Correcting Worship Practices

Paul begins his discussion of worship practices with instructions to men.

He writes, “I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument” (1 Timothy 2.8).

Churches didn’t have buildings in Ephesus and met in homes. In every location, people were to pray with lifted hands, picturing openness to God and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Instruction about “anger or argument” is echoed in Titus about church leaders who “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered” (Titus 1.7).

Anger and prayer don’t mix. Jesus taught, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,

“Leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5.23-24).

We do well to follow the instructions of Jesus and Paul concerning prayer.

Likewise Women

The next section of Paul’s instruction included women.

The first word of verse 9 is “likewise,” which ties Paul’s instructions to men about prayer also to women.

He taught, “Likewise, the women should dress themselves in moderate clothing with reverence and self-control, not with their hair braided or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes” (1 Timothy 2.9).

The dress of women in Ephesus is a particular situation that should not be generalized to include the church for all ages.

High-status women had personal slaves who were assigned the task of braiding their hair. Only a few women in the church were wealthy enough to have a personal slave for this purpose.

Like other high-status women of Ephesus, these women probably believed they had a right to lead the church that met in their house.

The central thrust of the argument can be applied to all generations. The inside condition of believers is more important than outward appearance. Reverence and self-control are more appealing qualities than fashion.

Women Should Learn

It is controversial in modern times to read Paul’s instruction, “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission” (1 Timothy 2.11).

It is a hard saying until we realize that women were not expected to be educated in the first century. Learning was an opportunity that was encouraged in the church.

If the church strictly followed Paul’s next statement, it would be severely limited in its ministry.

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent” (1 Timothy 2.12).

The generalization of this statement to apply to all circumstances has caused considerable pain and confusion.

A short Greek lesson may further our understanding of Paul’s guidance. The grammar of “permit” in verse 12 refers to a one-time occurrence, not a continuous issue.

“Authority” in this instance has the meaning of “domineer,” “wish to have their own way,” or the “abuse of power.”

The best understanding is to see that high-status men and women were exerting their influence improperly. Both men and women needed to learn before they attempted to teach.

This interpretation fits Paul’s statement of the problem in chapter 1.

Paul counseled Timothy to beware of people who desired “to be teachers of the law without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions” (1 Timothy 1.7).

The emphasis is that a quiet demeanor and eager learning are contrasted with domineering and abusive use of authority.

The message has to do with teaching, rather than the role of women in the church.

I hope these thoughts are helpful.

It is worth noting that two of Southern Baptists’ most famous missionaries were women. It would have been tragic if they had been restricted to a narrow understanding of these verses.

I am thankful to Ben Witherington III for his excellent books on Corinthians and Timothy. He has supplied clear teaching on these passages.

YouTube Video

Rudy Ross and I talk about this passage today on YouTube. You can see the video on the Bob Spradling channel.

Please email your prayer request to bsprad49@gmail.com. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.

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