Monday, September 30, 2013

A Sticker Sermon, or 6 Things You Need to Know About Sin.

And to Adam, he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. – Genesis 3:17-19 (ESV)

The curse placed upon Adam upon his disobedience shows that thorns and thistles are in some sense a product of the Fall of man into sin. In this passage, thorns are the result of sin, and no doubt intended to remind the man and woman of the consequences of rebellion against God. Thus, in the mind of Adam there would have been a fundamental connection between thorns and sin, not only as cause and effect, but also a type and anti-type. Thorns remind us of sin, not only because they are the product of sin, but because in many ways thorns resemble the sins of which they are a product.

I was reminded of this recently in doing yard work. We recently bought a house with a yard full of stickers. I hate stickers. It's like growing legos in the yard that you can't play with. Step on one and you will know what I mean. So I am determined to root them out. Thing is, they are just as determined to stay. I have probably spent 10 hours so far in the past couple of weeks trying to dig these little buggers out. There is still a long way to go, though after digging up half the yard, I have made some progress.

In the process of digging up stickers and getting stuck by thorns, however, I have been struck by the similarity between sin in my life and these plants we call stickers. I suppose it has therefore been a profitable exercise in more than one way, for it has reminded me again just how devious, bad, and intractable sin is in my heart. It has also reminded me that I don't hate sin as much as I ought. If I hated sin as much as I hate stickers, I would probably have a lot less trouble with it in my life. So if I can get myself to see sin in the same way as I see stickers, it would move me further along the road to sanctification.

What I want to do is to draw six analogies between stickers and sin. Sin is a thorny weed in the heart, and if we do not wage war against it, it will take over our hearts. So in delivering this message, my aim is to help us hate it more, and prepare ourselves to better fight it in the heart. And surely this is what the Lord wants for each of us: “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10). “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Rom. 12:9). “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22). “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1).

The following lessons or analogies are not in any particular order.  They are all, however, related to the central theme of why we should hate sin, and how to fight it.

Analogy #1. Just as stickers can grow almost anywhere, even so sin can find root in any heart. No one is immune from sin, no matter how good they think the soil of their heart is. There is no part of my yard that is completely free from stickers. Because the yard was neglected before we moved in, the result is an almost complete infestation. Even so, not even the holiest man or woman is free from danger. There has only ever been one heart in which sin did not find a place to grow – the heart of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

There are many examples of this in the Bible. King David sinned after a lifetime of walking with God. After slaying Goliath. After being chosen by God as “a man after my own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14). After defeating the enemies of Israel. After writing dozens of Psalms. What a lot of people probably don't realize is that David was an older man when he fell for Bathsheba. He had a lot of experience of loving and serving and following God, but he fell nonetheless. The soil of David's heart, rich with the spirituality of the Psalms, was nevertheless susceptible to the sins of murder and adultery.

Or consider Abraham. The father of the faithful doubted God and lied about his wife, putting her at jeopardy and risking her purity to save his own neck. Or Peter, who walked three years with Christ, was chosen as one of the twelve original apostles, and who later spear-headed the advance of an infant church into a Gentile world. This man cursed the name of Christ out of the fear of men. No one is immune from sin.

Perhaps more fearful are the many examples of those who started well but did not end well. David, Abraham, and Peter repented. But not all do. Some are like Demas, who loved this present world more than the world to come and forsook the work of God to seek the wealth of this world. Some are like Alexander and Hymenaus, who began as faithful elders at the church of Ephesus, and ended up having to be delivered over to Satan on account of the lies they were teaching in the name of truth.

It is so easy to read the warnings in the Bible and think that they do not apply to us. But nothing could be farther from the truth. After speaking of those who perished in the Old Testament narrative because of their disobedience, Paul writes to the Corinthian Christians, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Likewise, such warnings are written down for us. Beware of presumption. Beware of the sin of thinking you cannot sin: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The ground of your heart may have been made good by the Holy Spirit, but the fact is that such ground is still fertile soil for the thorns of lust, greed, and pride. What the new birth does is to make the ground of our hearts able to produce good fruit, but until we are in the next world, sin can still find root in our souls, and will – unless we are always vigilant.

A hymn, written by George Heath that we occasionally sing, puts it well:

My soul be on thy guard;
Ten thousand foes arise;
The hosts of sin are pressing hard
To draw thee from the skies.

Ne'er think the victory won,
Nor lay thine armor down;
The work of faith will not be done
Till thou obtain the crown.

Analogy #2. Stickers, like sin, grow best in untended ground. Stickers have taken over my yard because for some time it was not tended to. In the absence of such care, the thorns thrived. Now I am paying for the lack of aggressive attention to the yard. In the same way, sin thrives in the hearts of those who do not guard their hearts.

On the other hand, one of the best ways to keep stickers back is to have a healthy yard. To get the good grass to choke them out. Even so, we fight sin best by cultivating the opposite graces in our hearts. Covetousness is best fought by cultivating contentment in the Lord. Pride is best resisted by humbling ourselves before Almighty God. The problem is that contentment and humility don't just happen; they have to be planted in our hearts, first by the Holy Spirit in the new birth, and then by the daily process of sanctification, in which we play an integral part.

Holiness is not automatic. As another hymn puts it, we have to “take time to be holy.” All the exhortations to holiness in the New Testament assume that we are waging vigorous assault upon the bastions of sin in our heart. Paul writes to the Roman believers, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Rom. 6:12). We are the ones who are to prevent the reign of sin. How are we to do this? Paul tells us in Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Who is putting to death the deeds of the body? The believer is. And if the believer is not doing this, sin is not going to die. Like thorns in a vacant lot, sin will thrive in the absence of opposition.

In order to fight sin and cultivate holiness in our hearts, we have to speak to God and hear God speak. The way we do this is to hear God's word in the Bible and share our needs and wants and worship him in prayer. His word is the sword of the Spirit, and prayer the attitude in which all Christian warfare is to take place (Eph. 6:10-18). We have to sow the seed of the Word in our hearts and then pray for God to send the blessing of his Spirit to make the seed grow and bear fruit. In other words, holiness is not going to happen unless we are consciously seeking the Lord in a life of consistent prayer and meditation on his Word.

