Sunday, July 17, 2016

1 Timothy 2:8-15 “Men and Women in Worship ”

Paul urged Timothy  to  sort out the  false  teaching that had crept into the church at Ephesus.  This letter  (as  were all the letters  of Paul) was  written in response to specific  issues and  problems  which had arisen in some of  the churches that were brought into existence as a result of his preaching on his various missionary journeys. These  letters  are so very    valuable today, for they form a part  of   the Holy Scriptures which  constitute  our  source of authority and  a reliable  guide for  our church practice.

Today’s passage is  difficult, particularly verses 11-15. How  shall  we understand this  text? I am not here  to give you a lecture  on what many interpreters have said  concerning the text. That might be appropriate for our Thursday evening School of the Bible, but  not for  a Sunday  worship  service. And yet  I cannot get around   introducing you  to  some  important rules  in terms of interpreting the Bible responsibly.  I have  benefited much  from John Stott’s  commentary[1] in  this study. I have always appreciated him for his  balanced  mind  in  matters of responsible interpretation.  In his introduction to this passage, he deals first  with  “Hermeneutical principles”. Hermeneutics is the  science of interpretation, especially of the Scriptures. The best I can do is  to  give you a brief, and I trust  understandable synopsis  of some  principles which ought to undergird the interpretation of such a complex passage. 

One of the  important principles in biblical interpretation   is to understand  the difference  between   a fixed principle (unchangeable)    and  a cultural  element (which may be variable). “… We  have to discern in Scripture between God’s essential revelation (which is changeless) and its cultural expression (which is changeable).” [2]  So, how shall we distinguish between them? How  shall we know what is a fixed  biblical  principle and what is  cultural, and therefore  variable? What cannot change and what can change?   We will apply these questions to our passage in a moment.  Before we do,  we need to consider  a few typical  to hermeneutical approaches  to such passages in the Bible.  I will mention  three, and the last  one will be that of  John Stott. I would  agree with him substantially. 

1.            there are those  who see no difference between  principle  and  cultural  expression in the Bible. The Bible is considered  literal in every respect. This school  believes that you cannot tamper with the Bible by deciding  which is which. All  belongs  to the Word of God,  and if this school is consistent in interpreting our passage  in  1 Timothy 2:8–15,  then they must  insist that men must always lift up their hands when they pray (2:8), that women must never plait their hair or wear jewellery (2:9), and that under  no circumstances  whatsoever may women teach men (2:11–12). The problem with  staunch literalists is that they are never consistent in their application of this principle. 

2.               On the other hand there are those who see   such texts in the Bible as  anachronistic, outdated and of no value for  our times. So, for instance a commentator  named   William Barclay (a liberal scholar)  whose commentaries were extremely popular a number of years ago,  dismissed  everything  in this passage  saying,  “ all things in this chapter are mere temporary regulations to meet a given situation”[3]. Everything  becomes  merely a cultural expression and simply relates to the times in which  this was written. The problem with this school of interpretation is that they ultimately make us believe  that the Bible  has little to say that is relevant today. This school often glories in its own cleverness and makes the mind of man the final arbiter of truth.

3.              John Stott introduces a third view, which he calls cultural transposition [4]. He takes a middle road  by saying that we need to make a distinction  in the Bible concerning  what is  God’s essential unchangeable  revelation, and  what is cultural and bound by  specific  and peculiar circumstances of the  day,   and  which is therefore  changeable

A good  example  of such a distinction may  be made  from  John 13,  where  Jesus  washes the feet of His disciples, and then  commands His disciples  to wash one another’s feet. Now do we do that here at Eastside? Why  not? Do we not believe  the  command of Jesus here? The answer is this: We are making a distinction between essence and form. What is the essence  of Jesus teaching in John 13: 1-17?  It is surely the matter of being  servants  to one another. Jesus came to be a servant  to us, and He wants us to serve one another. That is the essence of  His teaching, and it is timeless.  But what is the form in which He communicates  His teaching?    By way of washing  their feet, and it is cultural! It was totally appropriate to the situation in Jesus’s day. Middle eastern feet were always dirty because  there was  so much dust. Everyone walked, and people wore sandals.  We don’t do that in the city.  But  what about today?   How would you communicate  being a servant to your brothers and sisters at Eastside?  How about  looking after the little ones in crèche  while their young parents are  been given a moment of quiet  to sit under the Word of God? What about  serving  our visitors with  friendship  and tea after the service?  The possibilities are  endless. 
Let’s look at our text then in terms of essentials  and form.  Ask yourself, “What is essential  and non-negotiable here,  and what is form or  what  is cultural and therefore changeable and negotiable?”  

