THE PRAYERS OF THE CHURCH
The Household of God
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Question Number One: What do you do when you read something in Scripture and you are certain of what it means, yet at the same time, you’re quite sure you disagree with it?
Do you question the authority of the Scriptures and search online for anyone who will agree with your interpretation? Or, do you question your own assumptions, sensibilities, and cultural values? Do you sit over the Scriptures, acting as the final arbiter of meaning? Or, do you sit under the Scriptures, allowing them to question you, press you, sharpen you?
Question Number Two: What do you do when you read something in Scripture that you don’t understand at all, so you read commentaries to gain understanding only to realize that each commentator offers a different interpretation.
Do you wonder why God couldn’t have spoken more clearly? I mean, if 5 Greek scholars all disagree over how to interpret a passage, what hope do I have of figuring it out?
Well, it just so happens that the Scripture passage for this morning’s sermon contains both of those challenges. If you have a copy of God’s Word begin turning to 1 Timothy 2. If you are using one of the Bibles provided in the pew rack you’ll find our text on page ______.
Early in the passage Paul says, rather clearly, that he does not permit women to teach or hold authority over men in the church. And I don’t have to tell you how such a clear, concise prohibition runs against the grain of our culture.
At the end of our text Paul includes a statement that is far more confusing and obscure: that women will be saved through bearing children, and scholars disagree over his exact meaning.
So, we find both difficulties within the same passage: one clear statement that our culture disagrees with, and one confusing statement that may cause us to throw up our hands, feeling as if the Scriptures are simply too difficult to understand.
Beyond all of that, several factors complicate our interaction with this text, potentially causing us to misinterpret or misapply.
Many who hear this passage read are ignorant of Paul’s context, one in which women were not allowed to learn alongside men. This means Paul’s invitation to women in this passage to learn with the men would have run across the grain of his own time and culture.
Or we may misinterpret this because we’ve assumed that our own cultural sensibilities are correct. We may be guilty of what C. S. Lewis called Chronological Snobbery, the idea that the newer is truer, and that the latest word on the subject must be held as the last and final word on the subject, instead of allowing the authors of Scripture to speak and then questioning our own assumptions.
Friend, it may be that others have sinned against you. If you have been sinned against by chauvinistic and domineering men. Never heard, never cared for, but instead silenced, marginalized, degraded, and neglected, then I can imagine how difficult you might find it to read and study such a passage without reading your own painful experiences into it.
Or perhaps you’ve simply had bad experiences in church. Many pastors, teaching from this passage, speak the truth—but speak it in tones and with expressions that indicate their own sense of superiority over women.
Church, as we walk through one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament, we’ll have to do so with trust and humility. Trust, that the Word of God is authoritative, and when it speaks clearly, we are to obey. And humility that understands even a high view of Scriptures authority is not a hall pass to arrogance and mocking those who disagree.
As we seek to understand this passage first I’ll give some context, then we’ll examine the passage under two headings.
1. Paul’s Instructions to Men in the Church
2. Paul’s Instructions to Women in the Church
READ THE TEXT:
8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
BRIDGE THE GAP:
First, let’s set the context. It’s important to remember that all of this passage falls under Paul’s instructions to Timothy—the younger minister he left in the city of Ephesus to order and structure the operations of the church. So, this letter isn’t written to give instructions to men in general—but men within the church. The commands to the women, likewise, are set within the context of how they are to act within the local congregation.
Second, it’s important to remember that Paul was constantly concerned with the proper worship of God in the church. It’s a common feature of his writing.
In Titus 1:5 Paul wrote:
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you
Likewise, instructing the church at Corinth on their worship gatherings, which were getting out of control Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:40
40 But all things should be done decently and in order.
Friends the worship of our God gathered as his people on the Lord’s Day ought to be exciting. It ought to be enlivening. And at the same time, we remember that it is solemn. It is official. It is authorized and serious. And therefore, we ought to desire to know how God would have us come into his presence.
Unfortunately, things in Ephesus were out of order. As we’ve noted in previous weeks, there were men in the church—perhaps even some of the elders—who were supposed to be leading the way in that order. Teaching right doctrine. Setting the pattern for godly living and discipleship, yet they were given over to distracting and speculative teachings.
And, if you look at the end of this letter, both in chapter 4 & 5 there are indications that some of the women in the church at Ephesus were just as disorderly as some of the men. Some had become self-indulgent. Drawing attention to themselves. They were being disruptive within the congregation.
And for that reason, Paul addresses both men and women in the church, giving them, and by extension, us too instructions for conduct within the church. Conduct that will lead the church to right worship, conduct that will aid in our devotion to God rather than distract us from it. For the men and the women Paul gives both positive and negative commands. Don’t do this! But do this! In other words, this passage isn’t simply prohibitive. For men and women we are taught what not to do alongside of what to do.
