Women in the Church

Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 2:8-15 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/16/2016 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Timothy 2:11-15

Women in the Church

So we come today to another controversial passage of Scripture. But this passage is not just controversial with the world and its feminist agenda. It has also relatively recently become controversial with many evangelical Christians. I’m referring to the matter of women’s ordination. Some evangelical churches have begun to practice the ordination of women. Others, including our own, do not. It is because of passages like this that we continue the long standing practice of reserving the ordained offices in the church to qualified men.

And so as we begin our study through this passage, our outline will be rather straightforward, walking through the verses in the order that they are given. So, our first point will deal with verses 11-12 which calls for the women to be learners and in submission to the church leadership, instead of the official teachers and leaders in the church. Our second point will deal verses 13 and 14 which give Paul’s rationale for this role for women in the church. Our third point will then deal with verse 15 and discuss what it means when it talks about being saved in childbearing.

So then let’s begin with verses 11 and 12. Verse 11 is a good summary and put in positive terms. “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.” This is in the context of the church and especially its worship services and formal assemblies, as we saw from last week’s verses. And so verse 11 says that in those church services and assemblies, the women’s role is to be a student and a supporter of the church’s leadership. Verse 12 is really the contrast of that. Paul says that the woman is not to teach or to have authority over a man. So recognize the contrast. If you are to be a learner, that means you are not the teacher. If you are to be in submission that means you are not the authority. Again, we are talking about the context of the church and its leadership and who is authorized to formally teach its doctrine.

I appreciate that this is a topic actually addressed in the Bible. We often think that this issue is something that we’ve only had to deal with in history relatively recently. Though that’s generally true, it was obviously at least somewhat of an issue here at Ephesus as well, otherwise Paul wouldn’t have need to write about this. But we can appreciate why it might need to be said. Paul himself had said some amazing things about the equality and unity of men and women in Christ. Galatians 3:28, for example: Paul said that in Christ there is neither male or female. In other words, God doesn’t somehow discriminate between men and women in terms of his grace and salvation in Christ. That is wonderful. Both men and women can find salvation in Christ and the gospel. But that doesn’t mean you stop being male or female. And Paul reminds us in passages lke this, that in certain matters, God has placed men and women in different roles. It’s not that one role is better than another, but we should see them as complementary. We should also see them as beautiful as they are part of the design of God in creation. God didn’t just make humans. He made them male and female, and he said that this was very good. In regards to their humanity they are the same and should be treated with the same rights and self-worth. But in terms of our gender, we should recognize there are differences and God has explained in the Bible how some of those differences are to be expressed.

So here it’s stated in these two interrelated ways, with regard to the formal teaching in the church and with regard to the authority in the church. Let’s think about the authority first. It specifically says that the women should not be in a place of authority over men. Thus, that precludes them from holding the formal offices in the church. That sets the context for the next passage which talks about the ordained offices of elder and deacon and discusses what qualifications the men would need to hold those offices. These qualifications in the next passage confirm today’s passage. For example, those qualifications require that the elders and deacons must have demonstrated their ability to rule, by governing their own households well (1 Timothy 3:4, and 12). That shows the idea of authority is still in mind for those leaders. But those qualifications also state that these leaders need to be the husbands of only one wife. There it assumes the leaders will be male, like what is set forth in today’s passage. And as a side note, those qualifications show that male leadership is to exist in the marriage relationship too; that the husbands are to be the head of their household (but I digress). But the point here is that the women were not to hold these positions of authority in the church.

As regards to the call for women to be learning and not the teachers, let me explain this by way of a clarification. This must not mean that women should never teach in any capacity. That must not be the case when we compare this with other passages of Scripture. For example, in Titus 2:3-4 Paul specifically says the older women are to teach the younger women. Or in Acts 18:24 a husband and wife team named Aquila and Priscilla are commendably described as helping instruct in their home a preacher named Apollos, so that he would more fully understand the way of God. There are many ways that women can teach both outside the church and even within the church. I think it is quite fitting that Missionary Jeni Richline will be teaching the women at the upcoming women’s retreat. We of course have women teaching children in the Sunday school classes. And so in thinking about what is being prohibited here, we have to remember the context of this passage. It’s situated in the context of the church’s worship and formal gatherings. And it’s put in the context of the authoritative leadership of the church. This too is a requirement for the worthy elders in the next passage. They need to be able to teach, 1 Timothy 3:2. So this isn’t talking about all forms of teaching. It’s talking about that official role as a teacher or preacher in the church. That is not a role God has given to women.

