Summary: How should first century Roman women, equal in Christ, act toward their first century Roman husbands? Is equality, or the gospel, more important?
Our passage today revolves around two related themes: reputation, and the good news about Jesus Christ. At first glance, you might not think that's Paul's focus. It's going to seem like Paul is talking about how men, and women, and slaves, should live in relation to one another. But ultimately, it's about reputation, and the gospel. I've tried to make it pretty obvious in the translation (by upping the font size in three places). I think you'll see I'm not making this up. But as we read, keep those two ideas in back of your mind. Okay? Let's start by reading through verse 10. It's a big section, and we might struggle to keep it all together. But we have to do so, in order to hear Paul the right way (we need to hear what Paul says about wives and slaves, all at once):
(1) Now, you, speak what is fitting for sound teaching/instruction:
(2) Older men, level-headed/restrained, to be, respectable, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, in
(3) older women, likewise, in behavior/demeanor [to be] priestly in manner, not bad-mouthing, not to too
much wine having become enslaved, teaching what is good,
(4) in order that they may encourage/advise/urge the young women to love their husbands and to love
their children. ["love their husbands" is focused], [to be] self-controlled, pure/holy, to carry out household
responsibilities (BDAG), [to be] good/noble, being subject to their own husbands,
in order that the word/message of God may not be criticized/reviled.
(6) the young men, likewise, to encourage/advise/urge to be self-controlled in all things;
yourself presenting/offering [to be] an example of good works,
in your teaching/instruction: soundness, gravity/solemnity/dignity;
(8) a sound word/message beyond reproach,
in order that the one from the opposition may be ashamed/uneasy/made to turn,
nothing having bad/evil to say concerning us. ["nothing" is focused];
(9) slaves, to their own masters to be subject in everything,
pleasing/acceptable to be ["pleasing" is focused],
(10) not stealing,
but all good "faith"/loyalty demonstrating,
in order that they may adorn the teaching of our
Savior God in everything.
In these verses, Paul addresses four different groups: older men, older women, younger women, and younger men. The Greek word used for "older" here, is used for people 50+, for what it's worth. If you can get a deal on the coffee at McDonald's, you're "older."
Let me just say a few words about older men and women, based on verses 2-3. Older people are supposed to be models of mature, respectable, level-headed behavior. They don't overreact in tough situations. Their wisdom, and their life experience, gives them the ability to keep things in perspective. In theory, at least.
And when older people live this way, they will be in a position to help us younger people. Older people sometimes look at our lives-- our priorities, the way we treat each other, the way our marriages look-- and they know we are making some mistakes. Maybe, the older people made those same mistakes themselves when they were younger. Or maybe, they've watched their own friends struggle with these things. They've seen marriages blow up. They've seen people drink themselves to death. They've seen people give in to the desires of the flesh, and wreck their lives.
When older people live respectable, honorable, lives, they are in a position to help younger people. They can speak into our lives, and encourage us to not going any farther down bad roads. They've removed the plank from their own eyes, and see the world clearly. And so, as a result, they are able to help younger people take the speck out of their eyes, so that we can see what we are doing.
But all of this is only true, if they've taken the plank out first. So Paul says, in verses 2-3, start there.
This brings us to verses 4-5, and what Paul says about young women. Before we talk about what Paul says, we should notice how much space he gives to young women, compared to older people, or young men.
Imagine that we, as a church, are first century Romans, or Greeks (?), living in Crete. We are surrounded by people who are not like us. We used to be like them, in every way-- socially, religiously, economically. But now we seem radically different, because we follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.
This is most obvious with our religion. We don't have any idols in our houses. We don't go to the neighborhood temples for the potlucks or birthday parties (that's part of what temples used to be used for; see my 1 Corinthians study). All of this makes us seem weird, standoffish, and suspicious.
Another thing that's quite different about us first century Christians is the way we view ourselves, and each other, in Christ. Let's read from James 1:9-10 (NRSV no reason):