Men and Women in Church
So today, I want us to start in Romans 12. Romans 12 is the big shift in the letter to the Romans based on the power of the life-transforming gospel that is described in 1 – 11. We are called in 12:1 to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, and one of the primary fruits of this transformation is what Paul calls in verse 9 unhypocritical love. If you look at verse 9, Romans 12:9, “Let love be genuine” is in the original just two words: genuine love, unhypocritical love.
And it seems like it forms a title for the section, and he calls us to this kind of genuine love rather than, fake love is all around us, superficial love, passing love, not the enduring love we just sang about. This is what he’s calling us to:
“Let your love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor; do not be slothful in zeal, but fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.”
Now, we have studied this whole passage before, but what I want us to do is focus in on verse 10 today to launch us into this message, “love one another with brotherly affection.” Brotherly affection in the original is one word, “philadelphia,” and it has two parts, the “philos,” which is a friendship kind of love, and the “adelphia” is brotherly or it’s a family word, “adelphoi” referring to siblings. And this kind of family, brotherly love flows from our Father through the Son by the Spirit. 1 Thessalonians 4:9 says,
“Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.”
This love is a fruit of the Spirit, and it is unique to the early Christian community in its day. Listen to what Morris writes,
“The idea of brotherly love in such groups [and he’s contrasting philosophical and other religious groups] is not found anywhere but among the Christians. They saw themselves as a family in a special sense. God was their Father, and they were all brothers and sisters. Therefore, they were united in a love that other people saw only in those of a natural family.”
Now, what was so unique is the fact that male, female, rich, poor, slave, free, Jew, Gentile, locals, strangers were all brought together in one family as brothers and sisters. And this really forms the answer to the question we’re asking today, “How do we live out our maleness and femaleness in church-gathered life?” We do it as brothers and sisters. We do it as siblings, and that is the primary, the most basic, the most fundamental description of our relationship in gathered, in church community as male and female.
Now, do you see this happening among us? I think one of the reasons we can struggle to see this is because (We’ve talked about this before. Bonhoeffer writes a lot about this.) the dream of community blinds us to the reality. We have a euphoric, imaginary view of what this brother-sister thing should look like, as if we’ve never lived in families and never had a brother or sister.
Hello? It’s messy. We fail one another. We disappoint one another. We want opposite things. We argue sometimes as brothers and sisters, but we love one another. And in the middle of the mess, God is transforming us into the likeness of his Son and he’s using us. And frankly I see this all the time, in our life groups, watching brothers and sisters serve, minister to one another. Even this morning, as you’re singing over me, we’re singing over one another to God. It is a brother-sister relationship. It is the gathered community loving one another.
I saw this recently in the ICU waiting room. As we gathered around in a big circle of brothers and sisters, burdened for a sister who was in ICU and praying and singing and weeping together as brothers and sisters. I’ve experienced this on mission teams, in the Colombian streets in South America, as brothers and sisters walking down the road, sharing the gospel together. We experienced this in hundreds of different ways serving meals, confronting one another, learning together, studying his Word.
This is the short answer to the big question “what does this look like as male and female loving one another well?” And this was unique in the early church. But it’s also vulnerable. What the Bible describes as this kind of family life is extremely unique, yes, but also vulnerable in the sense that a family defined by this kind of love can be distracted, could even be dismantled, definitely could be taken advantage of.
Christians throughout church history have often been mocked for their open door, open arm policy. Anybody can say they’re a Christian and gather with this family. Anybody can say, “I believe in Jesus,” and they’re welcomed in. And it doesn’t matter their past. They could have a horrible criminal record. Come on! It doesn’t matter any of the sin they’ve done. Come on! You’re welcome here. We want you here. That’s part of what defines us as a people of God. But it also can be taken advantage of.
And so, what I want us to do is spend most of our time today talking about five different potential, vulnerabilities, misuses of this family dynamic. And I want to warn you, if you’re visiting, this a different kind of message. Normally, we like to jump into one passage and dive deep into that one. We’re going to look at a bunch of passages. We’re also going to look at some of the most controversial in the entire New Testament. Big time.