The danger is, of course, for these practices to grow into mere formality, so that we are praising God with our lips when our hearts are far from him. But that does not make these things any the less necessary. You don't avoid the danger of hypocrisy by fleeing into the danger of spiritual negligence. You simply will not grow spiritually by winging it. You have to be intentional about seeking God in his Word and prayer.

If you do not feel like seeking the Lord, you should do it anyway. The farmer may not feel like getting up long before dawn and getting in the fields to sow the seed. But if he doesn't do it, he isn't going to get any crops. I certainly didn't want to get out into the yard and pull stickers. But I did it anyway, because it wasn't going to happen by itself! And you're just going to keep sliding down into deeper and deeper ruts if you are not willing to put the effort into pulling weeds and sowing good seed in your hearts. Just waiting for God to do something isn't going to get you anywhere. Just as Paul encouraged Timothy, so also, God says to each believer who feels the fire growing cold in his/her heart “to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6).

So fan the flame! Fan it by prayer. If you don't feel like praying, that's okay: pray anyway. Tell the Lord the reality of your condition. Look into his Word and wait for his voice. Seek him. The great thing is that there are promises all over the Bible that God will not forsake those who do seek him through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Analogy #3. Sticker plants can sometimes be hard to spot, unless the stickers themselves are showing. A few days ago, I was trying to weed out all the sticker plants I could see before mowing the yard. But the grass was so tall, I was having a hard time seeing them. They were not obvious. It seemed like they were intentionally hiding from me. Even though, after hours and hours of spending time weeding them out, and having become pretty adept at spotting sticker plants, nevertheless sometimes I still have a hard time distinguishing weed from good grass.

Even so, sin is not always obvious. Sin often masquerades as something good. Isn't this what Paul means when he says “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22)? Here Paul describes sin in terms of “deceitful desires.” How are they deceitful? Sin lies to us by telling us it will bring us good and happiness and joy.

Sin unfortunately has an ally in our heart, and too often they agree. That is what makes it so easy to be baffled by sin's lies. It feels so good to do it, and so we do. With such help, sin can creep upon the soul unseen. It is like a sniper hidden camouflaged and in the bushes right beneath our feet, ready to take us out.

This is why it is so necessary to be constantly vigilant against sin, and to constantly be bathing in the reality that is God's Word. If you follow your feelings, you will almost certainly go wrong. Feelings are no guide – God's Word is the only sure map to the path that will lead you into the blessing of God and into a life that honors him. You're heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9); it is a hopeless guidepost.

During the Battle of the Bulge in the Second World War, English-speaking German soldiers dressed in American uniforms in order to sneak behind Allied lines to take down signposts and misdirect traffic. And they were partially successful in their mission. The only way they were found out was by asking these so-called American soldiers questions that only a true U.S. Soldier would know (like “Who won the World Series last year?”). In the same way, sin dresses up in the uniform of obedience to God and misdirects us to paths that will bring us into sin's bondage. And the only way we will be able to detect the deception is by comparing what it is telling us to the Word of God.

Analogy #4. It takes hard and constant and sometimes painful work to root stickers out of the yard. If you've ever had to do this, you know what I'm talking about. Working under the hot sun with sweat rolling down in buckets is bad enough, but then on top of that you are constantly getting stuck with these thorns. Even with gloves on, you are not exempt from getting a beating from these pugilistic plants.

In the same way, the fight against sin is just that – it's a fight. As we've already seen, the efforts of believers against the sin still in their mortal bodies is described in terms of warfare, in terms of killing, and mortification. We have to be willing to die to ourselves if we are going to serve Christ. The road to glory is not an easy one. Despite what the health, wealth, and prosperity preachers might say, a Christian is not guaranteed the American Dream. Faith does not bring with it material blessing, but justification and assurance of eternal glory.

Jesus described the Christian Way in the following terms: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13,14). It has always been this way. The way is hard. Sometimes the hardness comes from within and sometimes it comes from without. But we all need “to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” if we are to be in his army and wage war against sin.

Of course, this is not the whole story. Every soldier fights on, often in the midst of tremendous obstacles, because they believe they will win in the end. Once hope is drained from a soldier, it is almost impossible to get them to carry on. However, for the Christian, the end is sure. The victory not only will be won, in a very real sense it is already won. Christ has risen, he is seated upon his throne, he is coming again. So let us endure hardness in the cause of Christ. He is the resurrection and the life; though we die we shall rise again.

Analogy #5. Stickers spread easily. They spread from yard to yard like wild-fire. Whenever I would spot a sticker plant in the yard, I would immediately look around it expecting to see others. And you know what? I almost always found another sticker plant nearby.

In the same way, sin is never an isolated incident. When David sinned God in taking Bathsheba and getting rid of her husband, he must have thought at least initially that he had wrapped up the whole incident nicely. But even though God forgave David of his sin, he made it clear there would be lasting consequences. The rest of David's history is one tragedy after another, a catalog of the sins of his sons. One weed leads to another.

Thus, to harbor one sin and think that we can keep it contained is pure idiocy. To save one sticker plant is to invite others into the yard. Holiness must be entire. If it is not, sin will leak out into other acts of sin and its consequences will haunt ourselves as well as those whom we love.

Analogy #6. To really get rid of the sticker plants, you can't just pull the stems that have the actual stickers on them, you have to go after the roots. Even so, we can't just go after those aspects of evil in our nature that are most visible, we must go after the roots of those sins in our hearts and souls. If we only do the former, we become like the Pharisees; when Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20), he was inveighing against such phony morality, and he illustrates it in the following verses (vs. 21-48). For example, it is not enough to simply withhold our hand from killing, we must rid ourselves of hate. It is not enough to not commit adultery, we must cleanse our hearts from lust.

