What To Do About the Widows: An Exchange
I have really enjoyed your writings. They have been very encouraging and enlightening. A friend "turned me on" to Norman Grubb several months ago, and I have read much from the Christasus website. I also recently read Dan Stone's book, The Rest of the Gospel. It has all been a lot to chew on, and I am thankful to all of you.
The biggest watershed moment to date was seeing that a "mission statement" I had several years ago: "to be an extravagant lover of the Lord Jesus Christ and a compassionate deliverer and developer of people" was very "me" oriented. Although it looked a lot like the greatest commandments, it was a wolf in sheep's clothing. I was trying to make the old me love Jesus and love people, and I didn't understand the fullness of the greatest commandments wasn't possible until Galatians 2:20 was lived as reality.
Anyway, here is a question that lingers with me. Why didn't Paul (the Apostle) point to this "Christ as us" reality before penning some of the things he wrote, like the instructions he gave Timothy on widows:
"As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. 12Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. 14So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan."
In this example, isn't Paul saying that the young widows are going to live a Romans 7 experience if they don't marry. Instead of holding that these younger women could live "union with Christ," isn't Paul saying that they won't. It's hard for me to understand why he would promote that anything less than Romans 8 is a possibility. Why wouldn't he be willing for some of these women to fail, knowing that some would "succeed" in living Christ (eventually).
I've always been one to believe that once you are delivered to the land of promise, you wouldn't tell any other potential dwellers in the land that they have to go through Egypt (or the wilderness, for that matter) to get there. You would just usher them into the land of promise immediately. It appears to me that Paul "takes the younger widows back to Egypt." Does that make sense?
Oh well, I guess that sums up the question. If it needs any clarification, please let me know.
Thanks so much for writing. I am awed and thankful that you and others have found these things helpful. I apologize for taking a while to get back to you.
First of all, I like your description of discovering your own "self-effort" and God's revelation in you of Gal 2:20. It's like the gospel is new all over again when the reality of He living our lives becomes real to us.
But now as I understand your questioning, what you seem mainly concerned about is why did Paul apparently show a non-faith attitude toward these young "widows" in the church? Why didn't he say, as we would today, that though these women are being pulled in temptation, still the One within them was strong and would push them through to victory? Paul seems to be saying they will fail in their dedication to Christ, and that their "need" to marry is part of that failure. Pretty harsh words and conclusions from brother Paul!
It would be hard for me to say with conviction what Paul was thinking when he wrote those things. The cultural milieu we (or at least I) live in today has nothing comparable to this situation, so it's impossible for me to understand it from that point of view. Paul's social "attitudes" were those of his time, and probably much different about a lot of things than ours today; (for instance, he never condemned slavery, a condition which is a moral evil and abhorrent to our contemporary minds). So to try to come to any understanding of that passage by the road of Paul's motivations for writing I think would be a dead-end.
We then look to a more universal answer here, what the Spirit has for us. So I ask this question: why would God express through Paul such "negative" faith toward these people?
Paul does it again in Titus 1:12, 13, when he calls Cretians, i.e. everybody who lives on or is from the island of Crete, "liars, evil beasts, and slow bellies." I mean, man, what a RACIST thing to say!
And then Jesus calls a Greek "Syrophenician" woman, a DOG, and at first refuses to heal her daughter because it isn't right to take people-food, He says, and give it to DOGS!
This is our precious Jesus here! Always loving, always kind? And here's this poor woman in distress and sorrow and great need and he's calling her a DOG!
That's why it's so hard to make a systematic theology out of Spirit-living. Jesus said He ALWAYS did what the Father did, so it was the Father calling this woman a dog. Where do you put that in your evangelism techniques manual? How does that fit in with "our" ideas of what is loving and kind?
I might be tempted to call this "God's reverse psychology." Paul saying the young widows were wanton and probably would forsake Christ would serve to stir up in the opposite in those whose hearts and faith would persevere. As in calling Cretians liars and Jesus calling the Syrophenician woman a dog. It stirred FAITH in them. Those who hear with ears KNOW that all that comes to them is God, because Life is found even in the negative. Hence her answer.
