Thursday, December 30, 2010

Purposeful, Ordered Design

How Men and Women Reflect Godly Character in the Church

A couple of months ago Newsweek ran a series of stories on the ‘new macho.’  I didn’t realize that the old macho was old.  Maybe that means I’m getting old, since I never caught up with old macho.  But the feature attempted to highlight the changing attitudes towards what is and is not culturally acceptable about being manly.  Regardless of where current culture is, there has always been a divine plan for masculinity and femininity.

Although it’s been quite a bit of time since I’ve been able to get back to 1 Timothy, today we continue with chapter 2.  After speaking about gospel-advancing prayer, Paul’s attention turns to God’s purposeful, ordered design for church gatherings, and particularly about men and women in the life of the church.  Verse 8 acts as the pivot point: it concludes the prior thought, and at the same time segues to the next point.

Many would agree that this specific text of Scripture is one of the more difficult passages of the Bible to interpret.  In light of that, we need to remember a few important presuppositions from a historical-grammatical perspective of the interpretation of Scripture.

  1. The goal from this perspective is to understand the author’s original intent—what he meant by what he wrote, and what he intended the original audience to understand.
  2. More difficult, obscure texts of Scripture should be interpreted in light of easier, clear texts of Scripture.
  3. When a Scripture writer addresses a specific issue, or instructs a specific point, to a specific audience, he never says anything he wouldn’t more generally say to any other audience, nor violate other Scriptures in the process.
  4. Scripture cannot mean (now) what it never meant.

There are of course other historical-grammatical principles for interpretation, but these are key to understanding this text.  Here is the next section, on purposeful, ordered design in the church:

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. (1 Timothy 2.8-15, ESV)

How can men and women particularly reflect God’s character through the church?

1. By design, Christ followers are to focus on the internal rather than the external. (1 Timothy 2.8-10)

Students of the Word know this is not a newly introduced concept.  After all, we know that “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16.7, ESV).  We hear Jesus talking about not being like the Pharisees who are “like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23.27, ESV).  Paul hits on the same idea.

He starts with the guys.  Instead of being angry, contentious men, these men were encouraged to be known for their faithful prayers that flowed out of a pure heart (see v. 8).

Coming just after the section of primary importance concerning gospel-advancing prayer, Paul wraps up that idea by saying that men should not focus on what they can gain by exerting contentious authority.  Instead they must humble themselves in prayer.  Perhaps this confronted a local problem in these Ephesian churches, but ultimately it points to something basic in male human nature to be competitive.  But sinful nature can take it to being combative or obnoxiously macho.  Men want to prove themselves to other men, and women.  Against that notion, Paul submits the idea that it would be positively countercultural if men were more concerned with humbling themselves before men and women in prayer for their church, community, and society.

The comment about lifting holy hands refers less to any command about lifting them, I believe, than that hands that are lifted must be holy, which supports the idea that the larger point is in regard to humble prayers.

He then speaks to the ladies.  Instead of being vain, ostentatious women, these women were encouraged to be known for their good deeds that flowed out of a Godward pursuit (see vv. 9-10).

In much the same way as men, women can be concerned with appearance more than what’s going on inside.  This Scripture does not say that women shouldn’t care about appearance, nor that they should be homely at church (as some have wrongly argued that it does!).  That misses the point.  Perhaps Paul was confronting their need to look different from the world, but that’s ultimately not his central point.  When a woman is more concerned about her outward appearance than her internal character, she has missed the mark, just like the men in verse 8.  In fact, Peter says essentially the same thing in 1 Peter 3.3-4.

Ultimately, what he is promoting is that, by design, men and women are to focus on the internal, rather than the external.

2. By design, church leaders are to follow the pattern of creation rather than the culture. (vv. 11-14)

Perhaps it’s easier to begin by stating what this text does not mean.  It does not mean women at worship gatherings must be in complete silence—several examples in Scripture make that apparent.  It does not mean merely that men can speak as opposed to women.  I believe it directs ladies to participate at the worship gatherings in a quiet, respectful manner, reflecting the same design as in the home.

There are some things that God has set in order that we will learn from, even when we don’t realize we’re learning from them.  It’s been a mystery but revealed in Christ that ultimately women and men are equal in Christ and yet God calls us to differing roles of leadership and submission.  Marriage is intended to reflect that (see Ephesians 5.15-33, esp. v. 32).  Although many marriages fail to do this, when it works the way God has designed, the pattern changes from an authoritarian man who wants to assert authority into a beautiful servant leadership that desires to demonstrate love toward one’s wife, encouraging her to be more like Christ.  It’s a radically different outlook than most of the world seems to understand.

Paul appeals to the order of creation to explain a larger principle that God wants us to get.  When it’s done well, male leadership in the church is simply an extension of what’s taking place in the home.

I believe that the reasoning behind verses 13 and 14 is to show that when Adam abdicated his leadership for what looked nice, he failed to protect his bride and she sinned.  Eve focused on the external, and Adam failed to lead.

Cultural norms will shift.  Paul is saying that church leaders are to follow the pattern of creation rather than the culture.

3. By design, Christian homes are to become a place of honor rather than insignificance. (v. 15)

This is widely regarded as one of the more difficult verses in all of Scripture to interpret, but the context of purposeful, ordered design in the practices of the church sheds ample light on its meaning.

Our culture, then as now, minimizes the value of what takes place in the home.  The role God gives homemakers in raising their children to know God’s incalculable.

“Saved” in this verse cannot mean justification, for obvious reasons, since the Bible is clear that salvation is not from works.  It could have the meaning, to rescue, or to preserve.  The author says that the process of raising children (“childbearing”) is highly valued before God, and therefore a woman’s value is elevated, not diminished.  Culture feeds a lie that being in the home is not important.  However, the most important thing that a woman (or man) can do is to raise a child to know God.

In the context, and the larger point that Paul is making, it seems most appropriate to understand that in v. 15 he is specifically speaking to women who may feel the pressure of the culture to usurp a leadership role at church or home (as a means of gaining significance), and challenging them to see the exceptional value God places on the management of the home, in raising the next generation of godly leaders.  Christian homes are to be a place of honor rather than insignificance.

Regardless of whatever position one takes on this text of Scripture, it is clear that there is a purpose and design behind the home and the church, and God is revealing something beautiful about His character in the process.

[This is part of a larger series on 1 Timothy called The Community of Truth.]