Jesus was constantly reminding his disciples of the imperative of guarding the heart. In Luke 6:43-45, he told his disciples, “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouths speaks.” The reason is obvious: God doesn't look as men look. We look on the external appearance, but God looks on the heart (cf. 1 Sam. 16:7).

Jonathan Edwards knew this, which is why as a young teenager, he wrote this resolution: “24. Resolved, Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then, both carefully endeavour to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.” Sometimes I think we are baffled in our fight against sin because we don't pay more attention to “the original of it.” We end up fighting with evil's offspring and don't go after the source.

We need the help of God here. This is why David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me, and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23,24). We don't know our hearts, but God does. The question is, am I willing for God to search my heart? Do I really want him to show me what's there? Am I really wanting to repent of everything?

Conclusion.

We have to fight sin because we are sinners. Thorns remind us of this. But I am thankful that God did not leave Adam and Eve with a curse, and thorns are not the last word. In words full of hope, God told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). A few verses later, we read where God made the first animal sacrifice in order to clothe Adam and Eve (verse 21). This word and this event pointed forward, even if in a rather vague way, to the one who would defeat Satan and clothe his people with righteousness. These were shadows of Jesus Christ, the one who has for all time conquered sin and delivered those who put their faith in him from its power, penalty and – one day – from its very presence.

We cannot fight sin apart from Christ. This is because unless our sins are forgiven, such a fight is futile and useless. Our moral filth has brought us under the just wrath of God, and until this is taken care of, everything else is a waste of time. But this is exactly what Christ has done – he has taken the sinner's place and suffered the penalty of sin so that they might be forgiven. The Bible says that those who believe in Christ have that forgiveness.

What that means is that if you are a believer, you are fighting forgiven sins. I used to wonder why Charles Wesley wrote that Jesus “broke the power of canceled sin,” but it was exactly the right thing to say. If we belong to him and he comes to free us from the chains of sin, it is sin that was canceled on the cross. And as we fight each day against, let us remind ourselves of this fact. Canceled sin! The cross is written over every victory against sin that we have, and when we shine like the stars in heaven at the end of the age, in resurrected bodies, we will sing, not of our prowess against sin, but of the Lamb who was slain and ransomed us to God.




Friday, September 20, 2013

Roles in the Vintage Church. 1 Timothy 2:11-15.



This passage is probably one of the most controversial of all texts in the New Testament. On the face of it, the text seems to be saying that women have no teaching role in the church. As a result, some contend that it degrades women at the expense of men. They point the finger at the chauvinistic Paul. For example, one woman has written:

As Scripture, the Pastorals have shaped a world in which women and other have been subordinated and devalued. . . . Such texts, contained in sacred authoritative canon cannot but become 'texts of terror' . . . in a democratic society which views the position of women, lay people, servant, slaves, etc. in a totally different light. . . . How can we be true to ourselves, to our deepest social and moral commitments, while remaining true to the Christian tradition?”1

Though I disagree with this author's assessment of the Christian teaching, I do admire her honesty with the text. There are other commentators on the text, who though sharing a similar commitment with me (at least, theoretically) to the authority of Scripture, nevertheless seem to be able to either ignore Paul's words here or to do hermeneutic gymnastics to get around the plain meaning of the text. She might have completely given in to the wisdom of this world, but they have managed to surrender in more subtle ways – yet they have given in all the same.

However, I think the lightening rod nature of this passage is such that it might tend to hide the bigger picture: are we going to be faithful to genuine, vintage Christianity – the Christianity of Christ and his apostles – or are we going to capitulate to the culture? I ask this because this issue is bigger than the roles of men and women in the church. It is possible to be right on this issue, and yet be as infected with the spirit of the age as any secularist. Worldliness comes in many different flavors and in many disguises. Sometimes conservatism is just another disguise for worldliness.

Consider the Pharisees of Jesus' day. They were about as religiously conservative as they come, and yet they had capitulated to the spirit of the age in the most fundamental way possible: they were infected with the love of this world. So if we see in this text a call to resist the pressure to conform to this present world in the area of the mutual roles of men and women in the church, it should also remind us of the Biblical imperative to be not conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2),

But what did Paul have to say about the roles of women in the church? Is he really the chauvinist that so many today portray him to be? To answer these questions, we need to take an honest view of the text and seek to hear the apostle speak in his own words rather than to import our own meaning into the text. When we look at the text itself, then, what we find is that the apostle tells us what women should do in the church (v. 11), then what they should not do (v.12), which Paul grounds by giving two reasons. The first reason comes from creation (v.13) and the second from the distinctive natures of men and women (v.14). Finally, Paul affirms that motherhood is the primary role of the woman, and that by serving God in this role she will be saved (v.15).

What women ought to do in the church (verse 11): “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.”2

It's important to see that Paul does not begin this paragraph with a limitation on the believing woman's role in the church. Rather, his first word is positive: it is not about what a woman cannot do but what a woman should do in the church. And what is this? It is that they should learn. This is amazing because in the first century world, both among the Romans and the Jews, education was mainly reserved for men, and women were by and large left out. In fact, among the rabbis it was said, “It would be better for the words of the Torah to be burned, than that they should be entrusted to a woman.”3 Thus, when it is claimed that Paul was merely echoing the sentiments of an oppressive culture against women, we need to remind ourselves that this was in fact not the case at all. If anything, Paul was breaking through many long-standing cultural taboos against the place of women in society. Paul wanted the believing woman to be just as educated as the believing man. After all, the call to renew the mind applies to all believers, not just men.

And there are many examples in the New Testament of godly women who devoted themselves to Biblical education. Perhaps the brightest example is that of Priscilla, who along with her husband Aquila, educated the eloquent Apollos in the gospel (Acts 18:26). Timothy himself owed much to the educating influence of his godly mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:4-5; 3:14-15). And in Titus 2:3-4, Paul commands the older women to teach the younger women what it means to be a Christian woman. So if women were teaching Biblical principles to others, then it must be that they themselves had first learned these truths. And in each case, Paul commends those women who were doing so, and exhorts others to follow in their steps.

