You’ve probably noticed that you and I live in a very interesting time in history. A lot of things are actually going quite well around the world today. In the last four or five decades, poverty has declined at a significant rate, and less and less people are dying of hunger each year. Advances in technology and medical science are causing us to live longer and healthier than we ever have.
But there’s some other areas in which things aren’t going so well. Here in North America, the very foundations of our civilization seem to be up for grabs as our society continues to question everything that we’ve received from the generations before us.
A big example of this is gender. In the past, gender was seen to be a basic truth. Just like there was up and down, left and right, north and south, there were men and women, boys and girls. The uniqueness and the differences between the two genders were fundamental and foundational to how we understood ourselves and operated as a civilization.
But all of that is up for grabs these days. For the past few decades we’ve experienced several waves of the feminist movement questioning our understanding of gender, and what—if anything—makes men and women different from one another.
And more recently, gender itself has come under question. Far from being a fixed reality, gender is now seen to be just an expression of our individual experience. Gender is a spectrum, we’re told. And we’re hearing more and more stories of little boys and girls coming home from public school all upset because some freshly minted 22-year-old teacher, following government curriculum, taught them that just because they were born a boy or girl doesn’t mean that’s who they really are.
And into this modern world of ours, awash in gender fluidity, comes this letter from Paul to Timothy. And its not hard to notice that what we’ve read this morning, and what we’ll be studying over the next several weeks in fact, is significantly out of step with the culture that we live in today and have lived in for the past several decades. The passage we just read assumes that there are two genders, fixed and binary. It further assumes that these two genders are different from one another and have different responsibilities to fulfill.
Because that’s what’s going on in our passage. In verses 1-7 Paul gave Timothy generic instructions for what needs to happen in the church’s public prayer time. And in verses 8 and following he applies that teaching to the unique roles and responsibilities of men and women. In other words, we are not just a generic group of Christians. We are Christian men and Christian women, and the contours of our discipleship often look different from one another.
And it goes without saying that this is heresy according to our culture today. In fact, it’s hard for me to describe just how different this is from what is being taught and believed by more and more people around us today.
So what do we do with that? How should we respond? I think we have a couple of options. We can look at this passage of Scripture and say, “Well, that’s the way that they thought back then, but the Bible is an old book, and has all sorts of outdated cultural references, and this gender stuff is out of date and doesn’t really apply to us today. We’ve developed from then and we know so much better now.”
But this morning I want to help us see that if we take that option, we make a huge mistake. We make a huge mistake because these are the words of Paul the Apostle, someone who was personally appointed by the risen Lord Jesus to be one of his official spokesmen. Do we really think we know better than Jesus?
Another reason that option is a huge mistake is that this teaching about gender is not unique to a few selected passages, but is completely tied in with the whole big story of the Bible and God’s plan for us from the beginning.
And finally, rejecting this truth is a huge mistake because what we read here is not only true, but good. And not only true and good, but beautiful. If we really understood what this says and means, we would see that this is what we really want. And we would love it and celebrate it. And that’s the place I’m wanting to lead us to today as we study verse 8 and in the next couple of weeks as we study the rest of chapter 2—to a place of celebration and thankfulness for the way God made us.
So before we dig right in to our passage today, I think we need to step back and take a bigger look. I just mentioned that this is part of a bigger picture, and I think we need to get a glimpse of that bigger picture. We need to see a bit of the forest before we examine these trees. We need to step out of our culture’s story and step in to God’s story about who we are. And I think that after we do this, 1 Timothy chapter 2 is going to make so much more sense to us.
1. God Created Men and Women
So as we think about God’s big story, there’s five big truths we want to remember. The first is where it all started. God created man and woman. That is no longer obvious in our world today, so we need to remember this. Genesis 1 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).
In other words, gender is God’s idea. It’s not just something we decide to define and express on our own. We receive our gender from the God who created us.
