Holy Men and Godly Women
Passage: 1 Timothy 2:8-10
I don’t think there is any question that in our day this paragraph is the most controversial section of 1 Timothy. We live in a world that is very sensitive to women’s rights and to making sure they get equal treatment at home, in the workplace, in the military, and so forth. As Christians, we ought to be sympathetic to any movement that wants to honor women. After all, the Scriptures teach that men and women are equally made in the image of God and are equal objects of his love. But there is a significant divide between how the Bible calls us to honor women and how the secular mind understands honoring women. The Bible honors women by upholding their unique qualities and by calling us to embrace the unique blessings of gender. On the other hand, the secularist seeks to honor women by minimizing gender and destroying distinctions. They want “equal opportunity” and to eliminate distinctions. They consider anything else oppressive. Therefore, the secular feminist sees our text as highly offensive. It makes distinctions between men and women, it teaches that men are to lead and women are to follow their lead. They would read vv. 9–10 as suppressing woman and promoting male oppression. And because we live in a world that views Paul’s instructions as outdated, many Christians have wondered whether or not they reflect God’s will for all times or if they were only intended for a past time. And so there is a debate within Christianity between what is commonly called egalitarianism, which teaches that gender roles were a capitulation to a fallen culture and are not universally binding and complementarianism, which teaches that gender roles are rooted in creation and are universally binding. Of course, this text is front and center in this battle. Our church is complementarian. Our constitution requires that pastors and deacons are men. I believe this text supports our view, and I hope that we will leave this study even more convinced of our position. But as always, I want to make sure that we don’t come to this text primarily looking to answer our concerns; rather, but we should search for the question the Spirit-inspired author is trying to answer so that we hear the voice of God as clearly as possible. I think we will see that Paul is concerned about gender roles, but he is primarily concerned about the heart, especially in vv. 8–10, which we will consider today.
Before we dive into vv. 8–10, I want to emphasize two facts about this paragraph that should remain in the back of your mind as we study this paragraph.
The primary concern of this paragraph is the worship of the church.
This is very clear in vv. 11–12 where Paul talks about who can teach in the church. This focus on the church is consistent with the purpose of the second section of 1 Timothy, which covers chapters 2–3. This section is specifically concerned with the conduct of the church. Paul makes this explicit in the conclusion to the section in 3:15. And so as we study this paragraph, keep in mind that Paul’s primary concern is how the church should conduct itself when it gathers. That’s not to say that this paragraph isn’t significant for other areas of life. It has great significance for all of life. It’s just that we need to begin our application in the church and work out from there.
The foundation of this paragraph is God’s design in creation.
Remember that an egalitarian will argue that Paul’s instructions are not applicable to us because they were tied to a specific cultural situation. But the problem with this reading is that Paul doesn’t base his instructions in cultural concerns but in God’s original, good design. Verses 13–14 are clear that gender roles are not a product of the fall or sin; rather, they were part of God’s original design and that Eve’s disregard of these roles actually contributed to the entrance of sin into the world. We will say a lot more about that next week, but it is important that we begin our study by noting that these instructions are timeless and applicable to us except for one quasi-exception, which we will get to later today.
That being said, the first principle Paul is that…
Men must be spiritual leaders (v. 8).
I’d like to note four facts about this verse.
The context is the meetings of the church.
Paul commands the men to pray “everywhere.” As I said earlier, the context tells us that Paul is talking about the services of the church here also. The fact that he concludes the verse by saying their prayers must be free of wrath and disputes, which of course are relational issues also indicates that he is thinking of a corporate setting. The reason he says “everywhere” is because there was no massive gathering place where the Ephesian believers would meet. Instead, they met in numerous house churches. Therefore, Paul is saying that whenever the church gathers, prayer must be a significant aspect of the assembly. As I said a couple of weeks ago, we better never view prayer as just something we do or as a convenient way to transition from one part of the service to another. Prayer is vital to the meetings of the church.
Men are to lead in prayer.
Paul gives this command to the men. It is significant that he does not just give the command to elders. The implication is that any man who is living a holy life is qualified to lead the church in prayer and bears some responsibility to be a spiritual leader. I’m sure that there are some men among us who have never thought of themselves as spiritual leaders. You want to serve Christ, but you want to do so in the shadows. You may be deathly afraid of stepping out of the crowd and setting a spiritual tone. But the Scriptures consistently teach that the heart of biblical manhood is leadership. A godly man takes spiritual initiative and leads others to do the same. Men, are you the spiritual leader in your home? Do you set a tone of godliness and spiritual discipline, and do you lead your family in the same direction? Or would you have to say that you don’t take initiative, and you often force your wife to fill the vacuum that you have left. Lead at home, and then lead here at church in setting a tone of spiritual focus and humble service. Don’t be content to just come as a consumer who shows little more initiative that someone sitting in a movie theatre. The church can never have too many men who are spiritual leaders.
The third fact is…
Men are to pray with holy hands.
