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Christian Women (part 1 of 3)

Saturday, March 13, 2021

"I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 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, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 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. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control."

1 Timothy 2:8-15

The perception of many is that Christianity, represented in passages like the one above, regards women as second-class citizens. Women are daughters of the original troublemaker, so, some think, the best thing for them to do is to have children, stay at home, behave themselves, and keep quiet. Oh, and make sure they don't dress too pretty! Passages like this one, some believe, prove that the apostle Paul, who wrote it, was a male chauvinist and the Christian faith is yet another example of an archaic patriarchal religion designed by men to further subjugate women. 

This is not, as I hope to show, what this or any other Scripture teaches concerning women. The biblical view of femininity is a radical departure from societal norms. It begins with the foundational truth that women are distinct from men but coequal image-bearers of God with men, created to rule over all the earth together (Gen. 1:26-28). The arrival of Jesus Christ restored that purpose by elevating women to a position of equal honor, status, and value in his kingdom. Jesus expects women to work and even to lead in his kingdom, albeit in a limited capacity. 

To help us understand the above passage, let us compare it with other first-century views.

Rabbinical View of Women's Roles

One "Siddur," a Jewish prayer book, contains this morning blessing: "Blessed are you, O God, King of the Universe, Who has not made me a Gentile... a slave... a woman..." The Jerusalem Talmud notes the opinion of Eliezar ben Hyrcanus, who said, "Women's wisdom is solely in the spindle... The words of the Torah should be burned rather than entrusted to women" (JT Sotah 3:4, 19a). Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah put it more mildly, "... men come to learn Torah and women come to hear."

The Babylonian Talmud states, "Anyone who teaches his daughter Torah teaches her tiflut" (BT Sotah 21b). The word "tiflut" could be defined in one of two ways: 1) lewdness; men were afraid that women would learn how to outwit their husbands and fool around in secret; or 2) vanity/nonsense; learning was unnecessary for women because they don't need to know Torah. The scribes and rabbis of the first century believed it was inappropriate to teach a woman in public, though some permitted them to study on their own. This is a far cry from what the Jewish Bible, what we call the Old Testament, actually taught. But it accurately represents the sentiment of the day that women were inferior to men.

Pagan View of Women's Roles

Timothy, the one Paul wrote to, worked as an evangelist in Ephesus and the main religion of that city was a female-only cult to Artemis. A magnificent ionic temple constructed in her honor dominated the city and housed a huge statue of the goddess which the Ephesians believed to be a "sacred stone which fell from the sky" (Acts 19:35). Artemis was a female deity and the priests were all women. When it came to worshiping the goddess of the hunt and the wilderness, the women were the ones who ran the show and kept the men in their place. But the cult of Artemis was not unique. There were other cults that included women priestesses (as in Corinth in Achaia).

How Would Jesus Be Worshiped?

You could imagine the confusion and the pressures such a culture would exert on women who became Christians. Women were stepping out from one of two worlds into the Christian world. How would the worship of Jesus differ from the synagogue system and the Artemis cult? Some were saying that because Jesus saved both men and women alike, and all are "one in Christ" (Gal. 3:28), that the old ways of organizing male and female roles should be overturned. Should women be trained so that Christianity would become a cult like that of Artemis, where women take the lead? Or should the synagogue tradition of relegating women to the sidelines be carried over in a kind of male-only environment?

Christian View of Women's Roles

Paul rejects both ideas. Rather, he is challenging the world's view of gender stereotypes. In 1 Timothy 2:1-8, he is teaching how men ought to behave (1 Tim. 3:15). They should be devoted to regular prayer, not fulfilling the macho stereotypes of arrogant thugs, always fighting to get their way. Instead, they should "[lift] holy hands without anger or quarreling." Christian men should learn how to pray without attitudes of wrath or dissension. They should pray for peace in their community and government so that it provides an ideal setting for Christians to spread the gospel. 

Christian women (1 Tim. 2:9-15), "likewise," aren't to fulfill their stereotypes either. They are not to act like simpering, empty-headed valley girls, concerned only with fashion and materialism. They are to be noticed by their "good works" rather than the way they are dressed (v.10; cf. 1 Pet. 3:3-4). In addition, women should be allowed to study and learn along with the men in the same manner and degree. They are to do so "quietly with entire submissiveness" (v.11). We often take this to mean submission to men but Paul doesn't necessarily qualify it that way here. Really, all study of Scripture is to be with the submissive attitude of a devoted student, whether they are men or women (Isa. 66:2). 