So, we’re going to start very broad, and then we’re going to move toward some of the passages that deal most specifically with women’s roles. That’s where we’re going to end. What we don’t want to do is have a series on male and female and then just ignore all the controversial passages regarding those subjects in the New Testament.
Well, actually, I would like to do that, but we don’t have that choice. And this is the reason. We believe this is God’s Word that we’re opening up, and our job is to hear what he has to say to us, no matter how uncomfortable or difficult or countercultural it is. That’s what he’s called us to do. And so, I beg you, don’t shoot the messenger.
Number 1, people may try to lead some astray. You see this right from the beginning. This is a gathered community of brothers and sisters, rescued by the grace of God, united in Jesus, different backgrounds, different gender, different stories, yet people are going to try to lead some astray. You see it in Romans. If you just turn the page or two to Romans 16:17. He has just talked about this genuine love, and he says in verse 17,
” I appeal to you, brothers,” [There’s that adelphos, siblings] “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught. Avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites; and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.”
Paul used similar words, different metaphor in Acts 20:28 when he was giving parting words to the elders of Ephesus and he said,
“Pay careful,” [We’ll put it on the screen.] “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,” [So he’s speaking to the elders. They have an overseeing responsibility.] “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.”
Before the internet was invented, false teaching flourished. So, he is saying, “Watch out! There are people who will try to lead some astray.”
Number 2, people may try to gain access to the vulnerable. People may try to gain access to the vulnerable. When you have brothers and sisters living and loving one another, Paul told Timothy to avoid people who have “the appearance of godliness but denying its power.” In other words, they look good. They do bad. 2 Timothy 3:6 gives us one example of that. We’ll put it on the screen.
“For among them [these false teachers] are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions.”
These kinds of people, we call them predators, use family relationships, church family relationships, to gain access to vulnerable people. And I don’t even need to go through this because… is it not sickening the way there is a steady stream in the news of another church leader, another denomination, the latest Southern Baptists, their abuse report, and I’m not knocking them. It’s universal. Wherever you have brothers and sisters gathering together, you will have predators that try to use that opportunity to prey upon the vulnerable.
And this is why we must be passionate about the safety policies that we enforce. This is why we are mandatory reporters because Romans 12 doesn’t stop. It goes on to Romans 13, and there’s a government that partners with a very vulnerable church community to prosecute predators. This is why we must have accountability and vigilance because people may try to gain access to the vulnerable.
Number 3, people may try to misuse authority. In III John he is writing to Gaius, a church leader, commending him. Notice the family language.
“Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.”
So here, John is commending them for their sacrificial support of fellow brothers and sisters, who are going out to share the gospel, exactly what Allan was just doing to you. Commending you for the way we as a church, are able to love those who go out with the gospel. Some of them you know. Some of them are strangers. But because you’re related in Jesus Christ, you sacrifice your resources to send them in a manner worthy of God. That’s the commendation in III John. But then notice what he goes on to say in verse 9,
“I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So, if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.”
This is why an exercise of what we’re doing right now is so helpful. It doesn’t just point out these major points, but it gives us a window into the early church. Even a loving healthy church can have individuals who try to make it about them.
So, this past week, a woman in our church came to me. She had just read a report of a pastor. Some you know what I’m talking about, there was a prominent pastor in our country last week who was dismissed from his very large ministry for abuses of authority and other things. And so, she said to me,
“What are we doing here to ensure that doesn’t happen?”
And I looked at her and I said,
“Stop asking questions. Get back.”
I did not do that. I said that’s actually a really good question. And we walked through what it looks like to have shared authority, what it’s like to be on a team where we don’t do anything that’s not 100 percent, everybody together. How frustrating that is, but how safe that is to have that kind of accountability, where people are asking you hard questions. I invited her and any of you to come to an elder meeting, and you will see at times that it doesn’t matter whether it’s Peter, or Ryan, or Alan, or whoever will be making requests or want certain things and not get what they want. And yes, that is very frustrating because as leaders often are strong-willed and think we know what has to happen, it is healthy to be told, “No” or to sense that God’s Spirit is leading in a different direction.
