood. It’s foundational, certainly, and a necessary corrective to the damage feminism has caused in recent decades. As Biblical women, you and I must obey its teaching, especially when it comes against the rebellious standards imposed on us by the world.

At the same time, some people react to feminism by making overly narrow applications of this passage, usually zeroing in on younger women working within the home. That assumption needs to be addressed at some point, as a few verses in Proverbs 31 provide qualifications that we have to consider. But as I’ve thought about taking you through Titus 2:3-5, it’s occurred to me that I’ve also gotten sucked in to the narrow discussion of a woman’s place being in the home. So I want to back up a bit and look more carefully at the passage. Specifically, I want to say a few things about Paul’s commands to older women.

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. ~~Titus 2:3-5 (NASB95)

Yes, the passage clearly says that older women are to teach younger women with the goal of encouraging them to be wives and mothers who work on managing their homes. But that just isn’t the sum total of these three verses. Look at the first few clauses.

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Introduction To Love

According to Titus 2:3-5, older women are to teach younger women to love their husbands and children. We may think that’s a rather strange instruction. In our culture, we almost universally marry for love, and we can’t help feeling an incredibly deep affection for our children. The Greek word translated “love” in Titus 2:4 does in fact mean to have feelings of affection, which makes us wonder about this imperative. Why on earth, then, would older women need to teach younger women to love the very people whom they would love quite naturally?

As I’ve pondered this matter, I’ve begun thinking about love in general, and Christian love in particular. Loving husbands and children as the Lord would have us love them must go beyond the ways non-Christians love their husbands and children, it seems to me. As believers, we learn how to love by studying the ways that our Lord expresses His love.

This Holy Week directs our attention to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross — the most powerful display of love in human history. Although none of us can ever hope to love anyone as powerfully as He loves us (because of our inability to atone for the sins of another person), we can still develop an understanding of love that we can approximate to a lesser degree in our relationships.

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Does Titus 2:3-5 Ignore Single Women?

As my friends and I moved through our late 30s without double rings on the third fingers of our left hands, we harbored ambivalent feelings about what older women should teach us. On the one hand, we did want teaching on how to be godly wives and mothers. Maybe learning these skills would nudge God into bringing us husbands, we reasoned. At least, that was my reasoning. Additionally, I believed older women could teach me how to attract a godly man in the first place. Hunger for marriage certainly makes a young woman eager to learn the things Paul lists in 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. (NASB95)

On the other hand, single women can feel left out if women’s Bible Studies revolve completely around marriage and child rearing. Not every godly woman has the opportunity to marry. Sometimes the only available men aren’t Christians, in which case marriage would be an act of disobedience. Thus, sitting through continual instruction on marriage and motherhood would just pour salt on the gaping wounds of singleness. Speaking from years of experience as an unmarried woman (who desperately wanted to be married), I really didn’t appreciate lessons on domestic skills.

As I’ve stated earlier in this series, I agree that the primary thrust of Titus 2:3-5 focuses on marriage and motherhood. That emphasis sadly gets downplayed nowadays, which I believe is a terrible flaw in typical women’s ministries. At the same time, however, I also believe that we must offer ministry to women who (through no fault of their own) have no romantic prospects.

Consider, please, the account of Martha and Mary.

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Let’s Ask Why

Titus 2:3-5 gives pretty straightforward instructions on older women teaching younger women, doesn’t it? And like it or not, Paul emphasizes teaching younger women domestic duties in the context of marriage and motherhood. Look again with me at the passage:

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. (NASB95)

As I wrote last week, that phrase “what is good” does broaden the scope of what older women can legitimately teach our younger sisters. Soon after I wrote that post, I saw another blogger post a quote from a lesser known Bible commentator reasoning that, since the Titus 2:3-5 passage lists predominantly duties of wives and mothers, older women shouldn’t presume to teach anything outside that sphere. Obviously, I believe that his assertion too narrowly interprets this Scripture.

