1 Timothy 2
We should have had this lesson last week when Franklin Graham’s call to pray for President Trump specifically was all in the news. As you would expect, I had trouble with that because of Franklin’s deep partisanship and attachment to this particular President. I don’t recall his asking for special prayer for President Obama, President Clinton or President Bush but I should probably leave that one alone and just focus on the text that calls for us to pray for all people as well as authorities.
It’s easy to concentrate on our American authorities and only reinforce our narrow identity as American Christians. It’s almost as easy to hold up the leaders we like or align with us politically or are decent people for whom it is easier to pray. But that is not what the Scripture says, is it? It says we are to pray for all people – for kings and those in authority. Some of those kings and people in authority around the world are not good people. They are despots and they are thoroughly corrupt and have tolerated and even encouraged imprisoning, trafficking, and even genocide of their own people. In fact, we are instructed here to pray for dictators, autocrats, and crazed demagogues alike. Our prayer list should include the disturbing leaders of Syria, North Korea, Central African Republic, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Those were the kind of leaders the early Christians were under, but they were to pray for those who persecuted and misused them. They prayed for their enemies.
But it was not just prayer for general support and encouragement. I doubt Paul would have been a platform personality for the National Prayer Breakfast. It was that they would be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. It was not partisan or preferential or to be used by the leadership to fire up the base. It was that the harsh and cruel leaders would come to a knowledge of the truth – as hard as that might be or even impossible to imagine. How could such people possibly be wise? What would such wisdom look like?
That is why I like the way David Platt handled it when Donald Trump showed up at his church. He did not pray that the President would be supported by the voters, but he prayed for his family, for wisdom, and that he would have knowledge of the truth.
“In keeping with his generally nonpolitical profile, Platt kept his prayers for Trump fairly neutral. He did not mention specific Trump policies or the Republican Party. He combined his prayers for the president with prayers for leaders in all parts of government, including Congress, the courts, and at the state level. He mentioned the word wisdom eight times. His praise was for Jesus, not for Trump.” Emma Green
“Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we didn’t see coming, and we’re faced with a decision in a moment when we don’t have the liberty of deliberation, so we do our best to glorify God. Today, I found myself in one of those situations. That’s why, as soon as I heard this request backstage, the passage from God’s Word that came to my mind was 1 Timothy 2:1-6. I went back out to lead the Lord’s Supper and then walked off stage, where the president was soon to arrive. In that brief moment, I prayed specifically for an opportunity to speak the gospel to him, and for faithfulness to pray the gospel over him.
Based on this text, I know that it is good, and pleasing in the sight of God, to pray for the president. So, in that moment, I decided to take this unique opportunity for us as a church to pray over him together. My aim was in no way to endorse the president, his policies, or his party, but to obey God’s command to pray for our president and other leaders to govern in the way this passage portrays.
As I said in the sermon today, Christ alone unites us. I love that we have over 100 nations represented in our church family, including all kinds of people with varied personal histories and political opinions Based on this text, I know that it is good, and pleasing in the sight of God, to pray for the president. So, in that moment, I decided to take this unique opportunity for us as a church to pray over him together. My aim was in no way to endorse the president, his policies, or his party, but to obey God’s command to pray for our president and other leaders to govern in the way this passage portrays.” David Platt
Then Paul addresses the issue of women dressing modestly and their behavior in church. This is one of two passages – with the next verses being the second passage – that I would have chosen to teach on my final Sunday as they are controversial and have been for thousands of years. Are these matters of practice that Paul preferred – like women covering their heads, men lifting their hands in prayer, or not putting widows on the list to be helped until she is over sixty, washing feet and devoted to good deeds – or are they iron clad principles? Were they addressed specifically to the Ephesians because of issues they were having with false teaching, disruptive assemblies, and people flaunting their wealth? That is where the controversy lies, and I am not going to have a definitive answer for us today.
First, dressing modestly. Were it me, I would have a similar dress code for men today. No cut off shorts or sleeveless t-shirts. No flip flops or ball caps in church. No body art. No intentional sloppiness.
