Men and Women in the Church — Sermon on 1 Timothy 2:8-15
Beloved congregation of Christ,
Recently, at Synod Meppel, our sister churches in the Netherlands decided to admit women to all the offices of the church. So, effective immediately in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, women can serve as ministers, elders, and deacons. They were warned not to make this decision. Amongst others, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia warned the Dutch not to go in this direction. We warned them because this direction is contrary to the Word of God. Sadly, they didn’t listen to our warnings. Next year, we have a Synod in Bunbury and it will be the responsibility of that synod to break the relationship with the RCN. It’s very sad, especially for those who of us who’ve come from the Netherlands and still have family and friends there.
It’s also sad because the ways of thinking that led to this decision tempt us as well. It would be so easy to follow the Dutch direction on this. What the Bible says about women is offensive to modern ears. Western society has seen three waves of feminism and it’s taken our world in a radically different direction to the Bible. It would be tempting to find some interpretation of the Bible that allows us to look more attractive to those influenced by feminism. The Dutch seem to have found that interpretation and you might be wondering if perhaps they got it right.
A related temptation is the feeling that we need to apologize for what the Bible teaches about men and women. “I’m sorry, I don’t like it, but this is what the Bible says. I have to believe it, even though I don’t like it.” We just sang from Psalm 119. Do you ever find a note of regret or apology in Psalm 119 about God’s Word? No, quite the opposite. The Psalmist expresses his delight in God’s Word. He doesn’t care that God’s Word contradicts the world. He doesn’t feel the need to apologize for that. God’s Word is a lamp for our feet, a lantern for our path. God’s law assures us of his love. In Psalm 119, the Psalmist has the highest view of God’s Word, he loves God’s Word, all of it, and so should we. So, loved ones, let’s not ever feel like we need to apologize for what God says in Scripture about anything. Unbelievers and compromised Christians may find it offensive, but that’s their problem. That’s not our problem, or the problem of Scripture. They have rebellious hearts that refuse to accept what God says. They should be the ones repenting and apologizing to God. Never, ever apologize for what Scripture says, as if you’re ashamed of it. When you do that, you’re really saying that you’re ashamed of God, embarrassed by him.
In the light of these temptations, we’re going to look this morning at one of the key passages in the New Testament about men and women in the church. We’ll do it so that we’re completely confident with what it says, because we know the one who says it is trustworthy. The world is full of lies, but the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. He has given us the Scriptures as the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. When Scripture speaks, God speaks. Let’s listen to his voice. In our text we’ll see that the Holy Spirit reveals the roles of men and women in the church.
We’ll see what he says about:
- The role of men
- The role of women
- The foundation of these roles
Many times when I’m working on a sermon, I write a note to myself: remember to preach the gospel. I think that’s especially important with a passage like this where there’s a strong emphasis on what the church ought to be doing. Even when the emphasis in a passage is on the will of God for us, we should never leave the gospel out or take it for granted. We’ll see in these verses that Christ is definitely there, but I also want to lay some of that out right at the beginning here.
These words were originally written to Timothy who was serving more or less as the pastor of the church at Ephesus. Timothy’s call was first and foremost to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. As he indicates right before our text, Paul did that, and so did Timothy. They preached that every human being, man or woman, has a huge problem with God. We are sinful and unholy, but he is sinless and holy. This radical contrast between us and God puts up a road block for us to have fellowship with him. The gospel is good news because it deals with that road block. Jesus Christ deals with that road block. He has come and lived a perfect life in our place. Jesus has come and made the sacrifice for our sins, he died on the cross in our place, to pay our debt. This is how we are declared right with God – only through the perfect work of Christ. When that gospel message was proclaimed in Ephesus, there were those who believed. And after believing, they were further discipled in the ways of Christ. They were taught Christ’s will for their lives. They were taught how to live as Christians in response to God’s gospel grace.
What we have here in this passage is not about earning merit before God. Instead, it’s about how Christians respond to grace. They respond by following God’s will. Christians take seriously what Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments…” What we have in 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is the will of Christ for his church. If we have been saved by him, how can we not love him? If we love him, we will keep his commandments, also what’s laid out here for his church.
What’s laid out here has to do first with the prayers of the church. Earlier in the chapter, we read of how the Holy Spirit wanted “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” to be made for all kinds of people, including rulers. Now in verse 8, another question is addressed: who should be doing this prayer? Who should be praying when the church gathers together for worship?
There are a couple of things to note before we look at the answer. First, this is about leading in prayer. From 1 Corinthians 11, we know that it’s expected that women will pray in public worship. Women are expected to pray, just as men are. That’s not the issue. The issue is: who leads in prayer?