This is perfectly in line with Jesus' teaching in Luke 10:38-42. There, Jesus affirms the priority of Mary's devotion to him as a learning disciple. In that text, while Martha was busy serving the guests, Mary was seated "at the Lord's feet" (v.39), a euphemism for the submission of a disciple (Acts 22:3). This was exclusively the realm of men! Mary flouted all the social conventions of gender and yet Jesus said she was exactly in the right place. Many of Jesus' most devoted disciples were women (Lk. 8:1-3). Paul is not inventing anything in 1 Timothy 2. Rather, he is building on what Jesus has already established.

The Qualification of Paul's Teaching 

But Paul qualifies himself in verse 12: "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." It's as if he is saying, "I don't mean to imply that I'm now setting up women as the new authority over men in the same way men exercise authority over women in the synagogues." No, the church is not to take on the model of the Artemis-cult. Women are not to seize control and exercise authority in the church over men. Rather, Paul is agreeing with what Jesus had already taught in Luke 10; that women deserve to learn and develop their talents like men. 

Christian women are to be free from the worldly stereotypes of fussing over their hair or makeup. They are to be free from hiding in the shadows like unobtrusive mice when the "men are discussing serious spiritual matters." But they are not free to take control of the congregation and turn it into another pagan system. Christian women are free to learn in quietness, to mature and develop their talents like the men so they can contribute to the kingdom in their unique ways.

In next week's article, we will discuss the role of Christian women further. Paul both encourages women to teach and regulates their role as teachers.

Paul's Letter of Recommendation

Saturday, March 06, 2021

“Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 

(2 Corinthians 3:1-3)

A great deal of the space in Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians is taken up by some very weighty arguments defending his ministry as a true apostle of Jesus Christ. There were some "false apostles" (11:13) floating around Achaia assassinating Paul's character. Our culture is well aware of how damaging verbal accusations can be, regardless of their veracity. By studying through the letter, we can infer that Paul’s opponents were calling into question the genuineness of his apostleship by drawing attention to his suffering, poverty, and otherwise sorry state of being. Jesus came to take away our suffering so why would his ambassador be enduring such anguish? This was the faulty line of thinking that led some of the Corinthians to buy the lie that Christ really wasn't speaking in Paul (13:3).

One of the best arguments Paul makes to prove his sincerity as a true apostle of the Lord is from the above passage (3:1-3). He poses two rhetorical questions fully expecting negative answers, as if to say, “Do I really need proof? Do you think I need a letter of recommendation to prove my apostleship?”

Paul’s purpose was certainly not to “commend” himself. He wasn’t designing arguments just to make himself look better against his opponents. No, those were the cheap tactics employed by Paul’s enemies who gloried in appearances (2:17; 5:12). In fact, he just got through making the argument that he was not capable by himself to bring about spiritual life to some and spiritual death to others. “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2:15-16) Obviously, no mere man by himself is sufficient to cause eternal salvation or destruction. Yet God was able to make Paul sufficient by equipping him for a sufficient ministry (the new covenant ministry) with a sufficient message (the gospel of light). So, he says, do you need a letter of recommendation?

Letters of recommendation have great merit. The church in Ephesus sent such a letter along with Apollos when he traveled to Achaia exhorting them to welcome him (Acts 18:27). I needed some kind of referral before I could labor among you. You needed some proof of my sincerity before you would allow me to speak God’s word to you on a regular basis. But Paul is saying that he doesn’t need such a letter written in ink vouching for his sincerity. Why not? Because he already had one and it was far more powerful than any letter written by human hands.

His “letter of recommendation” was the Corinthian church itself, which was nonexistent prior to Paul’s coming to Corinth. He was the very first to bring the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (4:6) to the Corinthians who were “blinded... by the god of this world” (4:4). Indeed, he saw himself as Christ's messenger (3:3). The fruit of his labor should have been proof enough. The eighteen months of blood, sweat, and tears that went into reconciling these idolaters to God, an end he was still determined to bring about (5:20), was all the proof they needed of the effectiveness of Paul’s message and the genuineness of his apostleship (cf. Acts 18:11).

God himself authenticated and endorsed Paul by the fact of the Corinthians’ conversion to Jesus. This “letter of recommendation” was just as much “a letter from Christ” written by God’s hand in the eternal and life-giving ink of the Spirit. Even though Christ never came to Corinth in the flesh, Paul, like an ambassador, “delivered” the message of the gospel for him (5:20). The beautiful story of their conversion was “written” or “etched” on Paul’s heart. Their conversion story was living on in him and he carried it with him wherever he went. How much Paul loved these people!