And let’s not forget how Genesis 1 concludes: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). If you are a man today, God made you to be a man, and that is very good. If you are a woman today, God made you to be a woman, and that is very good.
2. God Created us Equal
The second truth we need to remember is that God has created men and women equal in value, worth, dignity, as bearers of His image, and as members of His church.
We get this when we read the verses on either raised of Genesis 1:27. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26-28).
From the beginning, both men and women bore the image of God. Both received the same general job description to fulfill the purposes of God for this world. Both received God's blessing. Men and women stand before God as equals.
Jesus demonstrated God's heart on this issue repeatedly. Jesus broke all the rules of his day by honouring women and speaking to them in public, which you weren’t supposed to do as a Jewish man. Just think about how the first witnesses to His resurrection were women. Jesus consistently treats men and women as equal sons and daughters of the King.
The Apostle Paul taught the exact same thing: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28)
When it comes to our salvation and membership in the body of Christ, we all get in at the same level. In both creation and salvation, men and women are fully equal in value, worth, dignity, and standing before God, and there should be no dispute about that.
3. God Created us Different
The third statement I want to make is that God has also created men and women to be unique from one another, and this uniqueness manifests itself in the different roles and responsibilities God has assigned to us.
We see this truth on display in Genesis chapter 2, where we discover that Adam was created first, and put in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). And God saw that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, and so He created Eve as a helper for him (Genesis 2:18).
These verses deserve hours of thought, but the simple point is that from the very beginning, there was a difference between Adam and Eve in terms of roles and primary responsibilities. Adam was created first and was the primary initiative taker. Eve was no less active than Adam, but her role consisted more in responding to Adam’s leadership as she helped him fulfill their mission.
More directly, Genesis teaches us that Adam had authority over his wife. This is manifested in the way that he names her, first giving her the name “Woman” and then “Eve” (Genesis 2:23, 3:20). Naming someone is an act of authority, and Adam does this twice with his wife.
Probably the biggest indication of Adam’s leadership role is seen in Genesis chapter 3. Eve sinned first. But who does God hold most responsible for the sin? Adam. According to the New Testament, who is the person through whom sin entered the world? Not Eve, but Adam (Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 5:12-14).
So from the beginning we see a difference in roles and responsibilities. We see leadership and authority. And these don’t get erased at any point in the story. The whole Bible consistently teaches that men are to bear the primary responsibility for leadership, protection, and provision, especially in the home and in the church.
4. These Differences Are Good News
The story of Adam and Eve also points us towards a very crucial part of this arrangement, and our fourth big truth, which is that these different roles assigned to men and women are profoundly good news, especially for women.
Adam had authority over his wife, but what did that mean? It meant that he carried the primary responsibility for their sin. And when we look across all of Scripture, we see this this is what authority is about. Authority is not about privilege or being served by others, which is what we so often see in the world. Instead, authority is a responsibility God calls some to carry in order to serve and protect others through leadership.
So for example, 2 Samuel 5:12 says, “And David knew that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:12). Why did God make David king and put Israel under his authority? For the same reason he put Eve under Adam’s authority. For their sake. So they could be safe. So they could flourish.
If we don’t understand this, when we read verses like Ephesians 5:22, which says “Wives, submit to your husbands,” or 1 Timothy 2:12, which says “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” we will think that those verses sound oppressive and terrifying.
But those passages will begin to sound liberating and wonderful when we understand that God is not withholding a privilege from women. Instead, He is extending to them a privilege. Because authority is not about who gets all the perks. Instead, authority is about who carries the heavy backpack. Authority means you shoulder the heavy responsibility of making sure decisions are made which benefit others, not yourself. Authority means you put on the bulletproof vest and go stand on the firing line. It means you go to the front door first when the burglar is trying to break in. It means you lay your life down to ensure that the other is able to be safe and flourish.