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Teaching What Is Good — Comma, Colon Or Both?

I nearly failed Latin in college, so I easily decided against taking classes in Classical Greek. Therefore, I don’t claim to know much about the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. As I write this series on Titus 2:3-5, I sort of wish I did know Greek, since the construction of the sentence would probably deepen my understanding.

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. (NASB95)

Verse 3, after describing the character qualities older women should exhibit, commissions us to teach what is good. The translators of the New American Standard Bible 1995 indicate that teaching what is good includes the topics listed in verses 4 and 5 by using the phrase, “so that.” This rendering helps us determine that the primary purpose for older women to teach younger women to focuses on encouraging those younger women to be wives and mothers who honor the Lord. Most definitely, we should maintain this goal at all cost!

But does this passage limit us to teaching domestic skills? If Paul had written Titus 2:3-5 in present day American English, would he have placed a comma or a colon after the word “good?”

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Old Ladies Don’t Get To Just Do What We Want

Portrait I drew of Mom at age 94

Generally quiet and demure, my mom would let out her zingers when people least expected them. On her 75th birthday, she sat at the kitchen table surveying her cards and gifts while she relished her last bite of birthday cake. She looked at me in apparent seriousness and commented, “Well, I’m officially old now; I can wear what I want and say what I want without caring what anyone thunks!” Then she chuckled, anticipating the prospect of exhibiting outrageous behavior.

Of course she continued dressing and speaking appropriately. Having always insisted on proper etiquette, Mom had absolutely no intention of letting advanced age change her. When she died 23 years later, she remained the proper Southern lady that she’d always been, not allowing visitors while on her deathbed lest they see her without lipstick.

Mom’s sense of decorum wonderfully illustrates Paul’s requirements for the type of older women he wanted to teach younger women. In preparation for my articles teaching about Christian marriage, I think it would be good to first look at the type of older women who should deliver instruction to younger women.

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After 20 Years, I’m Ready

Maybe getting married for the first time at age 48 has something to do with it, but I’ve felt uncomfortable about using this blog to teach women how to be godly wives. Writing articles on false teachers and theological matters seemed more up my alley. And there’s a place for women teaching other women such things.

Scripture also says, however, that older women should instruct younger women particularly on domestic issues. Look with me at the passage in Titus 2:

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. ~~Titus 2:3-5 (NASB95)

I liked focusing on the phrase “teaching what is good,” taking it to include teaching sound doctrine, I still believe that’s a legitimate application of this phrase, and I think women sorely need such teaching because of all the false teachers that prey on women who aren’t well-grounded in the Word. But I tended to ignore the bulk of what older women should teach younger women because I felt inadequate.

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Loving Christ Really IS Loving His Word

My pastor’s sermon this week worked through 2 Timothy 4:1-4.

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (NASB95)

As someone who often writes about discernment, I have a particular investment in this passage. I firmly believe that discernment can come only as we study God’s Word and apply it. Although pulpit ministry isn’t permissible to women, each of us can find legitimate outlets for proclaiming the truth. Most of you, being mothers, have the beautiful privilege of preaching to your children, while others of us can teach women’s Bible Studies, write Christian blogs and/or witness to non-Christians. At some level, each believer has the responsibility to preach.

Sadly, many professing Christians (including pastors who care more about enlarging their congregations than about nurturing their flocks) preach anything but the Word of God. How often have you sat through sermons and women’s Bible Studies about improving your marriage, methods of contemplative prayer or positive thinking? I remember women’s Bible Studies about how to change the oil in a car. Sometimes a pastor’s funny stories stayed in my mind long after I’d forgotten the point of his message. The Word of God has become incidental to evangelicals nowadays.

Worse, it’s now popular to say that you love Jesus more than you love His Word. Apparently, the Bible is considered an idol to some people who simply want to “follow Christ” (whatever that means). In his sermon this week, my pastor countered that position by saying, “You can’t really love Christ and not love His Word.”

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