But all those kinds of accountabilities are built in so that we as a church family don’t fall prey to what we see consistently in Scripture, the warning for individuals who end up misusing the authority that God has given them. The greatest protection is Peter’s words in 1 Peter 5:1,
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
That’s the call to all of us is we all know as in any family; our pride can do great damage. So, we clothe ourselves with humility.
Number four, people may try to minimize marriage. And this comes in a couple of different forms. One is in 1 Timothy 4:3, an obvious form, where false teachers assuming that the more you deny yourself, the more spiritual you are, were forbidding marriage. Paul describes them in verse 3,
“…who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.”
A less obvious form of minimizing marriage is in 1 Corinthians 11. And in 1 Corinthians 11, the context is gathered worship. Paul is writing to address some abuses of this time of gathered worship, and he writes this in 1 Corinthians 11:4,
“Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven.”
Now, this is a super difficult passage for our culture to understand. Let me tell you what I think he’s getting it. The manner in which you worship should manifest (he’s speaking to the married women) should manifest the fact that you’re married. Then he goes on to describe the interdependence of men and women. Look at verse 11.
“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.”
There’s an interdependence there. In that culture, a head covering was almost like a wedding ring or was like a wedding ring. It was a symbol that a woman was married. I was just in a country not long ago and witnessed the same thing. If a woman went out in certain contexts without a head covering, she was sending a message, “I’m available.”
So, what seems to be happening here that Paul is addressing is in the name of freedom in Christ – “Hey, we’re all siblings. We’re co-heirs. We’re brothers and sisters. There’s no male nor female. We’re all one in Jesus.” So, when we gather to worship, there were women who were taking off their head covering in the name of this freedom. And in that culture, that sent the wrong message that “we’re available.” And so, the freedom to worship Christ was sending a wrong message in a context, so Paul said, “Wear your head covering.”
Here’s the question for us today. In our culture, a head covering does not communicate marriage. It may mean you’re trying to block some sun, or you had a bad hair day… I’m not sure what it means, but it doesn’t mean that you’re married just like not having a head covering doesn’t mean you’re available.
So, the symbol was cultural, but the substance is not cultural. And you’ll see that on the basis on which Paul rests his argument in verses 9 and 10. If you look back at 1 Corinthians 11:9 and 10, he goes right back to creation.
So, his point is even though in that culture head coverings communicated you’re married, in our culture that does not. But the substance of the fact is this. When we gather as brothers and sisters, a husband and wife should worship in a way that reflects they’re still husband and wife. And we can wrestle with what symbol best does that, whether it’s a wedding ring, whether they’re going to hold hands while they worship. What is the best way to communicate that?
But the overall principle stands that our sibling relationship in this life does not negate the marriage covenant. Does that make sense? So, we don’t minimize marriage. In Hebrews 13:4, the author of Hebrews says,
“Let marriage be held in honor among all.”
Whether you’re single or married, there is something about marriage that should be held in honor, not that you’re craving it, but that you’re respecting the fact that a man and a woman are married.
Number 5, people may try to devalue the teaching time. And let’s go over to 1 Timothy, if you’ll turn there, because we’re going to spend the rest of our time pretty much focusing on this passage. Paul writes his letter to Timothy, we learn in chapter 3:14, for the purpose of helping them understand how to act right in church. He says,
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”
Let’s focus in on chapter 2. Paul begins with an admonition for us all to pray wide prayers. Verse 1,
“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercession, and thanksgivings be made for all people, [all people] for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Do you notice the “alls”? All people. All who are in high positions, whether we voted for them or not. He desires all people to be saved. The point of the “all” is the size of your prayers should be reflective of the size of the need and the heart of God for the nations. So, we pray for a stable society, for the advancement of the gospel, not just for the American dream, for the advancement of the gospel to move forward in a stable society. So, pray wide prayers.
But then in verse 8, he turns and offers us some gender-specific instruction. So how should men act in this family gathering?
