Men and Women in Worship
How are men and women to behave and relate to one another in the church? This question and this particular passage have been on the minds of many in recent times. For many, the passage before us has been regarded as a major hill to be taken in an interpretive battle. But the teaching of 2:11-15 is just one piece in a larger puzzle, and by itself it is incapable of providing a complete answer. Specific circumstances required Paul to answer the question asked above in specific ways. The concern here will not be to generalize those specifics but rather to set out the issues that Paul addressed and those that we must consider in the church today.
When Paul instructed men and women (some think husbands and wives were specifically in view) in his churches (see also 1 Cor 11:2-16; 14:33-35), the immediate problem was disturbances in the worship service. On the one hand, changing attitudes about the man-woman relationship led women to assert themselves in the worship service in ways that threatened unity and perhaps also reflected a disregard for biblical and cultural distinctions between men and women. Disruptions by women included inquiring about the meaning of prophecies (1 Cor 14:33-35) and teaching men (1 Tim 2:11-12). But the present passage also reveals that the anger and arguments of some men were contributing to the disruption of the church's worship service. As pointed out above (see on 2:1), Paul drew upon certain material in such cases in order to restore peace to the community by encouraging appropriate behavior. In this his concern both for biblical patterns and for the perceptions of those outside of the church is evident.
His instructions are given in two parts. First, they encourage cooperative behavior among men in the worship service in relation to the specific task of prayer outlined above. Second, women are instructed concerning appropriate dress and then concerning appropriate behavior in the worship setting in relation to teaching.
The NIV omits the word "therefore," which in the original Greek sentence connects the instructions to men with the preceding instructions about prayer. A connection is intended, as in fact Paul now lays down two principles to ensure the effectiveness of the church's prayer.
First, prayer that is acceptable must come from holy, purified hearts. The physical lifting of hands was important in the Jewish act of prayer. But the purity of the hands, originally a physical prerequisite to be fulfilled before one approached God (Ex 30:19-21), came to be symbolic of the condition of the heart. The early church understood such purity to be a condition of acceptable prayer (Jas 4:8). When we pray, our communication is with a holy God. He requires of us that we deal with our sins before making our approach.
Second, prayer that is acceptable must come from people in right relationship with one another. For this reason Paul adds the stipulation that our prayer be without anger or disputing. This principle too was widely known in the early church and goes back to Jesus' own teaching (Mt 5:23; 6:12, 14-15; Jas 4:3; 1 Pet 3:7). Simply put, difficulties in our relationship with God or in our relationship with fellow believers can hinder our prayer. The reference to arguments has the dissension caused by the false teachers in mind (1 Tim 1:6-7; 6:4-5; Tit 3:9-10). A divisive spirit had invaded the worship service, where unity was to be most evident. Interpersonal harmony is a resource of incalculable value for the prayer life of the church.
As is customary in this type of "household code" teaching, instructions to one member of the pair are followed by corresponding instructions to the other (Eph 5:22--6:9; Col 3:18--4:1; 1 Pet 3:1-7).
Appropriate adornment (2:9-10). One source of the disruption being caused by women was their dress. Paul addresses this by drawing from the church's accepted teaching about the adornment of women (compare 1 Pet 3:3-5). He prescribes a manner of dress with three very similar terms stressing modesty and discretion (NIV modestly, with decency and propriety). Some commentators suggest that the tone of this instruction is "sexual," Paul's intention being to discourage women from dressing in a way that would distract men in the worship service. But perhaps the more acute problem was that of insensitive women flaunting their dress, jewelry and hairstyles in a way that hurt the feelings of the poor and disturbed the church. The kinds of adornment mentioned (braided hair . . . gold . . . pearls . . . expensive clothes) all belonged to that culture's critical caricature of wealthy women.
While today this manner of dress is not nearly as exclusive as it was in Paul's day, nor indeed restricted to women, its effects can be the same. I am reminded of a visit to a large, upper-middle-class church in Dallas (it could have been any large city or suburb). When I entered the sanctuary, the first thing that struck me was the glitter of jewelry, the expensive clothing and the fashionable hairstyles. The craning necks as people sized one another up gave the impression that for many the purpose of gathering together that Sunday morning was to display economic status. A newcomer of modest economic means could not help but feel a sense of exclusion.