Second, verse 8 begins with “I desire…” These words were written by the apostle Paul. But not merely by Paul. These words were inspired by the Holy Spirit. So what follows in verse 8 is not a human opinion or view. How do we know this? Because of what the Bible says in 2 Peter 3:16. It says there that there are ignorant and unstable people who twist the Scriptures. They do that to the Old Testament, but they also do that to Paul’s writings, which are also called Scripture by Peter. Paul’s words in the Bible are the Word of God. So, when it says, “I desire…” you could legitimately say “the Holy Spirit desires.” This is what God wants, not just what Paul wants. If you disrespect these words, you disrespect God himself.
So then the question is: who should lead in prayer? The Holy Spirit’s answer: “in every place the men should pray.” Notice how he says, “in every place.” This is not just for Ephesus. This is on the same line as 1 Corinthians 14:33, “As in all the churches of the saints…” Every church everywhere in every age is to follow this teaching from God that the men should be leading in prayer.
It says further that the men are to be “lifting holy hands.” You might read that and say, “So how come we don’t take that literally?” It’s true: we don’t normally lift up our hands in prayer. And that’s okay. It’s okay once you realize that the Bible describes numerous postures for prayer. There’s standing, hands spread out, bowing the head, lifting the eyes, kneeling, falling down with your face on the ground, bowing, beating your chest, and so on. Obviously some of these postures rule out the other ones. Does the Holy Spirit mean to prescribe a certain posture? No, instead, he describes the common prayer postures used by God’s people. Certainly, whenever we pray we ought to be respectful not only with our words, but also with our posture. But Scripture doesn’t insist that one posture is required over against another.
More important than the posture is the state of the heart of the one leading in prayer. The hands are to be holy – which means that the person has to be in living communion with Christ through faith. Living communion with Christ leads to holiness in growing measures. It also leads to anger and quarrelling being set aside. In the church, men are called to lead in prayer, and they’re called to do so as men who live holy lives at peace with their neighbours.
So the Holy Spirit says here that men are called to be prayer leaders in public worship. If we were to go on to chapter 3 of 1 Timothy, we would find that men are called to be leaders in the church in general as well. For example, the office bearers are to be husbands of one wife – “husbands.” Clearly, the Holy Spirit did not intend that women should serve as office bearers, as ministers, elders, and deacons. If God had wanted women as well as men to be office bearers, he could have said, “husbands or wives,” but he said, “husbands.” Brothers and sisters, Scripture is clear. Men are called to be leaders in the church. They’re to lead in prayer in worship. They’re called to lead as office bearers. Men, and men alone, are given the responsibility of leadership in the church. And lest there be any misunderstanding, please note again that the Spirit is especially speaking here in verse 8 about public worship. This isn’t saying that women can’t lead in prayer at a Wednesday morning Bible study or something like that. This is about what the church does as it gathers in the presence of God for public worship.
And what about women? What does the Holy Spirit say about their role in the church here? Verse 9 begins with the word “likewise,” which means that God’s Word here applies in every place, just as verse 8 does. This is something meant for Christian women in every church in every age, including our own. The Spirit says that Christian women should adorn themselves. Isn’t that interesting? Adorning is speaking about how you present yourself. A Christian woman has to think about that. The Holy Spirit tells you to adorn yourself – think about how you look to others. But then he also tells you to do it in a particular way.
It’s not to be with “braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.” These things are referring to extravagant clothing and accessories. The braided hair of that time included expensive and eye-catching ribbons and bows. The woman dressed in the way described here draws attention to herself with the amount of money that she’s spent on herself. She wants to be the center of attention, have people notice her for all the wrong reasons. A Christian woman is called to have other priorities in how she adorns herself.
Outwardly, with regard to clothing, she’s to have “respectable apparel.” That refers to modest clothing. But note that the Christian woman is called to adorn herself with this. She’s to make herself beautiful with respectable apparel. It’s not that you have to wear ugly clothing, but clothing that is both beautiful and respectable. Modest doesn’t have to be ugly. You should still strive to adorn yourself. This is also true when it comes to how we dress for church. All of us, both male and female, have to remember what’s happening when we worship. We’re meeting with the King of kings, and Lord of lords. We’re meeting with someone splendid in majesty. Malachi 1 impresses us with the importance of bringing our best when we worship God. The Holy Spirit points out that God’s people were bringing less than the best. He says, “Try that with your human rulers. And yet you do that with God!” The lesson is clear: when we worship, we’re to bring our best. That’s going to be reflected also in how we dress.
But it’s not just about the clothing – the heart is also in view here. The Holy Spirit says in verse 9 that there’s also to be modesty and self-control. These are inner virtues. They express themselves outwardly, but they come from the heart. Modesty and self-control means that a Christian woman isn’t about being the center of attention. A Christian woman realizes that she has the power to use her appearance in a sinful way. She could dress seductively, she could conduct herself like someone on the prowl, but a Christian woman restrains herself and acts modestly and with self-control. She reflects who she is in Christ. She belongs to Christ, has union with him, therefore she honours him with how she dresses, how she looks, and also how she behaves.
