On Sunday, we opened up a discussion about gender which we’ll continue for at least another couple of weeks. Specifically, we talked about Biblical gender roles, and the unique ways that God has designed men and women.
In recent years I’ve encountered resistance from other Christian leaders about this teaching. “The church in Canada does not have time to worry about issues like the role of men and women,” they say. “We’re barely staying afloat in this hostile culture and we need to focus on issues that unite us—like reaching people with the gospel—instead of issues like this, which only divide.” The point seems to be that we should not worry about men’s and women’s roles, because we’ve all got bigger fish to fry.
My response is that the Apostle Paul apparently didn’t get the memo. If you read Acts 19 or Ephesians 6, you’ll discover that the church in Ephesus was also in the midst of a hostile environment. They were also trying to reach their community (and surrounding province) with the gospel. They were up against all of the same pressures that we face today. And when Paul wrote to Timothy—during the reign of the emperor Nero—those pressures had almost certainly increased.
In fact, the church’s mission in the face of these pressures is the whole focus of 1 Timothy chapter 2.1See the message on 1 Timothy 2:1-7, The Point of our Praying. The advance of the gospel in a hostile culture (1 Timothy 2:1-7) is the very context in which Paul teaches on the differences between men and women (1 Timothy 2:8-15).
In fact, there’s a significant missiological echo within verse 8 itself, which begins, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray” (1 Timothy 2:8). Many assume that “in every place” refers to the various house gatherings within the Ephesian church.
But when we look at little bit deeper at those words, and see how they are used by Paul in his other letters, we discover a more significant meaning. These words are best understood as a deliberate echo (or quotation) of a prophecy in Malachi: “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 1:11).
This prophecy stresses the very same truth that Paul was at pains to explain in 1 Timothy 2:1-7: God’s plan is to save for Himself a people from every nation. When the Ephesian men prayed “for all people” “in every place,” they were both fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy and contributing towards it’s continued fulfillment.
As Philip Towner has written, the phrase “in every place” is a deliberate echo of Malachi 1:11 and is “designed to invite the readers/hearers to understand the significance of their entire worship activity in the … framework of God’s redemptive promise to save the nations.”2Philip H. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 203.
This observation, besides being fascinating and significant, does serious damage to the idea that any discussion about gender roles is a petty distraction from our real mission. If we care about reaching our nation with the gospel, we’d do well to learn from all of 1 Timothy 2.