I. PAUL’S INSTRUCTIONS TO MEN IN THE CHURCH
In his single verse, directed toward the men of the church Paul gives two instructions: one positive, the other negative. Positively, Paul says, “Pray with Purity” and negatively, Paul warns us to “Confess Quarreling.”
8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling;
A. Pray with Purity
First, men. We are called to pray with purity. Paul isn’t saying that women cannot pray—but Paul has specific thoughts aimed towards men.
When he tells us to pray, lifting holy hands he’s calling us to pure, unmixed devotion to the Lord. When we hear the word holy we instantly think of moral uprightness—but Biblically speaking, holiness ultimately refers to our being set apart for God’s exclusive use.
In the book of Leviticus we are told of the instruments that were made for the Temple in Jerusalem: the table, the lampstand, the altar. And we’re told that each one was holy. What does that mean? Did it mean that the table was morally upright? What would it be like to eat at a morally upright table? Or worse, what would it be like to eat at an immoral table? You see, holiness, meant that the table, the lampstand, the altar were exclusive to God’s use. They weren’t to be used for anything else.
In my bathroom there’s a tray that holds my toothbrush—and my toothbrush is holy unto me. It’s exclusive for my use alone! No one else is allowed to use my toothbrush.
Men—we are to pray to the Lord with holy hands—hands that are exclusive to the Lords use—hands that do as he bids. Hearts that are unmixed and undivided in their devotion to our King.
And notice what we are to do with our hands—we are to lift them. There are many postures of prayer. We often find those who pray in the Scriptures seated, or kneeling, or even laying flat upon the ground. The only posture we ought not assume is slouching. And here, we are taught that uplifted hands in prayer is encouraged. Why?
It signals our awareness of our own need. It signals our humility. It signals our dependence upon the Lord.
Men—when you pray, I encourage you—try lifting your hands. See if that change in your posture doesn’t have some affect on your prayers, on your own awareness of your smallness and God’s bigness.
So, positively, we are to pray with purity… negatively…
B. Confess Quarrelling
We are to confess quarrelling. Eugene Peterson writes:
what I want mostly is for men to pray—not shaking angry fists at enemies but raising holy hands to God.
Paul warns us men of that which most frequently hinders our prayers: anger and quarrelling. You say, “Jonathan, do you mean that my prayers can be hindered… that God would reject my prayers?
Friend, the Scriptures are clear that sin hinders our prayers. In 1 Peter 3:7 Paul writes:
7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
Likewise, in Matthew 5:23-24 we are told:
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift
Men, many of us may hear this warning about anger and think to ourselves: Well, I don’t really struggle with anger. The truth is most of us don’t realize how hangry we are because we aren’t struggling with it. We are, sadly, completely oblivious to it.
This past Christmas my dad got a dash camera for his truck. You know, it records video so that if you’re in a wreck you can prove what happened to your insurance providers. Last week I took a road trip with him and asked if he like the camera. He said, “I love how it records everything, but it’s also made me realize how often I’m angry. I never knew how much I yelled at other people until I had video I could go back and watch.”
You may not have a dash camera recording your every action and conversation… but men, you do have spouses and friends… will you be humble enough to ask someone you trust: do you think I anger to easily, to frequently? Am I a quarrelsome person?
“Angry men passionate about being right are a primary threat to acceptable worship, as well as to the wider relational dynamics that should contribute to harmony in Christian homes and congregations.” – Yarbrough
Men—if God desires that men lead worship in the church, then we are responsible for setting the tone of that worship—and setting that tone doesn’t begin at 10:15 AM on Sunday. It is accomplished from sunup to sundown 7 days a week.
Men, the good news of the gospel is that we serve a king named Jesus—one who loved his heavenly Father with pure and unmixed devotion. His entire life was holy—exclusively set apart for the Father’s use. He was constantly saying, “I have come to do my Father’s will.”
Though he certainly could get angry—he was never quarrelsome. No, his anger was always motivated by love of God, not love of self. His anger was never mixed with arrogance. He never lost control of his anger. He’s the only man who was truly able to lift holy hands to the Father. At the cross, he bled and died as a sacrifice for all the times we have sinfully indulged in anger. He paid the penalty for our love of self and arrogance.
And he did all of that, not so that he could hold our sin over our head, but so that he could cleanse us completely and bury our sin at the foot of his cross.
Men, your Father in heaven wants to release your heart from the stifling grip of unrighteous anger. Turn to Christ. See his wounds for you. Turn away from quarrelling. Lift your hands to God and pray asking him to forgive you for Christ’s sake.