According to Paul's instruction, what is to be noticeable about Christian women (and men) is not showy apparel, which sends an unsettling message (even to outsiders), but the power of God in spiritual deeds. Good deeds (v. 10) speaks of genuine Christianity, the observable lifestyle that flows out of faith in Christ. This is the appropriate "adornment" for those who profess to be genuine Christians. Among other things, Paul sought to prevent Christian women from being typed by those outside. In some parts of the world today, the "prosperity gospel" has put showy apparel at a premium and minimized good deeds, but the discerning unbeliever can tell the difference between genuine and nominal Christianity. At the same time, it is the invisible force behind good deeds, love for others, that creates and sustains unity.
The woman-man relationship in the worship service (2:11-15). Today, among those who take the Bible seriously, two main positions have emerged in the discussion of this passage and its implications. As the following brief outline of each position will show, the passage needs to be considered as a whole, for the instructions of verses 11-12 (and also vv. 9-10) are grounded in some way by verses 13-15.
One position (here called position 1) generally maintains that verses 11-12 prohibit women from teaching and holding authority over men. Within the worship setting their appropriate role is that of the learner. Women will be quiet during the teaching portion of the service--that is, they will not teach or question. And they will be fully submissive to men's authority. Furthermore, on the basis of the Genesis material in verses 13-14, the arrangement sanctioned by Paul is held to be permanent. Verse 13 grounds the subordinate position of the woman in the order of creation, the man having been created first. The allusion to Eve's deception in verse 14 presents an illustration of the negative consequences that result when the divinely willed structure is disturbed. In one way or another verse 15 then refers positively to the acceptable role of women.
The second position (which I shall call position 2) insists that the passage contains a temporary restraining order issued to curb the activities of a group of women who (most argue) were teaching the heresy in Ephesus. Thus the relegation of women to the role of learners, who must be quiet and submissive to the imposed (male) authority structure, represents a local rather than a universal rule. Similarly, the prohibition from teaching in verse 12 was a stopgap measure, and the reference to holding authority over a man is better understood as "wrongfully usurping" his authority. As far as Paul's use of Genesis goes, verse 14 provides an example or explanation, showing how just as the deception of Eve had drastic results, so also did the deception of some women in Ephesus. Verse 13 is somewhat problematic for this position.
The contemporary debate seems to turn on the question of the rule's limits of applicability, local and temporary versus universal and timeless. And the determining factor usually ends up being the interpretation of Paul's use of the Genesis allusions. But there is more to be considered.
First, the passage must be assessed within the whole of Paul's teaching, and particularly in light of other statements he made about the relationship of men and women (and husbands and wives). Those of position 2, in attempting to understand the relevance of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 for today, have rightly pointed to a Pauline theme of equality within the social structure, as registered by the triad of texts Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Colossians 3:11. Further, it is certainly arguable that Paul's acknowledgment of the role of women in his ministry (Rom 16:1; Phil 4:3) and in the church's worship (1 Cor 11:10) is the outworking of that principle of equality. The apparent discordant note struck in the present passage (and in 1 Cor 14:33-35) should alert us to the fact that Paul's program of social equality was not unconditional, but it does not necessarily nullify the basic principle. As F. F. Bruce explained, in Galatians 3:28 "Paul states the basic principle . . . if restrictions on it are found elsewhere . . . they are to be understood in relation to Gal. 3:28, and not vice versa" (1982:190).
But Galatians 3:28 was almost certainly not meant as a proclamation of liberty to be experienced immediately and fully in all dimensions of life. If it were this simple, Paul would have been far more forthright in urging the abolition of slavery. Also, Galatians 3:28 addresses three kinds of fundamental relationships or distinctions (racial, economic [perhaps], gender), but they do not have the same origin. Slavery was already common to Hebrew culture when God claimed his people. What he did was provide guidelines for its regulation. It may be argued that racial distinctions between Jews and Greeks (Gentiles) were encouraged for a time, but clearly bigotry and exclusive claims to spiritual superiority have human origins. Of the three pairs, only distinctions related to gender trace directly back to God's creative activity. This by no means automatically substantiates position 1. It merely suggests that Galatians 3:28 is not a simple declaration of the immediate eradication of all social distinctions. Paul's own approach to the three relationships ought to be evidence of that.
