A few weeks ago I was driving in the west end of the city with my family, trying to avoid the Cowgate roadworks. I was in unfamiliar territory, queuing for what seemed like an eternity to pull out onto a main road. My turn eventually came and I impatiently engaged in a spot of 'London driving'! I edged out, blocked the oncoming traffic from my right in the hope the traffic from my left would let me in. No one did! So I took a chance, narrowly missing a nice people carrier in the process. Of course, I was momentarily angry with the car for driving too fast and in an inconsiderate fashion. He wasn't. Looking in my rear-view mirror, I realised that the driver of that car was none other than Ken Matthews. My mind raced through the scenario of what would have happened if, in my angry frame of mind, I'd have hit him! A potential Chronicle headline flashed into my mind "Ministers scrap it out following car crash in Benwell!" Fortunately, Ken's gracious driving saved us both from any embarrassment! But it got me thinking. Is the way I drive consistent with the way I think that I drive? Do those around me witness me living my life, including driving my car, with integrity?
As Christians we can't just talk the talk. We have to back up what we say we believe with action - we have to walk the walk as well. And this evening's passage is a good reminder for both men and women, that how we walk must be consistent with how we talk.
So where have we got to? We're in the middle of a series on 1 Timothy which is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to his young protégé. Timothy is in charge of a new-ish church in Ephesus (modern day Turkey). And that church, much like any church, has its fair share of issues going on, not least people swerving away from truth, shipwrecking their faith and teaching false things to those around them in the process. And to understand the book I think there is one key verse that we need to keep at the forefront of our minds. Anything we read in 1 Timothy needs to be read in light of it, and it's 1 Tim 3.14-15:
"I am writing these things to you so that… you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God"
Above all, Paul is writing to Timothy so that this new church not only knows the right things, but behaves in a godly manner too – especially when they are gathered together. He wants their walk, our walk, to be consistent with the talk! And to motivate them, he reminds them in that verse that the church is "a pillar and buttress of the truth". We could say therefore, that our job as a church is to promote and protect the gospel. As a pillar holds up a roof, so the church is to hold up and promote the truth. Which is why my first main heading is:
1. Promote The Gospel By Your Godly Behaviour (v.8-10)
I want to break these verses down into two lessons. Firstly, there is:
A Lesson Primarily For Men: Depend On God In Prayer (v.8)
"I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling"
Now, we know from chapter 6 that the 'false teachers' were causing friction and quarrels. And the natural response, especially for a man, is to try and take action to sort out a problem, isn't it? The problem is that we men are more likely to cause more problems as we get angry and argumentative. Witness me behind a wheel sometimes, or indeed one of my sons on the football pitch yesterday morning. Let's just say he was lucky to stay on the pitch after trying to sort out a problem! And Paul uses this stereotype to make the point that we're not meant to clench our fists and get into unnecessary fights; no, we're meant to metaphorically raise our hands in prayer. And so Paul wants to make a contrast: Godly men promote the gospel by behaving differently. But is it just to make the point that we're different? No! There is an important theological principle that Paul is making here too. You see we're not just to promote a different response as an end in itself, but to demonstrate a better way. And the better way is to live a godly life that depends not on our own skill and ability, but depends on God through prayer.
And yet we're not that good at it are we? Our individual and corporate prayerlessness is a sad indictment of the priority we place on prayer. Deep down we think we don't need God. We have supermarkets, we have banks, we have schools, hospitals and an ordered society. What do we need God to do? "Don't worry God. I've got this! I can do this. I don't need to talk to you today. I don't need to bother you right now!" Of course, none of us are so crass as to articulate like that, but so often our prayerlessness shows that our walk is not consistent with our talk. And Paul chooses men to make this point, because generally speaking women are more faithful pray-ers than us men. We're the ones that need more correction. Women are generally better at spiritual humility and dependence than us men. Just this past week after a particularly difficult and stressful few days, who's the one prompting us to pray? It's my wife. Authentic godly living promotes the gospel, through dependence on God in prayer, day by day, even hour by hour if necessary! And so as Paul had dealt with an issue that generally will affect men more than women, he now deals with one that generally affects women more than men. So this time,
A Lesson Primarily For Women: Godly Beauty Is About Character Not Appearance (v.9-10)
"likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works."
Fashion comes and goes. I've been alive on this planet long enough to realise that I should have held on to some clothes I've long since chucked out, because they are back 'in' now! But godly living never goes out of fashion! And yes, generally speaking these are bigger issues for women than they are for men. Just last week I saw some research that had found that women account for over 70% of consumer expenditure in this country. Research from two years ago for the Daily Mail revealed that, on average, women spend £40 a week on cosmetics – that's £2,000 a year! Is anyone else shocked by that?! And, in case you're wondering, the figures for men, while nowhere near as high, are still high enough to prove it's not a women-only problem. Apparently men like me, in their 40s, spend nearly £20 per week on grooming products. £20 per week! I don't think I spend £20 a year!
