The passage before us today is one that, in a lot of circles, is overlooked, reinterpreted, or outright denied. For that reason, it is one that has the potential to get me in a great deal of trouble.
It's about Biblical femininity, and that, of course, is something that is hated in our rabidly egalitarian society.
The woman’s liberation movement has so infected even the church that any mention of the idea of biblical patriarchy, submission and God’s order for Biblical manhood and womanhood can create a firestorm of opposition.
I have been opposed on it several times through my meager career. I have been rebuked by one of the leaders of the local Democratic Party. I have been opposed by virtually the whole of the local ministerial society. About 6-7 years ago I was kicked out of a church where I had been doing pulpit supply for almost a year because my “hermeneutical framework” did not comport with the denomination’s. That was just fancy talk for me being someone who holds to the biblical roles of men and women.
I’m thankful that I don’t have to worry about too much of that with this group. I commend all of you, and especially you ladies, for being faithful to study the Scriptures on these topics and most (if not all) of you already have a good grasp on what God’s Word says about Biblical femininity.
Nevertheless, some of what Paul says here can rattle the sensitivities of the modern ear. And we should remember that this is some rather controversial material. To be sure, it was just as controversial in his day as it is in ours.
And while there may be an absolute disdain for the truth all around us—and there may be multitudes express their outrage, we are building a gospel based church. And here in this passage we find that a gospel based church is not going to be a church that bends to the tides of popular opinion. A Gospel based church is going to devote itself to what God says no matter what. And in the passage before us, we find that a gospel based church is going to be one that promotes biblical femininity. And it is going to promote biblical femininity in whatever form it comes in.
And our passage lists for us three different ways in which Biblical femininity displays itself. The first of which is in a lady's attire. Paul tells us that one of the ways Biblical femininity is expressed in the clothes a woman chooses to wear.
I. The clothes she wears
Look at what he says in verses 9-10. Paul has just gotten done talking about what God designs for prayer. And he says, “Likewise…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.”
We believe that the Bible applies to all of life. It applies to economics. It applies to education. It applies to law. And we see from this passage that it even applies to the realm of fashion.
What is Paul concerned with here? He’s concerned that a woman not be overly infatuated with her own glamour. The city of Ephesus was your typical metropolitan city. It was affluent and people liked to show off the fact that they were affluent, especially the ladies. Their wardrobe would often reflect it, even to the point of being gaudy.
Now, let me be clear. This is not saying that some jewelry or a nice hair do is wrong. It is not condemning looking nice. The Bible nowhere says that a woman should look frumpy. As a matter of fact, when you read of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 you see that she is not just an industrious woman, but she’s one that certainly is not against being fashionable. So we shouldn’t put any kind of taboo on hair products nor should we be against a woman putting on a little make up or wearing a few accessories.
What Paul speaks against here is an excessive vanity. The problem in the Roman world was that women were infatuated with the opinions and recognition of other people. They wanted to be noticed. They wanted to be admired. They wore these clothes and had this or that piece of jewelry because it would attract the attention of other people and they would be thought of as “high class.” Their whole goal was to be thought of as a cut above their peers.
The whole idea is that they wanted all the attention to be on them. And Paul’s saying that that’s not to be the case. A woman’s goal in life should not her own worship. Her clothing is to be “respectable, modest and demonstrate self control” so that she might bring more attention to the Lord rather than herself. The idea is to be more concerned with your behavior than your looks.
In other words, it is a question of priority. What is to take the higher priority in our lives, our good works or our good looks?
To be sure, vanity is just as rampant in our culture as it was in the Roman world. Just like the Roman age, there is a huge preoccupation with one’s physical appearance in our day. All you have to do is scroll through your Instagram or your Facebook feed to see how people are yearning to be venerated. Social media is constantly blowing up with selfies that are just longing to be liked, loved, and drooled over. Young girls are yearning for people to pause just enough over their image to comment or give them some other form of recognition.
But this is just a symptom of a wider vanity that permeates our culture. A television commentator has said that in today’s world vanity and femininity are inseparably linked. He went on to express this by saying, “A woman who is not vain (and preoccupied with how beautiful others perceive her as) is not fully feminine.” (That person also went on to say, “A man who is vain is not [regarded as] fully masculine.” So we recognize that it is not isolated to one specific gender).
