Order in the Church: Paul the Sexist? [1 Timothy 2](Part 1)

Order in the Church: Paul the Sexist? [1 Timothy 2](Part 1)

1st Timothy says with love, affection, and beneficial instruction what the family of God is to look like, and how the individual family unit is to be shaped.  Paul writes to Timothy with clarity and precision about age (5:1-2). About younger and older women who are widows (5:3-16). About fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, and children. These are not offensive statements or instructions to the believer who is trusting the Lord Jesus. That trusts that His instructions through His messenger Paul are good and beneficial. To the skeptical unbeliever, these helpful instructions are as vile as Mein Kampf. 

The family is continually under assault in today’s contemporary Western society. Even defining a family can be tricky today with as many “blended”, “mixed”, “multi-layered” and “modern” family units and styles as there are. We all know that “Yo Mama” jokes are a great way to alienate. But nowadays culture considers any sort of defined role within a family unit or structure as offensive, abusive, and evil, it’s tough to put any concrete reason as to why “Yo Mama” jokes are offensive.  If there are no mothers or fathers and we’re supposedly all fluid anyway, these jokes would not be offensive. When the most basic unit of the human experience is cast away, the society doing the casting is not long for this world. 

Determining the Main Point of the Passage

I’m currently preparing to preach through the New Testament book of 1st Timothy. Whenever preparing to preach through a passage, it is essential to bring out the main point of the passage. When communicating the main point of a passage to a congregation, there are always questions that arise along the way. 

Why was X the main point of the passage? How does the main point apply to the church in the present? What are the cautions, or benefits regarding the main point? 

These are questions that the preacher must often wrestle with themselves during sermon preparation. If the preacher does not receive first what he must deliver, then the preacher may be speaking publicly, but the preacher is not preaching a faithful sermon from the Word of God. 

Depending on the passage at hand there may be some questions that are more secondary in nature, and some that are more essential to the main point of the passage. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, Paul’s main point is to remind the Corinthian church of the essential, salvific, foundational truths of the gospel. These first few verses then provide the introduction to the bulk of the foundational truths Paul wanted his audience to be reminded of, detailed in 15:4-8. 

There are many secondary questions that may arise about the passage, such as: 

  • What year in history did Paul visit and preach the gospel to the Corinthians? 
  • Is it possible to believe the gospel in vain? 
  • How does a person “hold firmly” to the gospel? 

These are all wonderful questions that can and should be answered in response to the passage. Yet, they are not the main point of the passage. The main point of Paul’s reminder (15:1) is the absolute necessity of belief (15:2, 3) in historical truths about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection (15:3-8) as the fulfillment of the promises of God in sacred scripture (15:3). If we miss out on the main point, we may have a variety of nice answers to important questions, but we will have missed the main intended purpose of the passage. 

Dominant Themes in 1st Timothy

I say all this as a preamble because in 1st Timothy there is a central point in the book. Dominant themes prevail throughout each of the instructions and doctrines. In the midst of that dominant theme (instructions on worship, community life, and family roles), there are many applications of the instructions that today are absolutely antithetical to the dominant voices in Western political ideology and religious preference. 

One Christian theme that is antithetical to current culture emerges as a statement of thesis within the first few sentences of the letter. Paul wrote:

As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Tim 1:3-5

Paul draws a firm line in the sand that stands against pluralism, and syncretism. In this instruction to Timothy, Paul reminds his young “true son in the faith” (1:2) of the incompatibility of God’s work by faith and alternative spiritual views. That’s hardly popular or welcome in today’s Western contemporary setting. 

Besides the exclusive claims of the gospel, 1st Timothy is sometimes neglected by contemporary preachers due to the Holy Spirit-inspired words regarding:

  • the ordering of worship, 
  • the ordering of church community life, 
  • and the ordering of family life.

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