There are at least two other factors that need to be considered in discussing Paul's approach to these institutions and to movement in the direction of freedom. The first is his understanding of and sensitivity to culture. On the one hand, Paul and other New Testament writers seem to have viewed their world and its structures as a part of God's design. They could encourage the church to "submit to" the institutions of the world (1 Pet 2:13) and (as far as possible) through generally acceptable behavior to make a redemptive impression in it (1 Thess 4:11-12; 1 Tim 3:7; 6:1). But this was a view held in tension with a firm belief that the world is an evil force at war with God. Consequently, the church was by no means to allow culture or society to dictate its policies; however, where possible, peaceful coexistence would be a help to the church's evangelistic mission. The New Testament household codes give some evidence of social awareness and cultural sensitivity, but they never advocate conformity for conformity's sake, and when we are reading them, we need to distinguish between categories of relationships as we do in Galatians 3:28. Ultimately, it is reasonable to think that Paul or any other New Testament writer would have stopped short of advocating the immediate abolition of slavery because the culture might perceive it as a threat. But it does not automatically follow that his concern was precisely the same when he addressed the woman-man relationship.
The second factor is Paul's (and the New Testament's) understanding of salvation. It leaves us in a state that has been described as "already and not yet." Salvation is a combination of things to be realized progressively in this life (victory over sin, growth in godliness) and promises to be fulfilled only with the return of Christ (resurrection, the final victory over sin). Salvation in relation to the social structure within the church and in relation to personal sanctification is progressive, under way but not finished, "already" but "not yet." But that the distinctions inherent in the female-male relationship belong to the category of things that may or should pass away in this age (as it is argued in the case of slavery or racial distinctions) is a proposition in need of theological demonstration. Jesus' statement in Matthew 22:30 may have been misinterpreted to mean that all significant male-female distinctions will eventually disappear; but whatever it means, it applies to the resurrection and remains a promise. To judge simply from Paul's teaching elsewhere, it is doubtful that Galatians 3:28 implies that all male-female distinctions ought to be done away with as soon as the church is able to carry this program out. But even if Paul means more, it does mean that, with respect to value and position as heirs, no cultural distinctions that might support male superiority have a bearing on salvation or usefulness in the church. With respect to function and authority in the church, it is probably ill-advised to draw conclusions directly from either Galatians 3:28 or 1 Timothy 2:11-15. A broader theological program is needed.
A final question bearing on the interpretation of the passage is the degree to which Paul is countering effects of the false teaching. Two views should be introduced briefly.
1. At a bare minimum, it is reasonable to understand the rise of women to teaching positions as the indirect result of the false teaching. The doctrine of a realized resurrection (2 Tim 2:18; see introduction) was current and may have led women (and perhaps slaves) to enact promises (even if they misunderstood them) such as those connected with the well-known teaching of Galatians 3:28. Even Jesus' teaching (Mt 22:30) could have figured in their thinking. Some scholars have suggested that the women in mind had actually been enlisted by the false teachers to teach the heresy. The latter is difficult to prove, but it remains a possibility.
2. It is also within the realm of possibility that the passage speaks with even more precision to false doctrines that affected the thinking and behavior of women. In this case too the resurrection misunderstanding and the connected overrealized view of salvation would be central. Perhaps the false teachers drew on Jesus' teaching on marriage in the resurrection (Mt 22:30) to support their doctrine of celibacy (1 Tim 4:3). They may have construed their present "resurrection existence" in terms of pre-Fall existence. From the first three chapters of Genesis they might have concluded that since sexual distinctions, sexuality and childbearing came after the Fall, they no longer pertain to the new age. In the same way, they might have argued that "subordination" was enforced only as a result of the Fall (Gen 3:16) and that the eating of meat was a sign of depravity (Gen 9; 1 Tim 4:3). In this case, the myths and endless genealogies Paul mentions (1:4) might have included proof texts of such doctrines drawn from the creation materials. And in this case, 2:13-15 may take up and correctly apply the Old Testament material.
We cannot be certain of either view. But it is extremely likely that the false resurrection doctrine had an effect on views of sexuality and perhaps blurred distinctions between the sexes, affecting marriage and certain functions in the church. It seems all the more likely in view of the close parallels between the resurrection misunderstanding and questions about marriage, men and women, and foods in Corinth and Ephesus (see introduction).
These considerations provide a framework within which to explore the meaning and intent of the instructions to women. However, the complexity of the whole issue and the range of texts involved suggest that we should think in terms of possibilities rather than certainty at several points.
Paul actually encourages women to learn, which sets him apart from his contemporaries in Judaism. But it is the manner in which they learn that will settle the disturbances they have been causing in the church: in quietness and full submission (v. 11). Paul does not mean that women are to be absolutely silent during the service (compare 1 Cor 11:5). Rather, he instructs them to exhibit quietness (in spirit) instead of taking the lead, or to "be silent" in the sense of not teaching. Even as learners, perhaps, they are to refrain from entering into public discussions about interpretation of the Old Testament and prophecies (1 Cor 14:33-35).