These Christians were like a living epistle that could be “known and read by all.” The church was like an open book for the unbelievers in Achaia to read and know. Their absence in the idol temples could be felt. Their strange and joyous singing on Sundays could be heard. Their neighbors would learn, through their denial of ungodliness and commitment to love, about the power of God's grace to transform sinners into saints.

Lastly, Paul makes a contrast between the old and new covenants in mentioning letters inked on “tablets of stone,” the medium of the old covenant that kills (3:6), and the Spirit written on “tablets of human hearts,” a life-giving medium of the new covenant (3:6) in direct fulfillment of prophecy (Ezek. 11:19-20).

May we all be filled with such love and devotion to each other! May we all be living testimonies to the transformative work of God! May we always remember that we are being “known and read by all”! May God's living Spirit dwell within our hearts by faith!

The Lord's Day

Saturday, February 27, 2021

"I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet"

Revelation 1:10

Revelation 1:10 is the only verse in which the phrase "the Lord's day" occurs in the Bible. A similar phrase, "the day of the Lord" (which describes a great day of judgment) is used extensively by the biblical writers. However, even though the book of Revelation contains prophecies of judgment, the phrase "the Lord's day" does not refer to a day judgment. If "the Lord's day" is not synonymous with "the day of the Lord" then what is does it mean? I believe John is almost certainly referring to Sunday, "the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). Consider the evidence:

  • Christians met together to worship the Lord on "the first day of the week" (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). John and the early Christians probably starting calling Sunday "the Lord's day" late in the first century because that's when the weekly Christian assembly took place. 
  • Jesus was raised from the dead on "the first day of the week" (Jn. 20:1).
  • Jesus appeared to the disciples on "the first day of the week" (Jn. 20:19-20).
  • Jesus ascended into heaven and was enthroned as King on Pentecost (which was always on a Sunday, Acts 2:1; cf. Lev. 23:15). 
  • The church of the Lord was also established on Pentecost (Acts 2:37; cf. Mt. 16:18)

This practice of meeting on Sunday continued in the early church. Consider the words of Justin Martyr around AD 150: "...Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For he was crucified on the day before that of Saturn [Saturday]; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun [Sunday], having appeared to his apostles and disciples, he taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration." (First apology of Justin, Weekly Worship of the Christians, ch.68). 

Also from The Epistle of Barnabas, around AD 100: "Moreover God says to the Jews, ' Your new moons and Sabbaths I cannot endure.' You see how he says, 'The present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but the Sabbath which I have made in which, when I have rested from all things, I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world.' Wherefore we Christians keep the eighth day for joy, on which Jesus arouse from the dead and when he appeared ascended into heaven." (15:8f, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, pg. 147). 

In Revelation 1:10, John also used a special adjective ("Lord's") that occurs only one other time in the New Testament: in Paul's description of communion as "the Lord's Supper" (1 Cor. 11:20). In both cases, the possessive "Lord's" means 'pertaining to' or 'belonging to' the Lord. Just as the Lord's Supper is not a common supper but a special feast belonging to the Lord, so is the Lord's day not a common day but a special day belonging to the Lord. To John, Sunday was not just another day of the week, but a special day which belonged to Jesus when Christians would assemble to honor him in worship (see 1 Cor. 16:2; Acts 20:7).

The same Greek word ("Lord's") was used in other ancient texts as well. It was sometimes translated as "Imperial." Just as Caesar was called "Emperor" in the first century (1 Pet. 2:17), those things belonging to Caesar were "Imperial." There were the Imperial treasury, the Imperial service, and the Imperial army. These things belonged to the Empire of Rome and remained under the Emperor's authority. Since they belonged to the Emperor they were only to be used for that which the Emperor authorized. Both John and Paul borrowed this word from its secular context and applied it to things belonging to the true "Lord of Lords" (Rev. 19:16), Jesus Christ. 

If "the Lord's day" belongs to Jesus, we must:

  • Consecrate "the Lord's day" to Christ. Most early Christians had to work on Sundays because their first-century society did not share their theological convictions concerning "the first day of the week." To the Jews, it was a day to catch up on work after the Sabbath. To the Romans, it was just another day. Nevertheless, the early Christians showed great devotion to Jesus by prioritizing their time and effort to worship him collectively, sometimes at great personal risk (Heb. 10:24-25, 32ff). This meant they would have to either assemble very early in the morning before work or later in the day when their duties were finished (hence the command for Christians to "wait for another" in taking the Lord's Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:33).

