Timothy was one of Paul’s co-workers in the gospel. And Paul had left him at Ephesus to minister to the church there. And Paul wrote this letter and the next one to encourage Timothy in his work and to instruct him about some of the things he was to do and to teach in Ephesus. You might recall from chapter 1 that Paul referred to some false teachers who were in Ephesus, who seemed to be teaching a law-based message. And Paul wanted Timothy to command them not to teach their false doctrine anymore. And we thought about what we want is not a law-based church with a law-based message, but a gospel-based church with a gospel-based message. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. That’s the gospel in a nutshell. And that’s the message which should be proclaimed in the churches. And that’s the message we should believe, because by believing in Christ Jesus, who came into the world to save sinners, we are saved from God’s wrath and curse and we receive forgiveness and eternal life.
And then, in chapter 2, Paul gives Timothy some instructions about public worship. And do you remember? His instructions to Timothy began with prayer. When we meet for worship, we should pray for all kinds of people and we should pray especially for kings and those in authority over us. In other words, we should pray for the leaders of the nations so that we might live quiet and peaceful lives and live out our Christian lives without interference.
Paul continues to address the topic of public worship in today’s passage. But the focus in verses 8 to 15 is not so much on what we should do when we meet for worship, but it’s on the way we should worship. And he addresses men first and then women.
He begins verse 8 by saying, ‘I want….’ Let’s pause for a moment and remind ourselves that the person who wrote this is Paul the Apostle. And Paul the Apostle was writing these things under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so that these words are not the words of Paul alone, but they are the words of God. And so, when Paul says ‘I want’, he could just as easily have said, ‘God wants’. This is what God wants. This is God’s will for his church.
And so, what is God’s will for his church? His will is this: he wants men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer without anger or disputing. That is, without anger and without quarrelling. When he says ‘everywhere’, he means in every church. So this is not an instruction for the church in Ephesus alone. This is an instruction for every church. And the important point is not so much what we do with our hands when we worship. Whether we lift our hands or not is not really important. The important point is that, when we gather for worship, we should worship without anger or quarrelling.
And Paul refers to men here, not because women are never angry or they never quarrel, but because this is something to which men are particularly prone. Men love to be right. And they love to win the argument. They love to come out on top one way or another. Not every man is like this, but many men are like this. Some women are like this as well; and if a woman comes to church like this, then she too needs to take heed to what the Lord is saying here. But many men are like this. One of the commentators states that most road-rage incidents involve men. So, many men get angry with other men. And they argue with one another and they keep arguing until they win. And to such men, God in his word says that he does not want men to worship like this. He wants them to pray to him without anger and without disputing or arguing with one another.
Think about it. When we come to God in prayer, we’re coming to him in the name of the Lord Jesus, who gave up his life on the cross to make a lasting peace between God and sinners. Once we were enemies with God, because of our sin and guilt, but because of Christ, there is now peace between us. And yet, Paul imagines men coming to God in prayer, through the Lord Jesus Christ, who has made peace for us with God, and yet we’re fighting with one another. It’s not right.
But men love to be right. And men love to win an argument. And from time to time, their argument even leaks into their prayers, so that instead of addressing God in prayer, they’re addressing the person they’re arguing with; and in their prayers they’re trying to convince the other person that they’re so wrong and I’m so right.
But that’s not the way we’re to be, because the church is not to be a place where we get angry with one another and where we argue with one another. No one should be afraid or nervous about coming to church, because so-and-so just won’t leave me alone. Church is to be a place where we love one another and care for one another and where we are humble towards one another. When we do fall out — as we surely will because we’re sinners — we should seek to be reconciled to one another as quickly as possible.
And so, our hands should be holy, which means we should be holy. That means we should be set apart for God and for his glory. Our chief aim should not be to win an argument, but to honour the Lord our God who made us and who sent his Son to save us.
Verses 9 and 10
So, verse 8 concerns men in particular, although women too should worship God without anger and without quarrelling with one another. The following verses concern women in particular. And according to verses 9 and 10, when the church gathers for worship, the women should dress modestly and with decency and propriety.
Now, as with the previous verse, if there are men who dress without modesty or decency or propriety, then this instruction is for them as well. However, just as men are prone to anger and arguing, so women are prone to be concerned with what they wear and how they look. And it’s not Paul who is saying this, it’s God who is saying this to us through Paul.
Now, some of the commentators think there might have been something going on in Ephesus at that time which was encouraging the women to dress in revealing and expensive clothes. And that might be the case. However, there are places in the Old Testament where the women in Israel were chastised for being more interested in fashion than in faithfulness. So, this is not something that was only a problem in Paul’s day, but it was a problem in Old Testament times as well. And indeed every generation faces this problem, because we’re still sinners today and we’re still liable to the same temptations and weaknesses. And people today often think that they can wear whatever they like; and they say it’s no-one’s business but their own what they wear. But it’s not no-one’s business but their own, because all of us live under the authority of God who made us and who sent his Son to save us. And so, here’s God’s word to believers today. The women of the church must not dress inappropriately.