“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands, without anger or quarrelling.”
Men often struggle with two things: lust and anger. Now, I get it. We struggle with other things, too. And women struggle with lust and anger, but men often struggle with lust and anger. So, it’s interesting here that he says,
“Every place you gather, I desire that men should pray, lifting holy hands – not unholy hands – without anger or quarrelling.”
Why is that significant? Men, let’s do that right now. Can all the men raise your hands like this? Feels weird, doesn’t it? How many of you are Baptist background? First time? It does feel a little vulnerable, doesn’t it? Do you feel different when you’re doing this? Well, you can feel like the police are holding you up, so maybe you can do this.
But there’s something about this that puts you in a posture of receptivity. Now he’s not talking about fake it. Obviously, that receptivity needs to flow from our hearts. But contrast that with all the men doing this, clenched fists, anger, quarrelling, or even this, having a posture of resistance for whatever reason. I don’t like this. I don’t like that. Not my favorite song. We sang too many. We didn’t sing enough. Where’s the drummer?
If this is our posture, and he’s saying, “No, no, no.” An openness to the work of God, with a pure heart saying, “God, yes. I have failed. Yes, I’m a long way from where I want to be. But you have something for me today to hear what you have to say. Your Spirit is doing a work in my heart today, and I’m not going to quarrel with that. I’m not here to argue over, “Yeah, but he said this.” I want to hear what you have to say and not get lost in one point that I thought should have been stated differently so that I missed the overall point.” I mean, that’s the posture. Can we come with that kind of receptivity, men?
So that God’s Spirit works in our hearts, and we’re not trying to be so manly that we miss what God has for us. So men, come with hands ready, hearts open. Then he turns to the women. He says, “Women, open your ears.” Now it’s going to take him a bit to get there. He basically in 9 through 15, Paul addresses two things with the women. First, their looks and then their words. In verses 9 and 10,
“Likewise, also, that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness, with good works.”
His point here is if we’re brothers and sisters, then you don’t come to the gathering to make a fashion statement.
Some people do ask us, “How come you people at North Hills don’t dress up for church? And there’s obviously nothing wrong with dressing nicely for church, but part of our apparel choices are shaped by our brother-sister relationship. We are family. This isn’t a banquet. This isn’t a wedding. This is a family gathering. So, we’re not trying to be shabby or showy. And women were not sexually provocative because the goal is to love our brothers, not turn their heads.
So, Paul is getting at what we wear to say, when you gather for worship as brothers and sisters we’re not – we’re a family, use discretion is a good way to summarize it. And then he turns to perhaps, some of the most controversial verses in the New Testament. Verse 11,
“Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
I asked my wife this morning if I could preach these verses, and she said I could.
So, the structure of these verses is quite clear. And I know, it does not sound clear. But look at verse 11 begins in the original, it starts with the word, “women, quietly.” “Quietly” starts right out, and the end of verse 12 is “quietly.” And in between, he calls women to “learn with all submissiveness, not to teach or exercise authority over men.” And so, at face value, it seems super clear. There is a time for women to listen, not to teach or to have authority. Super clear, right? We can move on…
Very controversial. Why is it so controversial? Well, for obvious reasons. In our culture, any kind of difference feels very unequal, which feels very wrong. And so, people respond very strongly to these. Just a few weeks ago, a well-known pastor made a statement about the fact that women are not to be pastors, and he alluded to verses like these. And Twitter exploded! Someone kindly sent me a blog that one person had written in response to that, arguing for the fact, why women should be pastors.
I want to give you the five points.
- Women were foundational to the spreading of Jesus’s message.
- Women are gifted for ministry in the church.
- Women bear God’s image, too.
- Women need women advocates.
- When women are empowered, society as a whole flourishes.
We can try to be picky and argue, but when I read all those, I agree with all of those. Whatever you think Paul is saying here, he is not – and if you read the whole New Testament, you’ll see this. He is not negating the vital role of women spreading the message of Jesus. He is not questioning the fact that women are gifted for ministry in hundreds of ways. Women bear God’s image. We really hammered that last week. Women need women advocates is obvious. When women are empowered, society as a whole flourishes.
