II. The Priority of Prayer and the Reality of Gender Roles (1 Timothy 2:1-15)
II. The Priority of Prayer and the Reality of Gender Roles (2:1-15)
2:1-2 Here Paul begins the heart of his letter. And at the top of the list is the topic of prayer. He wants petitions . . . intercessions, and thanksgivings to be made by the church for everyone (2:1). In other words, we should make all kinds of prayers for all kinds of people. But he especially asks prayers for kings and all those who are in authority. Why? So that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity (2:2).
Paul wants Timothy and the Ephesian church to pray for secular leaders so that they will govern well and provide a peaceful environment that will provide Christians with the freedom to follow the true King’s agenda. God expects us to submit to his rule regardless of the political environments in which we live, but in a culture of religious freedom, believers are able to have a more public witness and can share their faith in ways that they could not under an oppressive regime. An orderly, free society is a positive environment for the proliferation of the gospel.
2:3-4 It’s good for Christians to live, work, and minister in such a peaceful environment. Why? Because it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. This is the second of three times in the letter that Paul calls God our “Savior” (see also 1:1; 4:10). We rightly call the Son of God our “Savior” because of his sacrificial death on the cross (see, e.g., Luke 2:11; Acts 5:31; Eph 5:23; Phil 3:20; 2 Tim 1:10; Titus 3:6; 2 Pet 2:20; 1 John 4:14). But God was known by this title in the Old Testament (see, e.g., 2 Sam 22:3; Ps 17:7; 42:5; Isa 43:3; Jer 14:8; Hos 13:4). Besides, it was God the Father who loved the world and gave his Son to save those who will believe (see John 3:16). And it’s God the Father who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (2:4). This should be our goal as well.
When natural disasters strike, rescue units mobilize and enter the devastation so that they might help those who will surely perish without them. God has a mobilized rescue unit; it’s called the church. And the church’s job is to enter this sin-scarred world and rescue the dying with the King’s message of life. Notice that God’s desire is universal: he wants “everyone to be saved.” The gospel is not restricted to any race, gender, ethnicity, class, individual. “Red, yellow, black, and white—they are precious in his sight.” Don’t let anything prevent you from going to the lost: you have the message with the power to rescue them.
2:5-6 This saving message is so vital because it’s the only one that is valid. For there is only one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus (2:5). A mediator is someone who brings two estranged parties together. Sinful humanity stands condemned under the righteous wrath of a holy God. And only Jesus Christ, the God-Man, can reconcile them. Because of his divine nature, he is sinless. Because of his human nature, he can serve as a substitutionary sacrifice for sinful humans. Knowing this, he gave himself as a ransom for all (2:6)—that is, he paid the price for everyone (theologians call this unlimited atonement).
The judgment of God against rebellious humanity has been completely satisfied through Christ’s sin-bearing work (see 1 John 2:2). But to receive the benefits of this sacrifice, you must personally receive Christ’s payment by faith. To get to God, you must go through his Son.
2:7 Paul was appointed a herald of this good news, an apostle on behalf of Christ, and a teacher of the Gentiles. Whatever lies the false teachers were spreading (1:3-4), Paul was devoted to telling the truth, to proclaiming the standard of reality. Are you?
2:8 The purpose of prayer is to convey earthly permission for heavenly interference in history. Since prayer is so essential for accomplishing the King’s agenda and proclaiming his gospel message, Paul specifies the kind of prayer God desires: I want the men in every place to pray. He addresses the men first because they are to take the lead in calling heaven down to earth. Men are called to be leaders in their homes and in their churches. And there’s no more important way to lead among the people of God than by praying for divine intervention.
Lifting up holy hands refers to a common prayer stance (e.g., Exod 9:29; 1 Kgs 8:22; Ps 28:2). But this must be done in the context of purity and unity without anger or argument. When God’s people are at odds with one another, we block heaven’s involvement.
Jesus is not looking for spectators; he’s looking for participants. He wants followers, not fans. He’s looking for men who are willing to get in the game and get dirty on the field. Leading in prayer is frontline ministry.