But notice that Paul doesn’t lay down precise rules. Did you notice that? He’s not saying this is what you’re to wear and only this, as they do in some other religions. He’s laying down a few principles: you should dress modestly, and with decency, and propriety. So, take care not to wear anything indecent or inappropriate. And then he leaves it up to the women and to their sanctified common sense to work out what that means in practice. And even when he refers to braided hair and gold and pearl and expensive clothes, he’s not giving a complete list of forbidden things, but he’s giving a few examples of the kind of thing which was inappropriate in his day. Braided hair and so on were a problem in Paul’s day. And there may be other things which are a problem in our day. And, if Christian women will think about this, they’ll come to see that there are some things which are inappropriate for them to wear not just in church, but at any time.
And if that’s the negative side of his instruction, verse 10 contains the positive side. Instead of dressing inappropriately, adorn yourself with good deeds, doing those things which are appropriate for women who profess to worship God. So, here’s something for women to give their time and attention to. Give your time and attention to performing good deeds, which means being careful to do those good things which the Lord has commanded his people to do. And again, this is not only an instruction for the women, but it’s for the men too and the boys and girls. God made us to glorify him. And we glorify him by living a life of good deeds.
Now, it’s important to say that none of this means we must go around in sackcloth, as if it’s wrong to be concerned with our personal appearance. Paul’s not saying we should never go to the hairdresser and we should always buy the cheapest, plainest clothes. He’s not saying that. But we need to take care that what we wear is fitting for the Lord’s people to wear; and that what we wear is appropriate for those who love the Lord. And we should remember that what counts in the sight of the Lord is not how we look, but what we have done.
And so, we come to verses 11 to 15 and to what has become a controversial passage. Now, for most of the history of the church, there has been no controversy over these verses. But nowadays many people object to what Paul has written or they say we have misunderstood Paul and he didn’t really say what we think he said. So, let’s look at these verses to see what God is saying to us through the Apostle Paul.
And so verse 11:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.
Now, before we go any further, let’s remember the context here. Paul is giving Timothy instructions about public worship. That’s what he’s talking about in these verses. He’s not talking about what women should do in other contexts, whether it’s out in the community or in the workplace or even in informal meetings of the church. He’s talking about the public service of worship, when the church comes together to worship God. And when that happens, women should learn in quietness and full submission.
Lots of commentators point out that what Paul says here was counter-cultural for its time. The Jews and the Romans at that time did not encourage women to learn. In fact, they considered women to be intellectually inferior to men; and the commentators quote from the Jerusalem Talmud which says that it would be better to burn the Torah (the Jewish Scriptures) than to entrust it to a woman. However, here’s God saying in his word that women should learn. Learning about the Christian faith is not for men only, but it’s for men and women.
Now, any teacher will tell you, I’m sure, that conditions need to be right in the classroom before a student can learn anything. If everyone is talking, if there’s a lot of noise and if there are distractions, or if someone is always butting in and interrupting the teacher with a question, then no one will learn anything. So, everyone needs to be quiet and willing to learn from the teacher. The teacher, after all, is the expert. The teacher is the one with knowledge to impart. And so the students need to be quiet and willing to listen to and learn from the teacher. And so, Paul’s instruction here that the women should learn in quietness and in full submission makes perfect sense. How else can we learn unless we’re quiet and willing to listen?
Of course, people may object that Paul addresses this to women only, and not to men as well. Presumably the men should also learn in quietness and in full submission. And that’s true: not every man has the right to teach in the public service of worship; and so most men in a congregation need to be quiet and willing to learn. But perhaps there was something going on in Ephesus at that time which caused Paul to direct this comment to the women in particular. Remember the false teachers from chapter 1? Perhaps they were encouraging the women not to submit to the leaders of the church. Perhaps the women were speaking out against the church leaders. And so, perhaps that’s why Paul needed to say that the women should be quiet and willing to listen to and learn from their leaders.
Then he goes on in verse 12 to say that he does not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. That is, a woman must not teach a man and a woman must not have authority over a man. Before getting into this, we must remember that Paul is writing this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So, God is the one who does not permit a woman to teach a man or to have authority over a man. God is speaking to us through Paul.
But let’s also remember the context. Paul is writing about the public service of worship when the church gathers together for worship. So, women are not permitted to teach or preach when the church gathers together for its service of worship. So, she’s not to do what ministers do, who are responsible for preaching God’s word to his people when they gather together for worship. And when Paul refers to having authority, he’s referring to the leaders of the church and to those who oversee the congregation. In other words, he’s referring to the elders. So, Paul is saying that women may not preach in church and they may not rule over the church. They cannot be ministers and they cannot be elders.