Generally speaking, I mean that’s not always the case because if men are not doing well they tend to deflourish society, but generally speaking, that’s true. If women are flourishing, then a society is flourishing. I’m not questioning any of that. And I want us to take a quick tour through the New Testament and see the vital role of women. These are just a few examples of many. In Luke 8:2-3, there were so many women who traveled with Jesus as a part of his missionary team, that they all could not be named. Luke 8:2-3. He actually says, “and many more.” Many women followed Jesus to the cross when his disciples bailed in Luke 23:27. Women were the first witnesses at the resurrection.
They’re trying to coax Peter and the other disciples, “Hey, he’s risen.” Acts 1:14, women were gathered in the upper room with the disciples, praying. Acts 16:11-15, we meet Lydia, who is most likely the first person saved in Macedonia and probably helped plant the church in Thyatira. Acts 18, Priscilla and Aquila both helped Apollos get his theology right. When Paul greeted this couple in Romans, he named Prisca, which is short for Priscilla, then Aquila, which in that day would have been very unusual first, and then described them with these words, “my fellow workers in Christ Jesus who risked their necks for my life.” That does not sound like a misogynist. Almost half of Paul’s greetings in Romans 16 are women.
Paul uses brotherly-sisterly language to describe many women. One example, Phoebe. Romans 16:1,
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant in the church of Cenchrea; that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.”
As predicted in Joel and fulfilled in Acts 2:17-18, both males and females prophesied. Acts 21:9, Philip’s daughters prophesied. 1 Corinthians 11:5, the passage we looked at a few minutes ago, Paul assumed that women would be praying and prophesying in the church. Otherwise, why would he be calling them to wear head coverings when they pray and prophesy?
So, the assumption is, they will be present. They will be vocal. So, here’s the question. If women are doing all these things, vital parts of the early church (We talked about that some last week.), and if women are verbally involved in gathered worship as 1 Corinthians 14:26 describes, singing, testifying, coming with a hymn, then what is 1 Timothy talking about? How can he say “Quietly, quietly learn with submissiveness? Do not permit women to teach or exercise authority.”
Here I want to give you a very specific answer. He is talking about a specific role and a specific time in the gathered church community when there is pastoral teaching. That is his focus. He is assuming that women will participate in every level of church life, leading various ministries, teaching in various ways, singing, prophesying, serving, praying, helping, but there is a role and there is a time that is distinctly male because it is reserved for authoritative instruction.
You say, “Well, where is that here in 1 Timothy 2? Well, the command is clear and verses 11 and 12. Let’s skip over the next couple verses because we’ll come back to those, don’t worry, and look at where he goes in 3:1, and remember, chapter divisions were not part of the original, so read this right through.
“The saying is trustworthy: if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task; therefore, an overseer, [another word for elder] must be above reproach, the husband [he’s got to be male] of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.”
Why? Because he has the responsibility to communicate the Word of God at a specific time. If we had time to read all of this, you will see Paul continues to admonish Timothy as the pastor there in Ephesus. For example, look over at 4:11, and notice the command language, and this is that authoritative. If you’re wondering why he used the word submissiveness, he’s not talking in a vague, general sense. He’s talking in a 1 Timothy 4:11 sense.
“Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth but set the believers an example in speech and conduct and love and faith and purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” [To do what we’re doing right now] “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things. Immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching; persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Look over at 5:17,
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”
You will notice when Paul makes what sounds, in our culture, like horrible misogynist statements, they are typically connected with the call to submissiveness. Silence.
He does the same thing in 1 Corinthians 14, calling all to bring hymns, all to speak. And when an unbeliever comes in and notices that you’re all testifying, they are convicted by all, and they say, “Surely, God is among you.” And you see this all, all, all. And then near the end of the chapter, he says, “Women, be silent.” What he’s talking about in the early church, there was a time for sharing and testifying, and Paul is saying, “Keep it in order.” But then there is a time for judging the prophecies and exposing the Scripture, and that’s where you hear these authoritative words come in, what we call preaching. And that’s when he says women cannot participate in that because they cannot serve as pastors.