2:9-10 Women in the church are called to prayer also. But just as men and women are different, so Paul’s exhortation to the women is different. They are to dress modestly. Godly character is to be reflected outwardly in godly apparel. This doesn’t mean women are to wear ugly rags. It means they aren’t to let the world determine their fashion preferences. Worldly standards are often unacceptable—and this is sometimes true when it comes to clothing choices too. Do not dress in a way that brings inappropriate attention to yourself by either underdressing or overdressing
Importantly, Paul is not forbidding women to wear nice clothes; he’s saying that nice clothes are not what Christian women should be known for. Women who profess to worship God should be known more for their decency, their good sense, and their good works than they are known for their expensive apparel. If you claim to be a Christ follower, proof should show up in your actions. So walk in godliness, dress with godliness, and be worthy of respect.
2:11-12 Having addressed men and women separately in 2:8-10, Paul continues in 2:11-15 to discuss gender role differences in the church. A woman, for instance, is to learn quietly with full submission. Paul says, I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.
Understand that Paul is not calling for an absolute silence, nor is he forbidding women from using their gifts. Indeed, Paul allows women to speak in the church when it is under the proper covering of legitimate male authority (see 1 Cor 11:2-10). So what he’s talking about here is the exercise of a role, an office. He’s talking about teaching and having authority. An overseer / elder / pastor (these terms are interchangeable in the New Testament) is expected both to teach and to govern and lead the church (3:2, 5; 5:17; Titus 1:9; see 1 Thess 5:12; Heb 13:17). Women are restricted from serving in this role of final authority in the church, where teaching and exercising authority are combined (senior pastor, elder, bishop).
2:13 Some claim Paul’s words in 2:11-12 are a mere artifact of an ancient male-chauvinist culture. But Paul gives a reason his restriction, and it has nothing to do with cultural norms: Adam was formed first, then Eve. In other words, the limitation on women serving in a role of final authority in the church is based on a creation principle. There was an order to God’s creation of humanity. He made people, male and then female. He created the man first not because the man was superior to the woman, but because he was to be the positional leader. Scripture lays out a pattern of male leadership in the home and in the church.
The married couple was to function as an inseparable team, exercising dominion together over God’s creation, with the man exhibiting godly servant leadership. The man’s role as “head” (i.e., governing authority) over the woman (Eph 5:22-23) does not make him superior to her any more than God the Father’s role as “head” makes him superior in essence to God the Son (see 1 Cor 11:3). They are co-equal members of the Trinity, though they have different functions. Likewise, the husband is to submit to Christ’s headship over him and the wife is to submit to her husband’s headship (Eph 5:24; Col 3:18; 1 Pet 3:1); nonetheless, they are unified in Christ (Gal 3:28) and “co-heirs of the grace of life” (1 Pet 3:7). There is no inferiority. Rather, there is a functional order. When this clearly defined covenantal order is breached, the door is opened for Satan to sow discord (see Gen 3:1-6) and limit the intervention of angels (see 1 Cor 11:10).
2:14 Paul provides further biblical support for the restriction on women serving as overseers / elders / pastors: Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. Satan caused their roles to be reversed, approaching Eve with his deception while Adam stood silently and watched. Though he was supposed to take an active role in watching over the garden and keeping God’s command (Gen 2:15-17), Adam became passive, allowed the devil to tempt Eve, and then knowingly followed her into sin.
Importantly, though Eve was deceived, Scripture lays responsibility for humankind’s fall into sin at the feet of Adam (see Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21). As the “head,” he should have defended both his wife and God’s garden against the lying intruder. In the same way, God-called men are to serve as spiritual guardians and overseers in the church, leading God’s people, teaching the truth, and equipping the church to guard against Satanic intrusion.
2:15 She will be saved through childbearing, if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with good sense. After Adam and Eve rebelled against God, he promised that one day Eve’s offspring would strike the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). This is the first biblical prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ. A descendent of Eve would defeat Satan and his power (see Heb 2:14).
What does this have to do with women bearing children today? Every time a believing woman has a baby and raises her child “in faith, love, and holiness,” she’s preparing another offspring to help put hell on the run. Only Jesus’s work on the cross ultimately defeats the devil. But, as his body, we the church are promised that the devil will also be crushed under our feet (see Rom 16:20). Women are to influence their children to be agents of God’s kingdom, battling the enemy through the power of the Holy Spirit. Such a faithful kingdom woman will be saved—that is, “delivered”—and experience spiritual victory. Godly childbearing and childrearing is payback against the devil for his deception in the garden; it provides women opportunity to experience spiritual significance and victory. Single women and those unable to bear children can share in this victory by teaching and discipling the next generation of kingdom warriors.