“All Scripture is by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). Let us therefore seek the positive message in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 which God has for the believer — a message which both traditionalists and egalitarians have too long ignored.
The world is still trying to pour us into its mold (Rom 12:1-2), a mold fashioned on Madison Avenue rather than in the Scriptures. Distressingly enough, many conservative and evangelical groups buy into a rationale for female behavior that stresses concepts totally at variance with those expressed by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:9-10, where he writes: “the women should dress themselves modestly and decently in suitable clothing, not with their hair braided, or with gold, pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good works, as is proper for women who profess reverence for God.”
Even in Christian circles there is often an inordinate emphasis on women’s clothing, accessories, jewelry, hairstyle, and so forth. Along with devotional material. Christian women are instructed in fashion, make-up, diet, exercise, and home decorating until many become preoccupied with external appearance — to the detriment of their spiritual lives and ministries. One male leader suggests that talented Christian women with time on their hands should direct their energies to new ways of concocting turtle soup! A serious profession of godliness has its risks for women in today’s Christian world.
The first command of this passage is that women should pray, and many of us have learned from Evelyn Christiansen’s book. What Happens When Women Pray, what can happen when women band together in earnest and powerful prayer.
There is power in prayer, whether it is used individually or in concert with others. Jesus promised that where two or three were gathered together in His name, that He would be there; and that if any two agreed touching anything on earth, it should be done. James tells us that prayer is a mighty weapon to the pulling down of strongholds. Prayer has proved a most effective instrument in the hands of women who seek to achieve the purposes of God.
The chapter itself begins with a strong exhortation to pray (1 Tim 2:1, 2) and then proceeds to individual direction for both men and women (vs. 8 and 9). How easy it is to read this chapter in search of other material, and to forget that the primary call is to prayer!
Women often see themselves only in relationship to a man, and identify themselves in terms of these relationships. “I am so-and-so’s wife” or “so-and-so’s daughter” — or mother, aunt, or grandmother. But women cannot be primarily identified by marital status (unmarried, married, divorced, widowed) any more than men can. Nor can women be simply categorized by function: housewife, babysitter, librarian, nurse, teacher, airplane pilot, medical doctor, factory worker, entertainer, engineer, or even “social butterfly.”
1 Timothy 2:10 provides women with the true way to define themselves: by a profession of their highest priority, as they find themselves in God and express their identity in terms of commitment to Jesus Christ and reflecting His love to others.
The practical outworking of that love distinguishes the character of Christian women by lives filled with works which redound to God’s praise (Matt 5:16). These women profess godliness, and they are adorned with good deeds. They are persons who know the power of prayer and exercise it on behalf of others. Their identity lies in their profession of godliness, rather than in any relationship with the opposite sex.
We have only to look at Mother Teresa to see an embodiment of this principle. The “hidden history” of Christian women is rich with examples, however— like Marcella’s group in ancient Rome who simply exploded into Bible study, prayer, social service, and scholarship. The pagan philosopher Libanius exclaimed: “What women these Christians have!”
Paul calls upon women to appear at public prayer dressed in a modest and appropriate manner. Today we usually discuss the need for women to dress discreetly in a professional career situation, yet this passage calls for women always to be clothed in a way consistent with their profession of godliness.
In New Testament times, ostentation in dress was in itself considered a mark of promiscuity. Plutarch wrote that husbands were enraged if their wives dressed in scarlet or orange. In contrast, today’s Christian women are often encouraged to dress elaborately, and are rewarded with much applause and admiration. Some groups of Christian women frequently feature style shows at their meetings, vie in outdressing one another, and in between prayers and the reading of Scripture express the highest admiration for the woman who is the most elegantly dressed. In other Christian circles, grooming and exercise programs receive more attention than an exercise in godliness, and despite the fact that Scripture calls for adornment in good deeds.
But while personal appearance is not of prime importance to the Christian, make no mistake: The Christian is called to present Christ winsomely to the society in which she lives; dowdiness or, worse, slovenliness, brings no honor to Christ. A neat, attractive appearance can certainly open doors for witnessing and ministry. Nevertheless, the impression a Christian woman is called to make is one of godliness and good deeds, rather than elaborate dress. Yet some contemporary Christian women feel their self-worth is enhanced if they are given expensive gifts of clothing and jewelry. One Christian author even recommends wives be submissive as a means of getting fur coats and jewelry from their husbands.
Nowadays, of course, we do not consider pearls as particularly ostentations, but in the days of the New Testament they were highly expensive. Pearl-diving was a dangerous activity, and often slaves were compelled into this high-risk venture, one that all too often cost their lives.
Christ speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven as a pearl of great price. He tells of a merchant who sells all that he has to gain that one precious pearl, and so Christ calls us to give all that we have for the riches of His Kingdom. Jesus Himself came into the world seeking a beloved bride, the Church, and He gave even His life to purchase our salvation. Our pearl of great price is knowledge of God and of His will, not outer adornment.
