Respecting God’s Order in Gender

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1 Timothy 2:8-15

INTRODUCTION: Please take your Bibles and open with me to 1 Timothy 2:8-15. We are going through the book of 1 Timothy together and our message series is called, “Doing Church Together.” After Paul left Timothy in charge at the church at Ephesus, he wrote him this letter to give him instructions on “how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God.” (1 Timothy 3:15) So what should we be doing as a church together? So far we have seen that Paul’s instructions included: doing God’s work by faith, praising God for his amazing grace, and going to God through Jesus. In today’s passage, Paul brings out another important aspect of doing church together, and that is respecting God’s order in gender. Let’s see what Paul says about this in 1 Timothy 2:8-15.

1 Timothy 2:8-15
8 I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.
9 I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (NIV)

One of the most controversial issues facing the church today is the place of women in ministry. How do men and women minister in the church? Do men and women function differently in ministry? Are there different roles according to gender? Or to put it another way, is there a God-ordained order in gender for church life and ministry?

There are two main positions or views that Christians take on these questions today. One position is often called the egalitarian view. The egalitarian view would say that there is no God-ordained order in gender, and therefore men and women have identical roles in both church and home. The other position is usually called the complementarian view. The complementarian view would say that, yes there is a God-ordained order in gender, and therefore men and women have different but complementary roles in the church and home. I believe that the Bible teaches the second of these, the complementarian view, that there is a God-ordained order in gender, and that this has important implications for the roles of men and women in the church and in the home.

In Ephesians 5 we see that God has assigned different roles to the husband and wife in marriage. Wives are to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ, and the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Just as there is an order in gender for the home, so also there is an order in gender for “God’s household, which is the church of the living God.” (1 Timothy 3:15) We find this taught here in 1 Timothy and also in other passages of Scripture.

This does not mean that men are better than women, or that women are not gifted for ministry, or that men have the right to boss their wives around. The Bible teaches us that men and women are created equally in God’s image, and they are of equal value in God’s eyes. Moreover, we read in the New Testament that when it comes to our standing with God in Christ that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26) The Bible never gives men grounds to treat any woman with disrespect, but rather teaches men to love, honor, and respect women at all times. It is not a matter of different value or standing, but rather of different roles in the church and in the home.

This is a controversial subject, and it is important to realize that there are good Christians who love God and seek to be faithful to Scripture, but who still come out on different sides of this issue. We need to extend grace to those who disagree with us without compromising our own Scriptural convictions in this area.

So, with that as an introduction, let’s take a closer look at the teaching here in 1 Timothy 2. Earlier in chapter two, Paul spoke about the importance of praying for those in authority so that believers may live out their Christian testimony without interference. Now, Paul gives further instructions on how to live out that testimony as the body of Christ. He gives specific instructions to both men and women, addressing areas of particular concern for each gender.

Men are to be men of prayer, backed up by holy living and avoiding the particular sins of anger and disputing. Women are to dress modestly, not drawing attention to themselves with outward beauty or costly adornment, but rather adorning their lives with good deeds. Women should also respect God’s order in gender by not assuming the role of teaching authority over men in the church.

I. Specific instructions to men in the church (verse 8 )

Let’s begin with Paul’s specific instructions to men in the church in verse 8. “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” (1 Timothy 2:8) This is a transitional verse between last week’s passage and this week’s passage. It picks up on the theme of prayer from last week, but it also ties in directly with the verses that follow.

Paul begins by saying, “I want men everywhere.” There are two different words for “man” in Greek. One is a word that can mean either “man or mankind,” and then there is another word that usually means man as “male rather than female.” That is the word Paul uses here, and the fact that he goes on in verse 9 to specifically address women confirms that Paul is talking about men in particular here in verse 8. This same word can also be translated “husband,” but because the context in 1 Timothy 2 is church life and community rather than family life at home, “men” is the better translation here.

Paul uses a strong word for “want” in verse 8. It is a word that speaks not just of Paul’s wishes or desire in this matter but his will. Paul is not expressing personal preference but is giving apostolic, authoritative instruction.

The word “everywhere” is literally “in every place.” Because the context of these verses is the life and ministry of the church, Paul may mean by this phrase: “in all the places where the church meets to worship,” which in those days would have been the various house churches where believers gathered for worship.

    A. Be men of prayer.

What is it that Paul wants men everywhere to do? Paul has three instructions for men in the church. First of all, he says, “Be men of prayer.” “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.” When Paul says he wants men to lift up their hands in prayer, he is simply saying he wants men to pray. Lifting one’s hands was a normal posture for prayer in Paul’s time, so he is advocating anything unusual or out of the ordinary in prayer. At the same time, for any of us who may feel uncomfortable lifting our hands in prayer, it is a good reminder that this is a normal and acceptable posture in prayer before God.

Paul says to men in all the churches, “Be men of prayer.” We saw last week that prayer must be a priority in our lives and in the life of the church. Men, if you are not praying for your families, for your church and for your community, you are failing in one of your primary responsibilities as a man. You have been called to leadership and example, and prayer must be a priority in your life.

    B. Be men of holiness.

Paul also says, “Be men of holiness.” “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.” The word “holy” here means “undefiled, free from wickedness.” Your hands are symbolic of your life and your deeds. Your hands are what you use to accomplish most of your work in life. You are called not only to pray, but also to live a life of holiness before God and others. The hands that you use to live out your life in the world are the same hands that you raise to God in prayer. Therefore, let them be holy hands, free from wickedness and sin. When you do sin, confess that sin to God and let him cleanse you from all unrighteousness, so that you may lift up holy hands in prayer to God.

    C. Get rid of anger and disputing.

Paul’s third instruction to men in the church is this: “Get rid of anger and disputing.” “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” Although I am sure women struggle with anger and disputing too, Paul singles this out as a particular concern for men. And his point is this. There is something terribly wrong and inconsistent with losing our tempers and getting into all sorts of arguments with people, and then going to God in prayer, unless of course we have confessed our sin to God first. James says something similar to this in James chapter 3: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10)

We cannot be men characterized by ungodliness, anger and arguing and also be effective men of prayer. You cannot treat your prayer life as separate from the rest of your life. Be men of prayer. Be men of holiness. Get rid of anger and disputing in your life.

II. Specific instructions to women in the church (verses 9-10)

Next Paul goes on to give specific instructions to women in the church. And just as Paul highlighted specific concerns for the men, so also he highlights some specific concerns for the women. In the original language verse 9 does not have a verb in it. You must supply the verb, “I want,” from verse 8. This is one of the features that ties these verses together and shows that Paul is first giving instructions to men and then to women. Remember, this verb “I want” is a strong verb and does not express personal wishes or preference but rather authoritative instruction.

    A. Dress modestly with decency and propriety.

So what are Paul’s authoritative instructions to women in this passage? His first instruction is this: “Dress modestly with decency and propriety.” Look at verse 9: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety.” (1 Timothy 2:9) The word for “women” here can be translated either “women or wives,” but once again because the context is the church, “women” is the better translation. These are not just instructions for wives but for all women in the church. Paul addresses the issue of modesty and dress with the women, because he sees this as a greater area of concern for women than for men, just as he saw the problem with anger and disputing as a greater area of concern for the men than for the women.

What does it mean to dress modestly? Paul explains what he means by adding, “with decency and propriety.” The word translated “decency” here has to do with honor and respect. It can also suggest a sense of bashfulness. The word translated “propriety” means discreetness or self control. Paul is saying that that a woman should carry herself with a sense of honor and self-respect in life, and that her choice of clothing and dress should reinforce that. A woman should not unveil herself for the world, but should have a sense of reserve or restraint – a respect for self and a regard for others that comes across in the way that she dresses.

    B. Focus on good deeds rather than outward adornment.

Secondly, Paul says that women should focus on good deeds rather than outward adornment. Look at the end of verse 9 and into verse 10: “not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” (1 Timothy 2:9-10)

Paul is not saying that there is anything wrong with outward adornment, but rather that you should not make outward adornment your focus as a woman. He is not saying that is wrong to braid your hair or to wear nice jewelry, or to have nice clothes, but that it is far more important that you adorn yourself with good deeds.

Listen to this similar passage in 1 Peter 3 which speaks of a woman’s true beauty: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)

Let’s face it. Some women are all caught up in their dress. They use dress and accessories to draw attention to themselves in inappropriate ways, rather than practicing modesty and restraint. Anyone can wear fancy clothes. But the Christian woman should concentrate on developing her inner self and on practicing good deeds that are appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

Which mirror do you hold up to your life more often? The vanity mirror on your dresser, or the more important mirror of God’s word? How do you measure your value as a woman? By your outward appearance, or by your inner self and by your actions on behalf of other people? Paul says to women in the church: “Dress modestly with decency and propriety, and focus on good deeds rather than your outward adornment.”

III. Specific instructions concerning gender and order in the church (verses 11-15)

And then finally, after giving specific instructions to men and then to women, Paul goes on to give specific instructions concerning gender and order in the church. Here he says three things.

    A. A woman should learn in quietness and submission.

First of all, verse 11: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” (1 Timothy 2:11) Once again, the word woman can be translated either “woman or wife,” but the context here is still the church community, and so “woman” is the better translation.

The word “quietness” here should be interpreted as “stillness or attentiveness” rather than literal silence. It only shows up four times in the New Testament – once in the book of Acts, once in 1 Thessalonians, and here in verses 11 and 12. In Acts 22:2 it is used of the crowd that became “quiet” and listened as Paul began to speak. In 2 Thessalonians 3:12 it is used of busybodies who are told to “settle down.” It is related to the word we looked at last week in verse 2 which spoke about living “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” And that same word is also used in the first 1 Peter 3 passage we looked at just a moment ago, where Peter speaks of “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)

A woman should learn quietly, attentively, and in full submission. The word translated “submission” here means “to put yourself under another’s authority.” It is a form of the same word used in Ephesians 5 where Paul speaks of wives submitting to their husbands as the church submits to Christ. Who should the woman be in submission to here in 1 Timothy? The context indicates submission to the men who are in leadership positions of authority in the church. Once again, this submission has nothing to do with a woman’s value or ability but rather with role relationships. Men and women are created equal in God’s image. They are equal in standing before God in Christ, but there is a God-ordained role in gender for the church and for the home.

    B. A woman should not exercise teaching authority over a man.

In light of this, Paul goes on to say that a woman should not exercise teaching authority over a man in the church. Look at verse 12: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:12)

Some have misinterpreted that word “silent” in verse 12 to say that women should not even speak in the church. But that is not what Paul is saying here. It is the same word for quiet or attentive that we saw back in verse 11. Besides, we know from other passages of Scripture that women were allowed to speak and even prophesy in the church. So it is not a matter of actual silence here, but rather a matter of attentive listening and learning.

Some have misinterpreted this verse to say that women should not teach in the church. But that is not what Paul is saying here either. Women are equally gifted with men for teaching in the church, and I praise God for the women he has given the church with spiritual gifts for teaching. Of course women should teach in the church. What Paul does not permit here is a woman exercising teaching authority over men in the church. Just as God has assigned the leadership of the home to the husband, so he has assigned the leadership of the church to men in the church.

The words “teach” and “authority” work together in this verse and refer to the authoritative teaching of doctrine in the local church. Now the very next passage in 1 Timothy 3 goes on to speak of the elders in the church who teach and exercise authority over the church body. And so I believe Paul is saying here that a woman should not serve as a pastor or elder in the church. A woman may teach and have authority in a wide variety of contexts within the church, but we must still respect God’s order in gender. A woman should not exercise teaching authority as a pastor or elder in the local church.

        1) A reason from creation > Eve was formed from Adam

Those churches that do allow woman pastors and preachers usually argue that Paul was speaking to a specific problem at the church in Ephesus, and that these words no longer apply to churches today. But I want you to notice the reason Paul gives for this command in verse 13: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” (1 Timothy 2:13) The reason Paul gives for his command comes straight from creation. It is not just a local command for a local church, but a rather a command rooted in the very order of creation. Adam was formed first, then Eve.

The word “formed” means “to form or mold as from wax or clay” and brings us right back to Genesis chapter two where “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) And the thought here is not just that Adam was formed before Eve – that is part of it – but that Eve was formed from Adam. Back to Genesis 2: “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ … So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.” (Genesis 2:18,21-22) Man and woman were both created in God’s image, but there was an order in creation, and God instructs us to respect that order in the church and in the home.

        2) An illustration from the fall > Eve was deceived, not Adam

Paul goes on to give an illustration of what can happen when someone steps out of that creational order. Look at verse 14: “And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” (1 Timothy 1:14)

Some people have misinterpreted this verse to say that women are more easily deceived or more naturally gullible than men, and that is why Paul does not permit them to be teachers. But that is not what Paul is saying here either. He is giving an illustration of what happened when both Adam and Eve abandoned their respective roles of loving leadership and loving submission in the garden.

Adam abandoned his role as spiritual leader and followed his wife’s leading even though it went directly against God’s command. And don’t think Paul is letting Adam off the hook when he says that “Adam was not the one deceived.” Adam’s responsibility was even greater than Eve’s because he was not deceived. He knew exactly what he was doing when he ate of the fruit. And even though Eve ate first, God placed the ultimate responsibility for the fall squarely on Adam’s shoulders rather than on Eve’s (see Genesis 3 and Romans 5).

And what about Eve? Eve bypassed the authority of God and her husband and listened to the lies of the serpent. As a result she was deceived and fell into sin. Adam and Eve reversed God’s order in gender and the results were disastrous. Paul shares this as an illustration of why a woman should not exercise teaching authority over a man in the church.

    C. “Women will be saved through childbearing.”

Paul finishes off this section with verse 15: “But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” (1 Timothy 2:15) This is a notoriously difficult verse to interpret, and we don’t have time to go into all the details of it today. There are no less than seven different views that have been proposed for this verse, so let me just share with you the two main interpretations that both make sense to me.

        Two main interpretations:

        1) Saved from sin through the birth of Christ

The first interpretation is that women will be saved from sin through the birth of Christ. This view picks up on the story of Eve in Genesis 3 where God promised her that one day her offspring would crush the head of the serpent. This was fulfilled in Christ who defeated Satan and brought salvation from sin for all who believe.

        2) Protected from sin by adhering to her God-ordained role

The second interpretation is that a woman will be protected from sin by adhering to her God-ordained role as a woman. This view interprets the word “childbearing” as referring to the woman’s role in contrast to the man’s role, especially in the family and in the home, but also by extension to the church which is God’s household. In this view the word “saved” is taken not in the sense of spiritual salvation from sin but in the sense of protection from sin, just as Eve would have been protected from sinning if she had not stepped out of her God-ordained role in the garden. This is the way that Paul uses the word “childbearing” in 1 Timothy 5:14 and would be its most natural meaning.

So which interpretation is better? I don’t know. They both make sense to me. And they both line up with other Scriptures. I don’t know which one Paul may have intended here.

Either way, he ends with a final note of instruction and caution for the women – “But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.” (1 Timothy 2:15) Whether “saved through childbearing” refers to salvation through Christ or protection from sin, you are still called to continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. We saw that same word “propriety” back in verse nine where it referred to modesty in dress. A woman displays her modesty not only in her dress, but also in adhering to her God-ordained role as a woman, rather than trying to take the God-ordained role of the man.

CONCLUSION: So, what can we conclude from all this today? God has specific instructions and concerns for both men and women in the church. And God has ordained certain roles for men and women in the church and in the home. The church is God’s household. Therefore, we should respect God’s order in gender in the church just as in the home.

© Ray Fowler

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