Anyway, sadly, for too many of us today, the important questions about what to wear (whether it be make-up, clothes, jewellery, grooming products, whatever) are 'will it make me look good?' and 'will it make me more attractive to the opposite sex?' And interestingly, these questions don't go out of fashion. Culture tells us that what looks attractive changes, but those underlying questions remain the same and Paul encourages Timothy to tell the women in his church: 'Don't be misled. Don't buy into the lie, spending time and money conforming to what the world tells you is beautiful. Don't come to church dressed to excite or seduce; no, come with decent modesty and self-control.' One preacher helpfully asks the following question. "How do you get ready to come to church? Do you spend more time making yourself ready to be seen by others, or more time preparing your heart by reading the passage and praying so that you're ready to spend time with God?" That's an insightful question, isn't it? It's a question that reveals the true desire of our hearts: the love of man, or love for God.
But have you noticed that Paul wants women to be more beautiful? Verse 9: "women should adorn themselves". He definitely wants God's people to enhance their beauty. But only in the way that counts – to promote the gospel, Paul says, by clothing yourselves in modesty, self-control and good deeds. Of course braided hair, gold and pearls were in Paul's context a cultural expression of unnecessary extravagance. They were symbols that appearance was more important than character. Paul isn't issuing an eternal prohibition on braided hair here! The real issue is a beautiful character, not a beautiful appearance.
So, a lesson primarily for men and one primarily for women. And although Paul is highlighting these general differences, he is not for one second saying that one is only for men and one is only for women. That's the point of the word 'likewise' in verse 9. Both men and women need to depend on God in prayer. Both men and women need to be modest and self-controlled - because this is the best way to promote the gospel of Jesus to an unbelieving world. But the fact that Paul tackles these points by appealing to differences between the sexes paves the way for the next part of our passage and quite possibly some of the most controversial verses of recent times. We'll come to them in just a minute.
My boys are fans of the Marvel films. Have you seen any of those? Let me just briefly tell you about Captain America. Captain America is a genetically modified super soldier, who wakes up in the present day after spending the last 60-70 years frozen. I'd like you to imagine what that could be like. Imagine you had been asleep since the 1940s and then suddenly you wake up in 2016. There's this great scene in the film where Captain America, trying to work out what is going on, runs out into the middle of New York City, totally bewildered and disorientated. Just think of the changes you would have to get used to: technology, music, economics, world politics, transport – even family life. Then imagine returning to church after all that time. How would it have changed? TVs, projector screens, microphones, speakers; no hymn books, no Books of Common Prayer; guitars, drums and keyboards; there are still Bibles, but they're being read on these little screens that people take out of their pockets! So much change.
And though it may take you a while, you may also notice a change in the role of women around you. In fact, you realise that there have actually been seismic shifts for women – both domestically and in the workplace. And so as you ask questions and learn about dwindling numbers of stay at home Mums; as you learn about equality in the workplace, whether that's in the medical field, holding a rifle or flying a plane; it's only natural that you should think such shifts have happened within the church too. And sadly, that is exactly what most mainline denominations have done. They have adjusted their interpretation of Scripture to reflect the changing culture. The move towards women's equality over the last 100 years or so has been a development that Christians should warmly support. The Bible affirms time and again that men and women are equal in value and importance. But the Bible also makes clear that within marriage and within the church family, men and women have different God-given roles. And when the Bible does so, it nearly always explains that that is the way that God ordained things when he made the world. And I'm sure you don't need me to remind you that the way God created the world was described as good, with men and women described as very good! Which is why my second main heading is:
2. Protect The Different God-Given Roles Of Men And Women (v.11-15)
Remember that according to Paul in chapter 3 the church is a "buttress and pillar of truth". It needs to protect and promote the gospel. So what is first and foremost in Paul's mind is how Christian men and women protect and promote the gospel through their behaviour. A comprehensive list of roles and responsibilities and rights is not uppermost in Paul's mind here. The primary role he is interested in is Timothy's – Timothy's role was that of a teaching elder and that is what Paul focuses on here. Of course, that's not to say there aren't things we can learn about other roles from these verses, but we need to bear this context in mind as we carefully proceed. So let's go through it verse by verse. Verse 11:
"Let a woman learn"
Paul starts this section on a positive note which may well have been very countercultural in his day. Other religions, including Judaism had little or no place for the instruction of women. But Paul knows that God's word is for all. He wants women to be learning! He continues:
"Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness."
Which, after all, is the best way to learn for everyone, isn't it?! If I'd have been arguing and disruptive to those guys who were teaching me all that radar and electronic warfare theory during my professional training in the RAF, I wouldn't have got anywhere. I needed to learn quietly, listening, observing all that I was being taught in submission to those in authority over me. And again, don't forget Paul's emphasis on promoting good Christian behaviour. We know that the false teachers couldn't stop talking and quarrelling and spreading lies, and so Paul is in effect saying 'Right ladies. Show them how it's done! Show everyone how to learn properly!' So I don't think it's wrong to see verse 11 as a positive statement, and a positive statement of correction as well - to years of misuse of the created order. Verse 12, however, is a restriction:
"I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet."
