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Instructions on Worship August 6, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Timothy 2.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting believers – since they should worship God and love their neighbors – to pray fervently and constantly for believers and unbelievers; they should also give thanks for their general welfare. They should pray for princes and magistrates so that they can keep the peace and promote religion. By praying in this way, they will do what is right and lawful. Moreover, their prayers will be devoted to God’s goal – the salvation of everyone – as He calls everyone to acknowledge His truth. There is one God of both Jews and Gentiles, and they all have access to God through Jesus Christ, who is the bond between God and man. The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ has redeemed Jews and Gentiles; God had planned to reveal His grace in this regard at the proper time. Thus, He appointed Paul to bring the Gentiles into taking part in the Gospel; he adds an oath to underline the importance of his calling, as he is assured about God’s will in this matter.

Paul then exhorts all believers to exercise their faith by praying with a good conscience, avoiding any arguments between Jewish and Gentile believers. He also exhorts female believers to dress with moderation; they should dress as godly and honorable women.

Now Paul tells female believers to refrain from speaking in public. Also, they should not teach because they are subject to men. Indeed, women are subject to men because:

  • God gave a law from the beginning that this should be so
  • God made women live in this way as a punishment.

Paul concludes by stating that although women are subject to men, their hope of salvation is secure, as long as they accept God’s will by happily embracing childbearing, childbirth and parenting; moreover, all women should live pure lives.

Thoughts: In verses 1 and 2, we see that Paul exhorts all believers to pray for their political and judicial leaders. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

God appointed princes and magistrates to preserve mankind. No matter how much they fail to do this, we must not stop supporting what God willed. We must positively want it to be preserved. So believers must, in whatever country they live, obey the laws and wishes of magistrates. They should also commend their welfare to God in their prayers…We should want the peaceful continuation of the governments of this world, which have been appointed by God.

This is a challenging exhortation, particularly for modern-day believers whose governments condone the persecution of Christians; examples in this regard include China, Egypt and Nigeria. As for believers who are fortunate to live in the United States, I think we are often displeased with at least one (and possibly both) of the dominant political parties, causing us to refrain from praying for our political leaders. Perhaps we should pray that our leaders will – through their actions – preserve the rights that we often take for granted, such as the freedom to gather in a house of worship on Sundays. We should also pray that our leaders will not enact any legislation that curbs these rights. Moreover, we should pray that God will work through our leaders to advance His kingdom plan and bring more glory to Himself through their actions.

In verses 9 and 10, we see that Paul exhorts female believers in Ephesus to refrain from dressing immodestly. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 9:

How we dress is very important, just like other external things, and as it is so hard to lay down precise regulations, moderation should be our yardstick…What is beyond dispute is that any fashions that go beyond the bounds of moderation are to be condemned. However, we should concentrate on inner motivation. There can never be chastity where sexual immorality reigns inside a person, and where self-seeking rules within, there will be no modesty in outer dress.

I think it is safe to say that some clothing choices are relatively provocative and immodest, so Paul’s teaching on this point would address those who adopt these clothing choices. This teaching, though, becomes more difficult to apply in more nuanced situations. For example, I once chatted with a Texan who remarked that Southern churchgoers typically adopt relatively colorful attire – compared to the drab attire of churchgoers in New England. This may be true, at least to some extent; now what if a native of New England visited a Southern church and thought, “since these people are so focused on their appearance, they must be self-seeking?” As another example, consider a church located in an affluent community; it is fair to assume that many, if not most, of its members would dress according to their economic status. Would they be dressing “beyond the bounds of moderation” in that case? If they did not give much thought to their attire, would God be pleased by their “inner motivation?”

In the latter part of this passage, Paul states that women should not be allowed to teach in the church. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 12:

Women are forbidden to teach because this is incompatible with their being subject to men. To teach implies that the teacher has a superior authority and status over the pupil…women, who, by nature (that is, through God’s normal laws), are born to obey. The government of women is rejected by all wise men, as it is monstrous and goes against nature. For a woman to usurp a man’s right to teach is like mixing up heaven and earth. So, Paul tells women to be silent and to stay within the bounds of their own sex.

Clearly this is one of the most controversial passages in all of Scripture, and Christians through the ages have wrestled with Paul’s teaching on this topic. Now I am quite sure that my church adopts a rather liberal position on this point, as we have a female youth pastor and a female junior high minister (along with several female Sunday School teachers). Moreover, our sermons have occasionally be delivered by female speakers. Thus, I am curious as to why my church has chosen its interpretation of this passage. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for me to read through another commentary on 1 Timothy to get a different perspective on this passage, as Calvin apparently has no qualms about prohibiting women from assuming teaching roles in the church. On a related note, I suspect that debate on this issue in American churches increased with the adoption of the 19th Amendment.

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