Verse 10 expands on that a little bit further. What is proper for a woman who professes godliness? All the things already mentioned: respectable apparel, modesty, self-control, but then also good works. Doing what is pleasing in the sight of God is what is proper for Christian women.
Now you might be asking yourself why there’s so much here directed towards women. There’s one verse about men, and then seven about women. There are two reasons. One is that in every age there’s the impulse to rebel against what God has laid out. Our age isn’t unique in that regard. There’s always a tendency to throw out what God wants, and this is also true when it comes to foundational things like the roles of men and women in the church. But the second reason has to do with particular challenges. In the days of Timothy and Paul, there was this goddess named Diana or Artemis. There was a well-known temple for her in Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering. The worship of Diana included prostitutes, and Diana also had priestesses who led people in the worship of her. When Gentile Ephesians became Christians, they would have to realize that the worship of the true God is different. The true God has different standards and different roles for women than the goddess Diana.
In our day, we don’t have a goddess Diana that people worship anymore. However, we do have something similar in feminism. Feminism overturns God’s plan for men and women. Feminism says that men and women are to be equal in every way, that there’s no difference between men and women. According to feminism, a woman is not valuable unless she can do exactly all the same work that a man does. So, men in the army go into combat, women in the army should go into combat too — that kind of thing. The Ephesian Christians faced a challenge from their culture about the roles of men and women. We face a challenge today too. The challenge is to what God’s Word says, to what the Creator says about his Creatures.
God’s Word says that men and women are equal in worth. We have equal value as human beings created in the image of God. This is the point in Galatians 3:28 where the Spirit says that in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female. However, equal value does not mean that men and women were created for the same roles. That’s where the confusion sets in. The Bible is clear that men and women are equal, but yet different. The difference does not mean a lesser worth, but it does mean different roles. For instance, in the home, a man cannot be a mother. A woman cannot be a father. When it comes to the church, men are called to be leaders, and women are called to be followers.
That brings us to verse 11. Again, this is speaking about public worship. In worship, a woman is to “learn quietly with all submissiveness.” As fellow disciples of Christ, women are called to learn. But their learning is to be done in a certain way: in quietness and with submissiveness. When it comes to public worship, a woman’s place is not at the forefront. In its original context, this apparently envisaged the situation where questions would sometimes be asked out loud during the worship service. Even into the early church in the days of Augustine, it wasn’t unheard of for people to ask questions of the preacher out loud during the sermon. Here the Holy Spirit says that when that happens, it shouldn’t be the women raising their voices. Men should show leadership also in the learning process in the church.
Verse 12 is about teaching in the church. A woman’s place is not to teach men or to have authority over men. That’s another way of saying that it is not the place of a woman in Christ’s church to be a special office bearer. Teaching and having authority are connected with being office bearers. Again if you look at chapter 3, an overseer or elder is to be able to teach. That’s part of what they do. An office bearer is in a position of authority in the church. An elder oversees the congregation and shepherds it. A deacon oversees the ministry of mercy in the congregation. They are both positions that involve the exercise of authority. Consequently, they’re not open to women. Instead, women are to be in silence. That means that in the church, women are to be followers, rather than leaders. The Holy Spirit says that this is their place. If you reject this, you reject what the Spirit says. If you reject this, you slap God himself in the face.
Now again, the context here needs to be clearly understood. This is speaking about life in the church, and especially about our worship. When Scripture says, “I do not permit a woman to teach…” that’s not to say that a mother can’t teach her children. Proverbs 6:20 says, “My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” Proverbs 31 is well-known as that passage teaching us about the virtuous godly wife. It says in verse 1 of Proverbs 31 that this came from the mother of King Lemuel. She taught it to him. Proverbs 31:26 says that with the godly wife, “the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” She’s teaching. Scripture says that women can and must teach their children. By extension, they can also teach other children at school. There’s nothing in Scripture against that. No, what it says here in 1 Timothy 2 is about life in the church, and particularly about public worship. Here, in worship, this is not the place for women to be teaching and carrying out a leadership role. It would be out of place, inappropriate. As someone pointed out, it would be like taking a fish out of water and trying to make it live on the land. The fish belongs in the water. That’s the place where it was designed to live and thrive.
Now the natural thing to do would be to ask, “Why?” Why does the Holy Spirit forbid women from teaching and exercising authority in the church? Why does God say what he does about the role of women in the church? The answer to that comes in verses 13 and 14.