Notice Pliny the Younger's words to Emperor Trajan concerning the practice of Christians around AD 100: "They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath not to (do) any wicked deeds, never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then to reassemble to partake of food - but food of an ordinary and innocent kind." (Pliny, Letters 10.96-97). 

  • Prepare for "the Lord's day" in advance. Since Sunday belongs to Jesus, disciples should prepare themselves mentally, physically, and spiritually to give him their best devotion during the assembly. We may prepare by praying for the right mindset, reading Scripture, or simply setting aside some quiet time prior to the assembly to meditate on the significance of the Lord's day. 
  • Engage in "the Lord's day" activities. We are given examples of Christians worshiping Jesus together on the Lord's day by singing, praying, teaching, giving, and observing the Lord's Supper. God has provided us with these examples as a pattern for us to worship him in ways that are both pleasing and acceptable to him and spiritually beneficial to us. Worship is not passive but active. We must engage, not only in these outward forms of worship, but engage our hearts in these special activites (Mt. 15:8; Eph. 5:19).

Everyday belongs to Jesus but only Sunday is "the Lord's day." This does not mean, of course, that Sunday is the only time when Christ can be honored by his church, but there is significance tied to the first day of the week that we must consider. Are we giving Christ what belongs to him? 

The Obedience of Faith (in Christ)

Saturday, February 20, 2021

"But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed."

Romans 6:17

Paul began and ended his letter to the Romans with the same phrase: "to bring about the obedience of faith" (Rom. 1:5; 16:26). This was the purpose of his ministry as an apostle and the goal of God's eternal purpose revealed through the gospel. Paul's aim was to establish this "obedience of faith" within the hearts of others not only because it was what Jesus called for in the kingdom (Mt. 5:20), but because it is the only reasonable response to what Jesus has done for us (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 4:1). 

But what is "the obedience of faith"? It certainly is not "faith in our obedience." Paul is not saying that our confidence rests upon our perfect obedience to Christ (little comfort that would be!) but rather that our obedience springs from a heart of faith. We obey God because we trust God. We trust God because he has proven himself trustworthy. John summed up the correct order of things when he said, "We love because he first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). In the gospel, God took the initiative by sending his own Son (Jn. 3:16). Proclaiming the gospel means reporting good news of events which have already taken place, namely that "Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Therefore, we obey God because of what he has done for us. Our obedience springs from a heart of faith. It is an "obedience of faith." 

Paul gives his own summary of this phrase in Romans 6:17: "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed." Let's break that down.

First, Paul says that they were obedient to the pattern (17c). When Christians obey the gospel, they are obedient to a "standard" or "form." This is a technical term for a pattern or a mold that a sculptor might use to pour plaster into, so that, when the plaster dries and the mold is removed, it conforms to that image (see Rom. 8:29). It could also mean "type," as in the mark of a stroke from a typewriter. This is the impression the keys make on the page that conforms to the image of the letter (see Rom. 5:14). Here, Paul says that the Romans were obedient to a "pattern of teaching" which was "committed" to them. The objective "standard" of the gospel was presented to them (Phil. 3:16; 2 Tim. 1:13). It was then met with consideration and resulted in willing obedience. But mere outward conformity to the pattern is only one aspect of "the obedience of faith."

Second, Pauls says that they were obedient from the heart (v.17b). That "standard of teaching" demanded a complete reformation of life, from the inside out. The Romans didn't obey the gospel simply to check a box. Their obedience was rendered "from the heart" because they were inwardly transformed. The wonder (and "power," Rom. 1:16) of the gospel message is its ability to melt our hearts and humble us before God. In it, we learn of God's unconquerable love and our unworthiness of his gift of salvation (Rom. 5:5-8). That inward faith motivates outward obedience (confession, Rom. 10:10; baptism, Rom. 6:1-4ff) and results in salvation. Obedience to the gospel is rendered from the heart and is proof of inward change. 

Third, Paul says that they were obedient for the Lord (v.17a). He begins this verse by expressing his gratitude to the one who makes this wonderful change possible. "But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart." When it's all said and done, after we have obeyed the gospel and done all within our power to do, there is no room for pride (Lk. 17:10). Instead of giving us the "death" we deserve, God has given us "the free gift of... eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). So Paul rightly gives God his due and so should we. It was, after all, God who made known to us the path of life; God who took the initiative and sent his Son; God who provided the sacrifice for our sins; God who raised Jesus from the dead; God who revealed these truths by his Spirit; God who planned and executed his will to perfection; etc. We who are saved thank God our Savior (Jude 1:25). 