It could be that the words following “let a woman learn” are what provoke a negative response in many: “let a woman learn quietly with full submissiveness.” To some, these words might conjure up an image of women with tape over their mouths! But that is far, far from what Paul had in mind here. In fact, as a teacher myself, I can affirm that these instructions simply apply to anyone who is learning anything. You simply cannot learn unless you have a quiet and submissive demeanor. And this goes for men as much as it does for women,

When Paul modifies “learning “ with “quietly,” it needs to be pointed out that this is not a prohibition of all speaking in the church by women. In fact, women are encouraged to pray and prophesy in the church by Paul himself (1 Cor. 11:5). The context of 1 Corinthians 11 is the public worship of the church, not the private practices of men and women. So when Paul says that it is a shame for a woman to pray and prophesy in the church with her head uncovered, he is implying that if her head is covered, then it is right for her to pray or prophesy in the context of the gathered community of believers. Thus, by “quietly” Paul means to describe the demeanor that must be adopted by anyone who wants to learn. There must be a receptiveness to the teaching, a willingness to receive the truth – as opposed to a combative, argumentative response to the teacher.

Furthermore, when Paul modifies learning by “with full submission,” this is not a reference to a kind of submission that is appropriate only for women. What women are to learn is Biblical truth – God's truth, and it is to be submitted to with complete devotion by all who hear it. Men and women must learn God's word in this way. In other words, the submission called for in the text is a function of what is being learned more than a function of who is teaching it. When God speaks, we all must learn with quiet mouths and submissive hearts.

An incredible example of this is seen in Mary, the sister of Martha, in Luke 10:40-42. Martha was encumbered with serving the meal and ,looking for Mary, found her at the feet of Jesus, quietly receiving his words. When Martha sought to rebuke her and enlist Jesus to make her get up and help with the work, she receive a startling rebuke herself from the Master: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” As Ryken has put it, “This is the way all God's people learn.”4

What women ought not to do in the church (verse 12): “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

What is Paul forbidding here? At this point, there is a great divergence of opinion, and yet one feels that our current cultural mindset and its adoption by many with regard to the mutual roles of men and women is more responsible for this divergence than any lack of clarity on the part of the text.

For example, some say that Paul is not forbidding women to teach in the church in an absolute sense, but in a sense that was limited by the context of the times. This is worked out in several ways. Some argue that Paul is simply forbidding the believing women to teach error in the church, and that is all. They point to the term “exercise authority” and claim that this is a negative term and therefore that “teaching” must also have some negative connotation to it, such as teaching error.

However, this is false. “Teaching” in the New Testament is almost a universally positive term, and unless context determines otherwise, it must be assumed to mean “teaching the truth” not the teaching of error. This is seen in both of Paul's letters to Timothy (cf. 1 Tim. 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2). Furthermore, the text simply doesn't say that women shouldn't teach error; if Paul had meant that, he probably would have used another word that meant “to teach error.”5 Moreover, if this were so, Paul would be saying that women should not teach error, giving men an implicit pass. Finally, it would be strange for Paul to say this, when women were not the main proponents of the error in the Ephesian church in any case; men were the main proponents.

What Paul is forbidding to women is the authoritative and public proclamation of the Scriptures. Authoritative and public teaching of the gospel is what ought to characterize the teaching of the overseer, for their teaching is to be obeyed (cf. v.11; 4:11; Heb. 13:7,17). Note that not all men are called to the role of overseer. Men who are not overseers are also called to “learn quietly with full submissiveness.” As Ryken argues, “This verse does not mean that all men are to teach all women. Nor does the Scripture say that all women are to submit to all men. Rather, these verses say that all women are to submit to the teaching and discipline of the pastors of the church. In this respect, they are no different from Christian laymen who are not ordained elders.”6

Thus, Paul is not making an absolute distinction between men and women here. Rather, he is making a distinction between the office of an elder and the role of the woman. Women are not to exercise this authority; in God's good plan, it has been reserved for certain men – those whom he has called into the ministry of the overseer. Teaching is the role of the elder (see 3:2), and it is the role of the elder to lead the church authoritatively through the teaching of the word of God, the Scriptures. To this leadership both men and women are called to submit, as far as the overseer follows Christ. No woman, however, is called to this role by God. That is what Paul forbids.

It is sometimes argued that the examples of women teaching in the church are counterexamples to this view of the text. However, this is a specious argument. None of the examples mentioned in the New Testament, from Priscilla to Timothy's mother to the older women teaching younger women are examples of women in the role of the pastor/overseer, exercising public and authoritative leadership over men in the church. And even though women were encouraged to prophesy in the church, such were subject to the evaluation and judgment of other prophets– an evaluation reserved to believing men (1 Cor. 14:33-35).

Two More Objections

Nevertheless, some remain unconvinced. First, some reason that Paul is forbidding women to teach, but is not doing so in an authoritative way – in other words, in this text, as in 1 Corinthians 7:25, Paul is simply giving his opinion. The basis for this view of the text is found in the very personal way in which Paul communicates his view: “I do not permit...”, and in the word “permit.” However, this view is based both on a misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 7:25 as well as a false assumption with respect to the authority of Paul's personal language. In the Corinthians passage, Paul is in fact not giving his opinion, but states that he is speaking (authoritatively) as one commissioned by Christ on a topic of which there is no specific word from the earthly teaching of Jesus.

Further, Paul often says “I” when issuing commands (cf. 1 Tim. 2:8; 5:21; 6:13-14), so this is no proof of a personal opinion. All of Paul's words in this epistle are prefaced by his opening greeting to Timothy: he is “Paul an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope” (1:1). These are the words of an apostle speaking authoritatively, not the musings of a philosopher speaking hesitantly.

Second, some argue that Paul is not giving a general rule for the church for all time, but addressing a specific historical situation and giving ad hoc advice meant just for the Ephesian church at that time. There are several variations of this; one variation is that Paul placed limitations on women with respect to teaching because of their lack of education – and when that was remedied, the limitation would be removed. However, this is simply not in the text. But more importantly, the reasons for this limitation are given in the next two verses, and these verses simply say nothing about a lack of education.

