Paul’s idealism and pragmatism with more wisdom

One of the things that has always stuck with me that I’m not sure I mentioned on this blog before at least is Paul’s idealism with singleness contrasted with the more pragmatic approach he takes later in the pastoral letters. One could argue that scholars believe that the pastoral letters aren’t necessarily written by Paul, but at least if they weren’t then the early Church would still recognize the validity of Paul’s recommendations contrasted with more pragmatic approaches for certain populations.

For example,

1 Corinthians 7:8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.

39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.

Paul’s idealistic mandate is for people to remain single to serve the Lord wholeheartedly if possible. On the other hand,

1 Timothy 5:3 Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. 4 But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. 5 The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. 6 But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. 7 Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. 8 Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

9 No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, 10 and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

11 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. 12 Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. 13 Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. 14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15 Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

16 If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.

Paul recognizes that although it’s ideal for younger widows to remain single to serve the Lord, that’s not what is occurring in reality. These widows would make the pledge to stay single to serve the Lord, but then want to marry and break that pledge. Even those that did not break the pledge were becoming busybody gossips if they were on the support lists.

Proverbs 16:27 (NLB) Idle hands are the devil’s workshop; idle lips are his mouthpiece.

I believe this is also why in Titus that younger women are counseled to focus their behavior on loving their husband and children and be busy with their homes.

Titus 2:3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. 4 Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

In any case, I think there is room for both idealism and pragmatism in the Christian approach especially as it concerns behavior. We want people to strive for the ideal, but we have to understand that at least certain populations need their own specific guidelines to help them become more spiritually mature. It may not look for the same for everyone.

Women in particular seem vulnerable and 1 Peter 3 calls wives the weaker vessel, so we must be ready to protect them when necessary even when they don’t want it or call it sexist. If they decide to rebel against it then that’s on their own head, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t understand that they won’t necessarily have the capacity like many men.

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