Now, some people see other options for this interpretation. Let me give you a few. First of all, this teaching is unreliable. A.T. Hansen argues for this. He says,
“Just as the first half of this chapter showed us the author at his best, so the second half [talking about 1 Timothy 2] seems to show him at his worst. Christians are under no obligation to accept his teaching on women.”
So that’s one option. I grew up with that option. If you came to an uncomfortable part of the Bible, you get out your scissors and you just remove it. Option number 2, this teaching is situational. Paul was merely addressing a specific abuse that has no relevance to us. Barclay takes this position.
“All the things in this chapter are merely temporary regulations to meet a given situation.”
And if you want a really confusing study, track over the last few decades all the situations that have been proposed from unearthing history in Ephesus that supposedly explained these words. And they are legion. You should read some of them regarding the radical feminists of Ephesus, which is great theory, bad history.
Third, this teaching is cultural. In that culture, women were required to be quiet but not in ours. The problem with these theories is the text. When Paul wrote this – look back again at 1 Timothy 2:11-12, right after that, after he states there’s a time for quietness and submissiveness under the authority of the leaders God has placed over us. And then he says, verse 13, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” So, notice he’s arguing all the way back pre-fall. This isn’t the result of sin. This is before the fall, and he’s linking his argument to creation. Secondly, verse 14, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” So, he’s arguing from the sin of Adam and Eve, and this is not talking about what I’ve heard some people suggest.
Well, women are more gullible than men. You really believe that? No. The point is this. Adam and Eve both rejected God’s design, but they did it in two different ways. Eve was deceived because she believed the lie of the serpent that if she ate the fruit, she would be as God, knowing good and evil. Adam refused to exercise dominion. God had called them both to this high calling of exercising dominion over the beasts of the field. He submitted himself to the beast to the field, the serpent who came as a beast of the field, and he went along. And so, both of them are rejecting their call from God, and in that way, they both sinned but did it differently.
You don’t solve a problem at the same level you created it, is essentially what Paul is arguing. And then he goes on to say in verse 15, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing.” Good news, women. If you have enough babies, you can go to heaven. What does this mean? I just learned in the Guinness Book of World Records that a wife of a Russian peasant in the 1700s supposedly had 69 children. I was doing the math, and it was a little hard to believe. 16 twins, 7 triplets, 4 quadruplets.
What is she drinking? It’s Guinness Book of World Records, so it had to happen. And she’s definitely going to heaven. Is that what this is saying? No. I believe it’s saying this. Verse 15, “yet she will be saved in the context of childbearing.” Now why is that so important? Remember, Eve in a manic episode is trying to soar to be like God, knowing good and evil. And here, God is saying, “Embrace your engendered calling.” Doesn’t mean every woman’s going to have a baby, but it’s just a glimpse of, you are experiencing the salvation of God, not through soaring to be like God, trying to grab what is not yours, but embracing who you are. He is rescuing you right where you are.
And then he goes on, “if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control.” I need to really emphasize that this is saying nothing about the varying capacities of men and women. Dr. Claire Smith makes this point from her own experience. She grew up in what she called “the heady heyday of the women’s liberation movement.” She did not like men and believed there was no place for them. She was passionately anti-Christian, but then she heard the gospel, and God transformed her.
She writes this,
“God took away my spiritual blindness and gave me saving faith in Christ and His death in my place. God then began deconstructing and renewing everything I had previously believed.”
She was a nurse, and she had such a passionate desire to know the Bible. She went and got a Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D. in Theology in New Testament to try to understand what the Scriptures say, and she says of this passage,
“Paul is not saying that all women are to submit themselves to all men, all the time.”
And I just want us to stop there and make sure. Are we clear about that? You don’t look too clear about that. I know you’re reading ahead. Paul is not saying that all women should submit to all men, all the time. That vague sense of, and even last night as we were praying over this in our prayer meeting, a woman in our church just shared some of the things she had been taught growing up about this quietness was basically, women should be seen and not heard. And that just broke my heart.