Full submission is the more general description of the appropriate demeanor of the woman learner. It seems clear from this passage that to be in full submission meant for those women to refrain from teaching (men) and probably also to dress in appropriate ways. Certain questions, however, continue to be asked: Is this a universal or temporary rule? Does the teaching here need to be understood as an exception to the principle of Galatians 3:28, necessitated by the imprudent actions of some women? Positions 1 and 2 answer these questions in different ways (see above). Below we will consider the matter further.
Teach and have authority over a man (v. 12) may be references to separate activities that Paul restricted to men. Or the first term might represent a specific example of activity that falls under the general rule that follows: women's teaching in the public assembly would violate the given authority structure. In either case, we should notice that Paul did not employ his usual term for "the normal exercise of authority" (exousia). He chose an unusual word (authenteo) that could carry negative connotations such as "to usurp or misappropriate authority" or "to domineer." The unusual term probably signifies an unusual situation. In the Ephesian context at least, women had misappropriated authority by taking upon themselves the role of teacher.
Thus verses 11-12 aim to restore peace in the worship service by placing certain limits on the role of women. Probably as a result of the influence of the false teaching, some women had assumed the role of teacher. This step led Paul to invoke a subordination rule; it seems to have precluded women from teaching men, since to do so constituted authenteo--that is, the wrongful appropriation of authority over men.
In handling the supporting material that follows, verses 13-15, our first concern should be whether any special significance is to be attached to Paul's citation of material from the creation narrative of Genesis to support some argument or other. It is difficult to establish a hard and fast rule. On the one hand, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 alludes to the same Genesis passage (2:21-23) that 1 Timothy 2:13 does in order to ground the covering of the woman's head in worship. But this practice, most would argue, was bound to a particular culture. On the other hand, the reference to Genesis 2:24-25 in Ephesians 5:31 is indeed meant to remind Christians that marriage is an institution to be continually honored (compare Mt 19:5). Therefore, the allusion to Genesis 2 in the words for Adam was formed first, then Eve (v. 13) is best considered on its own.
What are the possibilities? First, it can hardly be denied that Paul appeals to the order of creation. While it is usually thought that this statement substantiates the prohibition of verse 12 (Knight 1992:142-43), it may ground all of verses 9-12, with full submission understood as encompassing aspects of dress and function (Fee 1988:74). But the question of precise intention remains. Did Paul intend the Genesis allusion to mean that the created order still pertained and that distinctions between the sexes and an authority structure existed even prior to the Fall (compare 1 Cor 11:7-9)? Did he mean that the conditions of the curse, which promised painful childbearing and placed the wife under the husband's rule (Gen 3:16), were still in effect? Was he addressing the false teachers' twisted interpretations of the creation accounts which had influenced the thinking of women (see above)?
Verse 14 is almost certainly a local reference to the deception of some women in the Ephesian church (see the notes for other explanations). The deception of Eve had become a model to illustrate the dangers posed to the church by false teaching (compare 2 Cor 11:3). Paul's use of the model here probably sent the signal that by taking the role of teachers (and possibly in what they taught) these women had been deceived by heretics. It also implies that this activity was sinful.
Verse 15 sounds strange to the ears in any version: But women will be saved through childbearing. Not surprisingly, its meaning is debated. The NIV has rightly interpreted the singular verb (literally, "she will be saved") as a general reference to women. But as the promise continues, a condition limits its applicability to those women who continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. That is, the promise applies to women whose conduct (here propriety refers back to the appropriate conduct prescribed in vv. 9-12) bears the marks of genuine Christian existence. But what does saved through childbearing mean? With original sin and the pronouncement of the curse as the background, some have understood the definite article ("the") which precedes childbearing in the Greek sentence to denote "the birth"--that is, the birth of the Christ. Following the guilty verdict of verse 14, saved would then mean primarily salvation from sin, and the allusion would be to the "protoevangelion"--the promised seed of the woman who will crush the serpent's head (Gen 3:15). While this reading is possible, one wonders why such an ambiguous reference to Christ would be made (unless Paul here is simply making use of the false teachers' language and text to adjust their teaching). The same background perhaps leads more naturally to a promise that God will provide physical protection for godly women under the curse, an emblem of the final complete removal of the curse to come. Finally, some point to 5:14, where the term childbearing describes a part of the life appropriate for young widows, to argue that Paul endorses here the domestic life of the housewife as the normative, acceptable role that women are to pursue. Serving God in this capacity, they will "work out their salvation."