II. PAUL’S INSTRUCTIONS TO WOMEN IN THE CHURCH
To the women of the church, Paul gives a trio of exhortations. Draw attention to Christ, not yourself, learn of Christ submissively, and follow Christ obediently. We’ll take them one by one:
A. Draw Attention to Christ, Not Yourself
9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
Just as Paul singles out a male tendency towards quarrelling and anger, here he points out a female tendency: an unhealthy concern with bodily appearance.
Two quick caveats: First, notice the word unhealthy.
There is such a thing as a healthy concern for bodily appearance. And there is such a thing as an unhealthy concern. Go read the Song of Solomon later and you will see that the Bible can actually make you blush when it talks about the beauty of the human body. The Scriptures are not prudish. So the focus on this passage has far more to do with the intentions of beautifying and adorning the body, than it does the actions of adoring the body.
Second caveat: Just as in v. 8 Paul was not accusing every man in the church of being a hothead, so here he is not accusing every woman of being vain, nor am I. But as one commentator said:
Paul wrote in another setting where there were a few troublemakers, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (Gal 5:9). It takes only a few strategically positioned angry men or glamour-obsessed women to set an unhealthy tone for a much larger group.
So, what exactly is Paul saying? Well, the short version is: Ladies, draw attention to Christ, not yourself. Cultivate the fear of the Lord in your own heart, not vanity.
Ladies, I don’t believe Paul is giving a blanket prohibition on braiding your hair or wearing gold. In a first century church it’s likely that few if any members could afford to have expensive hairstyles and jewelry. Therefore, if one or two women in the church came in dressed as if they were walking the red carpet at the Academy Awards, they would have drawn everyone’s attention off of the worship of the risen Christ, and onto themselves. Their public presentation of themselves risked distracting others from hearing the gospel.
Therefore, the encouragement from Paul is that women dress themselves with modesty. Opulent dress is not becoming of a Christian. It may be praised by the world, but it is not praised by us.
Now, what this means in specifics, I have no intention of getting into. I’m a smarter man than that. But understand, that according to the Scriptures, this is an issue that godly women must face with courage. Ladies, I believe that I can preach this principle of modesty with boldness—and that God has given you all the wisdom and knowledge of the Scriptures to meet with one another and figure out the specifics. Ladies, if you have questions about something you want to wear, talk to other people. Get their input on it.
In summary, we use our entire lives for the good of others. What we say about Christ matters, and how we are dressed when we are saying it communicates something as well. Dress yourself with a heart that desires to draw attention to Christ, not yourself.
Paul’s next instruction to the women of the church is…
B. Learn of Christ Submissively
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.
Again, within these two verses we see both the positive and the negative commands. Both encouragement and prohibition.
Positively, Paul is inviting all of the women of the church in to sit down with the other men and learn of Christ. This was a radically new invitation in the ancient world—a world in which women were second class citizens. While our attention in this age of egalitarianism is primarily drawn to Paul’s instructions to silence and submission—in the first century, the readers of this letter would have been stunned that Paul invited women in to learn at all. But you ought to remember that Jesus Christ himself had a following of women—something no other Rabbi did.
So, Paul is giving the invitation and he’s giving guidelines for how the invitation ought to be received.
Paul adds two points of order. First, this invitation to learning is supposed to be received in quiet submission. This word “quietness” strikes us. And whatever this word quietness means, he must not have meant it absolutely, because in his letter to the Corinthian church Paul gives instructions for how women are to prophesy and pray in the church.
Rather, I think Paul is better understood here to be explaining the order of any good learning environment. Quietness allows everyone in the room to learn.
What about “submission?” That seems cold and sexist doesn’t it. Well, no. I understand that our culture devalues authority and submission in general—and assumes that anyone in authority is by necessity corrupt and an oppressor—but that’s just not the way the Scriptures teach us to think about authority. As Christians, we understand that authority and submission are good gifts of God—ones that can certainly be corrupted by sin—but corruption and oppression are not baked into them.
Friends, consider all of the good relationships of authority and submission the Bible encourages: that of bosses and workers, that of church members submitting to elders, that of church members submitting to one another in reverence for Christ. Friends, consider that even Jesus Christ—the eternal Son of God will be submitted to God the Father so that God might be all in all.
The submission that Paul is calling for in this passage isn’t the submission of every woman to every man. It’s the submission that is required of every Christian who sits under the preaching of God’s Word. Church—we believe that God’s Word, when preached rightly, is God speaking to his church—and he does so authoritatively. He speaks and we are to submit to his Word.
The second point of order Paul gives as he invites women to learn of Christ is this:
12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
Let me make a few quick bullets for you:
- This point of order isn’t simply cultural—Paul isn’t prohibiting the Ephesian women from a function in the church that he allows in other cultures in other times. No, this call for men to fulfill both the office of elder and the functional teaching of the men and women in the public gathering transcends both time and place—because Paul roots this pattern in the pattern of creation: Adam was made first—therefore God expects men to teach and instruct. He also roots it in the pattern of the fall: Eve took the lead in breaking God’s command while Adam passively stood by. Therefore God desires that men in the church do what Adam refused to do—namely teach and instruct.
- Paul’s instruction for men to be elders and teachers in the public gathering is not based on competence. There are women who are incredibly gifted students of the Word and have amazing rhetorical skill. So, this call for men to lead in the teaching of the congregation is not a statement on ability.
- Paul’s instruction here does not prohibit a woman from explaining the Scriptures to a man. We see in Acts that Priscilla and Aquilla, two believers in the church, pulled Apollos, a preacher in the church, to the side to further explain the Scriptures to him. Luke names Priscilla first. So, ladies—if anyone stands in this pulpit and misinterprets Scripture—you have an invitation to pull me aside, or another man aside, and respectfully correct us.
- This passage makes not statement on women leading either in the marketplace or in the public office; the focus is strictly on the public teaching and positions of authoritative leadership within the church.
This week I listened to a pastor named Mark Dever preach on this passage. I commend his sermon to you—I’ve borrowed portions of it myself. In his sermon he made a most interesting point:
Within our church membership we have more women than men. I don’t know what the actual percentage is—but there are more women than men. And being a congregational church you could say that women actually do rule LWBC.
But that’s not the way we see it. The church isn’t really to be a pure democracy. We have elders who are to lead the church and teach as they lead. And the congregation gives final adjudication on issues of doctrine and discipline.
Elders teach and have authority. And as we’ll see in the coming weeks, Paul says that only qualified men can be elders and teach men in gathered public church services.
This doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t be involved in the ministry of the church. Women are called to teach one another; they are called to teach their own children and the other children of the church. They should be evangelizing and discipling. In Romans Paul calls Phoebe a “servant” of the church. To the Philippians, he says Euodia and Syntyche have labored side-by-side with him. Priscilla and Aquilla taught Apollos. And women were instructed in Corinth to pray in the church.
Can I just tell you how thankful I am for the women of LWBC? Just this past Wednesday night at our prayer service, half of those who prayed were women. If you were to go back to our children’s wing you would see that the vast majority of our teachers there are the women of the church—not because they were relegated there—but because they understand the eternal weight and value of instructing children in the gospel—and let me tell you, Marcy would not turn down some of you men in the children’s wing.
A few weeks back a number of women in our church participated in the Titus 2 mentoring program. We have women in our church who serve in chaplaincy with evangelistic associations. We have women who meet to study God’s Word together.
I pray God would give us more and more Godly women who love good theology, who love discipleship, who love evangelism, who love prayer. Who long to learn of Christ.
Lastly, women are called to…
C. Follow Christ Obediently
The end of our passage contains a verse that has confused man people. Look at verse 15 with me:
15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
What does “saved through child bearing” mean?
- Does it mean that women earn their salvation by bearing children? No—because we’re told that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. There are no works that contribute to our justification. No merit that we can earn by our own deeds. So that can’t be it.
- Is this verse a veiled reference to the birth of Christ—that Eve, though she sinned, would later be redeemed by the offspring of woman? Maybe, but that seems like a stretch.
Friends, I believe this final verse, when set within the context of the verses that precede it is a simple encouragement to women.
Paul has just said that Adam was created first and was expected to teach his wife, Eve. And instead, the order was reversed: Eve sinned first when she was deceived, and Adam passively followed. When we go back to the book of Genesis we learn that the consequence of that inversion was the curse of sin.
Man’s work would now be toilsome—and Woman’s distinct realm of child birthing would be painful. It would be a trial. It would be cursed.
Nevertheless, Paul says, women will be saved, not by bearing children, but through it—even when they go through the trial of child birth in a world that is cursed by sin—they will be saved—how if they continue in faith.
So, women in the church are to follow Christ obediently—by faith, with love, with holiness, with self-control.
Church, there was a role-reversal in the Garden of Eden. Adam stood by silently while Eve, his bride, transgressed God’s laws. And when God questioned him about it, he abnegated even further—“it was the woman you gave me.” When Eve fell into sin, Adam should have taken his wife to God and said, “By bride has sinned. She deserves to die, but take me in her place.”
And the Scriptures tell us of another role-reversal in another garden when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did just that. Instead of abnegating, he actually took the place of his sinful bride—us the church. Instead of standing by and allowing us to be consumed by the curse—be bore it in our place.
The first Adam’s sin brought death and decay to us all. The second Adam, Christ’s obedience, offers forgiveness and life eternal to all who will trust in him.
Let’s pray together.