Friday, August 11, 2006

Helping Each Other to be Godly

I grew up in a church that held to a lot of sound teaching, but we left out a few vital things. One of these omissions was preaching about and modeling the depth of relationship that God desires for his children to enjoy.
Later on, when I was introduced to a church whose members were actually putting these relationships into practice, I was blown away. I was thrilled to see almost equal percentages of black and white people worshipping together -- and this was over twenty years ago down in the deep South. People served each other to a degree I had never seen before. They were in each other's lives on a daily basis, not just on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. They helped each other battle sin, and they encouraged each other to be faithful. They expressed a holy affection for one another.
Now, this church, being made of people, was far from perfect. But, I realized that I was among people who were living out something from God's word that I had never truly seen practiced.
Having been raised with a Biblical background, I knew that the fellowship within this church was how God meant it to be. Yet, I needed further study in order to understand God's design for these meaningful, one-another relationships.
One of the first verses that helped me was Titus 2:3-5KJV: "The aged women likewise that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the youhng women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed."
I had heard of this verse, of course. I had vaguely been following this teaching without even realizing it. When I was a new bride and a new mother, I instinctively watched older wives and mothers to learn how they managed things.
My understanding of this verse was shallow. I was too prideful to ask for help in certain situations -- such as when my new baby had her days and nights mixed up. I had no clue that I should welcome input, even if it might be corrective. My pride came from insecurity. As a young wife and mother, I thought that I should instinctively know how to love my husband and children and how to manage my home. It never dawned on me that God asks the older women to train the younger precisely because we don't know these things instinctively. Even the young wife who enters into marriage with the best domestic education has to learn some things "on the job". She learns these things best with older women in her life to support her.
I knew only to think of this verse in a general sense -- such as an older woman teaching a ladies' Bible class. Of course, that is a perfectly valid application of Titus 2:3-5. The real power in this verse, however, hinges on personal relationship. It occurs when an older woman takes a younger woman under her wing and shares her life with her.
According to Strong's Concordance, the phrase "teach to be sober" comes from one Greek word, sophronizo. This word has the sense of restoring someone to his senses, discipling someone, exhorting and admonishing someone, and holding someone to his duty.
As we discussed in an earlier article, "discipling" is a form of learning that involves a student spending a lot of time with his teacher, getting to know not only his teaching, but his way of life. The teacher knows the students' weaknesses and strengths, and, thus, can steer him where he needs to go. The student knows the teacher, and takes on the teacher's heart. Likewise, holding someone to his duty or restoring someone to his senses requires that you interact with the individual in question.
In Titus 2, Paul is very specific about what the older women are to teach: They are to train the younger women to have godly character, to love their husbands and children, and to manage thier households. The goal of this teaching is that the women will be good examples to the world and that, through these women, God's name will be honored and not blasphemed.
At some points, we are the younger women who are soaking up the wisdom ofmore experienced Christian wives and mothers. Of course, we struggle in the process. We face hardships. We blow it, and, occasionlly, we blow it in a big way. But, if we have faithful, older women in our lives who are there to guide us and to love us and to pick us up, we make visible progress. Though we openly admit that we have weaknesses, those around us sense that we are serious about practicing the things we believe. They watch us grow. They see our faith blossom. They stand amazed at how God brings good out of our trials.
At other points, we are the older women who train the younger women. We share with younger wives and mothers the things that we learned from our "older" sisters. We point them to Bible verses, and we help them apply these verses to their individual situations. We share with them how God has helped us in trials and how he has never let us down. We also share with them the challenges that we face in the moment, and how God is helping us overcome them.
It's a little scary to think that younger women watch our lives closely, because we know our own weaknesses. The truth is, however, that younger wives do look to more experienced wives and mothers to be their examples. Though we still are maturing in Christ ourselves, God uses our lives to encourage our younger sisters.
Even as older women, God charges us to keep learning. After all, inTitus, Paul instructs Timothy to teach the older women so that they can turn around and train the younger women. (One side note: God charges the older women with training the younger women. The younger women are to go to their own husbands or to older women for spiritual help. When this verse is put into practice, a minister does not spend time alone counseling or teaching a young woman. This saves both the minister and the young woman from opportunity for temptation.)
When I first saw these one-on-one friendships modeled, I sought them in my own life. I seek them, still. When our last "chick" recently moved from our city to another city to begin a new job, I called a few sisters in Christ who had already gone through this experience. I was particularly encouraged by a woman whose sons are the same age that I am and whose grandchildren are young adults. No matter where we are in life, there is a woman who is walking ahead of us on the narrow road and who can reach back to help us take our next step. Over the years, I have been blessed to know many wonderful women of God. I have watched their lives. I have listened to how they speak to their husbands and to their children, to other poeple in the church, and to the lost. I have seen how they organize their households. I have been able to go to them for advice in loving my husband in a particular sitution or in seeking help in beng a mother to my children.
Sometimes, they have seen objectively what I have needed to learn, and they have been the ones to initiate input. Sometimes, this input has been painful. I have had close, trusted sisters come to me with the "shocking" information that "my little angels" didn't always behave like little angels and that they needed help in some area to which my hubby and I were blind. Now, I am grateful that these sisters loved me enough to tell me the truth before it was too late.
I believe that one reason my children are Christians is because of all the help that my dh and I have received from older godly couples. I also believe that it helped them to grow up with Christians 0f all ages and stages of life in our home frequently -- sometimes as many as several times in a week. I know they aren't Christians becuase we were flawless parents who always knew exactly what to do!
Of course, my Biblical education in relatiosnhips didn' stop with Titus 2. The pages of the Bible, especially of the New Testament, are filled with instructions for how we are to love one another. There are so many of these references that I can't list them all. But here are a few to get us all thinking.
Hebrews 3:13 NIV "But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness."
John 13:24-25 NIV: "A new command I give you. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Hebrews 10:24NIV: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."
I Peter 1:22 NIV: "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart."
I Peter 4:9 NIV: "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling."
Galatians 6:1 NIV "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spirtiual shoudl restore him gently."
I thank God for the godly relationships that he has placed in my life. When I was a young bride, the Internet hadn't been develped -- at least not to the point that it is used now. I would have been thrilled to have access to so many sites devoted to being making a home. However, no Internet site -- especially not this one -- can ever replace the fellowship of a true church.
Our Internet friends are wonderful. But, it is our brothers and sisters in Christ -- the people we worship with and fellowship with throughout the week -- who know us best. Our sisters notice -- even when we don't realize it ourselves -- when we get off track in our relationship to God or in our family life. They pick up on things that are small but important, such as the fact that we roll our eyes when we don't like something our husbands say, and they can gently help us to change. Or, conversely, when we think we aren't making any progress, they point out victories that God has given us. They are the ones who stand beside us when we go out to share the gospel. They pray with us and for us. They point us to God's word. They cry with us when we hurt, and they laugh with us when we rejoice. And, each time they demonstrate Christ's love to us, we understand God just a little better.



Wendy WaterBirde said...

Oh wow was this a great article Elizabeth. I really loved this especially, "The real power in this verse (Titus 2:3-5 ), however, hinges on personal relationship. It occurs when an older woman takes a younger woman under her wing and shares her life with her."

I've linked to your wonderful blog, couldnt resist : )

plainandsimple said...

Hi Elizabeth

I'm so glad you gave reference to all the occasions in the New Testement where we are called to love, and love gently. I am trying very hard to work on "my quiet gentle spirit" at the moment and I will do well to look to older women whom I admire.