The Scriptures mention several different postures for prayer; therefore, we shouldn’t read this as saying that congregational prayer requires raising hands, though doing so is certainly an appropriate expression of dependence on God. Sometimes in traditional churches like ours, we can have a sour attitude toward overtly emotional expressions of worship like raising hands. We ought to be concerned that worship is truth-driven and not an emotional show. But we ought to be equally concerned about a lack of emotion in prayer. We don’t have to raise hands when we prayer, but we must sense our desperate need for God and express it in how we pray. But the main focus of this phrase is not the posture of prayer but the condition of the heart. The commentators agree that the most important word of v. 8 is holy. The man who leads in prayer must do so with a foundation of personal holiness. The hands emphasize this point since we do most things with our hands. Therefore, Paul is saying that if someone is going to lead the church in prayer, and I think by implication any other aspect of worship, they must have a consistent life of godliness. This is why I have a big problem with churches that hire outsiders to do their music or allow unbelievers to sing in the choir to help them feel connected. Leading the church in worship is very significant, and God requires holiness in those who do so.
Paul then adds a negative requirement.
Men are to pray while free from contention.
I say “contention” because the last word doubting is probably better translated as disputes in this context. And so Paul warns the men to make sure their prayers are not clouded by anger and strife. This is an appropriate warning for men because many men struggle deeply with anger. It is a quiet assassin that kills many men and their relationships. And our macho pride can also lead to a lot of vain division. Our pride wells up, and we refuse to even consider if we might be wrong or work toward peace. But Paul says that the one who would lead the church in prayer must not be marked by such contentiousness. Jesus gave a similar warning in Matthew 5:22–24. We must be very careful to make sure that we come to God in worship with pure hearts hungry to hear and submit to his will.
And so Paul begins this section by challenging men to be true spiritual leaders. This begins with actually being spiritual. No one should lead who doesn’t have the life to back it up. But if they do, they must lead. Men, we cannot be content to hide our faith or to let our macho attitude keep us from being open about God’s work in our lives. We must be SPIRITUAL leaders.
The second major principle in this passage is that…
Women must be known for humble godliness (vv. 9–10).
Paul describes this humble godliness through a positive description, a negative one, and then another positive one. Notice first of all that…
Women must intentionally present themselves with humility and discernment (v. 9a).
What immediately stands out about vv. 9–10 is what they have to say about a woman’s physical appearance and particularly her dress. But we will see as we go that a woman’s appearance is a reflection of her heart and her wisdom; therefore, Paul is not just instructing women in what to wear but in how to think and how to live. Remember as well that Paul’s primary concern is the gatherings of the church. He is speaking first of all to how women should present themselves when the church gathers to worship, though what he has to say bears tremendous significance for all of life. In light of that notice that the dominant concept in v. 9a is modesty or moderation. He begins by telling women to “adorn themselves in modest apparel.” “Adorn” and “modest” come from the same root, and it means, “respectable, honorable, and modest.” The idea is that a woman’s appearance must not be based in vain, temporal concerns to show off her wealth, style, or sexuality. Rather, her appearance should reflect humility and dignity that turns attention to Christ rather than to self. He then adds “with propriety and moderation.” The word translated propriety describes an attitude of “reverence, awe, and respect.” It is especially appropriate in a context about worship. Paul says that a woman’s appearance during the worship of the church should reflect the weightiness of the occasion. For a woman to show up to church with the intention of pulling everyone’s eyes toward her rather than to Christ is irreverent and selfish. Of course, it is also terribly irreverent if she is dressed provocatively so that she attracts attention to her sexual features. Ladies, the worship of God is not the time to pull every eye to you. Sunday is not the time to make a fashion statement. It is the time to turn every eye to God. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t want to be pretty because rolling out of bed and coming in your pajamas is also a problem. rather, you should want to be pretty in a way that reflects the sacredness of worship.
Now, this does raise an interesting point of debate in our day and that is how dressy or casual should we be when we come to church. We used to talk about putting on our “Sunday best,” but there has been a strong reaction to that thinking so that many churches encourage very casual dress. There can be problems on both sides. We can dress up for church with the intention of showing off and in so doing cut ourselves off from those who don’t have nice things. We don’t want our dress to intimidate others. But at the same time, it ought to reflect the significance of the occasion. God says through Paul that it ought to reflect reverence for God. If your only concern in how you dress for church is your own comfort, I don’t see how that honors God. God is my father, but he is also my Lord, and I shouldn’t approach him like I’m going to a pajama party. Now, my point is not to say that if you don’t have nice clothes, you should stay home. What ultimately matters is your heart. Worship is sacred, and we need to approach it with a sacred attitude. A sacred attitude requires intentional thought about every aspect of worship.
