Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Brothers Means Brothers

In 1 Corinthians 16:13, Paul exhorts the readers of his epistle to "be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong".

In the whole epistle of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses the recipients as "brothers" 28 times (as in 1:10, "I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree..."). By a glance at my concordance, I see that Paul addresses his readers in this way, in all his epistles, around 98 times.

The Greek word translated "brothers" is adelphos, which does in fact mean "brother". The ESV footnotes, though, remark in every instance that it could also mean "brothers and sisters". And yep, they even do so in 1 Corinthians 16:13 (right after Paul has told these brothers and sisters to "act like men")!

Though I don't know all the reasoning behind my favorite Bible translation's notes on this, I don't think earlier generations of Christians were too worried that the apostles unabashedly looked to the men of the church to provide leadership for their churches and families. Paul and the other apostles simply understood that this is God's design. Yet men have always been tempted to avoid this responsibility and accountability, and women have always sought to take it upon themselves.

More and more as a Christian woman, and as an older Christian woman particularly, I ponder the Bible's teachings on men and women in the church. Women have a vital role, to be sure, in the church, just as we do in the home and in the world. But I often wonder--what would happen in the church if we women prayed more and talked (and taught) less? (Ouch.) What if we women determined to excel in the task of teaching the Bible assigns us--that of training (or receiving training) in godliness for marriage and parenthood and the home (Titus 2:3-5)? Wouldn't the men of the church be strengthened and encouraged by this? Might it not have the effect, especially through our prayers, of seeing men begin to take more seriously the roles God means for them to have?

Paul tells the brothers he addresses to be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, and be strong. I've seen so many Christian women, myself included, very tempted to step up to this plate because of the seeming absence of men who will do so. But it is no accident, and not simply a cultural thing, that the apostles address their instructions mainly to the men of the church. Though Eve fell first (1 Timothy 2:13-14), it was for the man God came looking in the garden (Genesis 3:9). Surely God will be most glorified, and homes and churches will be most helped, if we recognize that "brothers" means brothers.

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