In our text we find the apostle  Paul giving direction to Timothy and the church in  Ephesus in three  areas, in  the context of the public worship of the church. 
The instruction regards, (i) men’s prayers (2:8), (ii) women’s adornment (2:9–10) (iii) Women’s roles in public worship (2:11–15).

1. Men and their prayers (2:8)

“I desire then  that in every place  the  men  should pray, lifting holy hands, without anger or quarrelling.” The application is not difficult.  What is the essence here? Men should pray. Men should pray with  clean  consciences, without anger  or quarrelling. God does not hear the prayers of men  who harbour unforgiveness, anger or bitterness in their hearts. God wants holy  hearts.  What about the form? The form employed here is ‘lifting of holy hands in prayer’.  The point is that  bodily posture is a revelation  of the  soul, and so you can  show your  holy heart in the form  of raising your hands, but also  by standing, kneeling or sitting. It is cultural. It is variable, and therefore it is secondary to the principle  or essence.

2. Women and their adornment (2:9-10)

“…likewise also  that  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.”  

Likewise… certainly Paul expected women to engage in public prayer! But he makes a particular  application to women  participating in worship.   He says that he would not like them to  be ostentatious  in their  appearance. So the principle  relates to  modesty, self-control, good works, and this with respect to  displays of clothing, hairstyle and jewellery which Ephesian women wore.   But is hairstyle , clothing and jewellery a problem in every culture? No! These have different  meanings in different cultures. Stott reminds us that “Christian women in Ephesus needed to make sure  that their attire in no way reflected  that of the hundreds of prostitutes who were employed in the great goddess Diana’s temple…”[5] The principle is modesty; the form is  dress, hairstyles  and  jewellery, and  so we are going to have to determine  at local church  level  what  hinders the  progress  of the gospel   in our public worship. What about  being underdressed and being too revealing in terms of your body? 

3. Women and their roles (2:11-15)

“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

Let us see whether we can  apply the same logic  with reference to principle  and to  culture or form. What is the unchanging biblical principle  here? Surely the  established principle  is  found in verses 13 & 14  which refers back to  Genesis 2, the creation  of man and woman. The  context of created order clearly  establishes  the  doctrine  of the headship of men in society. In  v.15  the  role  of the woman is established: “she will be saved  through childbearing… “ (v.15).  This  is not easy to see at face value, but it is utterly profound.

The salvation  spoken of here is not  salvation from sin.  The context  is still about the woman’s role  in the church.  The primary role of the man  in church is  to lead in worship.  What is a  woman‘s primary role? It is in the bearing and raising of  little worshippers for the glory of God! This logic may stun  you for a moment, but consider   the   deeper theological  reason for the redemption of a woman behind this. Since  the woman led mankind into the fall, and hence into death, the  bearing  of children – the giving of life  delivers or saves her from  that stigma. Think about it. Mary gave birth to the Lord Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. By this act she gave the world our Saviour. All who look to Him will be saved!    The woman  who  led  mankind into death is  now  given the privilege of  replenishing  mankind. And  that’s not all. She  has the  wonderful  privilege of nurturing  and praying  her offspring   back to  the position where her children   rise to call her blessed ! (Prov. 31)
What about single  Christian women?  Normally,  God’s plan is for women  to be married and to have children. Those that do not  have  children  by God’s providence, will be able by God’s grace to focus their energies into fields in  the church, in which they can  be greatly used in terms of  nurturing spiritual children. God’s plan  for a woman  (generally) is  that she   should influence  mankind  by way of the child , the cradle  and not by  way of usurping the  role of the man.  

I must end here for today. Now clearly, there  was a problem  in Ephesus. The cult of the goddess Diana  had  tempted women  to work against creation order. So  at face value, Paul’s statement   here appears to be quite harsh and quite radical, because  the life of the church was at stake. Radical  times require  radical responses.  But understand the context. Christian women in Ephesus needed to find  the biblical balance. They needed to submit  themselves  to qualified  male  church leadership, because God demanded  it.    Does this  mean that women   must always be quiet, and that they never have anything profitable  to say to men? Surely not!  According to Scripture  the spiritual gifts of God have been equally given to men and women, BUT  this needs to be worked out against  the  background of male leadership.  And  under godly  leadership, submissive to God and the church, an environment is created which ought to cause both women and men     to flourish  in terms of teaching  and  in terms of employing  their  gifts.   In God’s economy there is no place for rivalry and competition. The church  is created by God  for all to exist in unity  by submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:21), as we all partake  in our God given roles, spiritual gifts and callings in a context where men  lead  with Christ- likeness and  in which   women  are enabled to flourish  in  Christ-likeness in  every way. 

[1] John Stott : The Message of Timothy and Titus , BST series ( IVP) , p.74
[2] Ibid p.78
[3] John Stott :  The Message of Timothy and Titus , p. 75
[4] Ibid. p.78
[5] Ibid p.84

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