Before we move to our second point for today, let me give a final clarification here. Verses 11-12 twice talks about women needing to be silent. That might come across sounding a bit harsh, but I don’t believe the text means for it to come across that way. I actually think the better translation here is “quiet” and I think it helps describe both how they are to learn and how they are to submit to the church leadership. You see, you can’t learn, if you are too busy talking. Learning inevitably involves listening. Similarly, people who are not quiet toward leadership are the people who are the noise makers, the trouble makers, the subversive. This is similar to what was said back in verse 2. There the same word of being quiet is applied to what all Christian should try to be in society and in relation to the civil government. All Christians are to be quiet in society, in the sense that they are not to be out causing trouble. In the same way, the women since they are not the ordained leaders of the church, should be quiet in their submission to that leadership.

And so I think with this word of “quiet” we have an application for both men and women today. Yes, none of the women will be the ordained leaders in the church, but then again most men will not be the ordained leaders either. So, unless you are the ordained leadership in the church, both men and women should look to be quiet in the church, in this sense that they should not to be troublemakers, but they should respectfully submit to the leaders and look to listen and learn God’s Word from them.

Let’s turn now to our second point and consider verses 13-14. Let’s consider why Paul says women are to have this role in the church. He appeals back to Genesis with Adam and Eve. I think this is an important point in this controversy. Evangelicals who support women’s ordination often want to argue that Paul’s restriction on women was him just following the culture of his day. But that doesn’t work when we see that he gives a biblical argument for this restriction, and it’s from the very beginning which would have been a very different cultural setting than what Paul lived in. So they cultural argument doesn’t work.

Instead look at Paul’s rationale. Two points. First, one regarding the order and thus purpose of creation; that’s verse 13. Second, one regarding the circumstances of Eve’s deception and sin in the Garden; that’s verse 14. Talking first about verse 13, we see that God’s creating Adam first is the basis for his authority over his wife. In fact, wives are called to submit to their husbands as their authority in passages like 1 Corinthians 11, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Peter 3, Titus 3, etc. But here Paul sees that having implications for the church and its leadership. The fact that Adam was created first and then Eve means that Eve was being made specifically to be a helper to Adam. This doesn’t make Eve inferior as a person. But it does speak to her special role in this regard. 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 expands on this notion saying that Eve came from Adam and thus woman was created for man, not man for woman. Of course this doesn’t disregard how we both need each other and complement each other. But it does root Paul’s reasoning in the created order for why women are to not lead and teach the men in the church. Paul’s point essentially is that this was God’s good design. We should recognize the wisdom and beauty in how God has decided to order things.

And so then his second rationale has sparked a bit more discussion when it mentions how Eve was deceived but not Adam. Some have thought this is saying that women are more prone to deception than men and that is why they shouldn’t be ordained. I can appreciate why someone might think that, but that’s not what this verse says. It simply refers back to the initial deception of Eve. And so what I think this is really trying to show is that the first time this God given order was broken, look what happened: Eve listened to the devil instead of her husband, and she is deceived. She then actually leads her husband into sin, and he horribly with eyes wide open submits to her lead and falls into sin. It’s not saying that this will always be the case if a women takes the lead over her husband, that she’ll end up deceived. Nor is it saying that a husband is immune to being deceived; we know that is not the case. But how Eve was first deceived stands as that initial case study of how disaster struck when the divine order of placing Adam in charge was disregarded. In other words, deviating from God’s order the first time had bad consequences; why should we try to do it again? And so Eve’s deception should become an example for us to instead seek to live out the good pattern God gave for how husbands and wives should relate in marriage. And Paul says that this has an application to male leadership in the church as well.

As a final clarification, I think we should notice that Paul doesn’t say that his rationale is rooted in some inherent weakness or inability in the women. Yes, there are differences in the genders. Men can’t have babies. Women have different hormones and monthly cycles than us. Men are on average physically stronger. There are certain character traits and emotions that tend to generally characterize men and women. But Paul doesn’t make any of those differences as his reasoning here. I think this is important to note, because there are some women who are gifted in speaking and in rightly handling the word of God and in make wise decisions. But according to Paul the issue is not a matter of ability or qualifications with regards to the women of the church. He roots it instead in the complementarian purposes of God in creating male and female. Let us see the matter in these terms and correct any unbiblical prejudices or reasoning we have in these matters.

