God’s High Calling for Women: An Exposition of 1 Timothy 2:9-15

The following sermon was preached June 28, 2020. The audio version can be found here.

Growing up in the church, I never really gave the matter of “women in ministry” much thought. It wasn’t until I went off to Bible college and our chaplain was a woman that I actually started thinking about these things. I remember there was a guy who every time she started teaching would just get up and leave. Later on, I heard that his dad actually encouraged this. I thought to myself, that’s pretty rude! Why would he do that? 

But this started me on a journey of exploration that lasted for years. I was a typical child of my generation (I am a Millennial) in that I grew up with the notion anything that a man can do – so can a woman. Except for certain sports like football, and some of the labor-intensive jobs, I just naturally thought “If a man can do it, why can’t a woman?” That was my mindset.

Over the course of several years as I thought about this, I really immersed myself in the Scriptures. That was always the foundation. I was looking to scholarly resources as well, but Scripture was always the foundation, and I am thankful that God always kept me anchored in that way. It can be hard when the culture is constantly banging you over the head with unbiblical messages. But I would always go back to the Scriptures and test it with the Word of God, trying to follow the example of the Berean believers (Acts 17:11). So that’s just a quick note on my own history.   

When it comes to this debate as a whole, it wasn’t until about 50 years ago that the progressive, revisionist view began to appear in academic literature and writings. For well over 1900 years, Christians the world over believed that God had called men to lead in the church and in the home. That was the dominant view by far. Then all of a sudden in the late 60’s, on the heels of the feminist movement, this new “enlightened” view started to appear and take hold in the Church. As R. Kent Hughes writes, “The historic interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 has been the majority view of the church at large for most of the last 2000 years. New Testament professor Bob Yarbrough surveyed the scholarly articles in the standard bibliographical reference tool New Testament Abstracts and noted that it was only in 1969 that the progressive, revisionist view began to appear in the literature of the academy.” (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus: Preaching the Word Commentary, page 66)

Are we to think that pastors and scholars and Bible interpreters got it wrong for all those years? Think of all the giants of the faith that have gone before us – are we suggesting that they were in error? It’s pretty arrogant to think that way, isn’t it? There were some scholars who have gone so far as to say that Paul was flat out wrong! He wasn’t inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this (and other verses) and we should just do away with this text. 

This is a good time to review the first rule of biblical interpretation. There are many principles of biblical interpretation, but perhaps the most important is this – we always let Scripture interpret Scripture. That is to say, as we read Scripture and interpret its meaning, we test that interpretation by what the Bible says elsewhere.

What we are going to find is that the traditional interpretation stands up under scrutiny. The other thing that I would say about interpretation is this – read your Bibles literally. In other words, don’t be constantly looking for some hidden, deeper meaning. Read the text literally. If you are going to arrive at a revisionist position, then you are going to have to be really creative when it comes to handling the text. I call this interpretive gymnastics. That is not how you want to read your Bible. I realize there are exceptions to this – when Jesus says “I am the door” he is not saying He is a flat wooden object with hinges on it. We all know that. Jesus is speaking metaphorically. But on the whole, read your bible literally. Read it in the sense if was intended to be read. If you do that, it will save you from going down a lot of roads you are not meant to. 

The title for this message is: God’s High Calling for Women.  Godly women strive for:  

Modesty and Self-Control – v. 9 “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire.” 

We don’t often talk about appropriate and inappropriate dress in church. There was a day when that was more emphasized, but not in this day and age. It used to be that when people went to church, they wanted to be looking their “Sunday best.” Now the dress trends are more in lines of casual – business formal. 

As you know, I almost always wear a suit and tie to church. That is simply a personal conviction that I don’t impose on anyone else. I want to be looking sharp when I come to the house of the Lord and preach the Word of God. 

But here’s the point. We should be thoughtful when it comes to our dress and the kind of clothing we wear. This is true of men and it is also true of women. Paul says that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, but that they should also be modest, and not over the top. Evidently in the Ephesian Church, there was a problem with women going crazy when it came to clothing and hairstyle and make-up. In essence, they were drawing attention to themselves, and when there was a church service, it was a real distraction for everyone. 

Ladies, when you come to church, by all means dress up nice, but don’t dress up in such a way that it is a distraction to others. Always strive to dress in a way that is modest and appropriate. As I said earlier, the goal is not for people to notice you. When we enter the house of the Lord, we want to make Jesus known. We want to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth. We want to direct people toward the Triune God, and not ourselves. 