And when we have that mindset, we won’t be scared or embarrassed or even defensive when we approach passages like 1 Timothy chapter 2. Instead, we’ll celebrate what we read here, because we’ll see that the way God has made us is wonderful. It’s beautiful. It’s true. And it’s thoroughly good.
5. This Is About Jesus
The final and most important truth about gender is that our gender roles—especially in marriage—are about something so much bigger than us. Ephesians 5:22-33 tells us that the complementary roles between men and women in marriage are a deliberately-crafted living picture of the relationship between Jesus and the church. When we re-write the script on gender roles, we re-write the very script of the gospel. And that’s not something I ever want to be guilty of.
Who Should Pray
So now that we do have all of that in our mind, let’s come to verse 8 today and see how it fits in to where we’ve been so far in 1 Timothy.
You’ll remember that Timothy had a mission in Ephesus, which was to “charge certain people to not teach any different doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). And we saw last week that one of the big ways Timothy did this was by teaching the church to pray properly. He was to push back against the false teaching of ethnic pride by praying for the spread of the gospel to all peoples. That’s what verses 1-7 of chapter 2 were all about.
And verse 8 just continues this same train of thought. Notice that little word again: “I desire, then, that in every place the men should pray.” Just like in verse 1, this word means “therefore” and shows that we’re continuing what came before. In other words, verses 8-15 are explaining how to put verses 1-7 into practice.
So the first thing that verse 8 tells us is that the men should be taking the lead in the church’s public prayer. Why do I say that? Well, just compare verse 1 with verse 8. “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (1 Timothy 2:1). “I desire then that in every place the men should pray…” (1 Timothy 2:8). It doesn’t just say “men should pray” or “when men pray.” Together, these verses say, “I want the church to pray, and therefore, the men should pray.”
We know from 1 Corinthians 11:5 that women did pray in the church’s gatherings. But here in 1 Timothy Paul is highlighting the leadership role that qualified men should take in the church’s public worship gatherings. Men should be taking the lead in prayer.
How They Should Pray
And next, verse 8 tells us how they should be praying. “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (1 Timothy 2:8).
When you hear that phrase “lifting holy hands,” what comes to mind? Maybe someone raising their hands during a worship song? That’s not a bad thing to do, but it’s not necessarily what this phrase is describing. This phrase is a reference to the worship at the temple, where the priests and other worshippers would raise their hands toward heaven when they prayed in order to focus their attention on God.
For example, Psalm 28 says, “Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.” (Psalm 28:2). You can see there how lifting your hands is a parallel phrase to praying.
And so when verse 8 says to lift holy hands, it’s basically saying to pray in a holy state. “Holy hands” is really a metaphor for a holy life.
Consider this passage from Isaiah: “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good…” (Isaiah 1:15–17).
“Your hands are full of blood” means that they had committed murder. And sure, they probably washed the blood off of their hands, and maybe even used hand sanitizer, but God sees what they did. And when they lift up their hands to Him in prayer, all He sees is blood.
And so verse 8 is telling us that when we lift up our hands, they need to be holy. We can’t just sin and then waltz in to church to pray as if our sin is no big deal. We need to prepare ourselves for this ministry of prayer by pursing a holy life.
And as Paul thinks about a holy life, there’s two sins in particular that he is most concerned about. There’s two sins that men are prone to which need to put aside in order to pray in an acceptable way.
First, we need to lift holy hands without anger. Or, “wrath,” as the King James translates it. And it probably doesn’t take long for us to think of examples of men who have sinned in this way. How much damage has been caused in this world by angry men? Men, how much damage has been caused in your world through your anger?
We often excuse our anger, don’t we? We blame it on other people, or slough it off like it’s no big deal. But it is a big deal. Anger is a sin that Jesus died for. Anger is a sin that we need to repent of and put to death by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s not hard to see the connection between anger and the word that comes after it. Anger very quickly leads to quarrelling or arguing. And this verse is telling us what we can’t stand up to pray, especially publicly, while we’re in the middle of an angry argument with someone.
