A Method To God’s Madness.

As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order. – 1 Corinthians 14:33b-40

This passage is a land mine of potential controversy. Over the centuries there have been a variety of attempts made to soften its content and diminish its potential impact on the modern church. It has resulted in Paul being labeled a sexist by many and has been used by some to prove their assertion that Christianity is archaic and out of touch with the modern world. There are those who claim that these words are simply the personal opinion of Paul and are not to be taken as a command from God. They use Paul’s similar statement written to his young protege, Timothy, as proof. “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:11-12 ESV).

So what are we to do with this verses? Are we to simply ignore them, write them off as irrelevant, or take them as the word of God and apply them to our local fellowships? To make things even more difficult, it would appear that Paul is contradicting himself. Earlier in this same letter, he states, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven” (1 Corinthians 11:4-5 ESV). It would seem that the context he is referring to regarding prayer and prophesying is that of corporate worship. There would be no need to prophesy in private. Like all the other spiritual gifts, these two were intended for the edification of the body of Christ. So Paul seems to be saying that it is perfectly acceptable for women to pray and prophesy in a worship context. So why does he seem to change his mind and say, “women should keep silent in the churches”?

As always, when interpreting the meaning of a particular verse or verses, we must consider the context. That includes the context of the passage in which the verses are contained. But it also includes the cultural context with which the particular book of the Bible is dealing. We must always consider the original audience to whom the author was writing and the specific issues he was addressing. Here is this letter, Paul is writing to believers in the Greek city of Corinth, most of whom had come out of pagan backgrounds and who were relatively young in their faith. They are a gifted congregation, but because of their spiritual immaturity and the influence of their pagan past, they were experiencing a great deal of disorder and disunity. They were misusing the spiritual gifts and were failing to exhibit Christ-like love for one another. There was an overemphasis on their freedoms in Christ which was resulting in quarrels and contentions over everything from eating food sacrificed to idols to who had the most important spiritual gift.

One of the issues Paul addresses repeatedly is disorder. When it comes to corporate worship, there was to be an atmosphere of order and decorum. Yet, some within the church were using their gifts inappropriately, resulting in confusion and a spirit of competition. It is important to note that just before Paul states that women are to be silent in the church, he states, “God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33a ESV). For Paul, the issue of order was directly tied to that of headship and submission. God not only had a manner in which the body of Christ should operate when gathered together, He had established a hierarchy of leadership. Back in chapter 11, Paul discussed God’s ordained headship of the husband over his wife. “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3 ESV). This has nothing to do with value or worth. Christ and God the Father are co-equals and both members of the trinity. But Christ submits to the authority of God the Father. He does the will of His Father. In the garden, on the night of His betrayal, Jesus prayed, “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV). The issue has to do with authority and order.

When Paul refers to God being a God of peace, the Greek word he uses refers to harmony and concord between individuals. There was a lack of harmony within the Corinthian church and their worship services were marked by disorder. So Paul is once again addressing an apparent abuse of God’s call for order and harmony.

It is clear from this that the apostle was not concerned about women who properly exercised their gifts in prophesying or in praying, but was greatly concerned about women who disrupted the meetings with questions and comments, and perhaps even challenged the teaching of apostolic doctrine with contrary views. – Ray Stedman, Should A Woman Teach in the Church, RayStedman.org

It would seem from the context that there were women who were stepping out from under their husband’s God-ordained headship and asserting what they believed to be their right to participate in the worship experience. But their actions were viewed as disruptive to the service and disrespectful of their husband’s headship. Paul states that is is shameful for women to speak in the church. It is important to note that the word he uses for “speak” means “to declare one’s mind and disclose one’s thoughts.” It has nothing to do with using their spiritual gifts. A woman using her spiritual gift would be under the authority of the Spirit of God. But for a woman to verbally “declare her mind” and state her opinion, seemingly in conflict with a spoken word of prophesy or revelation, would be out of place. Paul states that “If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home” (1 Corinthians 14:35 ESV). Once again, the issue has to do with order and authority. The wife would honor her husband by bringing her questions and concerns to him first. Even though he might not have the answer to her questions, she would be encouraging him to step up and fulfill his role as God’s appointed spiritual head of the home. Undermining his authority or that of the leaders of the church would accomplish nothing in terms of the edification of the body of Christ. Disunity and disorder are always destructive.

This passage, while difficult to understand, appears to be a simple to submit to God’s will regarding His preordained order for the church and the home. It is a call to unity and a warning to avoid disorder of any kind. Paul ends this chapter with the words, “all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40 ESV). If we are not careful, we will lose sight of his main point and get hung up on what we believe to be inconsistencies or inequities in his teaching. But for Paul, the central concern was the well-being of the body of Christ, the family of God. There was no place for individual rights or self-seeking attitudes. Love was to be the primary motivating factor behind all that was done. The example of Christ was to be the focus of their attention, resulting in willing submission to God’s authority and a selfless desire for the good of others.

