Women's Work

Today we conclude our four-week discussion on some of the women of the Bible, and the real and tangible contribution women have made to our faith. So today I thought we conclude with one of the more difficult passages in the Bible, with respect to the treatment of women throughout church history.

Clearly today's Epistle reading is one of the more disturbing texts, especially to women, as we ascertain what women are to be doing in the life of the church. It's difficult to read this passage without folks getting upset, and unfortunately for this very reason people avoid it all together. But the very fact it is in the Bible means we need to confront it and understand what message Paul is trying to convey to us.

This is another text, when interpreted literally without understanding the historical context of the writer, which has been misused to oppress others. To best address the meaning of today's reading we need to unpack it verse by verse. And to truly gain a complete understanding of our scripture reading in First Timothy we must be aware of the context in which Paul and Timothy lived and worked.

Ephesus was a very wealthy city holding its pagan ways in high regard. Immorality was pretty much a way of life for many, including the presence of Temple prostitutes. So Paul and Timothy were dealing with a church struggling to remain Christ-like in its teaching and witness in the midst of inappropriate behavior.

The first issue Paul addresses is one of adornment during a time of public prayer. Paul was so concerned with how people prayed that in the verse just prior to our reading today he counseled men to pray without anger, and then as we heard he counseled women to dress modestly and sensibly when in prayer. Some of the women during these times were apparently flaunting their new found Christian freedom by wearing distracting clothing, jewelry, and so on. They were bringing attention to themselves rather than directing attention to God.

They were also sending the wrong message to the poor of Ephesus who came to worship with them. The poor were beginning to feel excluded because they couldn't meet the dress standards of the others. Christianity began to look a lot like a religion for the wealthy with little to offer to the poor. Clearly this was not what Jesus was about.

This still happens today unfortunately. How many look down their nose at those who don't have the means to "get dressed up for church," creating, perhaps unintentionally, an uncomfortable environment for the poor or struggling. Or how many of us, both men and women, are so concerned about how we look that God takes a back seat to our focus and praise.

The whole point of Paul's instructions were to ensure that when men and women were in prayer to God their thoughts and hearts were appropriately centered, and not preoccupied with anger, appearance, or other things that cause distraction.

In first century Jewish culture women were not allowed to study, which is interesting since they were largely responsible for educating the children in the faith. When Paul said that women should learn in quietness and full submission, he was actually offering them a wonderful opportunity.

Paul says, "learn," which is a huge step forward from the thinking of the time. However, Paul didn't want the Ephesian women to teach yet because they didn't have enough experience or knowledge to be seen as credible. It had nothing to do with ability, but rather experience and knowledge at that place, and at that point in time.

You see the Ephesian church of Paul and Timothy's time was struggling with many false teachers. And women particularly were susceptible to false teachings because they didn't yet have enough biblical knowledge to discern truth from hypocrisy.

Paul was telling Timothy not to put anyone, and in this particular case women, into positions of leadership if they were not yet mature in the faith, and ready to take on the important task of Christian leadership.

Unfortunately some interpret this passage to mean that women should never teach in the assembled church. This doesn't sound like a Christ-like interpretation to me. The scripture is meant to be freeing and grounded in love, not a tool for control or oppression.

Many who have studied this scripture, and the historical context in which it was written, are quick to point out that Paul didn't forbid women from ever teaching. Paul was a leader in promoting and encouraging women in the work of the Lord. Paul commended co-worker, Priscilla and taught Apollos the great preacher.

In addition, Paul frequently mentions women who held positions of responsibility in the church. Phoebe worked in the church. Mary, Tryphena, and Tryphosa were the Lord's workers, as were Euodia, and Syhtyche.

In our scripture, Paul was prohibiting just the Ephesian women of the time of his writing from teaching, for the reasons I mentioned earlier, not all women from teaching.

Now in Paul's reference to being silent, the word silent expresses and attitude of quietness and composure. In Greek a different, word from the one that's used in our scripture this morning, is usually used when the writer wants to express silence the way we mean the word silent in the English language.