Perhaps more silly is the claim that Ephesus was a radically feminist city (due to the influence of the temple of Artemis in Ephesus), and hence Paul was forbidding women to teach there as part of his effort to combat this radical feminism. But the facts – as well as the overall context of the passage – simply do not support such a claim. In fact, as Mounce puts it, “Ephesus was not a unique, feminist society.”7 There is no reason to see Paul giving advice to Ephesus that would have been any different in this respect to any other church at that time.

The Reasons for the Limitation

Paul's first reason is given in verse 13: “For Adam was first formed, then Eve.” Paul here is referring to a difference in role, a difference marked out by the order of creation, Adam, then Eve. It is important to note here that Paul is not saying that men are better than women, and that is why they ought to lead and not the woman. The limitation is not rooted in men being superior but in men and women being given distinctive roles.

Stott explains how Paul derived such distinctions in the order of creation: “His argument for masculine 'headship' from the priority of Adam's creation is perfectly reasonable when seen in the light of primogeniture, the legal rights and privileges accorded to the firstborn. For Adam was God's firstborn. In addition to being created after Adam, Eve was created out of him and for him, to be a helper suitable for him and corresponding to him.”8 The practice of primogeniture said nothing about the superiority of the firstborn in terms of intelligence, gifts, or abilities. In fact, there are many examples in the Bible itself, in which the firstborn was rather lackluster when compared to his siblings (one thinks of Reuben, the firstborn of the patriarch Jacob). Even so, Paul is not implying here that Adam was superior to Eve, or that men are superior to women. Rather, his reason lies in the order which God has provided.

This order is an order put in place by God at creation. Thus, it transcends any cultural considerations. What Paul is saying here undermines every attempt to make this passage relative to a particular culture. Paul's reason makes this passage an absolute for anyone who believes in the authority of the Scriptures.

Some may say that this marginalizes women by forbidding them a pastoral role in the church. But this attitude is actually rooted in a modern lie – the falsehood that a person's worth is tied to their importance or function or role in any society. Not only is this a lie, it is a lie which dehumanizes women. For it is dehumanizing to place a person's worth in their role or function. You do that to machines, not to persons. Rather, a person's worth is found in their being created in the image of God, and gladly living out the roles in which God has placed us.

The second reason is found in verse 14: “and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” Paul is not saying here that Adam did not sin – after all, in Romans 5, he puts it all on Adam's account that sin came into the world, and through sin death spread to all. In that account, Eve is not even mentioned. Nor is Paul saying that women are weak and men are not. Rather, Paul is saying something about the distinctions in the nature of men and women. Regardless of what modern feminists might tell us, men and women are different. This difference does not point to one being superior over the other. But along with certain differences come peculiar weaknesses. It is not that women are weak and men are not; rather, it is that both men and women have weaknesses, but that these weaknesses are different. In accordance with our particular weaknesses, God has placed men and women in roles that complement each other and help each other to avoid those weaknesses to which we are prone. Thus, Thomas Schreiner has pointed out the fact that “[w]omen are less likely to perceive the need to take a stand on doctrinal non-negotiables, since they prize harmonious relationships more than men do. . . . Men who value accuracy and objectivity can easily fall into the error of creating divisions where none should exist and become hypercritical. They should learn from women in this regard!”9

In this sense, our roles are partly rooted in the Fall, for weakness is a result of the Fall, not of the Creative order which was good. However, it is important to note that Paul does not root our mutual roles in the Fall alone, but in the Creation as well. Thus, it is not true that Christ's redemption has done away with all such distinctions. Christ came to overthrow the Fall and to restore Creation, a Creation which recognizes distinctions in the roles of men and women.

Persevering in Biblical Womanhood (verse 15): “Yet she will be saved though childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness with self-control.”

The obvious question is that if woman are not to teach or exercise authority over the man, what then is their role? This is the question that Paul seems to be answering in verse 15, though in a rather awkward way. At first, it seems that Paul is saying that women are saved by having babies! Of course, Paul cannot be saying that. What then is he saying?

My paraphrase of verse 15 is this: “The godly woman will be saved as she perseveres in her God-given role, in faith, and holiness, and self-control.” Paul summarizes her role as “child-bearing,” not because it is a woman's only role, but because it is a significant one, one that differentiates the role of a woman from that of a man. We can see the importance Paul places on such a role in 5:14, “So I would have the younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander.”

Paul is not saying that women merit eternal life through childbearing. He is simply connecting perseverance in faith to salvation, which he does everywhere. You are not saved because you persevere, but you are not saved without perseverance, either.

In the end, the best place for anyone to be – man or woman – is to be in the role in which God has places us. In many cases, this may be neither pleasant nor glamorous, but when the dust of the universe settles before the judgment throne of Almighty God, all that will matter will be to hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” (Mt. 25:21).


1Frances Young, quoted in Mounce, The Pastorals (WBC).
2Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations come from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible.
3John Stott, Guard the Truth.
4Philip G. Ryken, 1 Timothy (REC).
5The Greek word heterodidaskalein as opposed to the word Paul actually used, which was didaskalein.
6Ryken, 1 Timothy (REC).
7The Pastoral Epistles (WBC).
8Guard the Truth.
9Qtd in Mounce, The Pastorals.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Worship of Vintage Christianity: I Timothy 2:8-10.


Introduction: Why corporate worship is important
We are living in a day when worship as a public act is being minimized by many believers, who think that they can get along quite well – thank you very much – without the church.  I met a family one time that felt that all organized worship was wrong and resisted any invitation to go to church with us (or to any church), even though they professed to be followers of Christ.  At another time, I talked to a fellow believer who told me, “I just don’t feel like church is for me right now.”  In other cases, people flit from church to church and then eventually end up giving up and staying at home because they just “didn’t fit.”  Some people don’t go to church, but protest that they are doing just fine because they watch the Hour of Power and Billy Graham on the TV.
The New Testament knows nothing of this attitude towards the church.  It sees participation in the community of believers as essential to the faith.  The author of Hebrews warned not to forsake the assembly of believers “as the manner of some is” – in light of the coming judgment (Heb. 10:24-5).  In other words, worshipping with the church is a serious and indispensable thing for believers.  What Paul says to Timothy in the text reinforces this emphasis.

