Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: women

Women and church leadership (part 2)

When coming back to a difficult passage, we need to remind ourselves of the three rules:
1.  Context is key.
2.  We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3.  We let the author speak for himself

In the previous post, we discovered how important these rules are – because sometimes our first impression (i.e. – assumption) of what the author meant isn’t always the correct interpretation.  A couple of paragraphs after our subject verses, after Paul finishes his entire discussion regarding the qualifications of church leaders, Paul tells Timothy the following:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

As such, we need to keep in mind that Paul’s intention for this section of his letter was so that Timothy and the Ephesian believers will know how people ought to act in God’s household.

As a refresher, here are the verses we reviewed last time.  If you haven’t read Part 1, I suggest going back a reading it before going further with this post.  However, if you did read Part 1, reading the verses again will help form the context for the verses that follow:

1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

A woman should learn in silence with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

Last time we discovered that the education system of Paul’s day held the expectation that pupils would receive instruction from their teachers in silence and with full submission.  We found that these two phrases describe a student who peacefully conducts themselves while they are respectfully under the authority of their teacher.  We also realized that Paul’s prohibition against a woman teaching or having authority over a man was only in regard to the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church.  His directions to Timothy are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family. 

Now, let’s see how Paul supports these directions for the church:

1 Timothy 2:13-15
For Adam was created first, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed.  But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense.

Paul notes that Adam was created first, then Eve.  God could have made them both at the same time, but instead, He created them at different times and in unique ways – with Adam being formed from the dirt and Eve being fashioned from Adam’s rib.  There were distinctions in origin and design from the get-go, from which God has specified a distinction in roles within the family and within church leadership.  God entrusted Adam with leadership responsibility over his wife.  Before God, Eve was not responsible for Adam in the same way that Adam was responsible for Eve.

God had an order and a plan for both men and women from the start, and Paul says the structure within the home-family should be the blueprint for the church-family.  Paul’s instruction here builds upon his previous teachings to the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 5:22-33).

Avoiding deception, especially concern against women being deceived, is frequently repeated in Paul’s communication with the Ephesian church (see Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 4:1, 5:15; 2 Timothy 3:6-7).  Paul was concerned that the women in Ephesus were in danger of being deceived by false teachers, just like Eve had been.

One last note, on Paul’s last statement.  The Greek word saved can mean to be rescued from something or can mean to be returned to a previous state.  Given the context here, saved clearly does not refer to eternal salvation from sin’s penalty; instead, Paul emphasizes that women can be restored to their pre-fall status, and find leadership fulfillment within her family, provided she continues to walk with God.  Additionally, I think it would be acceptable to apply this concept to both naturally born children or to those spiritual children that a woman directly mentors.

With this, Paul wraps up his discussion on what women should not do with something they alone can do.  It was pointed out to me recently that perhaps we put too much emphasis on the leader up front and we unfortunately minimize the influence and mentoring of those who got them to that point.  It’s been said that “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”, and there is a lot of truth in that statement.  In fact, before Timothy met Paul, his entire spiritual instruction came from his mother and grandmother.  Without them preparing Timothy’s foundation, he would never have grown into the influential leader he was in the first century church.

In short, Paul’s directions in this passage to the believing women in Ephesus is to take God’s design for their immediate families and extend those characteristics to the church family.  As we all live out the talents, opportunities, and roles God has designed for us, our lives will become the walking gospels that point others toward God – and not to ourselves.  Ultimately, though, we are responsible before God for how handle His instructions.  If God is who we claim Him to be in our lives, then we should be able to trust Him in all aspects of life – even in the difficult passages.

Keep Pressing,

Women and church leadership (part 1)

When dealing with difficult passages, we need to remember three rules:
1.   Context is key.
2.   We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3.   We let the author speak for himself

Much of Paul’s letter to Timothy talks about rebutting and correcting false teachers that were influencing the church in Ephesus.  He addresses topics and groups within the church that were being swayed by these teachers, including marriage, food, wealth, men, women, and church leadership.  In this next passage, Paul takes a moment to address the question of women in church leadership.

1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

A woman should learn in silence with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

It’s statements like these, especially when taken out of context, that cause a lot of strife within the modern church.  However, before we dismiss Paul’s instructions as being old-fashioned or oppressive, let’s consider some context.

Paul’s direction here is for women who affirm that they worship God, and as such, this passage falls under the theme of the previous context.  Paul began this section with instructions for all believers.  He stressed the importance of living a quiet and tranquil life, one displaying godliness and dignity in such a way that our lives become a “walking witness” for the God we have a direct relationship with. 

Paul moves from how women who worship God present themselves publicly and then immediately moves to how she can be learning.  That may seem like an unusual transition, given the culture of the time.  There were not a lot of education options for women in the ancient world, as all of the formal teachings and instructions went to men.  When he says that a woman should learn, we can observe that Paul is counter-culturally giving the women of the church an equal opportunity with the men of the church to be learners of God’s Word.

