When I was a high school cross country coach with 65 runners between my boys and girls teams, comprising a wide range of talents and two buses to away meets, it involved a lot of details and rules. At the beginning of the season I wrote up a rules and procedures page and explained it clearly. Some of my rules were less stringent than other teams, whereas others were unique to our circumstances. At the end of the day, it was all about a way of doing life together in a venture that resulted in high level competition and performance success – winning races and championships! Check!
For example, my rules were very lax about practice apparel, but very strict about what was worn on the day of competition. Frankly, I didn’t care a hoot about what other coaches did and had as team parameters; I had a way of doing things that I thought was best for us, and in our world this was the way we roll!
The gospel message that created believers who gathered as the church was pretty radical stuff. It brought together Jews and Gentiles into one new body, and it honored the role and dignity of women far beyond the social norms of the day. The gospel gave people an incredible new sense of a master plan of the ages and of God’s Kingdom, elevating the believer to a position beyond anything in the material world.
So the gospel was radical enough, all by itself. As the church gathered as the community or family of faith, how should they meet? What parameters and guidelines were appropriate and acceptable? And what was the big picture of it all?
That final question was answered by understanding that the believers were witnesses to the greatest message of good news ever, and that the main idea was for this to be shared and spread throughout the world. Having a radical, social institution in the public eye that upset all of culture was not going to be helpful for the big picture. The gospel itself was radical enough. The church did not need to be seen upsetting the political structures of the day, or overturning the social constructs related to the roles of men, women, slaves, etc.
So relative to the meetings of the church for worship, instruction, prayer and all else that goes on in the public gatherings of God’s people, Paul shares with Timothy some “rules” or “guidelines” that if adhered to would bring success for the gospel message in that culture. And the culture did not need to be upset to see that happen.
Last week on Friday there were some news items shared in the afternoon that were very controversial and would have “hit the fan” more if made public on another day of the week. And in looking at all the controversial elements in today’s passage, I admit that maybe it is good for this devotional to be on a Friday! Just kidding (I think) … but really, let’s remember to keep the main idea in mind: Paul’s suggestions for household order (rules/guidelines) for the church to publically function in the best way to see success come for the expansion of the gospel message.
2:1 – I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
I have often said that prayer is the first thing that Christians admit could make the biggest difference in life, but is the first thing that is neglected. Paul says to keep it emphasized, praying for all men, especially secular authorities. Why? Because the success of the state in keeping peace is the best thing for the success of the gospel message … that it may go forward in a context of peace.
Often times, both then and now, the civil authorities are less than stellar in their values and operation. But what is better – overthrowing them and rebelling against them, or accepting that they are terribly flawed, even while maintaining peace for the health of the gospel? Obviously the latter. Paul backs this up by saying that God’s passion is for the salvation of all men (this does not mean that all will be, but that it is not God’s heart to see mankind perish).
If there’s not enough controversy in those verses, let’s go to the next paragraphs that talk about the roles of women in the church community …
8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
Without doubt, the culture of that era was very male dominant. The gospel freed women and accorded them unprecedented status. But the progress of the gospel would not be best advanced in that culture by women stepping forward and taking over the show. Rather, it was through varieties of “good deeds” whereby women could best point to Christ and the gospel, rather than by adornments or public leadership roles.
Paul hearkens his words back to creation order and the events of the fall of man into sin and condemnation. The final verse 15 is odd sounding for sure, but what it references I believe is that women have played a role in salvation through childbearing, meaning in the coming of Christ as fully human through the virgin birth … their faith, love, holiness and propriety bearing witness to that great blessing.
Again, the passage makes best sense when understood in the bigger picture of what facilitates the advance of the gospel. This involved a sensitivity to the culture of the time, and yielding personal preferences and liberties to the greater purpose that others would come to know Christ. And there is a timeless truth and message in that theme! Let us keep the big picture in mind in all that we do, as that helps a church best thrive for Kingdom purposes. There is plenty of fulfilling work for all of us to do without demanding our varied freedoms and personal preferences to always be fulfilled just the way we would like it.