In the next chapter, in 1 Timothy 3:14-15, Paul tells his son in the faith that he is writing these things to him (i.e. the contents of his letter previous to this) “that . . . 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” (ESV).  In other words, the instructions of Paul to Timothy had to do with the church.  Hence, when we arrive at our text, we need to see them as addressing a situation in the gathered community of believers, the church.  When Paul urges that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men” (v. 1), he is thinking not primarily of private prayer (though that is important), but of public prayer made in the church.  The church is to pray and it is to pray for all people.

Similarly, in verses 8-10, Paul is addressing a situation in the Ephesian church.  Of course, what Paul intended for the Ephesian church, he intended for all Christian churches – it was not only there that men should pray, but that “men pray everywhere;” that is, in every place there was a church.

What should be underlined here is that Paul is concerned about worship in the gathered community of believers.  It is not just that worship is important, but that worship with other believers is important.  Worship is not just a private act.  It ought also to be a public act as well.  

There are several reasons why it is this way.  First, the apostle Peter says that when we are born again, our souls are “purified . . . in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren” (1 Pet. 1:22).  In other words, when a Christian is made, he/she is made into a person who loves other believers.  The apostle John agrees: “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat [i.e. God] loveth him also that is begotten of him [i.e. other believers]” (1 Jn. 5:1).  But you cannot love other believers and then be content to live in isolation from them.  Thus, someone who is truly born again is going to seek out other believers, and the most natural context for this to take place is the church.

Second, the very nature of worship in some sense demands an audience – not so that we can turn the attention on ourselves but so that we can enjoy God together with others.  In his book Desiring God, John Piper describes how C. S. Lewis found the commands to worship God a stumbling block to faith.  Piper writes, “He did not see the point in all this; besides, it seemed to picture God as craving ‘for our worship like a vain woman who wants compliments.’”  He then quotes Lewis at length who saw that his objection was predicated upon a false assumption of what worship really was:

But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything— strangely escaped me.  I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.… The world rings with praise— lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game.…  My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.  I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.[1]
To follow up on Lewis’ analogy here, I would add that the world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses to others, readers praising their favorite poet to others, and so on.  When we are truly delighted with someone or something, praise overflows naturally to include others in its enjoyment.  It is the wicked man who wants to horde the enjoyment for himself.  The church is the place in which we not only together direct prayer and praise to God, but share in this experience with each other: “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19, ESV).
Third, we need the spiritual gifts of others.  It is not for no reason that the Christian life is described as a warfare, and the church is the army with Christ at its head.  But no army is ever made up of one person.  Armies are made of many individuals, each with a position and a job without which the army would be far less able to wage war.  Another analogy the Bible uses is the body.  Paul reminds the Corinthians that the body is not just an arm or an eye.   The body needs every part to function (1 Cor. 12).  In the same way, we need the spiritual gifts of other believers.  God by sovereignly distributing his gifts, and choosing not to give every gift to a single believer, is teaching us to rely on other believers in the journey to heaven.  Even Paul felt like he would benefit from the spiritual gifts of other believers (Rom. 1:12).  And again, the context in which this is most likely to take place is the church.
On the other hand, it is possible for believers to gather without worshiping God in the right way.  Worship, because of sin, is not automatically going to happen in a way that pleases God, even in the context of the gathered church.  This is so serious, that in the church of Corinth, when some in the church were abusing the Lord’s Supper, they died – and Paul interpreted their deaths as judgment from God (1 Cor. 11:28-31).  Worship is so essential that God is ferociously determined that we get it right, and that is the reason Paul is so concerned about what was happening at the church in Ephesus, and was unwavering in his commitment to get it right.  We ought to have the same concern.  Our spiritual well-being depends upon worship functioning properly in the gathered community of believers. 
Therefore, we need to hear Paul’s words today.  Though this passage does not say everything about worship that we need to hear – it was directed to correct specific abuses in a specific church – nevertheless, this is a good place to start.  Further, sin recycles itself, and so what happened at Ephesus in the first century can certainly happen again.  We ought not only to heed the principles of proper worship but also to beware the dangers of sin in our worship.  To that end, I want to consider the following three points: (1) What should NOT characterize the church at worship, (2) what SHOULD characterize the church at worship, and (3) why the church at worship should be characterized by these things and not by these other things.

What should NOT characterize the church at worship

1. Anger.  In his words to Timothy, Paul deals with problems specific to men (v. 8) and then the problems specific to the women (v.9-10).  Beginning with the men, Paul writes, “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.”  “Lifting up . . . hands” was the typical way an orthodox Jew prayed, but Paul is probably not prescribing a specific form of prayer as to describe it in a vivid way.  Rather, the emphasis of the passage is on the attitudes and actions surrounding prayer.  Prayer is to be characterized by holiness and not by anger.  

“Doubting” (KJV) is probably not the best translation.  The ESV translates it with the word “quarreling.”  Though we ought to pray in faith and not doubt God, that is not the issue here.  The issue here had to do with the endless and angry arguments that the false teaching produced.  In 6:3-5, Paul describes those who oppose the truth, which produced “questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth. . . .”  Paul probably had this scenario in mind when he wrote 2:8.  One of the reasons Paul wanted the false teachers silenced is because their teaching only produced angry men who quarreled instead of holy men who prayed.

You cannot worship God in anger.  This is why Paul is constantly denouncing wrath and anger in believers: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Eph. 5:31-32).  To the Philippians, he wrote, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Phil. 2:14), and to the Colossians, “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (3:8).  Even in the case of opposing error, truth must be spoken in love: “But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.  And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient” (2 Tim. 2:23-24).

