Thursday, December 30, 2010

Order in Society (Pastorals cont)

We find some miscellaneous teaching in 1 Timothy and Titus that also fits into the category of an orderly society. For example, along with the instruction about widows, 1 Timothy 5 also has instructions about how to treat older men and women. You are to treat older men in the church with respect, like you would treat your own father. As the church is your family, you should treat younger men like brothers, older women like your mother, and younger women like your sisters (5:1-2). By extension, you should take care of widows with no one else to care for them.

However, if the widow has children or grandchildren, they are primarily responsible (5:4). 1 Timothy 5:8 is a key expression of family values in the first century: “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” While such strong words sound rather extreme to our modern ears, the principle of taking care of our own and those within our reach remains strong even today.  In keeping with this saying, those of us in the Wesleyan tradition could see a person’s intentional neglect of family going to such an extreme that it could lead to loss of faith.  For most of us, it is an apt reminder of our responsibility to help those we can, especially those who most depend on us.

Titus has similar instructions, except they are directed at these individuals.  Older men are to be “temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance” (Tit. 2:2).  Older women are “to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good” (2:3).  They are to train the younger women to “to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands” (2:4-5).  Again, we have argued that it is not the specific structures of ancient society that apply to us today as Scripture but the principle of living at peace with each other in a manner most appropriate to our cultural and social contexts.  We are to work out the best ways to “love our neighbor” in our social context.

Young men are to be self controlled (2:6).  Titus 2:8 gives the bottom line of all this social instruction, very similar to 1 Peter 2:12.  The goal is “that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”  This underlying principle makes it clear that the specifics of the instructions here have everything to do with the shared social values of the first century Mediterranean world.  To apply them directly to today in every respect thus has the ironic consequence of bringing the opposite effect.  If we artificially put women in a particular social location, rather than giving them fully equal opportunities to men, we give the world a great deal bad to say about us.  Indeed, we create a situation where the world’s values are more Christian than ours!

1 Timothy and Titus also have teaching on slaves.  Slaves are to be subject to their masters (Tit. 2:9), just as wives are to be subject to their husbands.  They are to try to please them and not talk back to them or steal from them (2:9-10).  They are to be fully trustworthy.  Again there is the same goal as with family relationships—to make Christ look attractive to the world (2:10).  They should treat them with full respect so that God’s name is not slandered (1 Tim. 6:1). Slaves with believing masters are to treat them even better than they would unbelieving masters (6:2).

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