1 Timothy 2:11-12 and Paul’s Opinion of Women

no-girls-allowed1Paul’s opinion of women is a difficult topic for people in the Church who do not take the time to dig into it fully. So many people get an idea or opinion on their own and then go to the Bible and find texts to support their opinion, or they read the Bible in such a way that they get passages in short snippets and out of context, which can say something completely different.

Take the passage in Romans 7, for example. There are people who read this and think that a defeated struggle against sin is what Paul experienced in his life, doing what he did not want to do. Yet that thought runs absolutely counter to everything Paul preached and taught throughout the rest of that letter, as well as everything else he taught. When we remember that Romans is a letter that was meant to be read all at once, we can see that Paul, in Romans 7, is using this language to describe someone who knows s/he needs a savior, but is not yet in Christ. The life for those who are in Christ is described both before and after this chapter. In context, Romans 7 says something completely different than what many claim it means.

The same is true for the status or allowed roles for women in the Church in 1 Timothy 2:

11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

This seems fairly straightforward, yet it is completely contrary to Paul’s injunctions to women in 1 Corinthians that when they pray or prophesy in Church their heads should be covered. It also ignores the women deacons and apostles commended by Paul in Romans 16. Not to mention the fact that this flies completely in the face of the spiritual truth Paul loudly proclaimed in Galatians that in Christ there is neither male nor female.

This passage is a part of a particular letter written to a particular person in response to a particular issue. It needs to be read as a letter–all at once. When that happens, one can see this passage is linked to a larger issue throughout the letter:

(1:3-5) When I left for Macedonia, I asked you to stay behind in Ephesus so that you could instruct certain individuals not to spread wrong teaching. They shouldn’t pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. Their teaching only causes useless guessing games instead of faithfulness to God’s way of doing things. The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

 

(2:11-12) 11 A wife should learn quietly with complete submission. 12 I don’t allow a wife to teach or to control her husband. Instead, she should be a quiet listener.

 

(4:6-7) If you point these things out to the believers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus who has been trained by the words of faith and the good teaching that you’ve carefully followed. But stay away from the godless myths that are passed down from the older women.

 

(6:20-21) 20 Timothy, protect what has been given to you in trust. Avoid godless and pointless discussions and the contradictory claims of so-called “knowledge.” 21 When some people adopted this false knowledge, they missed the goal of faith.

Certain women in Ephesus were teaching myths that were contrary to the faith. They were teaching these things in the Church and Paul left Timothy to put an end to it. It is these women that are forbidden to teach in the Church and are told to learn from their husbands, because they themselves do not know enough yet to be teachers. Otherwise they would not have gotten tangled up in these godless myths.

When we find a passage in Scripture that does not seem to make sense with the rest of the tone of the Bible, we must try to read it in context and see if it says what it seems to say. Many times, by reading the passage in the full context in which it was written, we will find that it agrees with everything else we read in the Bible. Paul’s opinion of women is case in point.

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Acts 6:1-7 and Church Leaders Refusing to Do Work

Acts-6-praying-for-the-7I have been in pastoral ministry in a local church setting for almost sixteen years now. Over that time I have served large churches and small churches, suburban churches and rural churches. One thing that is consistent across all types of churches I have experienced is the innate belief that the pastor should be doing most, if not all, of the ministry. This is not healthy, as it is a recipe for burnout. It is also not biblical:

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait at tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.’ What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

I love this scene. The Christians who are Greek-speaking Jews are being neglected in the division of provisions among the Church. They think it is intentional and even a little segregational. They approach the leaders, the Twelve Apostles, and say as much. They want the leadership to see the problem and fix it.

Here is where things get interesting from a modern congregational point of view. Essentially, a group of parishioners just came up to the pastor (or pastoral staff) and leveled a serious complaint that could derail the entire church, cause division, and ruin the ministry. The Apostles’ response–That’s not our job. You fix it yourself. Our job is to preach and pray. Many congregations who operate on the call system for hiring their pastor would follow that response up quickly with, “Yes, and you can add packing to that list because we are going to find a new pastor.”

But look at how the Church in Jerusalem responds. They agree! They know that the work the Apostles are doing was directed to them by Christ. They do not want to take them away from their God-given responsibilities. Instead, the whole community chooses leaders who can oversee this ministry and ensure equality. Another interesting thing to point out in this episode is that all seven people chosen to oversee the food distribution have Hellenistic names. Not a single one has a Hebrew name. This probably shows that the ones with the grievance, the Hellenists,  were allowed to choose the people whom they wanted to lead this ministry, and the whole Church agreed to it. As a result, the Church grew tremendously.