1 Timothy 2

The Goal: The Gospel.

1 Timothy 2

This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 2:3-5 NLT

This chapter is chock-full of verses around which men have built entire doctrines or teachings regarding the church. And in many cases, they have ignored the context while focusing on a single concept or idea. But we have to remember that Paul is giving Timothy, his young disciple, some instructions regarding his ministry among the people in Ephesus. The focus of this entire chapter would appear to be on the Gospel and the environment in which it thrives and spreads best. There are things that can hurt or hinder the spread of the Gospel. There are activities or circumstances that can cause the message of the Good News to be difficult to understand. There are also things that believers can do that can end up discrediting their role as messengers of the Gospel. The real emphasis of Paul in this chapter is the salvation of others. That is the main subject of Paul’s message to Timothy. Everything else he deals with become the context in which the salvation of others functions best.

He begins with an admonition to pray. Prayer is not some magic formula or secret weapon given to believers, but is intimate communication with God. It is a privilege given to every child of God to be able to speak to their Heavenly Father.  As the church, we are the people of God and, as such, we should always have a God-ward focus in our thinking. Paul tells Timothy to pray for all people. But pray what? “Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them” (1 Timothy 2:1 NLT). In the Greek, Paul actually lists four different aspects of prayer: requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving. Each word was carefully chosen and designed to illustrate the rich depth that should mark our communication with God. “Requests” is the Greek word deeseis and it carries a sense of determination and earnestness because we are convinced of the need. As believers, we know what all men need, whether we know them or not. They need Jesus. The word “prayers” is the Greek word proseuchas and it is a more general description that covers prayers of all kinds. It’s focus is on God, not the one for whom we are praying. We are to lift up all men before God, placing them in His hands and under His care, trusting that He knows what they need. “Intercession” (enteuxeis) would seem to cover those specific requests we make on behalf of others before God. When we become aware of a specific need or circumstance, we take it to God and share it with Him. Finally, “thanksgiving” (eucharistias) conveys the idea that our prayers are to be filled with thanksgiving to God. But in this context, we are to express thanks to God for those for whom we are praying – and that includes all men, not just some. Again, the focus is on God. To be able to thank God for someone whom we would normally feel unthankful, is to express trust in the sovereignty of God, knowing that He is in charge and has a purpose for that person’s presence in our life. Prayer is not meant to be formulaic or ritualistic. It is to be marked by a variety and intensity of style and content, with the focus always on God.

Paul goes on to instruct Timothy that the prayers of God’s people are to include kings and all those in authority. These people are sometimes the most difficult individuals for whom to pray. But Paul’s emphasis is on God using these people to help create an atmosphere in which believers might “live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity” and the Gospel might prosper and spread. Why? Because God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. His desire is that all men hear the Good News that “there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NLT). So pray!

But there are certain things that can hinder our prayers and destroy our witness as believers. Paul mentions anger and controversy. Jesus Himself warned us that “if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God” (Matthew 5:23-24 NLT). Disunity can derail our prayer lives. But so can our actions. And our behavior among those for whom we are praying can have a powerful impact on whether they eventually experience the salvation for which we are praying. Paul addresses an issue that was a problem in his day and that continues to be a problem in the church today. Immodesty of dress among Christian women. He writes, “I want women to be modest in their appearance” (1 Timothy 2:9 NLT). This wasn’t just Paul’s personal preference, but his instructions as an apostle of and spokesman for God. The women in the church at Ephesus were sending mixed messages. On the one hand, they were to be spreading the Gospel. But some of them were so interested in how they looked and focused on drawing attention to themselves, that they were actually doing more harm than good. Good looks had replaced good behavior as the point of emphasis in their lives. They had become focused on the externals, rather than the internal – their hearts.

