Monday, March 11, 2013

Lessons From 1 Timothy 2: What's Gender Got To Do With It?

I was asked to teach this past weekend in Bible study at my church, and the text I was to cover was 1 Timothy chapter 2. Ever excited for an opportunity to share God's Word, I scanned the passage immediately after being asked, with a giddiness in my heart about what the Lord would teach me and these classes I would visit. As I read the words the excitement quickly wilted to an uneasy feeling. At face value, the passage seems to say that women should not teach. What? Why would the Lord - not to mention a pastoral staff - allow me to come to before a class to teach His word, just to tell the class that I have no right to be there? Is that really what it means?

A multitude of women of the Bible came to my thoughts, women I knew had been ordained by God to lead and praised by apostles. Then I recalled the comments I'd heard which confidently asserted that based on the Bible, women have no place in teaching God's word...and I realized that there is a disconnect somewhere. If there is only one truth, and I believe there is, I wanted to find it, because I certainly don't want to operate outside of God's will, and I think we all better know for sure that we know what that is!

So, below is the journey on which the Lord took me to discover what in the world this passage is really about, and how I, as a woman, yes, but also as a child of God with a call and passion to teach, fit in to that. Maybe you will find yourself here too.

Occasional Documents

What we must remember about these letters from Paul is that, well, they are letters. Just like the emails that we write today, and the text messages, Paul was responding to a prompted question, probably another letter, asking a question about how to handle what was going on in a certain place.

In this case, that certain place was Ephesus.

Though we may never get to know what specific questions were posed or situations were described to him that caused him to respond in this way, we do have a pretty thorough amount of information about Paul's ministry, missions and interactions with the believers there, as they are really well documented in the Bible. Just to put things into historical perspective, let's look at a brief timeline of Paul's dealings with that particular city:

Approximately 33AD • Paul is converted (Acts 9) (this was about 3 years after Christ's crucifixion)

Approximately 55AD • Paul has by now become a seasoned missionary and a church planter in the areas where Gentiles (non Jews) reside. In his travels, he comes to Ephesus, where he encounters about twelve men and begins to build up the body of believers there. He stays for a little over 2 years. (Acts 19)

Approximately 62AD • Not a pastor who would create a church and then disappear, Paul writes a letter to continue discipling this growing congregation. You will notice as you read the book of Ephesians that much of the content focuses on the basics of godly living and how to set up a godly home. They understood now the basics of the Gospel and could move on to putting it into action in their daily lives.

Approximately 67AD • Paul writes this first letter to Timothy, who he had appointed as a  shepherd/pastor/teachers there in his absence, to continue the development of the Ephesian church. His letter was, we will gather from scripture, most likely in response to problems reported.

So you can see, Paul had a long-term, ongoing communication with these people. He knew their city, he had lived there for two years. He knew their people, as he was receiving updates, to which he was now responding.

Think about the weight of that responsibility for a moment. Paul plants this church and then, in the midst of his own turmoil and the business of beginning other ministries, he takes time to invest in this congregation. What a challenge it must have been to begin to teach these folks God's way of doing life, since their entire culture - politics, home, military, etc - was overrun by their civic cult - the cult of the hellenistic goddess Artemis. Why is that significant? Because this culture had a much different view of family roles, code of ethics, acceptable behaviors, etc. And it's all they had ever known. It was a hard set of habits to break for sure. (Not unlike Israel coming out of bondage of Egypt in the book of Exodus.)

The people who converted to faith in Messiah, then thought of as a new cult of Judaism (called The Way), knew nothing of the Holy Scriptures, where God sets up a family to be a reflection of Himself. They had not fully grasped the application of their new faith, that they could not worship both Artemis and Yahweh, and they probably didn't know how to show through their lives who they served. As the church grew (they say to over 100,000 people), Gentiles came in whose only church experience was pagan. And so, in this set of circumstances, new converts, full of excitement and zeal to teach, who didn't quite have their theology mastered, and who (either intentionally or accidentally) began to infuse false teaching into the congregation, caused mass confusion and arguments in Ephesus. And this is why Paul wrote his letter to Timothy.

Let's look at 1 Timothy 1:6 for a little proof:

For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

What we are going to find is that Paul's letter consists of specifically prescribed methods for reuniting a divided congregation damaged by the ignorance of inexperienced new believers or possibly even intentional acts of deceit by ill-intentioned enemies of the Gospel. It's not a message on gender roles.

I want to draw your attention to verses 12-13

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief..."

You will find that Paul's remedy involves mercy upon those who are causing the problem. He doesn't say "Let's cast those hellions out of there!" His response will be to confront them, instruct them by allowing them to remain inside the congregation to learn, to love them, and to equip them to become true disciples of the True Gospel message. And that should be our response to misguided teaching as well.

So, with that very lengthy background, let's get to the controversial part!