Again, as I keep insisting, we must remember the context of this passage. Paul is writing so that the Ephesian Christians know how to behave in the gathered church. He's not saying that women can't teach in other contexts, be it in education or the workplace or wherever – they can! But in the context of the provision of authoritative teaching to the gathered church congregation – no, they can't! Now, if that sends shockwaves through you and inside you're screaming out "Why?", Paul is one step ahead giving the reason in verse 13:
"For Adam was formed first, then Eve"
Forget the priority of that for a minute. God inspired Paul to take us back to creation. In other words, God is saying – I know how things change. I know how they've changed in the last 100 years. I know how they'll change in the next. But the most important thing to remember is that I created this earth and I gave Creation an order and my creation is good. So trust me! And then, as if by giving a nod to our present difficulties, comes verse 14:
"and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor."
Don't misunderstand Paul here. He is not saying that women are inherently more likely to be deceived than men are. If that were the case, why would Paul elsewhere encourage women to teach at all – like he does in his letter to Titus? Paul is simply acknowledging that after the events of the fall, which we heard about in our Old Testament reading, the 'creation order' of verse 13 is replaced by 'creation disorder' of verse 14. That is where we are today: creation disorder. That is why so many are being deceived in churches across the planet. "Culture's changing," they say, "the church must follow or it will become obsolete." Not so. Jesus promised to build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. And if 2000 years of church history have taught us nothing else, they tell us that the church grows best in the fertile soil of opposition and persecution. "Women must be equal in everything" they cry. Not so. God gave some roles uniquely to men, for example teaching elders, and some roles uniquely to women, for example childbirth and motherhood, which is what I take verse 15 to be about – at least in part:
"Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."
Now this is a tough verse isn't it? Honestly, I'm not 100% sure what Paul means here. He can't mean though, just to be clear, that a woman is only saved if she gives birth. He can't mean that a woman, or a man, earns their salvation by their behaviour. Those things fly in the face of the gospel of grace that he proclaims throughout his letters. I take some comfort from Peter here. When Peter says in chapter 3 of his second letter, that some of Paul's letters are hard to understand, I imagine he's just read this verse! This is a notoriously difficult verse; it seems that there are as many different interpretations as there are books written on it, and I think the best thing I can do is to say that if you need to wrestle with this yourself, please do see me after and I can suggest some further reading. But what I am convinced of in these verses is that Paul is definitely pro-women! And he is pro-men. He doesn't just want us to protect our creation differences, he wants us to rejoice in them and use them for the mutual good.
You see if men take their leadership role, in the family, in the church, seriously; if they step up and lead for the benefit of others and not for themselves; if those who are gifted step up and teach faithfully, and humbly what God has laid down in his word, then isn't that the sort of leadership that other men and women will want? God wants his leaders and teachers to be men of integrity, holding onto the word, walking the walk, talking the talk, valuing, equipping, listening, protecting and loving. Paul is going to explore the exact qualifications for those guys in the next chapter. But isn't that what we want of our leaders? So how can we as a church be faithful to God in this area today, when our culture couldn't be more at odds with it? In conclusion, let me suggest three things we need to promote well for the sake of the gospel:
1. Women's Teaching Roles Need To Be Valued And Affirmed
Margaret, Suzan, Jean, Debs, Judith … I could go on. The names probably don't mean anything to you, but under God they mean an awful lot to me. They are women who have played their God-given role to teach and support and pray and encourage me. They have had untold influence on me at different stages in my life. Whole-congregational teaching (like I'm doing now) is only one of many teaching ministries we need. It's easy to single out this one - but if you think about it you'll find you owe much of your spiritual growth to other forms of teaching – for example within your family, your CYFA small group, or Focus group or Home Group or a 1-to-1. So, yes whole-congregational teaching has a unique role, but there are so many other teaching ministries we need for good and vibrant spiritual health. A church like ours needs women involved in these appropriate God-given teaching roles, to demonstrate that 1 Timothy 2.12 is not a blanket ban on all forms of women's ministry. We need to lead by example in this area.
2. The Clear Differences Between Men And Women Need To Be Protected And Promoted
Denying the differences between men and women, be they differences of biology, role or authority, is ultimately a denial of God's goodness in creation. It is vital that men and women are seen to be equal. But it's just as vital that men and women are seen to be different, and once we recognise that, those differences need to be protected, they need to be celebrated and they need to be enjoyed! Equally formed, equally created, equally saved and equally valued, an equal hope for the future, but different now in our God-ordained roles.
3. Realise That A Genuine Spiritual Life Covers Everything
Paul is arguing for authentic whole-life discipleship in these verses. Yes, our walk has to be consistent with our talk in how we pray, how we read the Bible and how often we attend church. But if those are the only activities we measure our spirituality by, we're missing a trick. You see it's also about how we drive, how we shop, how we play football, how we learn and, if God has chosen this road for us, it is also about how we parent our children. There is no part of our lives that God is uninterested in. There is no part of our lives and our behaviour that cannot be used to promote his wonderful gospel. Praise him for that!