Next Paul admonishes the women to dress with “moderation.” This Greek word was very significant, as Plato used it to describe one of his four cardinal virtues. And Paul uses it a lot, especially in the PE. Its basic meaning is “self-control,” or “self-mastery.” In particular, it described mastery over bodily appetites and sinful passions. And so the idea is that when a woman dresses for church, and by implication to go to the store, the gym, the beach, or anywhere, her dress must not be driven by temporal cares and sinful passions. She must not be motivated by her pride and a desire to stand out. And because of the significance of this term in relation to the bodily drives, she must not dress to highlight her sexual features. My experience has been that most Christian woman and young ladies don’t get dressed in the morning with the goal of provoking lust in men. Instead, they want to be stylish, and unfortunately, most stylish clothes highlight a woman’s sexual features. They attract attention to your body, not to your character. And that’s not okay biblically. You need to be intentional about making sure that your appearance puts the focus on your “good works” (v. 10) and virtuous heart. You need to ask godly men what is provocative and what is not because men look at women differently than other women do. The very idea of self-control means that you cannot be thoughtless about modesty. You need to have an intentional plan. Parents, you need to teach your daughters how to do this. Teach them to be satisfied in Christ, not in attracting the eyes of other boys and girls. Teach them how to present themselves in a way that puts the focus on Christ and godly virtue, not on their bodies.
And so Paul begins this section by exhorting women to intentionally present themselves with humility and discernment (v. 9a). He then gives a negative description.
Women must not present themselves in a way that attracts vain attention (v. 9b).
Paul follows with four items that should not be a part of a woman’s clothing at church. Ancient literature closely associates these items with both the showy dress of socially elite and with prostitutes. Based on this fact, this is the one section of the paragraph where Paul gives specific applications to a culture, which are not immediately binding on us, though the underlying principle certainly is. Paul begins with braided hair and gold. The conjunctions indicate that gold is especially associated with the hair. Paul is not talking about pigtails here. Rather, it’s a known fact that the socially elite would often have elaborate hairstyles and that would have gold and jewels intertwined. Again prostitutes would also do up their hair in showy ways. Paul mentions pearls as well. Interestingly, pearls were more valued than any other jewel or precious metal. Again, they were attention grabbers. Finally, Paul mentions “costly clothing.” This is another reference to very expensive, showy clothing. You can imagine the scene in the Ephesian church. Everyone is seated, waiting for the service to begin, when a wealthy woman walks in all done up. Her hair and clothing are beyond what most of the people could ever dream of affording. Some of them are in awe, and others feel humiliated and uncomfortable. And all of them are distracted from the centerpiece of worship, which is the glory of God. It’s a very sad thing, whenever we do something that takes attention away from God and puts it on ourselves. The assembly of God’s people is never the time to make things about me. Fundamentally, Christian modesty is a humility that directs attention to God, not to myself. We must reflect this modesty in how we dress and in everything else we do at church, but really in all of life.
Paul then gives a final positive admonition.
Women must reflect a godly heart and life in how they dress (v. 10).
This verse simply teaches that what ought to stand out the most about a Christian woman should be her godly heart and the good works that spring from that heart. Of course, being known for these things requires that they are true. Cultivate godliness and good deeds. I should add though that the takeaway is not that you should do everything you can to let people know how godly you are and all of the good things you are doing. No, godliness is something that becomes apparent over time when you really get to know someone. A practical implication would be that if people’s best impression of you is their first impression and it’s all down hill from there, you probably need to do some serious growing. Don’t worry so much about your first impression; rather focus on being someone of deep, rich character that people grow to appreciate more and more over time. Make it your goal that when people talk about you, they only want to talk about how much you love Christ, how you are serving him, and how you reflect his love in your service to others.
Application: I’m so thankful for a wife who models this kind of humble godliness and for many other ladies in our church who do the same. Men, we should praise the Lord for women whose most outstanding feature is humble godliness, not a vain, empty shell of manufactured beauty. Keep it up ladies, and keep pursuing a disciplined modesty that turns attention to Christ. And do your part to pass this along to the next generation of young ladies. Model it by your life, and speak it to them with courage and compassion.
What does this mean for the men? To the single men here, you need to value what God values. Learn to look past beauty that is an inch deep and to look for godliness in a potential mate. It will take you so much further than external beauty. For all the men here, we need to encourage humble godliness in the women around us. One practical way is to constantly compliment the beauty of our wives, mothers, and daughters. Let them know that they are beautiful because they are godly, and you will help them to not look in others places through vain means to receive those compliments. As well, guard your eyes and your speech. Don’t make your wife and your daughters ever think that they have to compete with professional models for your heart. Of course, teach your sons and your daughters to value what God values and show them by your life that you value what God values. It’s no secret that we live in a highly sexualized culture. Let’s guard our hearts against ungodly assumptions, and let’s intentionally teach those under our care to value what God values.
In sum, the message of these three verses is that holy hearts and godly lives must characterize the men who lead the church and the women who follow them. Let’s all strive to be such people of deep character so that when we gather as a church, we are not marked by petty strife and competition for attention but instead by a unified desire to hear from God and to be changed into his image.