"Yes, Lord," the Syrophenician woman said, "but even the dogs get the crumbs ..." I don't know what was going through Jesus' mind when this happened. It may be that He was tired, a bit on edge, had had a rough day, and this woman walked up right at the wrong time and He hit her with His first reaction -- that of a racist Jew! (For that is how the Jews of the time would have talked to her.) He may not even have "consciously" awakened to what was going on until she replied with her persevering faith, and then He saw the hand of the Father, and said, "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
God sometimes says something He doesn't mean in order to stir the right "reaction" in us. Like when He told Moses to stand aside and He'd kill all the children of Israel and start a new race from Moses' loins. Moses, whose heart was God's because it was so consumed by the welfare of his people, refused to move aside and instead offered his own life for theirs. (Exodus 32)
As a married man, how do you think it affects me when I read Paul's relegating we married men to sort of second best in serving the Lord, as he apparently does in 1 Cor 7:32,33? I can either go, "Oh well, I'll leave the spiritual stuff to the unmarried folks, since they have time to deal with it," or I could say, "I don't know what you're talking about, Paul. Because I find that in being concerned with "pleasing" my wife, I am fulfilling what you said about Christ and the Church, how loving your wife is like Christ loving the church, and how we cherish our wives as our own flesh is the same as how Christ cherishes us, we who are HIS OWN flesh!"
Always always, God pushes us onward and upward, and let no obstacle, EVEN HIS OWN WORD (as we understand it -- that's why it says "lean not unto thine own understanding"), stand in our way. God makes the totality, the completeness, the All in all, of Himself available to every one of us. Every one of us is called.
Everyone of us has great riches, like the rich young ruler. Those great riches can be the obstacle that stands in the way of Christ being the totality of ourselves. We may have the luxury of saying, "Well, I'm a young widow, so I can't serve Christ fully." Or, "I'm a married man, so God is thwarted by that, and can't come fully through a married man." Or the Syrophenician woman could have agreed with Jesus' first word to her, and gone on her way with her daughter yet to be healed. She could have let her identity be all wrapped up in being a Syrophenician, and therefore having no right to eat at the table, as Jesus told her.
But the obstacle wasn't the final word, and NEVER IS. GOD HIMSELF is the final word, and HE accepts us all in Himself, and the only "thing" we have to offer is our emptiness, our poverty, our nothingness. No matter our station in life, our culture, our race, our education, all of which is dust in the wind. God is found in none of that.
God is found in calling things which be not as though they are. He has selected the weak things and the foolish things to confound the strong and wise.
Bottom line, every one of us is a "young widow" or a "Cretian" or a "Syrophenician woman." They that are well don't need a physician, only those who are sick. This is one of my favorite scriptures: "And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them." (1 Sam 22:2) Brother, the writer of 1 Samuel has been reading my mail! That's ME!
But O WHAT GLORY to discover, that in my weakness He is strong. Not despite it, not in place of it, but IN IT!! IN my weakness, He is strong.
"And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (2 Cor 12:9) Let us thank God therefore for every "infirmity" touching our lives, whatever it is: indebtedness, grief, fear, confusion, indecision, loneliness, habits we can't overcome, our broken car, our kids calling up with their insurmountable problems, problems in our fellowship or church, problems with our mates or our lack of one, etc etc etc. WHATEVER is a weakness, WHATEVER is an infirmity, there is God's strength made perfect.
Let me finally say this with as much plainness as I am able. We are not called to anything except to be Christ in our world. That is the meaning of the Incarnation and the meaning of the Cross. He died and rose again that He might live in us and bring many sons unto glory by us. Once the reality of "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" has overtaken us, there is ONLY Christ. We have died and risen again IN HIM, not "in ourselves," and what has emerged from that grave is a completely NEW MAN, a new CREATION, created in RIGHTEOUSNESS after the image of He who did the creating. What has come forth from the grave is not just a resurrected Jesus, but a resurrected humanity, a humanity which has been raised into the Godhead, which now sits at the right hand of the Father in the midst of the throne. That resurrected humanity in this world has been left in weakness, and not yet seeing all that to which is it heir. But that does not change the FACT that OUR humanity -- spirit, soul, and body -- IS NOW MADE the INSTRUMENT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Not by what we can do, by what we know, by how well we can regurgitate scriptural knowledge and doctrinal precepts, but purely and simply because He has now made us accepted in the Beloved, chosen in Him before the foundations of the earth, and that in Him IN OUR WEAKNESS we are heir to ALL THINGS.
Well, all for now.
Again, thanks for your writing.
All my love,