Clearly, none of these interpretations is free of problems, and the best we can do is to narrow down the possibilities. It may be that what seems to us as allusiveness in Paul's references to the creation material actually represents his counterarguments using the kinds of texts the heretics themselves employed. But while we have no way of knowing the precise lines of the false theology, we can be reasonably sure that it was triumphalistic in thrust (2 Tim 2:18). Consequently, we can at least see that 2:15 does pull the readers back to reality, either (from the theological perspective) by asserting that this life is still marked by the curse/sin and God's promise to save or (from the ethical perspective) by teaching that life must yet be lived in the confines of a mundane social structure that still awaits the eschaton.
We run the risk of misusing 2:8-15 if we make it a proof text in our modern debate. The passage as a whole calls for men and women to relate to one another in the church according to the standards of acceptability, in awareness of the theological realities of the age in which we live. Although Paul's reference to the creation story cautions against viewing his teaching as simply suited to his culture, his sensitivity to culture should also be considered in addressing questions related to the role of women in the church today. There is a need to explore the degree to which there existed in the apostle's thinking about the female-male relationship a difference between nonnegotiables (aspects of this relationship that seem to stem from God's creative will) and negotiables (aspects of behavior within the relationship that may be expressed differently from one culture to the next). If 2:15 envisions an acceptable role for women, then, depending on the culture within which we find ourselves, verse 15 may well need to allow room for astronauts, surgeons and business executives in addition to missionaries, church workers of various sorts and, indeed, housewives. But in any role godliness will need to be found in this incomplete age through our reliance on God's promise in the continuing struggle with sin. As for the role of women in ministry, the church must continue to wrestle with this issue, and this passage will have its place. But easy answers that either simply impose culture on God's will or neglect culture altogether must be resisted.
1 Timothy: Working for Order in God’s Household
Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
Each of the three Pastoral Epistles takes the form of a letter from the Apostle Paul giving counsel to one of his co-workers. In 1 Timothy, Paul gives instructions his younger colleague Timothy about how to minister within the church and how to deal with false teachers. Yet the last words of the letter—“Grace be with you [plural]” (1 Tim. 6:21)—indicate that the letter is meant to be overheard by the whole church in Ephesus so that all may benefit from Paul’s counsel to Timothy.
Because the letters share some common themes, we will combine our discussion of related passages among the letters. The themes will be explored according to the order they first arise in the Pastoral Epistles.
True Belief Leads to a Sound Organization (1 Timothy 1:1–11, 18–20; 3:14–16)Back to Table of Contents
One of the repeated and stressed themes in 1 Timothy is the tight connection between belief and behavior, or teaching and practice. Sound, or “healthy,” teaching leads to godliness while false teaching is unproductive at best and damning at worst. From the onset of the letter, Paul charges Timothy to “instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3) because this different doctrine, along with myths and genealogies, does not promote “the divine training that is known by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4).
Paul is speaking of the importance of sound doctrine in the church, but his words apply just as well to the workplace. W. Edwards Deming, one of the founders of continuous quality improvement, called his methods a “system of profound knowledge.” He said, “Once the individual understands the system of profound knowledge, he will apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to.” Knowledge of the deepest truth is essential in any organization.
Luke Timothy Johnson has translated 1 Timothy 1:4 more transparently as “God’s way of ordering reality as it is apprehended by faith.” The church is—or should be—ordered according to God’s way. Few would dispute that. But should other organizations also be ordered according to God’s way? The first-century Greco-Roman world believed that society should be ordered according to “nature.” Thus if nature is the creation of God, then God’s way of ordering creation should be reflected in the way society is ordered as well. As Johnson observes, “There is no radical discontinuity between the will of God and the structures of society. The structures of the oikos (household) and the ekklēsia (church) are not only continuous with each other, but both are parts of the dispensation [administration] of God in the world.” Workplaces, households, and churches all reflect the one and only ordering of creation.
