We live in a feminism driven culture, and so this conversation is a touchy one. But the culture didn’t invent the church nor did it invent the family unit. God set up both and therefore it is His right to have rules for how it ought to work – given the fact that He loves us and just happens to know everything. So we are about to embark on a counter-cultural journey through Scripture.
But I want to start with the best news about all of this. And that comes from Galatians 3:23-29…
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
I love these verses. These are some of the best verses in the Bible, because this is why we call the gospel the good news. But back in this time when Paul would have written this, He did so knowing it would be very controversial. Because if you were a Jewish man in this time there would have been three things you would have gotten up every morning and thanked God for…number one that your Jewish and not one of those pig-eating gentiles (you are an heir of Abraham!), number two that your free and not a slave, and three that you’re not a woman.
You see the bottom of the barrel in terms of people with value were gentiles, slaves and women.
This was the culture in its time, not how God wanted it, but just the way the culture went.
And what Paul says here is, guess what everyone, Christ came and fulfilled the law so perfectly that there is no restriction to His saving grace. He has made a way to salvation for every single kind of person.
And you better believe this would have come as a big surprise for the Jewish men who had been working their whole lives to uphold the law knowing that a dirty greek, or slave or emotional woman would have the exact same standing as them with God.
Doesn’t this make you want to jump for joy?
It’s such good news. And yet what some of us want to do is use these texts as a reason to ignore the good created order. Often these verses are used to say, “here look, Paul is saying there is no longer male nor female, and that must mean there are no longer male and female roles”. But is that the context of this passage?
Not at all, we’re in a part of this book which is talking about the rights to salvation…not roles. So lets not miss the beauty of what it’s saying by imposing another meaning on it.
I remember when this concept of male and female roles within the church first came to me. My husband came home from work one day and he started talking about it and my ears perked up in complete shock. Who had I married? We had only been married for a couple of years. I was stuck with a man now who seemed to have an archaic view of gender roles. All I could think about was all of the ladies I knew who were gifted leaders and speakers and how this was an injustice to them.
I didn’t know anything about what he was talking about. This was just my knee-jerk reaction to it.
So I embarked on my own journey of discovery. Without letting my husband know, I began studying this. I read Scripture and articles and watched sermons and dug deeper. And as I understood more carefully and more fully what Scripture said, it all made sense and it all looked beautiful. Lucky for my husband I came out on the other side agreeing with him.
But I saw it for what it is. And it is beautiful.
Why don’t we move on to the portion of Scripture that makes for the most controversy, 1 Timothy 2:11-15…
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
These verses are extremely controversial today. But I have to tell you, just like in Galatians, they were even more controversial back when Paul originally wrote it. It was deeply counter-cultural that Paul would say these words…Let a women learn. Yet again we have Paul affirming that women are equal human-beings and Jewish men would have been shocked. Women were without a doubt culturally less than men. Scripture never taught that, but it was imbedded within the Jewish culture at the time. And here Paul is giving permission that women should learn.
Such scandal. I love it.
We see here the value Paul is placing on women, not devalue. But often all we think, looking at it through our 2016 cultural lens is that what he’s saying is devaluing. But it’s not.
Back to 1 Timothy, one thing to remember when reading this is that we’re in a pastoral epistle, which means Paul is speaking here about church governance. He is helping Timothy in this letter as to how the church should be governed. How it should be run and operated. 1 Timothy 3:14-15 says this…
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.
And these instructions are for when the church gathers together for worship. Were not talking about how schools should run or the government or business’s. This is just for the church. I want that to be made clear.
But back to the controversy of verses 11-15. When Paul says women should learn quietly, what does that mean? Quiet in this context more appropriately means, peaceably. And why must he say this? Why is this a necessary instruction for women? Well…remember Eve?
See what we have here is Paul reminding us of the beginning. He brings us right back to Genesis in the garden. He is reminding the church of what happened when Eve took on the role of head and Adam took on the role of the submissive one and where that led. It was far from peaceful in the way Eve conducted herself. And Paul is reminding us of the created order. Adam being created first giving him headship and then Eve being created out of him. And the importance of their roles working properly.
And there are lots of reasons why we know this word quiet is best interpreted by the word peaceable because of other Scriptures. The best way to interpret Scripture is by using other Scripture. And another text making reference to submission uses the same language. And its 1 timothy 2:1-2, speaking about respect for authority. And it says,
First of all, then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.
Peaceful, quiet, godly, and dignified is what Paul means here. That’s how women ought to conduct themselves.
We also know that quiet means all those things because of a women named Phoebe.
Some of you have been thinking about her as you read, so lets learn about her. In Romans 16, Paul commends his faithful sister in Christ, Phoebe for two verses. She was likely a deaconess and perhaps may have even read this letter out loud to the church. Which is not a quiet thing to do for a woman, right?
Which means that quiet couldn’t possibly mean that we as women must zip our mouths the second we dawn the doors of the church.
So in 1 Timothy Paul is talking about how the church ought to be governed. What’s the best way? Well the way God originally intended. That men function as the moral and spiritual leader of the church. As Adam was supposed to be the moral and spiritual leader in the garden, and husbands should be the moral and spiritual leader in the home, so ought men be the moral and spiritual leader in the church. Which means it is within the male role to protect the flock by teaching sound doctrine. And it is within the female role to receive that doctrinal instruction peacefully.