The next issue Paul addresses with Timothy remains a hot-button topic even today. It had to do with the role of women in the assembly of the church, and it had to do with order and headship. But if we keep it within the context, it had to do with the spread of the Gospel. Anything we do that hinders or hurts the Gospel message is to be avoided at all costs. In this case, the new-found freedom women had discovered in Christ was not to become some form of license, creating disorder within the local body of Christ. There was to be order and decorum. There was a God-given structure to the body of Christ, with Christ himself serving as the head. God had given to men the responsibility to serve in a place of authority and responsibility, both within the local church and the home. It had nothing to do with value or worth, but of divine order and human responsibility. The real issue here seems to be regarding a woman taking on inappropriate authority not given to her by God. Ultimately, Paul’s concern is the spread of the Gospel. Again, disunity and anger seem to be tied to what Paul is saying. If those outside the church look inside and see a lack of unity and the presence of disharmony, their interest in the Gospel will be negatively impacted. God had provided an order and authority structure to the body of Christ. In God’s grand scheme, men were to lead the church. They were responsible to God for teaching the Scriptures. This in no way implies that women are incapable or unqualified to teach Scripture. It has to do with authority and responsibility, not capability. God had placed men in the role or teachers and leaders within the local church. When this order was ignored or violated, it caused disunity and discord. Paul seems to be saying that order within the church and the spread of the Gospel should take precedence over the need to look good or be seen as influential. It was important that men be able to “pray with holy hands lifted up” – free from controversy and anger. Our goal should be the Gospel. Whether male or female, our greatest concern should be that others come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Our need to be noticed, in charge, seen as attractive, powerful, influential, and even as spiritual – have to take a backseat to God’s non-negotiable command to make disciples. That should be the focus of our prayers and the emphasis of our lives.

Father, the Gospel is everything to You. It is the whole reason You sent Your Son to die on behalf of sinful men. But it is so easy for us to make it about everything but the Gospel. First and foremost, we tend to make it all about us. We focus on our own needs and our own agendas, and forget that we are here to make disciples, not a name for ourselves. May our lives be increasingly more about the Good News and not about us. May we grow more and more concerned about the lost all around us, and not what everyone else thinks about us. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Order in the House.

1 Corinthians 14:26-40

 But be sure that everything is done properly and in order. – 1 Corinthians 14:40 NLT

Our God is not a god of confusion or chaos. He prefers order and unity. Even in the public assemblies of His people. A study of His design for the Tabernacle in the wilderness gives a clear indication of just how orderly our God is. And yet, when Paul received news regarding the state of affairs with the people of God in Corinth, he was not pleased. Their worship meetings had become disorderly and confusing affairs, marked by competition and pride. Even the use of their spiritual gifts were accomplishing the exact opposite of what they were intended to do. Rather than edify and build up the body, they were causing dissension and disorder. Those who had the gift of prophesy were refusing to take turns, trying to outdo each other. If someone had a revelation from God, they would just begin to speak, rather than wait for the other person to finish. Those with the gift of tongues were all talking at once, without the aid of an interpreter. So the end result was that no one was able to understand a word that was being said. Even the women had gotten into the act. It is obvious from earlier in Paul’s letter, that he did not forbid women from participating in praying or prophesying in public worship. His only requirement, which appears to be a contextual and cultural one, was that they do so with their heads covered (1 Corinthians 11:5). But in this section, it seems that the issue is one regarding their questioning of or spoken response to words of prophesy uttered by others in the congregation. Paul had said, “Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29 NLT). It appears that there was a protocol that allows others to examine or even oppose what was said. They could pose questions or raise concerns regarding the individual’s statements. And it seems that some of the women were taking part in this activity, which is what Paul was forbidding when he said, “Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says” (1 Corinthians 14:34 NLT). Again, this appears to be a cultural issue. If a man uttered a word of prophesy, and a woman questioned him in public, it would have been unacceptable and inappropriate. It was common practice in both the Gentile and Jewish cultures for men to question public lectures, but not women. This was in keeping with the cultural mores concerning subordination and headship. So Paul was not forbidding women from using their spiritual gifts, but to refrain from ignoring matters of headship by publicly questioning the words of another man during corporate worship. If they had questions, they were to raise them at home with their husband or father. Again, this all has to do with order, decorum and the overall integrity of the worship service. Which is why Paul ends this section with the words, “But be sure that everything is done properly and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40 NLT).

You can imagine what it would have been like to have two to three people all speaking in foreign tongues at the same time, only to be interrupted by someone else trying to utter a word of prophesy, while another person tried to speak over them with a word of revelation. It would have been total chaos and confusion. And this was not something Paul was willing to tolerate. It went against the whole purpose for them having come together as the body. It contradicted the very purpose of the gifts. God had equipped His people so that they might build one another up. Their times together were to be well-ordered and for the mutual benefit of the body, not the individual. It was not to be a competition to see who was the most gifted or who had the latest word from the Lord. All was to be done in love and submission. Paul would write later in his letter to the Ephesian believers: “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:15-20 NLT). Worship should never be a show. Musicians should never perform in order to get noticed. Pastors should never preach to get recognized. Prayers should not be prayed to impress others. All should be done to glorify God and to build up the body of Christ. Otherwise, we miss the point altogether.