There are times where you might want to ask an older lady or your husband or for some of you younger ladies (your mom) if a particular outfit is modest and appropriate. And I am not just talking about when you go to church. You should strive to be modest everywhere you go. The world says – be flashy, flaunt yourself, show them what you got. But obviously, that is not a biblical sentiment. Be modest, and let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart. 

What Paul is getting at is more than just the clothing you wear. That is important, but it goes deeper. This has to do with godliness, and humility, and self-control. Which brings us to our next point. Godly women strive to adorn their lives with……

Good Works – v. 10: “but with what is proper for women who profess godliness – with good works.”

Essentially what Paul is saying is this – live a life in keeping with your profession. You claim Christ, there is something remarkably unique about you, the Bible says you are new creature. If that is true, then it is going to show in how you live your life. You are not going to be like the other women who flaunt themselves and try to draw attention to themselves. You will be modest, humble, and committed to good works. 

Let me give you some Biblical examples of women who lived this out:

  • Ladies who served Jesus and the 12 – Luke 8:1-3
  • Dorcas – Acts 9:36ff 
  • Lydia – Acts 16:14-15 – showing hospitality
  • Phoebe – Romans 16:1-2

Obviously, this is something that all Christians should be committed to. Both men and women should be devoted to good works. Paul told Titus, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (Titus 3:8). 

Men….be devoted to good works. Not as the root of your salvation, but as the fruit. Young people…..be devoted to good works. In an age where we are being told it’s all about me – my rights, my values, my identity, and so on – commit yourself to serving others. And this is especially true here in this local Body of believers. 

But ladies, this verse is directed at you. Strive (by the grace of God) to make this a reality in your own life. 

Let’s move on to our next point. Godly women strive to model…..

Quiet Learning – v. 11: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” 

This is a really important verse. While women were not to be the public teachers when a church gathered for worship, neither were they to be shut out of the learning process. They had every right to learn, just as the men had a right to learn. 

One of the unfortunate realities of the Greek and Roman culture of the New Testament was the women had virtually no rights at all. There were times where they couldn’t even eat a meal with their husbands. They were basically confined to their houses and lived much of their lives in isolation. But then Jesus came along and elevated the position of women in a massive way. As we read in Luke 8, women played a big role in the ministry of Jesus, and women were the first one’s to witness His resurrection. Long before there was the women’s rights movement, there was Christianity. 

But what Paul is saying in verse 11 is that there is a certain way they were to learn – with quietness and submissiveness. In the early church, women sometimes took their newfound freedom overboard. This was true of the church in Corinth and also here in Ephesus. That is where these instructions come from. The Bible says, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:19). 

The godly women that I have been blessed to know were all like that. They were filled with wisdom, yet they were slow to speak. They had a strength to them, but it was a quiet, godly strength. And ladies, that is what you should be aiming for. This goes along with what we have already read in 1 Peter 3:4: “but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” 

Now, the other word that Paul uses is “submissiveness” = to line up under. I don’t have to tell you that that is not a popular word these days. But it is a biblical word. Wives are called to submit to their husbands, Christians are called to submit to the governing authorities, and here is the most important one – Jesus submitted to the will of God the Father. He said, not my will, but yours be done!  

This actually takes us to #4. The Godly woman strives to……

Respect Authority –  v. 12-14: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” 

I’ve been asked before – how do you read v. 12? How do you interpret it? And I’ve simply answered – literally. I believe it says exactly what we think it says. Paul means exactly what we think he means. We don’t let the spirit of the age, whatever it may be, influence our exegesis. By that I mean, we don’t let the feminist movement tell us how to interpret God’s Word. Paul is saying indirectly that the office of pastor and elder is reserved for men only. 

Let me give you four reasons for believing that. Two are from the text and two are from outside of the text.

The Creation Order. 

This one is pretty straight forward. If we go back to Genesis 2, we see that Adam was formed first, and then Eve was created out of Adam. Paul says elsewhere, “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor. 11:8-9).

Man’s Fall into Sin. 

Verse 14 tells us that Adam was not deceived. Rather, it was Eve who was deceived by the serpent. What that tells us is that Adam sinned with eye’s wide open. He knew what was going on with Eve and the serpent, but he failed to step in and stop it. 

Now, I don’t think we should read into this and say that women are more gullible than men. There are countless examples of men being deceived, both in Scripture and in Church history. However, in this case, Adam was not deceived, and that is what Paul appeals to in this verse. 

Qualifications for Elders

In 1 Timothy 3:1-7 (the next passage), Paul gives the qualification for elders. In verse 2 it says, “Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, and the husband of one wife.” Notice how Paul doesn’t say – the wife of one husband. This strongly implies that men were to be pastors and elders, not women. It is assumed. 

The Rest of Scripture

In the whole of the biblical narrative, male leadership is taken for granted. For example, when Jesus called the 12, he didn’t call 6 men and 6 women. He called 12 men to be his apostles and the foundation of the church. So historic interpretation that I have been arguing for fits with the rest of the Scripture.

And friends, this is what it all comes down to – what does the Bible say? What has God declared to be truth, through His Word? That’s what matters.

Godly Offspring – v. 15: “Yet she will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” 

This is a tough verse in a tough passage. A lot of ink has been spilled trying to flesh out what Paul is saying here. But I can tell you what Paul is not saying. He is not saying that salvation is somehow tied to a woman bearing children – having babies. The Scripture is clear, we are saved by grace and through faith alone. We repent of our sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ – that is the only way we can be saved. 

What is Paul saying then? This is where we need to keep in mind the context of the passage. John MacArthur writes: “Paul is teaching that even though a woman bears the stigma of being the initial instrument who led the race into sin, it is women through childbearing who may be preserved or freed from that stigma by raising a generation of godly children.” 

Paul doesn’t expect that every Christian woman will get married (1 Cor. 7), nor does he expect that every married couple will have children. However, a majority of women do have children (1 Tim. 5:10). And as those children are raised up in the ways of the Lord, and they persevere in the faith, that woman is fulfilling her God-given calling. And for those women who don’t have children, you can be sure that God will open doors for you to invest in other children, and young people, and younger women. I have seen it time and time again. 

Timothy was a great example of this: see 2 Tim. 1:5, 3:15

What this all comes down to is the heart – the hidden person of the heart. Proverbs 31 says, “Charm is deceitful, beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (verse 30). It is the hidden person of the heart. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul is calling women to live lives of faith, love, holiness, and self-control. 

Rather than trying to draw attention to yourself, rather than trying to usurp authority, rather than trying to “stand up for your rights,” aim to be a godly and dignified woman. That is the kind of woman that God truly honors.    

Concluding thoughts:

Male headship does not mean superiority. Listen to what it says in Galatians 3:28. “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.” Praise God! Men and women are equally image bearers of God. Men and women are both joint heirs of Christ. There is no superiority – it’s all equal footing. 

Nor is this about competency. I remember growing up in the public school system, and more often than not, it was girls who were at the top of the class. I think every man would admit to be out-witted, out argued, out everything-ed by women. I have always been surrounded by capable, gifted women all my life. And that was part of the presupposition that I carried with me by the time I got to college. This is not a competency issue!    

There are a lot of women out there who are gifted Bible teachers – what about them? Well, praise God, there remains many opportunities to teach. In fact, there is a tremendous need for that today. First of all, there is a huge need for women to teach children – both their own, but also others within the church. Secondly, there is a need for women to teach other women. Women are hungry for the Word! 

One of the lies that the enemy often tells women is this. “If I can’t do it all, then I can’t do anything.” That’s simply not true. For the woman who is submissive to the teaching of God’s Word, there are countless opportunities to serve. 

Consider Titus 2:1-5: But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

We need more Titus 2 women! 

In every sphere of life, there is leadership. Just try to find an exception to that – you won’t. Where there is no leadership, you only ever have chaos. God has called men to be the spiritual leaders in both the home and the church. God has called men to lead in love and sacrifice, and to lead on their knees in prayer. 

We don’t have to lament and say – I wish the Bible was clearer on this matter. It is clear! 

Another dynamic that is often overlooked is that of witness – our testimony to the watching world. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 

This is what we ought to be praying for – the salvation of lost souls. When a world that is hopeless and lost sees the people of God being the people of God, it makes a huge difference. When husbands love their wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her – When wives submit to their husbands – When churches are led by biblical, qualified men – When children submit to their parents – Let me tell you that is really weird to the outside world. But it’s also refreshing. 

For more on the C&MA (my denomination) as it relates to this issue, click on the link below:

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