The woman who finds her adornment in good deeds must also resist pressure to turn her home into a show place. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 is amplified by another passage in 1 Timothy 5 which further describes the activities of Christian women. Older women qualifying to be enrolled in the official ministry of the church were expected to have raised children, entertained strangers, and to have washed the feet of saints. Scripture speaks abundantly of the imperative of hospitality: receiving into our homes foreigners, the poor, children, the homeless, and the hungry.
As we struggled to raise our five children and numerous foster children, our efforts at interior decorating grew more futile. Cathie especially was in a panic because she had been led to believe that the pastor’s home should always look perfect; anything less proved she was a terrible Christian!
Painfully we came to realize that we could not exercise the kind of ministry of hospitality dictated by 1 Timothy and at the same time make our house look like a display in a home decorating magazine. For example, a neighbor’s child who needed love once supplied his own crayon decorations only hours after a painter had finished refurbishing our living room walls! Visitors from other cultures often did not understand how to draw our drapes without breaking the expensive hangers, remember to wipe their feet before tramping on the decorator-colored carpet, or how to use the garbage can rather than depositing fruit peelings in the front yard. So cleanliness and practicality became our new homemaking objectives, because the effort to maintain elegant furniture and decor would preclude opening our door to those most in need of our hospitality, as would an over-emphasis on elaborate preparation of meals.
These goals were reinforced for us shortly after Dick had accepted the pastorate of a country church in rural Minnesota. We had been praying for an opportunity to interact with some of the Native Americans in the area, but they were a proud people and needed time to assess the newcomers in the community.
One day some city friends came to visit, and we spoke of a book about Christian women which was very popular just then. We chuckled together over the advice that wives, arrayed in nothing but saran wrap, should greet their husbands at the front door and inveigle them into sexual encounters under the dining room table. Then Dick took our guests out to enjoy the splendors of a Minnesota autumn while Cathie finished baking the bread and home-made beans. Her Greek study materials were spread out on the dining room table, and she worked away at verb forms in between checking on the contents of the oven.
Suddenly the doorbell rang, and she suspected that the others were playing a trick on her. Was she supposed to come to the door in saran wrap? She marched across the living room with bread dough still clinging to her shirt and blue jeans. But there at the door stood two Native Americans with a request for money to buy a meal and gasoline for the trip back to the reservation. We make it a practice never to give money directly, so she invited them and their carload of friends to come in and try the homemade bread and beans.
As she scurried for the kitchen, she thought of the exhortation to receive strangers, for some thereby have entertained angels unaware (Heb 13:2). She wanted these people to understand how very glad she was that they had come to our house, and she planned to fix the table so that they would know that they were honored guests rather than “charity cases.”
On the other hand, they were very hungry, and she did not wish to keep them waiting. The faster she moved, the more she fumbled. Her hasty efforts to have the entire meal on the table in five minutes did not at all produce the desired picture. The plastic tablecloth and mismatched plates, the pickles and jellies still in their jars, lettuce cut in large hunks, and the spills over the edge of the beanpot were all a great mortification.’ Could this be a table fit to entertain angels?
Frustrated and embarrassed, she sat down at the dining room table with her guests and mumbled an apology. Those gracious and kindly people soon put her at ease as they eagerly ate the simple fare, and shortly the atmosphere became that of a party. When Dick and our city friends returned, they found that the dining room table was fully utilized and they would have to wait their turn for Saturday night supper. So they just pulled up more chairs around the edge and joined in the conversation, jokes, and laughter.
The “angels” who visited that day taught us lessons in hospitality that we willingly pass on to any who believe that God can still send such emissaries to our homes. Our unexpected guests taught us that:
1) The primary purpose of a dining room table is to feed those in need of a meal;
2) Jesus said to feed the hungry, but Jesus didn’t say all your dishes have to match;
3) It’s OK to serve slightly underdone beans if people know how glad you are to have them there;
4) Gourmet food isn’t necessary to have a party;
5) Jesus discouraged elaborate food preparation at the expense of more important spiritual values. (Check the Mary and Martha story in Luke 10.)
Christians are called to pray and to profess godliness and reconciliation in Jesus Christ. We must examine every attitude in terms of our ultimate commitment to discipleship. 1 Timothy 2:9-10 calls for behavior and appearance befitting a woman who proclaims godliness: The word epanggelomai (profess) has within it the concepts of proclamation, profession, and expertise. The Word of God here calls upon each one of us to proclaim Christ’s love in both word and deed —whether in church, home, marketplace, or on the street.
We believe that 1 Timothy 2:9-10 is an important discussion of values for the Christian woman, values that are truly liberating to the woman (and man, too) who seeks to do God’s will, no matter what Madison Avenue tells us.