Father, may all that we do be done in order and with a heart to build up the body of Christ. Never let us make it all about us. Forgive us for our affinity for showmanship and personal recognition. Give us a selfless attitude that desires the well-being of the body over our own personal good. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Order Amidst the Chaos.

1 Corinthians 11:2-16

But among the Lord’s people, women are not independent of men, and men are not independent of women. For although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God. – 1 Corinthians 11:11-12 NLT

I would by lying or delusional if I said this was not a difficult passage. There has been much debate and confusion regarding the words of Paul found in these verses and, I for one, am not sure I am the one to bring clear insight into their meaning or application for 21st-Century Christians. These verses are controversial and, while some use them to justify their particular denomination’s modern-day practices, others simply write them off as admonitions from Paul that had a limited-time, cultural significance that does not apply today. And yet, God chose to include these verses as a part of His inerrant, infallible Scriptures. So what are we to do with them.

I think we have to consider the cultural context, as you do when you read any of the books of the Bible. You have to remember who Paul was talking to and what was going on in their particular community and context. Paul’s letters are specific and general in their content and application. Some of the things he wrote were meant to address very specific issues that were unique to that particular fellowship. While there may be principles that can be applied to today’s modern context, the specifics do not. For instance, we do not struggle with the problem of eating meat sacrificed to idols. That was unique to the believers living in Corinth. But there are underlying principles that apply to us today. In the verses for today, we must look carefully for what it is that God would have us take away and apply to our current cultural context.

He deals with everything from headship and authority to women’s head coverings. What is his main point? What is the real problem going on in Corinth? What are we to take away as the lesson or spiritual insight for the modern church? There is no doubt that Paul is addressing an underlying problem of the lack of order within the church. If you recall, there were those among the Corinthian believers who were embracing the idea that, because of their new found freedom in Christ, they were free to do things as they wished. Their attitude had become, “I am allowed to do anything!” Under the context of personal rights and freedoms, they were beginning to determine their own rules of behavior within the body of Christ. This included eating meat sacrificed to idols and, according to these verses, it seems that some of the women began to question the whole idea of authority. This was symbolized culturally by the use of the head covering. Evidently, some of the women were choosing to NOT cover their heads, as was the custom of their society. Even among the Greeks of their day, a woman usually covered her hair and head when out in public. It would seem that some of the women in the Corinthian fellowship had decided that they didn’t have to adhere to this cultural mandate any more. But Paul raised a much more basic and fundamental issue: The biblical concept of authority and headship. He reminded them, “But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3 NLT). Even within the Godhead, the Trinity, submission and headship was practiced. This was God’s divine plan and His order for mankind. The real problem, as far as Paul was concerned, was the danger of rejecting God’s divine order. The removal of the head covering was a cultural symptom of a much greater issue. Eating meat sacrificed to idols was not the primary problem. It was that individuals in the church were using their so-called rights to cause their brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble. Think of what it would have been like if the believers in the church in Corinth had begun to throw off all the accepted cultural norms within their society. Those outside the church would have looked in and questioned the validity and value of the church and its practices. For Paul, everything always revolved around making sure that he did nothing to prevent the spread of the gospel. So if the women in the church suddenly decided to stop wearing their head coverings, it would have been a turn-off to those outside the church and been viewed as too radical and revolutionary; thus preventing them from ever entering into a relationship with the Corinthian believers and thereby hearing the gospel message.

It would see to me that much of what Paul was addressing had to do with accepted cultural norms. It would have been shocking for a woman to go out in public with her hair uncovered. It would have been even more disturbing for a woman to pray in a public worship service with her head uncovered. The real issue for Paul seems to be the confusion and chaos these acts would cause both inside and outside of the church. To not wear a head covering would have been as shocking in that day as a woman shaving her head – unthinkable and unacceptable. But what Paul really seems to be addressing is the need for order within the local body. Anything that would detract from the unity of the body or the spread of the gospel was to be avoided at all costs. Anything that gave the impression that there was no accepted order or need for authority or submission was to be rejected. Rather than seek our rights and demand our way, we need to always keep in mind that we exist for God’s glory. It is not about us. It is about the overall health of the body of Christ, the spread of the Gospel and the cause of the Kingdom of God. We are to do things God’s way, not ours. We are to be willing to die to our rights if it will benefit the body of Christ. We are to give up our freedoms if it will help others come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Father, this is a difficult passage, but it is even more difficult to live out our lives with a sense of otherness rather than selfishness. It would be so much easier to make these verses all about head coverings and hair cuts. But it seems you are calling us to live in unity and humble submission to one another. Our pride is to take a back seat to the well being of the body of Christ. Open our eyes and help us see the lessons You have for us in these verses. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org