Now let’s look at the ‘how’ a woman should learn.  The Greek word for silence doesn’t mean “not talking”; instead, it refers to someone with a stable quietness who doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others or act in an unruly manner.  Additionally, the Greek word translated as submission means to “rank under”.  Just like in military settings, rank has to do with order and authority, not personal superiority or inferiority.  In fact, the teaching style of the day held an expectation that a pupil would do all their learning with both of these two characteristics – silence and submission.  As such, Paul isn’t suppressing women here – instead, he is holding them to the same expectations as the male learners.

Understanding Paul’s word choice also helps us interpret why he says I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man.  The verbs teach and have authority are both in the present tense, which implies a continuing ministry rather than a single instance of ministry.  Additionally, the word for have authority over is unique in comparison to the typical Greek word chosen to describe someone in a higher ranking position.  Instead, Paul is describing a woman who acts without accountability, who domineers as an absolute master within the church family.  By recognizing that the context immediately after this passage gives specific qualifications for church overseers and deacons, we begin to see that Paul’s prohibition here specifically addresses only the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church.

While the current cultural and educational settings would have been familiar to the Ephesian church, Paul doesn’t appeal to those cultural norms to justify his instruction.  Instead, he looks back to God’s initial creation: 

1 Timothy 2:13
For Adam was created first, then Eve. 

We’ll get deeper into Paul’s reasoning for referencing back to God’s initial design for the family in the next post.  And in the text that follows, we’ll observe that Paul gives specific criteria for the men who want to be in the overseer or deacon roles.  We’ll see that God’s standard for those roles is quite lofty, and that they carry the risk of significant punishment for those who mishandle the position.

For now, though, because we took the time to examine the text, can see that Paul’s direction isn’t some off-the-cuff, all-women-are-slaves-to-all-men kind of idea.  Paul is addressing a specific leadership situation within the church family.  His directions are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family. 

Instead, we’ve discovered how this passage fits into the theme of this section in Paul’s letter to Timothy.  Proper dress, a right attitude, and orderly church-family leadership are all ways that Paul directs women to flesh out their part of all believers’ responsibility to lead a tranquil and quiet life, with both godliness and dignity.

Keep Pressing,

Getting specific

Sometimes when I am presented with an important teaching, I need a little help to flesh out exactly how this new concept applies to where I’m at.  As such, I love it when a speaker moves from the theoretical to the practical. 

Paul has just given Timothy instruction on the importance of the believers in Ephesus to lead a tranquil and quiet life, a life that is characterized by both godliness and dignity.  This kind of life will stand out to those outside God’s family and will serve a launching pad for telling others about Jesus.  (see 1 Timothy 2:1-7).

Thankfully, Paul moves quickly to give Timothy instruction for how the believers in Ephesus can display these characteristics.

1 Timothy 2:8
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.

The first task for the men is to lead in prayer.  The importance of this task in each family and within God’s family cannot be understated.  Since the men are to act as the leader and High Priest for their family, as well as provide leadership within the church, their individual connection to God must be a top priority.

Paul’s practical instruction also comes with specifics about their posture and attitude in prayer – both of which reveal the focus of their heart toward God and others.  While lifting up…hands in prayer was a common “prayer position” in ancient days, it was more of a symbolic gesture meant to convey the person’s inner openness to God.  Throughout Scripture, a person’s hands are also symbolic of their activities, and Paul description of lifting up holy hands suggests that as the men pray, the offering of their daily actions are undefiled by sin and free from wickedness.

When a man focuses on devotion to prayer and godly conduct, and does them without anger or argument, the world will plainly see the difference God can make in a man’s life.

Paul also has specific instruction for the women in the Ephesian church so that they, too, know how to best represent God to the culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:9-10
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

Keep in mind that these instructions were written to believers.  These women, especially the wealthy ones, would set an example within the church family.  If an unbeliever comes in with little means, they could begin to wonder if you have to be rich in order to be saved.  Another potential issue could arise if another believer has little means, they could conclude that they aren’t favored by God because others have so much more to display.  Additionally, there is a risk of division among even the affluent believers.  The exorbitant displays of wealth among them will cause problems as egos rise as they try to outdo one another in dress, hairstyle, and jewelry.

Paul’s contrast here is really between works and wardrobe.  How is a woman displaying her understanding of value within God’s family?  The ancient upper class women would spend an excessive amount of time on their elaborate hairstyles and expensive apparel; these things would draw attention to themselves rather than to the God they claim to serve.  Paul says that a woman’s value isn’t in the perfection of her outward appearance, rather her beauty comes from her decency and good sense.  Both of these lead to a reputation of good works and point others toward God.

Paul’s directions to both groups cut against our natural, self-promoting tendencies…which is precisely why the world will notice the difference God makes in a person’s life.

Keep Pressing,

Healthy teachings for the younger women

Titus 2:1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.

Although it is Titus’ responsibility to teach the Cretan believers how to do life in light of Christ rescuing us from the penalty of our sins, Paul specifically states that

Titus 2:4 [the older women] can train the younger women…

It is within this relationship framework that younger women can learn to handle life’s challenges.  Paul identifies several lessons that the young women of Crete will need help in both understanding and applying…and Paul recognizes that they will need the guidance of an older woman to get there.

Titus 2:4-5 Then [the older women] can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

An easy, knee-jerk response would be to start picking off individual items from the list and turning them into arguments.  However, before we do that, it would be wise to consider why Paul is listing these specific topics for the Cretan women to learn and apply.  Paul gives his reasoning at the end of the verse five:

Titus 2:5 …so that no one will malign the word of God.

Other translations render the phrasing as so that God’s message will not be slandered or discredited or dishonored.  Paul is indicating that if the Cretan young women were to choose against the listed character traits, then there is the possibility that God’s message would be poorly represented or the reputation of the gospel could be damaged…even to the point that outsiders might ignore the good news of the gospel.

The heart of what Paul is getting at is this: that a young woman’s walk needs to match her talk.   Her life should mirror the good news of Christ’s salvation, and to live otherwise would discredit God’s life-changing message.  Remember that the Cretan reputation and accepted daily culture was to be always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.  Living in accordance with the healthy teaching of the gospel would be clearly counter-cultural.  A quick look at the opposites helps demonstrate this point:

What does a young woman communicate about the gospel
if instead of aiming to love [her] husband and children, she lives selfishly?
if instead of aiming to be self-controlled and pure, she lives reckless and immoral?
if instead of aiming to be busy at home, she is consumed by exterior passions?
if instead of aiming to be kind, she chooses to be cruel?
if instead of aiming to be subject to [her] husband, she undercuts her husband’s role and authority within the family unit?

All these lessons derive from one point of contention – a woman’s relationships, especially those within her own family.  These difficulties find their root all the way back to Eve’s part of the curse.  Adam and Eve’s sin introduced different, specific consequences into the world.  One of the consequences that God told to Eve was that:

Genesis 3:16 Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

Sin broke the natural order of what God had created all life to function under.  Part of the curse clearly damaged a woman’s relationship with her husband – that from then on, he will rule over you.  The effects of this curse (and Adam’s) have echoed throughout human history ever since.  For the Cretan women to decide live in such a way that mirrors Christ’s love and Christ’s life would be absolutely counter-cultural.  Her choice to love her family in this sacrificial, dynamic way would produce a life that would force those around her to recognize that the gospel she believes in is both revolutionary and life-changing.

Paul never says this list is easy.  He never indicates that a young woman will get it right on the first try.  But these choices are so important that Paul specifically states that the young women will need to be taught and mentored by an older woman in order to live them out.  The young women aren’t supposed to “just figure it out” all on their own.

If you fit the category of a younger woman, ask God for an older woman to come along side and mentor you.  You have a tough job, but you don’t have to do it alone.

If you don’t fit the category of a younger woman, think of those you know.  Ask God to give them the desire to ensure that their walk reflects God’s impact on their lives.

Keep Pressing,

Healthy teachings for the older women

Titus 2:1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.

After giving Titus instructions for topics to teach the older men, Paul then turns to the topics for older women that are in accord with the healthy teaching of Christ’s work on the cross.

Titus 2:3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good

Just like the older men, the older women need to be taught into maturity.  Maturity doesn’t happen on its own or by default.  If we are going to imitate God and his love for us, then we must be instructed on how to get there.

Paul also lists two enemies of an older woman’s maturity – the temptation to gossip and the possibility of becoming addicted to, or enslaved by, wine.  When all the children have left the home, many older women go through an identity crisis.  So much of their lives have been (rightly) focused on preparing their contribution to the next generation.  When that season is over, the question “What’s next?” has many potential answers to choose from – and not all of them are good.

Slander or Gossip, as well as an addiction (either to wine or some other substance) are very self-centered choices.  The thinking behind both behaviors – “Hey, listen to the info I’ve found out” and whatever rationalizations we give ourselves for addictions – all have motives which are focused inward.  An inward focus undercuts the ability to mature and imitate God’s love to others.

Paul lists these two traps in contrast with what the older women should be focusing on – to teach what is good.  But whom shall the older women teach?  Paul gives the answer in the next verse:

Titus 2:4 Then they can train the younger women…

After they have finished preparing their own children, an older woman needs to shift her focus to preparing the next generation of Christian women.  Paul gives instructions for Titus to teach several different groups in the church – but he specifically calls on the older women to teach the younger women.  Paul does not give Titus the responsibility to teach the younger women.  I fully believe this was intentional, as the mentor-relationship bond formed between an older woman and a younger woman cannot be duplicated.

The younger women needed support, as evidenced by Paul’s first lesson that an older woman needs to teach:

Titus 2:4 Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children…

As one who has been a child and is now a husband…I fully admit that we’re not always easy to love.  I am thankful for the older women who have come along side of my wife to help her, to teach her, and to train her how to love like Christ.

If you fit the category of an older woman, ask God to point you to a younger woman for you to mentor.  She needs you more than she’ll likely let on. 

If you don’t fit the category, pray for the older women that you know.  Ask God to include them in preparing the next generation of Christian women.

Keep Pressing,