A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work. 1 Timothy 5:9-10 NASB
When we talk about these passages and what they mean for women today, one of the first questions that comes up is, “What about the single woman? Or the woman who doesn’t have children?”
I think that’s a fair question, and wanted to spend a separate post addressing it.
It is fair to say that there is a general assumption here that women will get married, and will bear children. I think that assumption is valid, since, even today, most women do get married at some point*, and most do have children. They may not do it at 20, but the fact remains that the majority of women will, at some point, fit this criteria. Whether you are called to singleness, or waiting to get married and have kids, this list can still apply to you. You can fulfill the other criteria: doing good works, showing hospitality, assisting those in distress, and washing the saints’ feet.
Women who are in the position have a unique opportunity to serve others in this manner. They will have more freedom to pursue works of service because they don’t have a family. In the same way that Paul says that young men who are single will be able to devote themselves more completely to ministry, young women who are single can more fully devote themselves to work of service and mercy.
Does this mean that they should live with their parents for the rest of their lives? Yes, it might. But it doesn’t have to. If you look at many young women today getting degrees and jobs, those jobs are often in one of these areas of mercy. Teaching young children. Nursing in the ICU. Going into social services. A single woman can serve others in these ways, honoring God with her life’s work. She does not have to pursue the feminists’ dream of a high-powered career, equal in pay and reputation to men. She can wash the feet of the saints in the hospice ward. She can care for strangers in the ER. She can teach and mentor children at school. She can place children in adoptive homes through social work. She can direct a crisis pregnancy center.
We have this notion in Christian circles that unless a woman is a wife and mother, the Biblical passages talking about women, primarily as wives and mothers, don’t apply to her. Interestingly, we would never say this about men. The same qualities that make a young man a strong and capable husband will make him a strong and capable single man. The same goes for women. We tend to think that there are four classes of sex differences: men (married or single), single women, married women, and married women with children. Then, when single women read the instructions to married women, they disregard them. But women are women, and the Biblical teaching applies to both single and married. God did not create several classes of women, where some find glory in the same way that men do (as the feminists tell us), and the other is perpetually humiliated by a life of service to small, snotty children. Women in general are called to lives of service, to all classes of people. And why are we called to this? So that the Word of God will not be dishonored.
Let’s embrace our calling. God has created us for good works. Let’s not get wrapped up in the world’s idea of a fulfilled woman, but instead humble ourselves so that we can serve the least of these.
*The stats on women who get married are actually way less than those who have children. It looks like 65% of women are married, while 80% have children before the age of 40. Since we here at e2s are writing from a Christian worldview, I’m going to assume that if you’re going to be in the 80% who have children, you’re going to get married first.