The Holy Spirit first takes us to creation. Adam was created first, then Eve, says verse 13. At the beginning, God first created a man. He created the first human being and that was a biological male created from the dust of the earth. God then created a helper for Adam from one of his ribs. Eve was created as a helper for Adam. She was created for him, not the other way around. The exact language is in Genesis 2:18, “a helper fit for him.” Adam was created to be the leader, and Eve was created to be his helper and follower. That was the way it was designed to be from the beginning. Adam and Eve were created both as human beings, both valuable in the sight of God, but with different roles.
Then the Holy Spirit also takes us to Genesis 3 and the fall into sin. This is in verse 14. He points out that when the fall into sin happened, the woman was at the forefront. Adam was not deceived, but the woman. Eve was led astray by Satan. She was the first human sinner. She led the way in sin. She should have been a follower, but she became a leader. She led in the wrong direction and Adam followed. She rejected God’s plan for her place. So now the Holy Spirit has to remind women that their place in the family and in the church is to be one of following and submissiveness. Had the fall never happened, this would be unnecessary.
Loved ones, I want you to notice something crucially important here. When it comes to the rationale or foundation of what’s in this text about male/female roles in the church, there’s nothing about the culture. The Holy Spirit doesn’t say, “Women should not teach, because that’s not how it’s done in your patriarchal culture.” He doesn’t say, “Women shouldn’t have authority over men, because I know that your society won’t accept that.” We’ve already seen that, in that culture, women did have authority over men in religion. Women in Ephesus were priestesses for Diana/Artemis. What’s said here was against the culture back in those days already. And it still is today. Look, it’s not grounded on culture. It’s based on creation. It’s based on what happened in Genesis 1-3. God made the man first. God made Adam and all men after him to be leaders. God made Eve and all women after her to be followers. That’s the way it’s supposed to be in the church. It has nothing to do with culture. It has everything to do with how God made it from the beginning.
That brings us to verse 15. This is a difficult verse to understand, probably the most difficult part of our text. The rest is easy to understand – it’s applying it that people struggle with. But this is challenging. What does it mean that “she will be saved through childbearing”? There are different ideas amongst scholars and we don’t need to go through all of them. I’ll just explain what I believe is the best interpretation.
In the original Greek, it literally says that “she will be saved through the childbearing.” So it’s not about salvation through childbearing in general, but through the bearing of a specific child. If we look at the preceding context, we find that there is a Mediator who came into this world as one of us. Jesus Christ was born of a woman, born as a true human being to bring salvation for all, including for believing women. Salvation comes through the bearing of children. It starts in Genesis 3:15 with God’s promise that the seed of the woman will smash the head of the serpent. There’s a whole line of children that follow and then, finally, Mary carries the Messiah in her womb and gives birth to him. Childbearing and especially the bearing of that child, brings salvation to fallen women. Jesus Christ comes through the womb of the Virgin to bring redemption from sin and its consequences.
However, there is a condition. There’s an “if” in verse 15. They must continue in faith. Christian women must continue to look to Christ in trust, to believe that he is their righteousness before God. And their faith must also bear the fruit of love, holiness, and self-control. By bearing such fruit, their faith in Christ proves to be genuine. A godly Christian woman knows her place in the church, but she also knows her Saviour through faith. She places all her hope in Jesus. She’s connected to him by faith, and that has a result in her life. She loves God and her neighbour. She pursues holiness, hating sin and loving righteousness. She’s self-controlled – she doesn’t let herself go into ways of immorality, but keeps a rein on her lips, her heart, and her whole life.
For unbelieving hearts, all of this is tough to swallow. The unregenerated heart doesn’t want to accept what God says about our need for redemption, or God’s design for men and women. Sadly, some who profess to be Christians also don’t want to accept what Scripture so clearly and plainly says. We can look at our Dutch sister churches and lament their apostasy on this point. They have fallen away from God’s truth on this matter and that’s deplorable. But we ought also to remember what Scripture says in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Let’s examine our own hearts and lives, both as men and women in Christ’s church. Men, are you showing leadership in your homes and in the church? Or are you dropping the ball? Our text is a wake-up call for men to be men. Women, are you content with the place God has given you? Does this passage irritate you or are you happy to follow what the Holy Spirit lays out for you here?
Brothers and sisters, there are many places in the Bible that run against the current of society today. This is just one of them. If we begin to cave in on teachings like this, it will not be long before we start caving in on all kinds of other teachings too. We’ll soon find ourselves caving in on even more basic teachings regarding our salvation in Christ. We’ll soon lose the gospel itself. Listen: we have to resist the temptation to adapt God’s Word to our culture. Instead, God calls us to bring ourselves and our world into line with his Word. He’s the Creator, he knows best. He’s our Father, he loves us. He’s the one who’s given us redemption through his Son. Let’s follow his will, because it’s always good and right to do so. AMEN.