Jesus deserves our obedience. After all, "though he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Heb. 5:8-9). Let us remember there is a standard of teaching to which we must conform, that our obedience must spring from a heart of faith, and that we ought always to thank God who saved us from the slavery of sin to become his obedient servants.

Responding to God's Invitation

Saturday, February 13, 2021

"For many are called, but few are chosen."

Matthew 22:14

Jesus told a story about a king whose son was getting married (Mt. 22:1-14). To celebrate the occasion, the king threw a huge party. He sent out his servants to call those who were invited but they refused to come. He sent out other servants with the message that the feast was all prepared, the food was ready and the party was about to begin, but the people "paid no attention" to the invitation. They went about their daily business and ignored it. Surprisingly, there were others who attacked the king's messengers and killed them! These violent people were, of course, punished by the king but what was to happen with the party? Who would attend the feast and honor the king's son? 

The king determined that those who refused the invitation, though they seemed at first respectable, "were not worthy." So he instructed his servants to go out into the country and invite everyone, "both bad and good," to come to the feast. Finally, the day arrived and "the wedding hall was filled with guests. But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who" wasn't dressed properly. He had somehow slipped into the feast with "no wedding garment." This was a grave offense, so the poseur was bound and thrown out so that the feast could commence with those who truly belonged.

With this parable, Jesus is teaching us what "the kingdom of heaven" is like (vv.1-2). He is underscoring the danger that people find themselves in when they reject Christ and showing his acceptance of spiritual outcasts over seemingly "respectable" religionists. The characters in the parable are clear: God is the king, Christ is the son and we are the people who respond to the king's invitation. The invitation is the gospel and the wedding feast symbolizes the blessing of salvation that is enjoyed through obeying the gospel (see 25:10). This parable not only intructs us about the nature of the kingdom but also invites some much needed self-reflection. 

How do we respond to God's invitation? 

Are we ignoring it? (v.5) The king wanted to celebrate his son by serving his guests the best of everything at the feast (v.4) but some evidently didn't care. Their farms and businesses were their first priority and they were not willing to change their schedules or halt their work. Sadly, those who ignore God's gracious invitation don't know what they're missing. God wants us all to celebrate Jesus' victory over sin and death and follow Jesus into the blessings of eternal life. But, because many are blinded by the trinkets of this fading world, they ignore God's invitation (Lk. 8:14; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). What about you? Does your life take precedence over God's invitation? If so, you're missing out on life itself (Mk. 8:35). 

Are we attacking it? (vv.6-7) Who are these spiteful people who brutally attack the king's messengers? They are those who, when invited to take part in the kingdom, instead, take offense and lash out against the messengers. Jesus warns his disciples, who are tasked with extending this invitation, of people like this (Mt. 5:11-12; 21:34-36; 23:29-36). What about you? How do you respond when a loved one approaches you with the gospel? An invitation to reflect upon your own decisions? Your sins? An offer of life in Jesus? If you respond in anger and mistreat the King's messengers, beware the King's wrath and repent (v.7; 23:37-24:41). 

Are we faking it? (vv.11-13) The fate of the guest who was caught not wearing the appropriate clothes to the feast is a surprising element to the parable. While verses 5-8 are a warning to unbelievers, verse 11-13 are a warning to believers. Simply responding to God's invitation is not enough. By responding to the gospel, we commit ourselves to follow Christ and abide by his 'dress-code,' so to speak. Christians must "put on... compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience," forgiveness and, "above all... love" (Col. 3:12-14) Those who are caught at the wedding feast without this essential Christian wardrobe are subject to the same judgment of those who rejected the invitation in the first place (Rom. 11:18-22). What about you? Are you faking it or is your faith genuine?

Are we changed by it? (v.10) A person doesn't have to be "good" to be invited to the wedding feast (9:10-13), but responding to God's invitation should result in a changed life. Those dressed in Christ's character, who consistently "put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24), are privileged to enjoy the great wedding feast with God. God's grace motivates us to "walk worthy" of our calling (Eph. 4:1), to "keep in step with the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25), to be renewed in the spirit of our minds so that we may live the life of Jesus. Are you changed by God's invitation? 

We all fit into this parable somewhere. God invites everyone to participate in his kingdom. We are "called" but are we "chosen"?

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