The last point is to deal with verse 15 about God saving women in childbearing. At first glance, this passage seems difficult for to understand. There have been several different views on this passage, trying to deal with what kind of saving Paul is talking about. One view, that I don’t agree with, is that it refers to how the faithful Christian woman will be saved physically in the act of childbirth. In other words, they won’t die in labor. I’m sorry, I’m not convinced on that view either by the language here, or by the simple fact of history that many Christian mothers have died in childbirth. A second view that I don’t agree with is that a Christian woman will be saved by either her giving birth to children or possibly by her raising of children. I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with that view because it would basically say that we are justified by works. Scripture must interpret Scripture, and that view would fail that test. A third view which I really like, I just don’t think the literal language supports it, is that Paul is making an allusion to Genesis 3:15’s promise of how the savior would come from the seed of the woman. Again, I love that idea of that, I just can’t justify that interpretation from the literal words used here.

So it seems the correct view is that this is simply talking about the typical calling of a woman, and affirming that she can still be saved as she lives out that calling as a wife and mother and homemaker. The idea here is similar to what it says in Philippians 2:12 when it talks about working out your own salvation in fear and trembling. It’s not that you are saved by your godly works, but in living out your salvation, you show forth its fruit and its results in your daily callings. One commentator (Moo) says that their job as mothers are the “circumstances in which… [they] will experience salvation.” They are not saved through the works of motherhood, but they are saved by grace through faith like all Christians, even while they do their work as a mother.

Let me give you a few reasons from the context for why this view makes the most sense. First, the immediate context is saying that a woman doesn’t have to be a pastor or an elder to be saved. It’s not that if she was a pastor or an elder that this would be some higher calling, and being a mother and homemaker is somehow substandard. She should be content with this ordinary and typical calling and see its goodness. You can be saved as a wife and mother! Second, the context from chapter 4:3 tells us that some of the false teaching that was going on at Ephesus is that some were forbidding marriage. But do you see how this combats that false doctrine? You can be married and be saved! Third, the context from chapter 5 shows that Paul saw childbearing and homemaking as the ordinary calling or profession for a young woman. It’s in 1 Timothy 5:14 where he described them marrying, bearing children, and managing the household. Now to clarify, I don’t think we should read this to forbid a woman from doing other professions. Nor does it mean a woman has to get married – Paul himself speaks in 1 Corinthians 7 of some of the virtues of remaining single. Nor does this mean that if you can’t have kids that you are doing something wrong. It doesn’t mean any of that. It simply recognizes that this was the typical daily common for women at that time, and Paul says that you can be Christian and live out that calling.

You know we sadly live in a day when feminists often denigrate women who want to work full time as a wife, mother and homemaker. The temptation is to read this passage and hear that feminist voice in our heads and think Paul is just being a chauvinist and trying to “put women in their place.” And yet many women greatly desire to be wives, mothers, and homemakers. Sadly, they are often being guilt tripped by society to think that this is somehow a betrayal of women to aspire to that calling today. But the reality is that this a tremendously honorable calling of which I cannot speak highly enough.

Of course just being a mother won’t save anyone. That’s why Paul finishes the thought in verse 15 saying, “provided they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control. Here’s really where we are directed to the gospel. We are reminded there at the end that salvation is not ultimately about our particular daily callings. It’s chiefly about our faith in Jesus Christ. Faith that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. And for those who have such faith we must persevere in that faith, and of course such true faith will also bear fruit. That’s what Paul says here at the end of this passage.

And so let us end today’s sermon with this final point of application. This application has application not just to the women today. Yes, women are not biblically called into the ordained offices in the church. But neither are many men either. But you don’t have to be a pastor or elder or a deacon to serve God or to be saved. Let us each find what that daily calling God has given to you. Let us work out our salvation in that context. Let us serve God in our ordinary callings as Christians while we remain in the faith by the grace of God. Let us look by his grace to bear fruit for his kingdom even while serve him in these ordinary callings.

By the way, this is something called the Protestant work ethic. At the time of the Reformation, the Catholics basically said if you really wanted to live out your spiritual life then you should become a monk or nun and live celibately and in poverty. But the Protestants said that was not scriptural. They revived the idea of vocation, that we can each serve God and live out our spiritual lives in our daily callings. We please God as we work unto him in our different earthly callings. Today’s passage is certainly a proof text for this notion of the Protestant work ethic.

Let us then labor to God whether as a mother or a father, single or married, student or teacher, elder or layman, employer or employee, or in whatever honorable calling to which God has called you. Let us serve him with the grace and strength that he supplies. Amen.

Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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