And Jesus said that it is not enough to take care of our own anger: if we have caused someone else to be angry with us, we must do what we can to be reconciled before we come and participate in worship (Mt. 5:23-24).  Perhaps this is the reason Jesus put these words into the prayer he taught his disciples: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Mt. 6:12).  It is kind of hard to be angry and bitter and quarrelsome with someone whom you have forgiven.

Unfortunately, even when there is not false-teaching to stoke the flames of contention, anger can still be a problem.  And this is especially true with men!  Anger is sometimes even promoted as a “manly” virtue.  You stand up for yourself by fighting those who get in your way and exploding in anger when something doesn’t go your way.  

The Lord’s Prayer makes it obvious why anger is so antithetical to prayer and worship.  It is the contraction of all we profess: that we have without any merit or desert been forgiven freely by God through Christ.  It is thus a complete betrayal of the message of the Gospel.  Further, anger is antithetical to worship because is turns the attention away from God and to ourselves.  Anger turns our gaze from the claims of Christ to our own claims and demands.  It is therefore not just a contradiction to the message of vintage Christianity but to its very nature.  Anger is a message and the message it speaks is that we deserve to be served, when our Lord came not be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many (Mt. 20:28).  And the example of Christ shows us that anger isn’t manly at all.  It is the sign of a lack of self-control, a man who might be physically strong but who is pathetically weak in his spirit.  

Someone might ask, however, about Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:26, “Be ye angry, and sin not” – doesn’t this imply that anger is okay?  Isn’t there such a thing as righteous anger?  After all, wasn’t even Jesus angry? (Mark 3:5)

First, yes, there is a thing such as righteous anger.  Sin ought to grieve and anger us.  If it does not, it is because there is something wrong with us.  We are to abhor that which is evil (Rom. 12:9).  This is illustrated by Jesus in Mark 3:5 – it was the hardness of their heart that moved him to anger.

But we need to be careful here.  Even righteous anger can develop into sinful wrath.  I think that’s why Paul went on to say in Ephesians 4, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath; neither give place to the Devil.”  Anger unrestrained – even if it begins as righteous anger – is like a bomb waiting to explode, and it puts us in danger of falling into the snare of the evil one.  

It is not this kind of anger that Paul is talking about in our text however.  It is the anger that comes from pointless disputes rooted in selfishness.  A good way to distinguish between the two is to ask ourselves, “Why am I angry?”  Is it because I have been inconvenienced, or because God has been sinned against?  What is at the bottom of my anger: me or the glory of God?  

2. Ostentation.  Paul moves in verse 8 to 9 from dealing with the men to dealing with the women in the church.  To the women, he says that they should “adorn themselves in modest apparel . . . not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array.”  It is important to understand what Paul is confronting here.  He is not saying that women – or men, for that matter – should always dress in bland, unattractive attire.  What Paul opposed were excessive displays of wealth.  The word for “costly” carried the idea of being extremely costly.  The word is used in Mark 14:3-5 to describe the expensive ointment – basically a year’s wages – that the woman poured on Jesus’ head.  It is said that at that time clothing could cost as much as 7000 denarii – about 19 years’ wages.[2]  This kind of ostentatious display is simply contrary to the spirit of the Christian faith.  It really says that what one values are those things that make one admired by the world – gold, pearls, costly array.  The Christian should live in such a way so that people see that their hope is not in this world (1 Pet. 3:15).  Our wealth, and what we value, is in heaven, not in the things of the earth.  What we value are those things that we will carry with us into heaven.  

Paul is saying, then, that believing women should dress in a way that reflects their values.  They should dress in a way that shows that they value “good works” (v.10) over “gold, pears, and costly array.”  Peter says something similar: “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Pet. 3:3-4).  Note that this passage shows that it is not the jewelry per se that Paul and Peter are inveighing against – if that were the case, Peter would be saying that women shouldn’t wear clothes at all!  No, it is not jewelry or a certain hair-style that the apostles were concerned with, but with an attitude that manifested itself in the way one dressed.

The wealth of the church should not be reflected in what we wear or what we have but in who we are and what we do.  That goes for men just as much as it does for women.

It is said that during the persecution under the Roman emperor Valerian, Lawrence the Roman church’s chief deacon was called before the emperor who told him that he was going to confiscate all the church’s property.  Lawrence, who had known that Valerian would do this, had already given all the wealth of the church away.  Nevertheless, he told the emperor that he would give him the money in three days’ time.  At the end of three days, he brought the emperor to the church and led him into a room where were gathered all the poor, sick, orphans, and widows who were supported by the church, and told him, “Here are the treasures of the church.”[3]  Valerian, who had expected a treasure trove in gold, was furious.  But Lawrence had demonstrated a great truth: the treasures of the church are not what the world values.

3. Immodesty.  Not only should believing women avoid ostentation, but they should “adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control” (v. 9, ESV).  The problem at Ephesus is that believing women were wearing not only expensive but seductive dress.  Therefore, Paul calls on Timothy to put a stop to it. 

Why is this important?  It is not just that this is a problem of lust.  That certainly is a problem, but it’s not the only reason Paul wants the Christian women to dress differently.  It is because the way a woman dresses is a reflection of an attitude towards sex and marriage.  Just as gold and pearls and costly array reveal where one places their heart and values, even so immodest dress reveals a cultural disdain for faithful, life-long, monogamous, Christ-honoring marriage.

In fact, in the ancient world, seductive dress was linked to marital unfaithfulness.  One Biblical scholar has written, “The use of external adornments such as pearls, gold jewelry, hair styling and expensive, provocative clothing indicated two undesirable characteristics – material extravagance and marital infidelity.”[4]  The ancient world evidently recognized what our culture does not: that there are things a woman should not show; there are things about a woman’s body that ought to be kept between her and her husband.  