But I don’t think for us today it is a matter of dress code – while I do think some young ladies need a word from their mothers about what they wear to church – but a matter of principle. I don’t think Paul is calling for women to wear hijabs or burkas or to give up jewelry and make-up. Some have taken that position. It is something broader than that.
First, is what I am wearing respectful to the Lord and his people or is it more appropriate for the beach or a hot tub. The torn jeans may cost $200-$1,000 a pair and they do but are they appropriate? Second, am I dressing in a way to show other people my social status or would people without my wealth be comfortable around me? Would people be surprised if they discovered my financial status or does everything I do shout “Rich and influential.” That is why James cautions us not to show favoritism to the wealthy.
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?”
I think for us the issue of favoritism will be a more serious issue than modesty.
Now we come to the most controversial part of the passage. What roles are for men and women in the church?
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. 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.
I have read a good deal this week on this issue and opinions are all over the place.
Some say that Paul’s language means this is a practice of his, but he does not demand it of others. Just as he says, “I also want the women to dress modestly” he says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority.” I have said the same to the new leader of The Gathering. I did it this way but that is not necessarily a mandate for you. I tend to think that is not what Paul meant and that he was stating a principle and not an individual practice that Timothy was free to change or ignore.
Some say that this was simply a practice limited to a cultural view of women and men at the time and were Paul writing today he would be far more open to new roles. This is what Tim Keller has called “creating a canon within the canon” or finding agreement with those things that match our own culture and dismissing those that do not. Obviously, we can point to many things in the Old Testament we would consider to be no longer binding. Again, I think that is a slippery slope because Paul is not just stating a preference but is basing it on the story and order of Creation and the Fall. You would not do something as strong and fundamental as that for a personal preference. Paul is saying God created male and female to be equal in God’s image but having different roles. That leads us to the two general ways people have interpreted this passage.
First, is the egalitarian position that says men and women are equal in God’s sight and that there is no role distinction between them in the church. If a woman can be a CEO or President of the country, then she can be a pastor and an elder. Anything a man can do or any position he can hold is open to women as well. For this, they quote Paul’s words in Galatians 3:26-29: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
It is one thing to say that Adam was formed first but to interpret that to say the woman was deceived and became a sinner but Adam was not deceived is hard to accept. It sounds demeaning, biased, and completely out of touch with the spirit of Galatians 3. Today, we would call that “gaslighting” or blaming the victim. For the egalitarian, the canon needs to be interpreted by the times. Not discarded but interpreted.
Second, is the complementarian position that holds women and men are equal but have different roles. Paul’s words are not meant to exclude women from participating in public worship or the life of the church, but they are not to have final authority over men. By authority, that does not mean women cannot teach a room full of men. It does not mean a woman may not preach to a room full of men. It does not mean a woman cannot be a deacon. It does not mean that women are under the authority of all men in the church. It means, according to most of the writers and commentators I have read, a woman should not be part of the ruling elders who determine the authoritative definition of doctrine or having final authority about church positions on Scripture. Only in this is she to be silent.
So far, the most helpful resources have been Tim and Kathy Keller. Tim has written a white paper titled “The Role of Women in Ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church” and Kathy has written a book titled “Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles” and they both argue for the complementarian position.
Having grown up in a church where men had all the authority and women did all the work, my inclination is toward the egalitarian position on this passage. So many women are better leaders than men. So many have more discernment, wisdom, compassion, and sense. We don’t read many stories of women abusing children in the church. If half the men left the church, we would barely notice but if 10% of the women left, we would have a building for sale. So, I don’t naturally agree with Paul on this one. However, I think Tim Keller is right in that picking and choosing which passages are dated and which are still inspired is tricky business. I know that Martin Luther did not accept the books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation as part of the canon and wanted them removed. I know that many scholars consider some of Paul’s statements about homosexuality to be misinterpreted and dated. I know that we really do pick and choose those parts of Scriptures that we find easier to practice but, with all that, I believe there is something we need to take seriously about this passage – even if we disagree. I even disagree with myself!
It will probably be years before Green Acres deals with these issues of gender roles – if ever. I think the more pressing issue is the identification of the Gospel and the alignment of the church with a particular national identity or party ideology. Still, it’s a good thing to have a frame of reference when the time comes. And it will come.