In addition, Paul himself acknowledges that women publicly prayed and prophesied. However, it seems that the women in the Ephesian church were abusing their newfound Christian freedom, believing they were now equipped to be effective teachers. Witnesses to their faith yes, but teachers not yet.

The same is true today for anyone (men or women) who receive Christ and are converted to the Christian faith. It's a wonderful experience, an experience to share with others, but these folks have not been part of the faith long enough to have the knowledge, experience, or maturity to answer some of the more difficult questions, or to help guide someone on their spiritual journey.

This is why the ministry of the church is so important. The church is the primary means through which God reaches the community and the world in mission. Spiritual formation takes place within the church.

As wonderful as it is, it's not enough to have a conversion experience, one must continue to learn and grow in the faith, to know what being a disciple of Christ means, so that they can live a more fulfilling life now, and so they can go and equip others to help God grow his kingdom for Jesus sake.

Now lets look at Paul's discussion of the male / female role in marriage and how that relationship equates to church leadership. Some biblical scholars see verses 13_14 of First Timothy, and the use of Adam and Eve, as an illustration of what was happening in the Ephesian Church. Just as Eve had been deceived in the Garden of Eden, so false teachers were deceiving the women in the church. And just as Adam was the first human to be created by God, so the men in Ephesus should be the first to speak and teach, because they had more training at that particular time.

This particular view stresses once again that Paul's teaching here is not universal, applying to all churches of the biblical world, but applies to the churches in Ephesus who were having similar problems.

If there were a church here in this country, which was having problems with false teachings we should do the same. In a church struggling with heretical preaching or teaching, those who have no experience or knowledge ought to be silent, so that those with the appropriate experience and knowledge can convey God's truthful word. This is true whether it be man or woman.

And just so we don't get hung up on the century's argument of who really committed the first sin Adam or Eve, know that the illustration Paul used here was to make a specific point. In reality Paul in his letter to the Romans actually places the primary blame for humanity's sinful nature on Adam. Sorry guys.

Mathew Henry also says this about Eve. "Eve's being made after Adam, and out of him, puts an honor upon that sex, as the glory of man. If man is the head, she is the crown…the man was dust refined, but the woman was dust double-refined, once removed further from the earth. She was not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved."

As we look now at verse 15 we see the phrase "saved through Child bearing." How are we to understand this verse? Well there are several ways we can look at it. The first is that man sinned so men were condemned to painful labor. Woman sinned so women were condemned to pain in childbearing. However, by the grace of God both men and women can now be saved through Jesus Christ.

A second explanation of the phrase "saved through childbearing" is that women who fulfill their God-given roles are demonstrating true commitment and obedience to Christ. One of the most important roles for a wife and mother is to care for her family.

Third, it could be that the childbearing mentioned refers to the birth of Jesus Christ. Women, and men, are saved spiritually because of the most important birth, Christ himself.

And a fourth explanation is that from the lessons learned from childbearing, women can develop qualities that teach them about love, trust, submission, and service.

The bottom line is men and women are in equal partnership in all aspects of life. Yes, men and women have different interests and are gifted differently by God. This is all the more reason we should all work together for the good of God's kingdom.

The issues we encounter in church leadership, in family leadership, and in the daily activities of our lives are not to be strictly gender defined; they are to be gift defined. God has gifted each one of us uniquely so that when we come together as one body we represent a complete package.

Each of us as individuals is one cog in the machine of life, one small part of the body of Christ. And all parts are needed to operate effectively. There is absolutely no warrant in our scripture today for relegating women to subordinate or dehumanizing roles of any kind.

As we conclude our formal look at women of the Bible today I want to thank the women of the church for their devotion to doing the Lord's work. If it weren't for the women I hate to think where the church might be today.

And as I conclude today I leave you with this important reminder from Paul in his letter to the Galatians, "there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Amen

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