When congregations expect and demand that the pastor or pastoral staff be involved in every ministry it is a sure way to slow or stop the growth of the Church. This is because one pastor can only minister to around 80-100 people effectively and 100-150 people somewhat effectively. Even with a pastoral staff of for pastors, that gives a maximum number of people who can be somewhat effectively cared for as 600. Beyond this number, it is just numbers. People come for a while and then go again. There may be a crowd, but Jesus wanted us to make disciples, not gather a crowd.

Now if others are empowered to be active in ministry, then the number can jump exponentially. If a solo pastor has an empowered congregation, who take leadership and ownership of the ministries in the congregation while still following their leader who was called and sent by God to preach and pray, just imagine the results. One pastor and four lay people can effectively minister to 500 people. As the church grows and more lay people are trained and empowered to be in ministry, that number grows. If just five out of every 100 new people becomes a ministry leader, then after the first 500 people the potential effective reach of that congregation is now 3000 people (30 leaders x 100 people). After that first 3000, the potential would be 15,000 people (150 leaders x 100 people)!

This is why the Early Church grew so rapidly with committed disciples. Church leaders refused to do all the work. They enabled the rest of the Body of Christ to use their God-given gifts for the building up of the community. And God blessed that work.

Ezekiel 29:13-16 and The Lord of the Whole World

ancient-egyptI have to admit, there are times when I read through the Bible that I forget that the Lord is God over the whole world. Sure, I know that there is only one God, therefore logically the Triune God would have to be the God of the entire world, but sometimes it is easy for me to focus exclusively on the Jewish people. Often times it seems that the Lord only looks out for the well being of Israel and all other nations are brought into judgment because of their mistreatment of Israel or their sins before Israel was around.

That is why it is refreshing to me to read verses like this one in Ezekiel:

13 The Lord God proclaims: At the end of forty years, I will gather the Egyptians from among the nations where they are scattered. 14 I will improve their circumstances and bring them back to the land of Pathros, the land of their origin. Egypt will be a lowly kingdom there. 15 Out of all the kingdoms, it will be the lowliest. It will never again exalt itself over the nations, and I will make it small to keep it from ruling the nations. 16 The house of Israel will never again bring guilt on itself by faithlessly turning to Egypt for help, for they will know that I am the Lord God.

Sure, there is an element of judgment here, but the Lord will bring Egypt back out of exile and resettle the people in their land. This is a promise of good news for Egypt. God will care for Egypt and restore Egypt as well. It is a good reminder to me that the Lord watches over all people. It is also a wonderful reminder that prophecies from the Lord are true, for this is the situation of Egypt today–never again has it been a world power, but a minor nation.

Isaiah 45:11-13 and How God Cannot Be Limited

Cyrus of Persia

Cyrus of Persia

I know several Christians who are adamant that God can only work one way. Sure, they understand that God cannot be limited on an intellectual level, but they are quick to point out that there are only certain ways God has chosen to act (usually matching up with how they have experienced God in their own lives) and in their understanding that is the only way God can act. Anything else, for them, is just an intellectual exercise because although God can do anything, he will not do anything beyond what he has already proven he will do.

Whenever I think of these brothers and sisters, I immediately think of this passage in Isaiah as well:

The Lord, the holy one of Israel and its maker, says:
Are you questioning me about my own children?
    Are you telling me what to do with the work of my hands?
12 I myself made the earth,
    and created humans upon it.
    My own hands stretched out the heavens.
    I commanded all their forces.
13 I have a right to awaken Cyrus;
    I will smooth all his paths.
He will build my city
    and set my exiles free,
    not for a price and not for a bribe,
    says the Lord of heavenly forces.

This is the answer God gives to the objections from Jewish people in exile over his choice of Cyrus as the anointed one who will deliver them back to the Promised Land. That was not how God was supposed to work. The emperor of the Persian Empire was not supposed to be given the same title as a descendant of David–anointed one–and the deliverer was supposed to be Jewish. God could choose a pagan to act as judgment against Israel and Judah as he did in using Assyria to conquer Israel and Babylon to conquer Judah, but he could not choose a pagan nation and a pagan king to redeem them from captivity and deliver them home.

Yet that is exactly what God did, and this is his explanation of his right to do so. He created all human beings, so they are all his. He is at work all over the world, and thus he can use whomever he chooses to accomplish his purposes, even for the covenant people of God! God is not limited at all. We do not have the authority or the right to chastise or reprimand God for his choices and his actions. And we certainly do not know enough to say, “God cannot work in that way.”

I find passages like this comforting. It reminds me that although I can learn quite a bit in life and I can experience a lot, God is still larger and wiser than me. It is also humbling to remember that God will not always fit into the categories I have established for him, but will always be bigger and limitless in how he will work for the redemption of humanity.