Read 1 Timothy 2:1-2
First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

Knowing these four elements of prayer is important:

Entreaties • Asking for provision, for comfort, for physical needs
Prayers • Asking for qualities or virtues that God would want us to have, such as patience or an open heart
Petitions • Complaints we bring to God, intercessions; asking for protection would be an example
Thanksgiving • A reminder to thank God for mercies received as well as for challenges encountered

Notice, he says this should be for all men. That's right. We are called to pray for everyone. Not just people we like, but people who are a pain in our necks as well. People in authority over us, and our subordinates. In context, the Ephesians are being asked to pray for a King who is literally executing believers and using them as torches outside his castle, Nero. It's not an easy thing he's asking of them, or for us. But it is important to God that we do this.

Why? Read on:(verses 3-5)

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus...

So first we read that we pray for others, asking for provision for their physical and spiritual needs as well as our own, not only that we would lead a quiet life (this word means peaceful by the way, and we will see it again in the very near future); but also because it's Christ-like behavior. If we are declaring that we are followers of the Messiah, then this is an expected behavior. And what is a mediator if not someone who brings people together. Are you seeing the message here? There are people dividing up their congregation, he is telling them to be prayerful to solve that problem, to use their lips to be means of unity rather than discord.

...who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Do you know that God is working even in the lives of the people that you think are difficult? Maybe you know someone who is straying from the truth, who is living a sinful lifestyle, who is teaching or supporting things that are not biblical. Maybe you've been tempted to diagnose them or call them out or talk about them behind their back. But Paul is noting here that God has a plan, and He will do His work in others at the appointed time, just as He did in Paul's life, and in my life, and in your life.

He is also making a point to mention that He is a truly God-appointed teacher, since there is a problem with that in the congregation to whom he is speaking.

So now we get to the prescription: (verse 8)

Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

Paul's prescription for a church in chaos is...surprise! Prayer. Notice he says in every place. The 'church' at this time consisted of small groups in homes. And "lifting up holy hands?" What about that? Did you know that God gives us prayer protocol, even in the Old Testament? I want to take a side journey into that briefly, because I want to show you how it is that prayer can bring unity.

A Sidebar on Prayer

The Bible tells us that we are the temple, right? (1 Corinthians 6:19). Well, if we don't really know anything about the temple, we can't possibly understand what that means. So let's think about that for a moment. The temple was God's dwelling place, and there were measures that had to be taken in order to approach Him there and then. Well, we now know that if we have come into relationship with God through the Messiah
that the Holy Spirit resides in us, that our very heart becomes His mercy seat, and we can go to Him, speak with Him, any time. But the way in which we go about it is important.

If you wanted to come into God's presence when He dwelled in the temple, you would have to come into the outer court first. The first thing you would see is the brazen altar, upon which sacrifices must be offered. You would offer your innocent, perfect animal and the blood of that animal would atone for your sin, would cover you, allowing you to approach His holy presence. In the same way, we never get past the gate, never get to truly enjoy the privilege of prayer until we have accepted Jesus the Messiah as our perfect, innocent sacrifice, our sins having become imputed onto Him. Only through His sacrifice can we approach God.

Next you would come to the lavar, which in my mind I always see as a beautiful bird bath-type shape. You would wash off the dirt from your hands and feet. In the same way, when we come in to the presence of God, we must make confessions. We must let the Living Water wash off the sin of the world, the actions, the places we've gone that we should not have been, from our lives. We look into the reflection of that water and observe whether or not we look like He does. If not, we must keep confessing until we are clean. Only the clean and pure can stand before a Holy God. (Holy hands, remember?)

Next we can enter through the curtain and we come in to a room that has a soft, warm, amber glow. It smells good, everything in it is beautiful. When we come in to God's presence, it is a warm, beautiful feeling, isnt' it? To our left we would see a menorah, a large, hammered work, made from one piece of gold. This 'lampstand' is representative of the body of believers. We are all one, united. Together we hold up the light of the world, Jesus. If one part is broken, we cannot do our job. We need each other. We should acknowledge who He is in prayer, and praise Him for it, and remember our role in His plan.

To our right we would see a table holding loaves of bread. Why? Because prayer, breaking bread with almighty God, is an intimate experience. He doesn't want us to enter into it haphazardly. He wants our true selves, opened up before Him. He wants us to share with Him like friends over a meal. Every time.

Then, after all of these steps, we can make our way to the altar of incense, which is figurative of our intercessory prayer on behalf of ourselves and others. Asking for what we want is the last step, you'll notice.

When you leave a prayer experience like that, how could you not walk away changed? How could you be concerned with silly arguments, or bothered with pointing out the faults of others? You realize when you stand in His presence, that He is all that matters. And that is why this is Paul's suggestion. Praise the Lord, we are not responsible for solving the sin issues and perfecting the imperfections of everyone around us. All we have to do is pray for them and leave the issues in God's very capable hands and trust in His perfect timing.

When we leave a true prayer experience, we remember our mission is to unite, to bring in, not to exclude. It is to teach, to guide, and to love; not to diagnose, to slander, or to hurt.

I think that's all for this entry, join me again for part two of What's Gender Got To Do With It?, and we'll talk about just that. Blessings!

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