A true understanding of God’s ways is essential in all workplaces. For example, a prominent theme in Creation is that human beings were created good. Later we fell into sin, and a central Christian truth is that Jesus came to redeem sinners. Workers are therefore human beings who sin, yet who may experience redemption and become good as God always intended. The truth about goodness, sin, and redemption needs to be factored into organizational practices. Neither churches nor workplaces can function properly if they assume that people are good only and not sinners. Accounts need to be audited and harassment needs to be stopped. Customer service needs to be rewarded. Priests and pastors, employees and executives need to be supervised. Similarly, neither churches nor workplaces can assume that people who err or sin should be discarded automatically. The offer of redemption—and practical help to make the transformation—needs to be made. In churches, the focus is on spiritual and eternal redemption. Nonchurch workplaces are focused on a more limited redemption related to the mission of the organization. Probation, performance improvement plans, retraining, reassignment to a different position, mentoring, and employee assistance programs—as opposed to immediate firing—are examples of redemptive practices in certain workplaces, especially in the West. The particulars of what is actually redemptive will vary considerably of course depending on the type of organization, its mission, the surrounding cultural, legal, and economic environment, and other factors.
If Christians in the marketplace are to understand how God would have them and those around them act (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15), they must understand God’s revelation in the Bible and believe in it. Truth leads to love (1 Tim. 1:5), while false doctrine promotes “speculations” (1 Tim. 1:4), “controversy” (1 Tim. 6:4), and spiritual destruction (1 Tim. 1:19). Knowledge of God’s ways as revealed in his word cannot be the domain of Bible scholars alone, nor is biblical understanding relevant only within the church. Christian workers must also be biblically informed so that they can operate in the world according to God’s will and for his glory.
Ethics and Branding (Click to read)
What is at stake when leaders and workers operate according to the letter, instead of the spirit, of company policy? Steve Brock uses a personal experience to illustrate the value of ethics for sound business operation.
All Christians have a leadership role, regardless of their place in the organization. Executives usually have the greatest opportunity to shape the strategy and structure of an organization. All workers have continual opportunities to develop good relationships, produce excellent products and services, act with integrity, help others develop their abilities, and shape the culture of their immediate work groups. Everyone has a sphere of influence at work. Paul advised Timothy not to let his perceived lack of status prevent him from trying to make a difference. “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
It is interesting to note that some of this reality is already perceived in contemporary workplaces. Many organizations have “mission statements” and “core values.” These words mean roughly the same thing to secular organizations as “beliefs” or “doctrine” mean to churches. Organizations, like churches, pay close attention to culture. This is further evidence that what workers believe or what an organization teaches affects how people behave. Christians in the workplace should be at the forefront of shaping the values, mission, and culture of the organizations in which we participate, to the degree we are able.
Prayer, Peace, and Order are Needed at Work as in Church (1 Timothy 2:1–15)Back to Table of Contents
Paul begins this chapter by urging that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:1–2). The aim of this prayer is that Christians “may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:2). Presumably, these first-century rulers had the power to make life difficult and disruptive for Christians. So Paul urges Christians to pray for their civic rulers. Prayer, peace, and order are Christians’ first instruments of engagement with the secular world.
Again we see that Paul’s instructions are grounded in the oneness of God, the singularity of Christ as mediator, Christ’s universal ransom, and God’s universal desire for all to be saved (1 Tim. 2: 3–7). Christ is the Lord of creation and the Savior of the world. His realm includes every workplace. Christians should be praying for all of those who are in their particular workplace, especially those who have supervisory roles “in high positions.” Christians should strive to do their jobs without disrupting the work of others, without calling undue attention to themselves, and without constantly challenging authority—in other words, working “in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:2). For Christians, this kind of peaceable and submissive behavior is not motivated by fear, people-pleasing, or social conformity, but by a healthy appreciation for the order God has established and by a desire for others to “come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). As Paul says elsewhere, “God is a God not of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33).
Does this conflict with the duty to be at the forefront of shaping the mission and core values of our workplaces? Some Christians try to shape missions and values through confrontation around controversial issues, such as same-sex partner benefits, health insurance exclusion for abortion and/or contraceptives, union organizing, display of religious symbols and the like. If successful, this approach may help shape the mission and value of the organization. But it often disrupts others’ work, breaks the peace, and disrespects supervisors’ authority.
What is needed instead is a more personal, deeper, and more respectful engagement of organizational culture. Rather than clashing over health benefits, could Christians invest in friendships with co-workers and become a source of counseling or wisdom for those facing major life decisions? Instead of pushing the boundary between freedom of speech and harassment, could Christians do their assigned work with such excellence that co-workers ask them to explain the source of their strength? Instead of arguing about peripheral issues such as holiday decorations, could Christians help improve the core activities of their workplaces, such as job performance, customer service, and product design, and so earn the respect of those around them? In answering such questions, we can remember that Paul’s advice to Timothy is balanced, not self-contradictory. Live in peace and cooperation with those around us. Seek to influence others by serving them, not trying to lord it over them. Isn’t that what the King of kings did?