That’s not what he’s talking about. And she happens to be very outgoing and a strong personality and just always felt like, you have to be a man to do that. Do we understand that’s not what he’s talking about? I don’t want my daughter to be a woman who just goes around cowering to men. What Paul is talking about is in a very specific context, the context of a covenantal community, we’re brothers and sisters, where there are leaders who have qualifications and are under accountability, who are exposing God’s Word for our good. That is a very different kind of submissiveness than a general demeanor of, “Shut up and get in your place!”
That is not what Paul is talking about. We’ll talk about what that looks like in the home next week if any of you still come to this church. But she goes on to say,
“Paul is not saying that all women are to submit themselves to all men, all the time. Rather, women are to be submissive in church, when the teaching is happening, to what is taught and those men who are teaching it. In practice, this means that women are not to be authoritative teachers of the gathered household of God.”
And she goes on to explain.
“It is not because women are less intelligent, less gifted, less useful, more gullible, or somehow inferior. They are not.”
Can we get amen, men?
“And these are not the reasons given for the commands. Paul says nothing here about women’s capabilities, and it is clear elsewhere that he recognizes the valuable and God-given gifting and contribution of women in the progress of the gospel and the life of the church.”
Here’s a great way to wrap up everything we’re talking about here.
“The battle for women in our day is to accept God’s wisdom in this and to be content with it, when our entire culture has taught us not to be. The battle for men, as it was in Genesis 3, is to step up to the sort of leadership Paul has in mind, when our entire culture insists that women are the real ‘go-to’ men, and that men and boys have little to contribute beyond being the butt of jokes.”
So how do we move forward? The elders have wrestled with these things for years because our passion is not to be culturally relevant, but to be biblically faithful. But we realize what I just mentioned really quickly can raise more questions than it answers. And so, we are available, all the elders would love, whether it’s coming to your home and wrestling with these things with you with open Bibles or whether it’s answering specific questions on email. We’ve got a couple Q&As scheduled. We understand that whenever you open up passages that are just so countercultural, and that we have people from both sides. People have come from churches with women pastors to people who believe that a woman even reading Scripture on stage is sinning against this passage. And we understand, and that’s part of what it means to be brothers and sisters in a community from a variety of backgrounds.
So, we want to help with that, and we’d love to walk through this with you. But as we go from here, and I’m going to pray in a second, but don’t check out yet, how do we move forward? And the short answer again is, can we love one another as brothers and sisters? And the way we do that – I’ve been thinking about this because the Bible again comes from both sides – we need to do this like women.
What do we mean by that? Look at 1 Thessalonians 2:7. Paul describes himself as a woman.
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
So, there are some of us that need to go out and say, “God, like Paul, teach me compassion so that I can truly love my brothers and sisters well.” There are others of us that need to do this like men. Paul ends 1 Corinthians 16:13,
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”
And that word “act like men,” it’s literally, “Be manly!” Well, what does that mean? Picture a bunch of screaming warriors, running across a field to a volley of arrows, that’s that word. But here’s the part don’t miss. Notice Paul links that “Act like men. Be courageous. Be strong. Let all that you do be done in love,” and I would love, some of you can take this and work this out. I’ve been I’ve been praying through this recently. It takes so much courage to love well. It takes tons of courage. I think it takes more than running into a volley of arrows.
When you meet with someone, and you’re listening to them, and you’re having to be honest about your own failures, it takes huge amounts of courage. One of the reasons many of us love poorly is we’re scared. We live in fear. But if we’re going to be brothers and sisters, we need the compassion of a nursing mother. We need the courage of a screaming warrior, and we need it all done in love, motivated, not out of hate, not out of fear. We’re going to walk forward in love. Can I hear an amen on that? We’re going to walk forward together in love.
Father, thank you. We have tackled a lot today, and I thank you for the grace you’ve given us to listen to what you have for us, and I pray that you would send us from here loving one another as brothers and sisters. In Jesus’ name. Amen.