Thus, it is not just another man’s heart that is at stake here, but the witness of the church to the institution of marriage.  And if there has ever been a time where such a witness needs to be defended, it is now.  There has never been a time in which marriage has come under such attack as it has today.  And our culture reinforces its attitudes in the standards of dress – or lack thereof.  When believing women wear seductive dress because “that’s the way girls dress these days” they are not being faithful to the mission of the church in being a witness to holiness of heart and the institution of marriage.

However, there are two dangers we need to avoid when it comes to the issue of modesty and clothing.  One is that men are merely victims when it comes to lust, and that therefore women ought to cover up everything!  It is claimed that “men just can’t help themselves” and that therefore a woman is completely in the wrong whenever she wears anything form-fitting.  This is certainly the wrong approach to the solution, since both for men and women, sin is a choice.  Ultimately, we are not victims – we choose to sin.  This is just as true when it comes to lust as it is for any other sin.  Often, it simply isn’t the woman’s dress at all that is the problem anyway – it’s the heart of the man that is the problem.  Until that is taken care of, the problem isn’t going to go away even if a woman dresses modestly.  Peter speaks of those who have “eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14).  Such individuals are not going to be stopped by putting a woman in a burqa.  

Another danger is found at the opposite extreme.   In the recognition that men are responsible for the lust in their heart, not the woman in the plunging neckline, some people go to the other end of the spectrum, and make it sound like a woman shouldn’t be held accountable to any standard of dress.  This also is wrong, simply because a woman who dresses immodestly is responsible for the lust in other men’s hearts.  She is not responsible in the same way as the man is.  He is the ultimate offender.  But the immodestly dressed woman has willingly become an accomplice in another man’s sin.  The man who drives the getaway car may not have robbed the bank, but the bank would not have been robbed without him.  The person who places a chocolate cake in front of a person who loves chocolate cake but who is on a diet is partly responsible for causing that person to eat something they shouldn’t.  In the same way, a woman who dresses immodestly in public is partly responsible for the man who has looked at her and is now struggling with lust.

Anger, ostentation, and immodesty are wrong, and should never characterize the church.  And they are serious issues because worship is serious.  Our culture may not see any of these matters as a big deal.  But then again, the church is not meant to reflect the culture, we are meant to be counter-cultural and to reflect God to the world.  What then should characterize the church? 

What should characterize the church at worship

1. Prayer.  Though prayer has never been the main point of the passage, the fact that prayer is always in the background demonstrates that it is absolutely essential to the life of the church (v.1-2, 8).  Jesus called the temple “a house of prayer.”  Now the church is the temple of God, and therefore it is fitting that is should be called the house of prayer.

When you look into the book of Acts, you will see that prayer characterized the early church.  They prayed before the day of Pentecost, they prayed during times of persecution, they prayed when Peter was in prison, they prayed when seeking guidance and direction, and on and on.  The narrative makes it clear that the church was blessed precisely because the church was a praying church.  When the need for deacons appeared for the first time, Peter said that the church needed to appoint men other than the apostles because they needed to give themselves to the word of God and to prayer (Acts 6:4).  Jesus told the apostles to pray in his name: “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Jn. 16:13).  James tells us that the “effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (Jm. 5:16).

What is especially interesting about the Acts passages is that the prayers that are highlighted as changing the course of church history are not private prayers.  They are the prayers of the gathered church.  Which tells me that God especially blesses through the prayers of believers when they are gathered together.  This has been true during almost every revival of religion that has taken place.  If prayer does not precede it, it always accompanies it.  Thus, we should never look on prayer as being an accoutrement of worship, but as belonging to the very heart of it.  If you are not praying, you are not worshiping.  

2. Peace.  If anger and arguing are not to characterize the church, then peace ought to characterize the church.  Those who are at peace with God ought to be at peace with one another.  Harmony, unity, love, forgiveness, and longsuffering are the marks of the church.  

3. Piety.  Men are to pray with “holy hands,” and women are to “profess godliness” and then to demonstrate their profession with good works.  Grace does not come through good works, but good works do come from grace.  Therefore, by the grace of God, the church is a factory of good works.  This piety starts at home (1 Tim. 5:4), extends to our work (6:1,2), and reaches out to those inside and outside the church (5:10; 6:18).  

Why the church at worship should be characterized by these things: Witness

Paul’s concern to avoid these particular behaviors and to inculcate the others is rooted in the same concern behind verse 2: that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.  In other words, Paul’s concern is for the witness of the church.  You can see this clearly by comparing verse 9,10 with 1 Peter 3:1-4.  In that text, the whole purpose for the proper adornment of the wife was so that their unbelieving husbands “may be won [to the gospel] without a word by the conduct of their wives” (ver. 1, ESV).

I think it’s important to note that in the early church, they expected their gatherings to be evangelistic (1 Cor. 14:24-25).  The worship of the gathered church is not meant to be some secret ceremony veiled from the lost.  Rather, it ought to be a part of our light to the world.  Thus, it really matters what attitudes we bring to corporate worship.  If we are angry, we are inevitably going to drive the lost away, but if we are at peace with one another, the world will take note. 

Also, what message do we take to the world when we drape ourselves in the riches of the world?   We certainly aren’t pointing people to Jesus.  How do we show to the world that our treasure is Jesus?  Instead of hording wealth, we give it.  Instead of displaying the wealth of the world, we let our light so shine that men may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16).  

In the end, these things that Paul tells us to avoid are characteristic of lost men, and what we are to inculcate are not.  That makes it hard, because it means we are being called to go against wind and tide.  But the church can never be a witness unless it is counter-cultural.  It will never truly wave the banner of the gospel high unless it follows the worship of Vintage Christianity.  To that end, may we pray that God will give us the grace to be faithful and to worship him acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28).


[1]Desiring God (2003), p. 21,22.
[2] Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, WBC, p.115.
[3] http://www.christianaid.org.uk/resources/churches/reflections/the-treasure-of-the-church.aspx#
[4] Qtd. In Mounce, p. 104.

The Christian Work Ethic: Ephesians 6:5-8

Back in chapter 4, we noted that the apostle commends and commands labor.   In other words, he speaks to the morality of labor: “Let ...