Integrity and Relational Ability are Key Leadership Qualities (1 Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9)Back to Table of Contents
First Timothy 3:1–13 is well known and finds a parallel in Titus 1:5–9. Both 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9 lay out qualifications for elders and overseers, whereas 1 Timothy 3:8–13 describes qualifications for deacons including, possibly, women deacons. A variety of qualifications is given, but the common thread seems to be moral integrity and ability to relate well to people. Competence to teach, though mentioned as a qualification for elders (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9), doesn’t receive the same emphasis overall. In these lists, we again observe the connection between the household and the church: managing one’s family well is viewed as requisite experience for managing God’s household (1 Tim. 3:4–5, 12; Titus 3:6; cf. 1 Tim. 3:15). We will reflect on this connection more in a subsequent section.
As noted earlier, different organizations have different missions. Therefore, the qualifications for leadership are different. It would be a misapplication of this passage to use it as a general qualifications list for workplaces. “Serious” may not be the right qualification for a tour guide, for example. But what about the priority given to moral integrity and relational ability? Moral qualities such as “above reproach,” “clear conscience,” “faithful [or trustworthy] in all things,” and relational qualities such as “hospitable,” “not quarrelsome,” and “temperate” are much more prominent than specific skills and experience.
If this is true for church leadership, does it also apply for workplace leadership? The well-publicized moral and relational failings of a few prominent business and government leaders in recent years have made integrity, character, and relationships more important than ever in most workplaces. It is no less important to properly develop and select leaders in workplaces than it is in churches. But as we prepare for jobs and careers, do we put a fraction of as much effort into developing ethical character and relational abilities as into developing specialized skills and accumulating credentials?
Interestingly, many of the early church leaders were also workplace leaders. Lydia was a dealer in the valuable commodity of purple dye (Acts 16:14, 40). Dorcas was a garment maker (Acts 9:26–41). Aquila and Priscilla were tentmakers (or leatherworkers) who became business partners with Paul (Acts 18:2–3). These leaders were effective in the church after having already proven effective in the workplace and gaining the respect of the wider community. Perhaps the basic qualifications of leadership in church, work, and civic spheres have much in common.
God’s Creation Is Good (1 Timothy 4:1–5)Back to Table of Contents
First Timothy affirms “God’s way of ordering reality” and that this divine ordering has implications for how Christians should behave in their households, churches, and—by an extension of the text’s logic—in their workplaces. The clearest affirmation of God’s creation order comes in 1 Timothy 4:1–5. In 1 Timothy 4:4 Paul plainly declares, “Everything created by God is good.” This is a clear echo of Genesis 1:31, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Within the context of the letter, this sweepingly positive appraisal of creation is used to combat false teachers who are forbidding marriage and certain foods (1 Tim. 4:3). Paul counters their teaching by asserting that these things ought to be received with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:3, 4). Food, and anything else in God’s creation, is “sanctified” by God’s word and by prayer (1 Tim. 4:5). This does not mean that God’s word and prayer make God’s creation good when it isn’t good already. Rather, in thankfully acknowledging God as the creator and provider of all things, a Christian sets apart created things such as food for a holy and God-honoring purpose. As a Christian, it is possible even to eat and drink to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).
This affirmation of creation means there is no created material that is inherently evil to work with, and no job engaged with creation that is unacceptable for Christians to do if it doesn’t violate God’s will. In other words, a Christian can dig wells, design computer chips, scrub toilets, walk on the moon, fix cell phones, plant crops, or harvest trees to the glory of God. None of these jobs or materials is inherently evil. Indeed, each job can please God. This may seem intuitive to those in the modern Western world who don’t struggle much with asceticism, as the ancient Greek and Roman world did. But 1 Timothy 4:4 reminds even us not to view the material realm as something neutral in moral value or to view something such as technology, for example, as inherently evil. The goodness of all of God’s creation allows us to live and work in joyful freedom, receiving all things as from God’s hands.
Good Relationships Arise from Genuine Respect (1 Timothy 5:1–6:2; Titus 2:1–10)Back to Table of Contents
First Timothy 4:6–16 is full of specific directives Paul gives to Timothy. It would be helpful for Christian workers to remember that training in godliness is a crucial component of professional development (cf. 1 Tim. 4:8). We quickly move from this section, however, to the next, which runs from 1 Timothy 5:1–6:2. Again, this section is similar to a section of Titus 2:1–10. Being a member of the church should not lead us to exploit others within the church (cf. 1 Tim. 5:16; 6:2), but rather should lead us to work harder to bless them. This applies also at work.
