The Worship Service:  How to Go to Church, 1 Timothy 2:8—15

The essence of 1 Timothy 2 is proper decorum during the worship service at church.   Having made clear that in the worship service prayers should be offered for all men, including prayers for civil authorities, Paul gives Timothy instructions on who should pray, how they should pray and what their attitude should be when they pray.

These verses are frequently misunderstood and mistaught by well-meaning Bible teachers.  The very conservative believer understands this passage as placing certain restrictions on women; what they should wear and how they should behave in church.  The more liberal Christian disregards Paul’s admonition on women in church and finds all kinds of imaginative ways to never discuss these teachings.

Because they are in the Bible, as part of the inspired canon of Scripture, they must be dealt with.  So the best way to approach these verses is two-fold:

  • Realize that Paul is giving admonitions to both men and women because both men and women are to participate in the worship service;
  • Forget whatever you have been taught about these verses, and read them as if it was the very first time.

1.  Men, 2:8

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.

Paul is not just giving Timothy advice here, but he is teaching something timeless, with the full authority of his apostolic office.  The tNIV’s “I want” does not carry the weight with modern readers it did with those in the first century.  The Greek word, boulamai, suggests a “demand” or even a “command.”  What Paul is about say in regards to men and women is not a suggestion or something optional.  God’s church, done God’s way will adhere to the admonitions the Apostle is about to give.

Verse 8 should be understood within the context of public worship.  Paul is teaching that whenever and wherever Christians gather together to worship, it is fitting and proper for someone to lead the group in prayer.  In addition to what Paul had taught about public prayer in chapter one, he adds the following directives:  when praying, (1)  lift up holy hands; (2) pray without anger or disputing.

  • Lift up holy hands in prayer.  This posture while praying is often mentioned in the Old Testament, but the physical posture of praying with upraised hands is much less important than the spirit of humility and sincerity in which we, and namely the one leading in prayer, approach God.  Paul is certainly not teaching one posture of prayer is better than another.  However the worship leader approaches God in prayer, they ought never to approach Him with a slouchy, lazy attitude, like he’d rather be someplace else, or thinking of a hundred other things, or like he’s doing God a favor by talking to Him.   By adding the word “holy,” Locke suggests Paul is adding that the one leading in prayer should be living a life that is clean and consecrated to the Lord.   Leading in public prayer is not to be done lightly, or by just anybody.  Like most things a leader does, the one leading in prayer is not just praying to God, but they are setting the example for the rest of the congregation to follow.
  • Without anger or disputing.  Although this is addressed to those leading in public prayer, it is actually prudent advice to anybody who is about to talk to God.  What Paul is getting at is this:  If you have something against somebody else, don’t even think about trying to pray.  Like the “posture” of prayer, this has to do with one’s inner attitude, only this time it’s not our attitude toward God, it is our attitude toward people.  Plummer noted, “Ill-will and misgiving respecting one another are incompatible with united prayer to our common Father.”  Our Lord Himself taught that we should be reconciled to our brother before offering a gift to God on the altar.  So those who are leading in prayer must do so without any kind of bad or angry feelings towards another.

2.  Women, 2:9—12

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.  A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

Before all the men start cheering and all the women get defensive, let’s examine what Paul wrote, not what we think he wrote.  This section is grammatically linked to what Paul just wrote regarding praying in public.  Paul gave instructions to men about praying in public, now he is going to give instructions to women about how they ought to pray in public.  Paul is not suggesting that women not pray in public.  In fact, elsewhere he wrote this—

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved(1 Corinthians 11:4, 5)

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.  (1 Corinthians 14:26)

Note that when giving the Corinthian church advice on propriety in worship, he makes it clear that he knew women were praying and prophesying during the service, and Paul does not tell them to stop, just to proceed in order and harmony.  So it is not likely that he would tell one church it was proper for women to pray and tell another it was wrong!  Paul was consistent in his teaching.

So, if we accept that it is proper for women to pray in church, why does Paul spend only one verse telling men how to pray yet he spends seven verses explaining now women should pray?  Here is where we need take into consideration the historical context of Paul’s day and the situation at Ephesus.

God has always used women in His service; we have several examples of this in the Old Testament:  Deborah, Esther and Ruth come to mind.  It is a foregone conclusion that women were indispensable and instrumental in the formation and growth of the early Church in the book of Acts.  Paul wrote this to the Galatians—

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:28)

Considering how women were treated in the first century, far from being a chauvinist, Paul was the great liberator of women!

However, in the first century, particularly in Rome and Greece, women were an integral part of their pagan religions, occupying a very central place at their respective temples.  For example, the worship of Aphrodite at Corinth involved all manner of sexual practices with temple prostitutes.  There were literally thousands of these “vestal virgins” in the city of Corinth who were nothing but prostitutes.  There were a couple of ways a worshiper could identify a temple prostitute.  They wore their piled high on their heads in an elaborate braided fashion.  No wonder Paul warned the Christian women in Corinth not to where their hair like that!  They were not to bear any resemblance to temple prostitutes.  Similarly in Ephesus, where Timothy was pastoring, the temple of Diana and other “mystery religions” employed temple priestesses in their worship.  These priestesses also wore complicated hair styles and lots of jewelry; earrings, rings, and so on.  It is wholly because of these heathen religions and cults, and their perverse emphasis on the worship of the female form and sexual practices that Paul spends so much time giving advice to the women of Ephesus.

In no way is Paul relegating women to an inferior position within the church at Ephesus.  His concern was that they, like the men, should approach God with the right attitude, demonstrated by the way she dressed.  Men may be tempted to hold grudges or pray with a sense of pride, women may have been dressing in an inappropriate manner.  It is likely that many of the women that made up the Ephesian church were saved out of the pagan religions, and just didn’t know any better.  How is a Christian supposed to learn what is right and wrong behavior unless they’re taught?  Paul wasn’t the only one to offer much-needed advice to Christian women of the first century.  Peter wrote this in 1 Peter 3:3—4:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.  Rather, 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.

Problematic in our text are verses 11 and 12—

A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

Is this a prescription for women in any church, for all time?  Paul makes a similar statement to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 14:34, 35—

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.  If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

At that time in Corinth, Paul was addressing a very peculiar problem that was occurring during their worship services.  As we read the entire letter to the Corinthians, we see that the Corinthian church was a large, though deeply troubled church.  Clearly they were trying to allow the freedom of the Spirit in their services, but in doing so, they were sacrificing order and decorum; their services had turned into shouting matches, where one member was trying to out sing or out prophesy or out speak another.  In particular,  some of the women of that church had taken to shouting questions out to their husbands in the middle of the service.  This Paul found unacceptable and unseeming behavior, and so that is why he cautioned the women of the Corinthian church to keep quiet and if they had a question, the place to ask their husbands about it was at home.  It is probable that a similar reason afforded occasion for these admonitions to Timothy, who was pastoring a church made up of converts from religions, like those in Corinth.

Given context and history, and the fact that Paul freely acknowledged his debt to a considerable number of women who had helped him in his work for Christ, it is unreasonable to think that the rigid stipulations given to Timothy regarding the hairstyle and dress of women were to be applied in every case, in every church across the land.  There are far too many references in Scripture to women ministering publicly for that to be the case.

In applying the essential truth of these verses in our time, Paul’s main point remains the same:  in approaching God, women, like men, must do so in humility, soberness, and with the right attitude.

3.  The esteemed role of women, 2:13—15

Verses 13 and 14 refer to the Divinely ordained order of human life.

For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

Many have used these verses to suggest that women have no place in leading the worship service; no praying or speaking or singing.   In reality, though, is that really why Paul wrote them?   Adam was formed first, and then Eve was taken out of Adam’s side.  But that certainly does not make her inferior to him, spiritually or any other way.  Matthew Henry, Bible scholar of a bygone era, expressed the creation of Eve perfectly:

The woman was not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, and near his heart to be beloved.

Order is important to God, both in the worship service, and in the Christian home (the man was made first, then the woman, illustrating this principle).  There is a place for women in the worship service, just as there is a place for them at home.  Women may work alongside men in the worship service just as they work alongside their husbands at home.  But for these Ephesian women who had been saved out of their pagan religion where the way to God involved sex, teaching was needed to set them straight.  They did not need to use sex in order to approach God any more.  They did not need to continue dressing inappropriately to worship God any more.  Both men and women, husbands and wives could approach God together with the proper attitude, both on the inside and the outside.

More problematic, however, is the final verse—

But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Obviously the first part of the verse cannot be true since thousands of godly women were not “kept safe” or “saved” by giving birth.  Let’s deal with the second phrase first:  “If they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.”  Since Paul has been dealing with men and women, the “they” probably refers to men and women, husbands and wives.   The key to being saved is continuing in (the) faith, in love, and in holiness with propriety.  The context seems to favor this, since Paul h as been dealing with propriety in worship.

The first phrase, “women will be saved through childbearing,” seems out of place, given the context.  There is no disputing the fact that it was the sin of Eve that brought sin into the world.  There is also no disputing the fact that every time a woman gives birth, she is not being saved; in fact, she is bringing another sinner into the world!

Yet, there was one woman who brought salvation into the world, and that was Mary, who brought Jesus Christ into the world.  Perhaps this is what Paul was getting at.  Men love to point to Eve, blaming her for man’s Fall, but we all should realize that if it wasn’t for Mary’s obedience and simple faith, salvation would not have come into the world.  In a sense, Mary’s act of faith redeemed women!

God’s church, done God’s way, will do things in order, with the right attitude.  When men pray, they need to focus on God, not on their feelings about the things or people they may be praying for.  For women who pray in public, their attitude is also important.  God’s church, done God’s way will be lead by people who lead by example, not only in what they pray, but in how they pray.

Neither sex has a corner on God’s attention.  Both men and women may lead in prayer and participate in the worship service.   Both men and women, sinners both, have been redeemed by their faith in Christ and His  work.  Men have no right to dismiss women because Eve was the first to sin, considering the incredible faith Mary exhibited.

God’s church, done God’s way will allow men and women to participate in the worship service and recognize that God works in both for the edification of the Church.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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