18th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 20 – C)
I Timothy 2:1-15
September 18, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
Every week, I spend some time looking at each of the readings for the coming Sunday to see what my sermon is going to be about. Sometimes I know right away, while at other times it takes a lot of prayer. I did the same thing this week and for some reason I settled on the Epistle. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided to tackle Paul’s words to Timothy about women in the church, but I decided that I wasn’t going to chicken out. The words are part of the readings, so you’ve heard them and I’m sure they brought questions to mind. You may have found them out of touch with contemporary thought. In fact, they may have done more than that, you might be sitting there angry and offended. I understand that this is too big of a topic to cover completely in one sermon, but I ask that you walk with me for a few minutes as we take look at the God’s role for women in the Church.
The words that may have jumped out at you come from the middle of the Epistle where Paul says, “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.” Many people, lay people, pastors, and theologians listen to Paul’s words and they assume that he’s a sexist pig. He must be, right? He’s telling women to learn quietly and to not have authority over a man. And this isn’t the only place that he says something like this, he also says it in First Corinthians 14, “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches.” This isn’t how enlightened men think, right? Is Paul just keeping women down? He’s not, I promise. I can’t deny though that some men, who claim to be Christian, have taken this teaching to a sinful conclusion. They treat women as second class citizens, as inferior subordinates. This isn’t at all what Paul teaches, and those who treat women like that are disregarding all that Paul says.
Keep in mind though that Paul never speaks on his own authority. He’s not making up rules as he goes along. Instead he says, “For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle” and what this means is that he is speaking with God’s authority, even when He says things that we disagree with. From the first word in Genesis to the last word in Revelation, God is speaking to us. When God is speaking to Moses, when Jesus is talking to His disciples, and when the Holy Spirit inspires what Paul writes his letters, it’s all God’s Word. And because it’s His Word, we have to accept all of it, even the parts we don’t want to and even the parts that make writing a sermon tricky. Knowing the Bible is God’s Word helps, it also makes us wonder if God is sexist. He’s not. He’s God and God cannot be sinful or sexist. Instead what we learn that God has a plan for His Church.
Paul says this about God in I Corinthians 14, “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.” God is a God of order; He brings harmony out of chaos and He lays out how His Church is to be structured. To do this, He gives men and women different roles. To the men, He assigns the role of pastor. All the descriptions of pastors in the Bible refer to them as men. They are to be the husband of one wife and all the references to pastors use male pronouns; he, him, and his. We can see this also that while Jesus loved women very much, and many followed and supported Him, He chose only men as His disciples. So when Paul says, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” and “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” He’s clarifying that men are the ones called by God to lead the prayers in worship and to preach.
And he’s not saying this because women are inferior, not at all. You ladies are far from inferior, you’re jewels in the Church. King Lemuel says in Proverbs, “A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” Without you ladies, there’s a lot of church work that would never get done. Without your love, faithfulness, and hard work, God’s work on earth would be greatly hindered. You’re incredibly important to the church, and keep in mind that while women aren’t called to be pastors, most men aren’t either.
So believe me when I say that while God doesn’t allow women to be pastors, He certainly has a special place for them. Paul tells the older women to teach the younger women. Women provided food and lodging for Jesus and His disciples. And who were the first to hear about the risen Christ? Who was the first to see Him? It was women! They not only were the first to hear of the Easter miracle, they were the first to share the incredible news.
You can teach and speak about Christ wherever God has put you in this life. You might be used like Priscilla who told Apollos the whole story of Jesus. You can teach Sunday school, Confirmation, and Vacation Bible School. You can be like Dorcas who showed love and compassion to those who were hurting. You can serve as a missionary bringing the light of Jesus to those who sit in darkness. Emmanuel is supporting a woman right now who’s serving in the Dominican Republic. Everyone can serve God, and for most people, men and women, this is in their daily vocations, in their homes, and among family and friends, and according to the abilities that God has given them.
God may not have given the pastoral office to you ladies, but all Christians gather together to lift up this world in prayer. Paul says, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” All Christians get to tell others about “the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.” Did you know Islam teaches that a majority of women will not enter Paradise? It’s true, and this is sexism at its absolute worst. But the truth, the eternal and perfect truth is that all people, men, women, and children, get to teach and to learn that they’re so important God gave His Son to die for them.
We see this in last verse of the reading. Paul says, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” Paul isn’t saying that women are going to go to Heaven because they have kids, that’s silly. Rather, we’re all saved because it is through the birth of a man, the Son of God, that we are saved. This is the highest honor that God has given to women, that one of them got to bear His Son. Jesus could’ve just appeared one day, just shown up in the Temple. But God holds women in such esteem that one conceived Him. An honor for Mary to carry Him, and a gift for all people.
If you read the verses of today’s text out of context they can be very angering and they can be offensive. It sounds like Paul is telling women to “sit down and shut up”, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. For when what Paul says is read in the context of the whole Bible you see that women aren’t inferior to men, they just have different roles in the Church. The Church follows the example of Jesus and has held women in high regard since the very beginning. Women are to speak up, they are to tell others about Jesus, and they’re incredibly valuable. Without you ladies the Church wouldn’t be what it is today, and don’t let anyone tell you differently just because God doesn’t want you to be pastors. But your most important role isn’t as teacher, student, parent, or wife. You men, your most important role isn’t husband, father, or son. All of you have the same role; forgiven and redeemed people of God.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen