WHAT HAPPENS AT HOME
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What Happens at Home…
There’s a lot happening in this short passage from Timothy. As we’ve been talking about over the last few weeks, this is one of the 3 pastoral letters. It contains instructions for the church on worship, services, and personal holiness. A shallow reading of this text can lead to a lot of false assumptions about gender and leadership and unfortunately has been often used to make a case against women being ordained in the Church. After studying this text, I really don’t think it’s about women in leadership at all, but given the confusion that it can cause, I want to start by addressing this issue.
There are a few different interpretations of these verses, but the question it comes down to is this: Is there a gender-based, hierarchical structure that the Bible teaches? We know that in biblical times there was a gender-based hierarchy rooted in culture. We could also say that while there has been a lot of social progress in terms of women’s rights in the last 2,000 years, the walls of gender discrimination that have been built up over those years, have yet to come tumbling down. So while the culture is promoting this hierarchy, is the Bible and in particular, this passage promoting such a hierarchy? The key to understanding this text is to first ask the question “What’s going on here? What’s going on in this church at this time in history?”
This book was written as a personal letter to Timothy, most likely by the apostle Paul. Timothy was overseeing the church in Ephesus and in chapters two and three, Paul is giving instructions for prayer and worship in the Ephesian church. There seem to be a lot of issues in this church and the issues are different for each gender. For the men, they are getting angry and even praying angrily. They are arguing with each other instead of being united in their prayer and in their worship. The women are focusing too much on how they look. There is a group of them that are wealthy and they are spending their money frivolously on clothes and makeup and then treating their church meetings like a fashion show. Neither the men nor the women are behaving in a manner that is fitting for Christ-followers. The result of their behaviour is that they are no longer Christ-centered in their worship.
There’s also another big problem among the Ephesian women and in verse 11, the writer stops addressing the church gathering and is now addressing the family unit. Now, why does Paul jump from instructions for a worship service to instructions for marriage relationships? One explanation is that is that Paul is directly addressing the false teaching that has been circulating around the church - false teachings that are being circulated in people’s homes and then brought into their worship service. Because what happens at home, spills over into what happens at church. We see this as Paul changes from instructions for women (plural) to instructions for a woman or a wife. Biblical believe speculate that these false teachings had to do with childbirth. Childbirth was the leading cause of death for women at this time. Women feared for their lives and so married women began practicing abstinence as that was their only foolproof means of birth control.
In addition to that, these Ephesian women were treating their husbands poorly. In verse 12 Paul instructs that a woman should not exercise authority over a man. This word used for ‘authority’, translates to ‘domineering’ meaning to arrogantly exert your will over another. It’s not a matter of simply having authority as we think of the word, but a matter of the wives bullying their husbands. As we read the Bible we discover that God’s vision for marriage is not a relationship where one exerts their will over the other or where bullying and intimidation are used to get one’s way. God’s design for marriage is a relationship of mutual submission, where husband and wife love each other and care for the other’s needs. The bible does not teach hierarchy but partnership. Then Paul gives advice – focus on being faithful, loving, holy and proper. He wants women to treat their husbands well. He also knows that they can’t control the outcome of childbirth so he tells them to let God worry about that. That gives us some context for the passage.
Back to the question of whether or not the Bible teaches a gender-based hierarchy. As a rule, we can assume that anytime someone is using the Bible to oppress a group of people or to restrict people from using their gifts, they are not reading the Bible the right way. The Bible details God’s redemption plan for the world and as so, we need to read it with redemptive lenses on. This one verse in Timothy has been used as justification for silencing half the kingdom of believers. But Paul is not giving a hard and fast rule for worship. He could have and it would have been in line with the Greek cultural norms. But the early church was different from the culture it lived in. Women weren’t treated as second-class citizens or inferior to men. They were treated as equals in the kingdom. This is revolutionary stuff for this time. Paul starts verse 11 by saying “Let a woman learn...” What’s this? Women can learn? Women in the early church were being treated much better than their religious counterparts. Jewish women had to stay at the entrance to synagogue for worship services. The church had become an example for how to do things differently. This is evident from Paul’s other letters and from Jesus’ time. Jesus had women as part of his crew. He let a woman touch his feet and anoint him. And when he died and rose again, it was women who were the first to share the good news. We have Mary Magdalene who was an apostle to the apostles.
Then there’s Paul. He lists his female church leaders at the end of Romans, he addresses letters to female church leaders. He talks in Galatians about there being neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female in Christ. He’s taking people who were previously in hierarchical relationships and obliterating the gap. So the answer to the question of whether or not there is a hierarchy based on gender that the Bible prescribes, the answer is no. In Christ, we are all equals. Being equal doesn’t mean that we give no regard to gender, as both genders are an expression of God’s image and this is something good. It means that everyone gets a seat at the table. Or everyone gets a seat in the pews.