In particular, these two passages describe how men and women, old and young, masters and slaves, ought to behave within the family of God. The first two verses of this section in 1 Timothy are important ones. “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity.” This command does not flatten any distinction between families and the church (as 1 Tim. 5:4, 8 makes clear), but it does suggest that the kindness, compassion, loyalty, and purity that should characterize our most intimate family relationships should also characterize our relationships with those in God’s family, the church.
Paul’s exhortation to “absolute purity” reminds us that violations of sexual boundaries do occur in families and churches, as well as in workplaces. Sexual harassment can go unchallenged—even unnoticed by those not being harassed—in workplaces. We can bring a blessing to every kind of workplace by paying deeper attention to how men and women are treated, and by raising a challenge to inappropriate and abusive words and actions.
Is it right to think of a workplace as a family? No and yes. No, it is not truly a family, for the reasons portrayed so amusingly in the television series The Office. Membership in a workplace is conditional on fulfilling a role adequately. Unlike family members, employees who no longer meet the approval of management are subject to dismissal. Employment is not permanent, not “something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” It would be naive—possibly even abusive—to pretend that a workplace is a family.
Cultivating Young Talent (Click to watch)
TMC Design, based in Las Cruces, New Mexico, champions young people by working with engineering students while they are in school. Owner Troy Scoughton’s goal has always been to keep young people in town by teaching them the joy of work.
Yet in certain senses, a workplace can be like a family, if that term is used to describe the respect, commitment, open communication, and care that family members should show toward one another. If Christians were known for treating co-workers likewise, it could be a great point of the church’s redemptive service to the world. Mentoring, for example, is an extremely valuable service that experienced workers can offer to newer colleagues. It resembles the investment that parents make in their children. And just as we protect family members from abuse and exploitation, Christ’s love impels us to do the same for people in our workplaces. Certainly we should never engage in abuse or exploitation of others at work, because we imagine we owe them less respect or care than we do to family (or church) members. Rather, we should strive to love all our neighbors, including those in the workplace, as our family and as ourselves.
Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19)Back to Table of Contents
The last section of 1 Timothy is packed with powerful exhortations and warnings for rich Christians. (We will skip over Paul’s charges to Timothy in verses 11–16 and 20, which are directed to Timothy in his particular situation.) First Timothy 6:3–10 and 17–19 have direct workplace applications. In reading and applying these passages, however, we must avoid two common mistakes.
First, this passage does not teach that there is no “gain” to be had by being godly. When Paul writes that those who are “depraved in mind and bereft of the truth” imagine that “godliness is a means of gain” (1 Tim. 6:5), what he is denouncing is the mind-set that godliness necessarily leads to financial gain in this life or that godliness should be pursued for the sake of immediate, financial gain. The folly of this thinking is threefold:
- God often calls his saints to suffer material want in this life and, therefore, God’s people should not set their hope on the “uncertainty of riches” (1 Tim. 6:17).
- Even if someone were to gain great riches in this life, the gain is short-lived because, as John Piper puts it, “There are no U-Hauls behind hearses” (1 Tim. 6:7).
- Craving wealth leads to evil, apostasy, ruin, and destruction (1 Tim. 6:9–10).
Note carefully, however, that Paul encourages his readers to know that there is great gain in godliness when it is combined with contentment in the basic necessities of life (1 Tim. 6:6, 8). Our God is a God “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17). Paul commands the righteous rich “to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18)—not to sell everything they have and become poor. They are to be rich in good works so that they might store up for themselves “the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Tim. 6:19). In other words, godliness is a means of gain as long as that gain is understood as life and blessings in the presence of God and not only more money now. Paul’s exhortation in 1 Timothy 6:18–19 is similar to Jesus’ teaching, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20; cf. Matt. 19:21; Luke 12:33).
The second mistake to avoid is thinking that this passage and its condemnation of a love for money means that no Christian worker should ever seek a raise or promotion or that no Christian business should try to make a profit. There are many reasons why someone could want more money; some of them could be bad but others could be good. If someone wanted more money for the status, luxury, or ego boost it would provide, then this would indeed fall under the rebuke of this section of Scripture. But if someone wanted to earn more money in order to provide adequately for dependents, to give more to Christ-honoring causes, or to invest in creating goods and services that allow the community to thrive, then it would not be evil to want more money. To reject the love of money is not to oppose every desire to be successful or profitable in the workplace.
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