5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 8 Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. 9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, 10 but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.
If you look in your bible at this passage or look it up online, you will notice it is divided. It is generally used to annotate only men can lead in prayer and women aren’t supposed to “dress fancy.” The funny thing is that it is most likely what Paul was saying at the time to Timothy as a direct instruction. But, we must not forget, this was Paul writing to Timothy about the church in Ephesus during the first century. This isn’t Paul writing to your pastor today. It is, however, a principle that deserves our attention.
Just reading this passage again frustrates me. It frustrates me how much this has been abused and misused. In verse 8, we tend to place emphasis on the first half of the verse, that it is all about the men praying (instead of the women). But then we get to verse 9 and Paul says “likewise,” and it refers to how women dress themselves. How does this relate? It’s not about the prayer or who does it, it is how they pray. Likewise verse 9 isn’t about what women should do, but rather how people should dress. Paul here is addressing very culture specific issues, not gender delegation.
He addresses how the men pray because generally it was the men who led the congregation in prayer. He addresses how the women dress because generally they were the once who would make themselves all fancy for church service. If men had long hair that could be braided or were known for wearing fancy gold chains and pearls, Paul would have addressed that part to the women. Similarly, if the women were known for getting up in front of the congregation and chastising sinners in prayer, Paul would have addressed that part to them. It makes no sense to think otherwise. There were women prophets, rulers, deacons, etc. throughout the bible who were clearly called by and empowered with the Holy Spirit to have influence and lead.
So what is the principle we can learn from Paul? Our prayer lives are one of compassion, not the calling of God’s judgment upon others. I think we all suffer from those days when we wish we had Moses’ staff to call upon the plagues upon someone who is getting on our nerves. However, this is not the purpose of prayer, our communication with God. For one, it starts to shift the focus towards our own godliness and power, not God’s. Secondly, it doesn’t do anybody any good. Imagine a first time attendee of your church showing up the day that your pastor prays out loud for God to smite Las Vegas because of its sinfulness. Third, it’s just going to cause bitterness on anyone who thinks God is going to do it, because He isn’t. It’s not that He can’t, it’s that He won’t because it is not in accordance with His will.
Next, we learn about “dressing fancy”. In missionary school we learned a lot about caution and making sure that when we share the gospel with others, to make sure we don’t associate it with anything else. That could be food we give them, buildings we construct, and even a certain way we dress. Our faith and relationship with God is not dependent upon our actions. Our actions reflect our relationship with God because of our changing heart. I understand that we like to “dress up” on Sunday out of respect of some sort. It might be respect for our parents because we represent our household or maybe we were brought up to understand the importance of making yourself presentable while in the “house of God”. But what does it communicate to the poor guy sitting on the corner of the street? It tells him you cannot enter that building unless you have a three-piece suit. Paul wanted us to make sure we don’t make churches look like you have to be rich or dress fancy to be “on the list”.
How do you represent the Gospel to others? Do you portray the wrath of God or the love of God? Do you give the image that God only has a relationship with people if they look appropriate? Have you used this passage in the past to dictate the roles of women and men in the church?