Because Paul is speaking about church governance, this still very much applies to us today. But what this teaching isn’t saying is that we all better shut up.
It’s answering the question, who should govern the doctrine of the church? And we see that that’s the elders job (which is laid out for us in 1 Timothy 3). And so the elders role would be filled by men. But not just any men. It’s not just about having the proper genitalia. 1 timothy 3 gives an extensive list of what men who desire to be elders should be like. They must be above reproach with a good reputation, not ladies-men, not hot-headed and prideful, they must be respectable and peaceable, just to name a few. It’s a high calling, and not just any guy is going to fit this role.
So it’s not just about being male…its so much more than that.
The lead pastor role is also one who most prominently teach’s doctrine and so that falls within the role of a man.
Some of you may already have an objection that you’d love to reach through the screen and shout out at me and that is…”Hey wait, what about Deborah?”
So lets look at Deborah. She was one of the best judges in a long line of terrible judges in the book of…what for it… Judges. Her role was mainly in the realm of prophesy, but she was not raised up to be a judge like a lot of them were. And there isn’t a lot spoken about how she got that role, but its most likely that she was filling that role because no other man would and she was gifted by God and so therefore God used her.
She is one of my favorite ladies in Scripture and we should learn from her courage and strength. But when a national problem arose, God appointed Barak to step forward, which reinforces the pattern of male headship. So her story is worth noting and yet it still does not null and void the direct teaching of Paul in the New Testament about this. What she does do for us though, is give us a lot of grey and grace in how we work all of this church governance stuff out. Some things are clear…like elders and the lead pastor. That’s pretty clear. But Deborah helps make the very important case that women have big roles to play within the church.
Which I very much believe to be true.
And what I love about women like Deborah and Phoebe is that they give us a tangible look at what women of God do. The kind of ministry we can do. Because there is TONS of ministry not just that women are permitted to do, but that women absolutely SHOULD be doing. A church with no women in any leadership positions is a spiritually lacking church.
There is so much work to do and it should not be done by only men.
Often times I hear women say in disgust, “great all that leaves us with is children’s ministry and women’s ministry”. This maybe the biggest complaint I get when discussing this topic. And it’s not true. But can I just address this, if your feeling it. I need to address it firmly though. So don’t hate me.
No one is above children’s ministry. Both men and women should be serving and teaching the kids. It is perhaps one of the most evangelistic ministries in the church. Working with children is not below you. If you have big gifts in leadership and teaching and you have tons of training, you’re not above children’s ministry. That’s pride talking. And it made Jesus furious in Matthew 19 when the disciples tried to keep children out of the big, heady, adult conversation they were having. Because it was the pride of the disciples that didn’t see the value of the children. And this made Jesus irate.
Teaching kids may not be your things, and that’s fine. But see there’s a prideful attitude attached to the man or women who believes teaching children is a small thing.
That also goes for women’s ministry too. Women who take offense with the thought of only being able to teach other women are the kind of people who must have a very low view of women. See the irony in that. If you believe leading women is beneath you and your abilities, you must really think of women as nothing much. But that’s not how Scripture views women teaching women.
But even with that said, these are not the only places for you to use your gifts in the church. The bride of Christ needs you most everywhere. It needs your hospitality, your prayer, your worship, your encouragement, your teaching, your smile, your nurturing. Just to name a few.
So be encouraged. The ministry opportunities are too numerous for me to speak here.
But let’s go back to 1 Timothy and talk about maybe one of the hardest verses to understand, which is vs 15.
Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
What the heck does that mean?
First off the word saved is not the same as salvation here. We do not find our salvation of sin through childbearing. What this is saying is we will be rescued from the bad reputation of our spiritual mother Eve, if we fulfill our role as women. And a short-hand for women, would have been child-bearer. Which all that means is someone with a uterus. In other words a woman will distance herself from the sins of her female heritage in Eve by living within her role as a woman.
So if you are not a wife and mother this still applies to you. I can see how this would hurt the heart of a women who can’t bear children. But this is about breaking the curse brought on us from Eve through fulfilling our female role. And child-bearing is not the end of that verse. We get a list. We also break the sinful ties to Eve when we continue in faith and love and holiness and self-control.
Which is no small task. But it is done well when a women relies heavily on the strength of Christ.
These verses are challenging ones. But when you take the time to read them for what they are, it’s not so bad. In fact it makes perfect sense.
I’ve noticed something interesting in regards to this over the years. I’ve been involved in a church where they hold firm the beliefs about gender roles and have a strong stance on it, and I’ve been involved in a church that wouldn’t touch this subject with a 10 foot pole, out of fear of angering women. And the church’s that have taken a stance are pumping out strong, biblically savvy, intelligent women leaders. While the women in the fearful church fall to the waist side.
Which if we want to get pragmatic, shows how much conviction in Gods Word leads to human flourishing. It just works. And this is one of the reasons why we should talk about it.
By all cultural accounts, women who are told this theology should be extremely oppressed…and yet, I have never felt so free. A church that really does this well, will encourage their women to be fearless Godly leaders and I’m blessed to be a part of a church that desires to do this. I wouldn’t be a part of a church that ascribed to this theology but didn’t invest and care about their women.
So ladies we should learn. And grow spiritually. We should excercise our gifts in all humility. And we should be peace-makers, desiring to submit to and pray for our pastors and elders.