I’ve seen this happen. I’ve been in a church where the pastor used the public prayer time to rebuke specific people in the congregation. It’s totally inappropriate, but it happens.
And in fact, it was a likely thing to happen in Ephesus. As we move through the letters to Timothy and Titus, we’ll see that arguing or quarrelling was standard practice for the false teachers. They were constantly stirring up division and trying to drag Timothy and Titus into pointless arguments.
And can you imagine what one of these guys might have done if they were in charge of leading the prayer in the service that morning? Or maybe on the other side—what Timothy or one of his allies might have done if they were leading in prayer but did so with the wrong attitude?
And in fact, as we read through these letters we find that anger and quarrelling were temptations Timothy and Titus had to be warned against. Even though they right and the false teachers were wrong, there was still always a temptation to engage the false teachers in a sinful way, with a sinful attitude. In other words, to be angry and quarrelsome. And as we read though these letters we’ll find out more about how they were to fight against this temptation (2 Timothy 2:22-24).
But the focus in today’s passage is more simply that anger and quarrelling are sins and have no place in the church. Like Robert Yarbrough wrote in his commentary on this verse, “Angry men passionate about being right are a primary threat to acceptable worship.”1Robert W. Yarbrough, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, ed. D. A. Carson, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; London: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Apollos, 2018), 164. And as Timothy taught the church to pray, he had to teach the men—especially those who would pray in a formal, public, leadership setting—to do so as holy men who had prepared their lives for that ministry, and prayed without anger or quarrelling.
Review & Application
So in response to this truth, in response to verse 8, I want to ask: men, do you care about what kind of man you are? If you’ve been to one of our men’s breakfasts lately you’ll know we’ve been talking about what it means to be a man according to God’s definition and not the world’s definition. And our passage today adds a little bit more to that conversation.
Isn’t it true that, often, our world makes heroes out of angry men who are passionate about being right? There’s some lines of work where being quarrelsome is basically a job requirement. But it must not be so among us. We must be holy men who know how to pray and are winning the battle against our own impulses towards anger and quarrelling.
And I hope you heard that last phrase there. The absence of anger and quarrelling doesn’t mean that we are weaklings and pushovers who don’t care about the truth. Just the opposite. Anybody can get excited about something and lose his temper trying to defend it. It takes real strength to do what Timothy needed to do—to fight for the truth with all you’ve got while keeping your passions under control. That’s what a godly man does.
And men, let’s not miss the connection this passage makes between us and prayer. “I desire then that in every place the men should pray.” Yes, we know that both men and women are supposed to pray, and this is pointing towards public leadership in the worship services. But we still can’t miss that it is the men who were to pray in this way.
Men, let me ask you a convicting question. When you think of the phrase “prayer warrior,” what comes to mind? My guess is that most of us think about a woman. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But why not have some more equal representation there? I think that we need more prayer warriors who are men. More men who pray like this. Strong, self-controlled, holy, praying men. I want to be one of them. Who else? Men, would you ask God for the strength and commit yourself to becoming like that?
Let’s end by going back to the big idea we started off with of gender and gender roles. We’ve talked about the way that God has made male and female equally in His image, and different in terms of roles and responsibilities, especially in the home and in the church. But when we really understand these responsibilities from God’s perspective, we’ll understand that this is good news for all of us.
So as we think about all of that we need to ask ourselves, “Are we ok with the way God made us? We we agree with God who made us like this and then said it was very good? Do we trust that He knew what He was doing?”
I really believe this is where so many of our struggles with men’s and women’s roles come down to. We struggle to believe that God knew what was best when He made us. And we think that we know better, or that God could have done a better job if he had only asked us.
So we need to ask ourselves today and in these next few weeks, “Do we trust that God knows better than we do, and loves us more than we can imagine, and made us this way on purpose? And knowing this, will we turn from the false gods of individualism and self-expression and submit to the King who made us?”