Isaiah 5:20 and The Present Situation

bigstock-Man-with-Good-and-Evil-fak-30668819I am not usually a doom and gloom kind of person, nor am I usually one to point out what other people are doing. I have no clue what is happening in other people’s lives or how God is at work in their lives, so I try not to make judgments. After all, God does not judge until the end of the world, so why would I not only take his role in judging, but even do so before he will?

That goes for individuals. When groups, organizations, and denominations start making decisions and policy or position statements, then there is a bit of testing the spirits that can happen. Keep this in mind as you read this verse from Isaiah:

Doom to those who call evil good and good evil,
    who present darkness as light and light as darkness,
    who make bitterness sweet and sweetness bitter.

Of course, in order to deal with this verse one has to define evil and good. Evil is that which is against God and what he has revealed in his special revelation of Scripture as it has been understood throughout the life of the Church for the last 2000 years. If the Holy Spirit has been truly guiding the Church since its inception as Jesus promised, then we cannot discount the entirety of our history by saying that those who went before us just didn’t understand what we do now. We are talking about God’s illumination and inspiration–what people understood or did not understand is irrelevant.

Any organization or denomination that celebrates what the Church has universally understood as wrong over 2000 years, through countless cultures and languages, may need to take a second look at Isaiah.

Ecclesiastes 7:20 and Obsolete Theology

One of the most difficult things to do is to read the Bible honestly, allowing the different parts of it to balance and inform other parts. This is difficult because it is easy to simply say that all of the Bible is equally valid. The appropriate objection to this is comes from those who support same-sex marriage when they ask why we object to this issue and not to women wearing pants or men shaving the sides of their faces. It is also easy to say that everything that comes before Jesus is no longer valid. The appropriate objection to this is simply to look at how much the Old Testament figured into Jesus’ ministry and how much of it permeates the New Testament.

Every once in a while, though, there is a section in the Old Testament that is theologically obsolete. Here in Ecclesiastes there are a few places:

7:20 Remember: there’s no one on earth so righteous as to do good only and never sin.

8:8 No one has control over the life-breath, to retain it, and there’s no control over the day of death.

9:5-6 But the dead know nothing at all. There is no more reward for them; even the memory of them is lost.  Their love and their hate, as well as their zeal, are already long gone. They will never again have a stake in all that happens under the sun.

empty_tombBecause of Jesus Christ, these are now obsolete. First of all, the incarnation itself makes much of Ecclesiastes obsolete since the recurring theme throughout the book is that there is nothing new under the sun. God becoming man is completely new, and as Jesus walked the earth, he made 7:20 obsolete since he was without sin. Easter Sunday made 8:8 obsolete since Jesus rose from the dead. In fact in the Gospel of John Jesus says that he has the authority to lay down his life and take it up again. Because of Jesus’ resurrection being the precursor to the general resurrection and life everlasting in the Kingdom of God, 9:5-6 is obsolete since we will have a stake in what happens under the sun once again.

What this means is that there may be wise truths in Ecclesiastes, but the majority of the book and its themes are more of a snapshot of what the world was like before the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Living on this side of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus it is easy to forget that when God entered into creation it fundamentally changed reality. Ecclesiastes reminds us of that fact.

Psalm 42 and Praise in the Midst of Sorrow

Downcast1It is difficult to praise God when it seems like everything is going wrong, when we are plagued with sorrow. Yet this is the theme of Psalm 42:

Just like a deer that craves streams of water,
    my whole being craves you, God.
My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God.
    When will I come and see God’s face?
My tears have been my food both day and night,
    as people constantly questioned me,
    “Where’s your God now?”

But I remember these things as I bare my soul:
    how I made my way to the mighty one’s abode,
    to God’s own house,
        with joyous shouts and thanksgiving songs—
        a huge crowd celebrating the festival!
Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?
    Why are you so upset inside?
Hope in God!
    Because I will again give him thanks,
        my saving presence and my God.

My whole being is depressed.
    That’s why I remember you
    from the land of Jordan and Hermon,
        from Mount Mizar.
Deep called to deep at the noise of your waterfalls;
    all your massive waves surged over me.
By day the Lord commands his faithful love;
    by night his song is with me—
    a prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God, my solid rock,
    “Why have you forgotten me?
        Why do I have to walk around,
        sad, oppressed by enemies?”
10 With my bones crushed, my foes make fun of me,
    constantly questioning me: “Where’s your God now?”

11 Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed?
    Why are you so upset inside?
        Hope in God!
        Because I will again give him thanks,
        my saving presence and my God.

The only way to praise God when things are horribly wrong is to remember what God has done in the past. Sometimes these memories are what God has done in our own lives personally, and sometimes they are what God has done in history for his people, Israel and the Church.

If you are in a place where tears have been my food, or you know someone who is in that place, remember and retell the stories of how God has worked. Then you may find hope where there seems to be none.