Modern progressive scholarship offers at least six different options of what not to do with First Timothy 2. Nearly 20 centuries of church history do the opposite. First Timothy 2:8-15 doesn’t have to be a “problematic text.” It is controversial if one cowers to the spirit of the age. It is a beautiful testament to God’s divine design if one chooses to accept it as it reads.
So how do you preach this text?
You first have to understand how this text is going to sound to those you’re reading it to. For many congregations in America, a culture replete with identity politics and theories on gender ad nauseam, this text will sound archaic. The caricatures of the gender roles it teaches will be fresh in the minds of the listeners, confronted as they are day after day by a cultural narrative dripping with feminist ideology.
Though most Christians aren’t clear on how to apply “a woman must learn quietly with full submissiveness,” or whether or not “I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” has any validity in modern cultures, these directives are in the text. So how do you teach them?
1) Gender roles in the church flow from gender roles in the home.
Paul doesn’t write this First Timothy text in a vacuum. At least five years earlier, the church at Ephesus received the letter of Ephesians, which contains the longest New Testament passage addressing gender dynamics in marriage. In Ephesians 5 Paul says, “The husband is the head of the wife.” He directs wives to submit to their husbands, and commands husbands to love their wives. In this context, Paul channels Jesus’ redefinition of authority and submission. In the Jesus’ Kingdom ethic, authority is self-sacrificial service (Luke 22:24-27), and submission is self-sacrificial care (Philippians 2:5-11). This is totally counter to the spirit of the age.
In culture, authority means, “I’m in charge, I benefit, and you serve me.”
In culture submission means, “I’m inferior, you benefit, and I cower.”
In Jesus’ kingdom authority means, “I bear weight to lead, I serve, and you benefit.”
In Jesus’ kingdom submission means, “We’re equal under God, God’s sovereign design is good, I follow Jesus as I respect and submit, and the gospel benefits.
The redeemed home is the first line of defense against the spirit of the age. It is the initial context where Jesus redefines authority and submission.In Jesus’ Kingdom ethic, authority is self-sacrificial service and submission is self-sacrificial care. Click To Tweet
2) God defines gender roles in the home and church through the created order.
In the Headship Hubbub part 1 and part 2, we worked to debunk the idea that the New Testament passages are culturally bound to the first century. If Paul supported his directives through first century models or means, one could argue they are outdated or inapplicable to today’s world. But he grounds his teaching on gender roles in the home and church in creation. He restates the created order (Adam and then Eve) to show how God created men and women to function differently in the home and the church.
In First Timothy 2:13-14—just as the modern reader is about slam the door on this text—Paul jumps back to creation. To define why women aren’t to lead men in the church, he revisits the created order. He reminds the reader that when Satan tempted Eve, as Adam abdicated both his authority and responsibility to lead his home, God’s design was usurped. This usurpation exposed Eve and ushered in the transgression. Even after that sin, when God searched them out in the garden, he addressed Adam first (Genesis 3:9), reemphasizing the created order of male headship in the home. Whenever ‘the fall’ into sin is mentioned, Adam is named as the representative head (Romans 5, etc.). The created order can’t be reversed, but it can be a beautiful example of Christ’s redemption.In Jesus’ kingdom authority means, ‘I bear weight to lead, I serve, and you benefit.' Click To Tweet
3) The household of God (the church), like the home, is intended to be an example of divine design.
When people step into the church, they should encounter a different reality. In an age where many churches work to caricature cultural norms to make people more comfortable, Scripture charges leaders in the body of Christ to foster a context where the counter-cultural reality of Christ’s redemption is exemplified.
When people step into the household of God, when they gain access into homes, gatherings, and lives together as the church, they should encounter an entirely different world, different values, a different reality. All they know from secular culture is the value system given by the spirit of the age; but when they encounter the family of God they are exposed to the Spirit of God, and how God’s Spirit transforms human identity. The redeemed of God are no longer driven by what the world says defines a man or a woman.
The spirit of the age says, “Use what you have to control your environment.” For men this means, “domineer, compete, never let up, squelch any standard, bend any rule, hide any weakness, don’t let anyone in, and rule your environment by force.” For women this means, “cover every vulnerability, develop an image that will dominate a room, turn every head, and outdo every competitor. You can’t control a man by force of strength, so do it by force of seduction and allure.”
The Spirit of God counters this as it says, “Men, lay down arms and lift up holy hands to God. Put aside the need to win the argument, humbly lead through setting the tone of serving others. Redefine authority.” “Women, dwell in safety here, know that you have nothing to prove, no one to impress, and that your contribution isn’t based on turning heads, but on the good work that God has prepared you to do.”The redeemed of God are no longer driven by what the world says defines a man or a woman. Click To Tweet
4) There is a fixed order in creation that God calls both the home and the church to exemplify.
In this order, men are tasked with setting the tone in God’s household through self-sacrificial service. Men are specifically charged with leading other men to exemplify Christ’s redefinition of Godly authority. Women are tasked with submitting to Christ as they self-sacrificially care and nurture through the gifts God has given them, in both the home and the church. Despite the false caricatures of First Timothy 2:8-15, which claim that it tells women to ‘shut up and sit down,’ this text actually calls women to adorn themselves with ‘good works’ (verse 10).
The prohibition in this text is real, and it is applicable to the Church in all ages. Paul prohibits a woman to “teach or exercise authority over a man.” These two verbs, in context with the following text (1 Timothy 3:1-7) are giving a directive that women are not to “elder” men. Eldership in the local church body, like headship in the home, is a part of God’s divine design. If it is practiced by men who fit the qualification of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, it is a redeeming and empowering reality for both men and women in the church family.
When First Timothy 2 is humbly lived out and practiced in the church, it results in male elders who give of themselves to serve the church sacrificially, equipping the church and ensuring the gospel goes forward. It results in women whose voices, passions, and gifts significantly contribute to the mission of the church as they follow in its Sprit-led direction. The divine design of God’s family, set in place at creation, declares the gospel through the beautiful partnership of each equal and unique member of the body.