Now, notice what the text is not saying. It’s not saying that a woman may not teach other women. It’s not saying a woman may not teach children. And in fact it’s possible for a woman to teach men informally or in other church settings. For instance, in Acts 18 we read about Apollos who came to Ephesus and taught the word of the Lord. However, the text makes clear that his knowledge of the gospel was deficient. Therefore, a woman named Priscilla and her husband Aquila took Apollos aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. So, Priscilla was able to teach Apollos in that informal setting. And I know of churches in the USA where woman are prohibited from preaching during the service of worship. However, those same churches permit suitably-gifted women to teach an adult Sunday School class which contains men.
And we must also remember that submission does not mean that women are inferior to men. Paul’s not saying men are better than women. Think about it this way: God the Father and God the Son are equal in glory and power and in every other way. However, in the gospels we see God the Son submitting to his Father in heaven. They are equal in every way, and yet the Son submitted to his Father’s will, because there was no other way to save us from our sins. So, submission does not mean that women are inferior to men.
And we must also remember that submission does not mean oppression. We’re very sensitive to this today, aren’t we? Lots of minority groups claim they are an oppressed minority and the majority are oppressing them and keeping them from being true to themselves. We hear this kind of thing all the time. But the Lord has given us leaders in the church to rule over us for our good and to protect us from evil. He hasn’t give us elders to boss us around and to abuse us. He’s given us elders to help us.
So, to summarise verse 12: when it comes to the public services of worship, women must not teach or preach. And when it comes to overseeing the church, women must not serve as elders.
Verses 13 and 14
And then in verses 13 and 14 Paul refers to Adam and Eve to explain why only men may teach and have authority in the church. Now, when he mentions Eve here and when he says that she was the one who was deceived, and not Adam, he’s not saying that woman are naturally more gullible than men. And he’s not saying that God made woman to be more easily deceived than men. He’s not saying that. His point is this. Adam was formed first and then Eve. And therefore Adam was responsible for teaching Eve and for protecting the Garden. After all, if you read Genesis 2 again, you’ll see that before God created Eve, he instructed Adam about the Tree of Knowledge and how he must not eat of it, because when you eat of it, you will surely die. And God gave that instruction to Adam before Eve existed. And so, it was up to Adam to teach Eve about the tree. And before Eve existed, God placed Adam in the Garden to work it and to take care of it. And the word for ‘keep’ can also be translated ‘guard’. So, it was Adam’s responsibility to guard the Garden. And so, when the serpent entered the Garden to tempt Eve, Adam should have guarded the Garden by driving the serpent away. And Adam should have instructed Eve not to listen to the serpent. But because Adam failed to teach her, and because he failed to guard the Garden, Eve was deceived.
And God has now appointed men to teach in our churches; and he’s appointed men to guard our churches. And we mustn’t fail in our duty the way Adam did. Adam didn’t teach Eve. He didn’t guard the Garden. And the result was disaster. And so, men must teach in our churches and men must guard our churches from every wicked influence so that what happened in Eden does not happen in our churches today.
And so, we come to the most difficult verse in this passage: verse 15. Paul wrote:
But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Some commentators think he’s referring obliquely to the birth of the Lord Jesus. That is, women will be saved through his birth, because the Lord Jesus was born to save us from our sins. However, there’s a better interpretation. It seems that some of the women in Ephesus were under the impression that in order to really serve God they should give up their home life and become preachers and leaders in the church. If they were serious about serving God, that’s what they should do. Perhaps they got this idea from the false teachers, because according to chapter 4, the false teachers were forbidding people from marrying. And in chapter 5, Paul encouraged young widows to marry and have children and manage their homes, which suggests that the false teachers had been telling them to remain unmarried and childless. And Paul encountered a similar problem in Corinth, where it seems that some super-spiritual people were telling married couples to avoid intimacy with one another. So, there seemed to be this idea going around that people who were serious about serving God should abandon their family responsibilities and become teachers and leaders in the church.
And so, in verse 15 Paul is saying that there’s nothing wrong with being married and having a family. You can serve the Lord in that way, without having to give it all up to be a teacher and a leader.
Now, he’s not saying that all women must be married and all women must have children and that’s the only way to be saved. He’s not saying wives should stay at home and not go out to work. He’s not saying any of that. But in view of those who were suggesting that the way to really serve God is by giving up your home life, he’s making clear that there’s no need to give up your home life. You can serve the Lord at home. You can serve the Lord in your family. You can serve the Lord wherever he has placed you. You can serve the Lord wherever you are, so long as you continue in faith, trusting in Christ the only Saviour of the world, and so long as you continue in love and holiness with propriety, doing what is appropriate for women who love the Lord.
God loves his church. And he’s given us his Son to be our Saviour, who lived for us and who died for us to reconcile us to God. And he’s given us his Spirit to sanctify us and to make us more and more willing and able to do his will. He’s given us the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of everlasting life in his presence. And he’s also given us preachers to teach us and he’s given us elders to guard us. And so, we should give thanks to him for his good gifts and learn from his preachers and rely on his elders to guard us.