The view of women that the Bible puts forth is a redemptive view. Paul writes that it was woman who was deceived, and not man and some people take this as justification for subjugating women as a sort of divine punishment. But that’s not how God works. A lot of bad stuff went down in the garden, we can all agree on that. The ground was cursed and we were separated from God and in Genesis 3:16 we have this passage that says to the woman “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you”. God describes the hierarchy between men and women as a result of the curse along with several other things that are outside of his design for us. And while this may be the way things became, it shouldn’t be the way things are in the Church. Why? Because of Jesus. As believers we don’t live under the curse, we live under the blood. When Christ died on the cross he reversed the damage that had been done when sin entered the world. That means that we are free to live the way God intended it to be – with men and women as equal partners in the gospel of Christ.
If this passage is not specifically about women in leadership then what it is about? As we read in chapter one, Paul’s goal is to address false teachers. The teaching that’s going around seems like some sort of early-church prosperity gospel – health, wealth and shiny hair. The church has strayed from its mission and has taken on teachings that aren’t of Jesus Christ. The culture has infiltrated their gatherings and instead of the Church changing the culture, though love, faith, and holiness, the culture is changing them. This has been a problem for the Church since its inception. How do you live in a culture that disregards Christ and still influence it for good? How do you recognize false teachings? And how do you keep those false teachings from infiltrating the Church?
Our culture today is quite different from that of the church in Ephesus. There are a lot of distractions that keep us from prayer and worship. We may have mastered the ordered service, but we have yet to master our hearts and our thoughts. The truth is that we often leave thoughts of God and worship for Sunday morning. Paul was wise in making a connection between what happens at home and what happens in church. He knew that the effects of the women bullying their husbands were spilling over into services. The men were angry and would come together at church and fight with each other. So what’s happening in our homes that we bring into a worship service with us? As we were discussing this in my small group the other week, we brought up the idea of busyness. People are busy. Adults are busy, teenagers are busy, children are busy. This need to fill our every waking moment with activities and work and lessons is very much a part of our culture today. Only on very rare occasions do we stop to rest and to be still. It is often in the wake of tragedy that we put our busyness aside to come together and be still. We saw this in April, with the van attack on Yonge Street. People living in the community didn’t know what to do afterward. They were traumatized. The local church responded. They organized a vigil, invited faith leaders from the community, arranged for a time and space where people could come together to pray and listen and be still. Before the vigil began, choirs marched through the streets singing praise and declaring “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow”. This was a beautiful response to a horrible situation. If you walk through that neighbourhood now, you’ll see people still take time to stop by the memorial and be still.
There’s nothing wrong with being productive or with work. These are both good things. But we need to be careful not to be consumed by what we are doing. If we are always engaged in doing then we neglect the call to rest in our being. And we make it difficult to hear the voice of God. The voice of God that tells us to come to him for rest when we are weary.
The voice that says “The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.”
The voice that says “You are my beloved.”
The voice says “Delight in me, and I will give you the desires of your heart.”
As the church, we are in a unique position to offer respite from a busy and fast-paced world. A world that overstimulates, overpromises and overlooks us. The Church stands in contrast to this culture and offers peace. As we come into the house of God, we are to enter the sanctuary with an attitude of surrender and serenity. Come as you are. That’s the invitation that Christ sets before us. But come with an openness and an expectation to be transformed by the power of the Spirit.
Another barrier that we have to prayer and worship are the cultural beliefs that we’ve imposed on the church. For some churches, it’s the belief that women should not be in positions of leadership. Or it might be a limited view of what church is; church happens for one hour on Sunday morning or church is akin to a theological lecture where we sit and listen and are intellectually challenged and nothing more. These are cultural ways of doing church that we’ve adapted to but are not explicitly taught in the bible. It’s been my experience and I know some of you have had this experience too, of attending a church with people of a different culture and being completely blown away by how different it is. I remember being in Africa and attending a service in a small Zambian village. The building was made of grass and the pews were roughly cut from trees. The choir got up to sing to open the service. They were amazing and they finished and everyone clapped. Then the second choir got up to sing and they were amazing and everyone clapped. Then the third choir got up to sing and I realized that we were in it for the long haul. This has been my experience of black churches, both in Africa and Jamaica, in that church is all day event. We’re probably not going to do that anytime soon, but we should beware of letting our cultural practices interfere with our worship.
A third barrier to worship and prayer is individualism or the desire to be independent and operate as though everything was up to us. We live in a society that tells us to compete with each other, look out for ourselves because no one else will. This is another battle that church is constantly facing. How do we encourage community when our instinct is to keep people at arm’s length? God has given us the Church as a gift. It’s a community in which we are to be vulnerable with each other, to serve one another, and to do life together. If we’re too busy to meet with each other and to help each other, then we’re not receiving all that God desires for us to have in the Church body. It’s like accepting a gift from someone but refusing to unwrap it.
The church is called to resist busyness, individualism, and resist elevating cultural norms to a place of biblical importance. And just as Paul recognizes that what happens at home is affecting what happens at church, we are to take stock of our lives, our families, our hearts, and ask how are we doing with this? We can’t this do this on our own of course. We need Christ working in us, transforming us day by day and we need accountability from our brothers and sisters. We read that the result will be a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is God’s desire for us in our homes and in our church. May it be the desire of our hearts as well.