But that’s the standard for much of the world today. But what it amounts to is nothing other than idolatry of self. It’s the idea that it’s all about me. You should look at me. You should notice me. Don’t I look hot? Don’t you think that I’m all that?
We have to be on guard against this. It doesn’t matter if you find your yoga pants comfortable. If it is drawing excessive attention to your body, then it is not promoting true femininity. Biblical femininity doesn’t draw excessive attention to yourself. Biblical femininity reflects away. It points to Christ and puts a higher priority on how He can be served.
So Biblical femininity will be fashion conscientious. But not only will Biblical women be conscientious about what they wear, but they will also be women who are conscientious about the God given structures of authority.
II. The authority she respects
The next few verses talk about submission and especially how it regards church leadership. In verse 11 he says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” Verse 12 goes on to expand on this by saying, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”
You will notice that these two verses begin and end with the idea of quietness. The silence acts as two bookends. What is in the middle then, defines the kind of silence being talked about.
The quietness demanded of a woman pertains to the teaching and the exercise of authority over a man. In other words, this has to do with the structures of authority in the church. That is to say, this is a prohibition against a woman’s being in a position of leadership or taking to herself the duties that pertain to the offices of elder or minister.
It is not that she can’t teach. Certainly she can. In the book of Titus Paul says that the older women were to teach the younger women. And we know that a mother has a duty to teach and nurture her children.
When we look at the bible we also find that a woman can teach men in some contexts. When we study the book of Acts, we find that Apollos was disciple by Priscilla and Aquila (a married couple). Here was an instance where a woman worked alongside her husband to counsel a man and lead him into a greater understanding of Scripture.
So there are times when it is good and right for women to teach.
And certainly this isn’t saying that a woman shouldn’t talk at all in the worship service. When we read 1 Corinthians 11, it talks about the women praying. We usually know that as the head covering debate, but Paul commends the woman’s participation in the times of prayer. So don’t think that this quietness forbids every form of communication in the church or cuts her off from teaching entirely.
Paul’s concern here is one of jurisdiction. He’s talking about the offices of the church and the official roles that are granted to men as elders and ministers in the church—the one’s who are the teachers and have authority.
When it comes to the corporate body and the official ministry of the word within the church, this is something that is reserved for men.
Now, this is something that a lot of people want to brush off. We live in a day where people will say, “a woman can do anything a man can do.” And people will try to brush this off. They will say things like, “Well, Paul just didn’t like women.” Or, “Back in those days, women didn’t have many rights.” They would like to pin this on the fact that Paul was a man of his culture and in those days women didn't have a lot of rights.
But you’ll notice that Paul anchors his argument in the order of creation. This wasn’t something that was just a part of the Roman or Jewish culture. It is part of the culture of creation, and therefore it is something that transcends culture.
Look at what it says in verse 13. He says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.”
Throughout the Old Testament we find the principle of “primogeniture,” i.e. the idea that the firstborn is the leader of the family. If you were the firstborn child, you had primacy of rank and were responsible for governing the household.
This idea of the primogeniture is embedded in the creation account. Adam had the role of the leader because he came first. That role of leadership then continued on down through the ages. Men were given the role of leadership while the women were called to submit themselves.
That extends then to the realm of the church. If men are the heads of families, it only makes sense that men should be the leaders of the church (which is an organization which is made up of families). To look at it another way, Adam and Eve were the first church. They then set the precedent for all the churches that were to follow.
There is another reason that Paul points out that women should not be leaders in the church (or take on duties reserved for those leaders), and that is listed in verse 14. It says, “Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
Now, to be sure, the fault of humanity’s fall into sin is on the shoulders of Adam. We are born in Adam. Sin came into the world as a result of Adam’s failure to obey. When the serpent was talking with Eve, Adam should have stepped up and stopped the conversation. That being said, Eve was the one who listened to the serpent and ate of the fruit first. As one commentator said, Eve was acting in the role of a leader, and we see she failed. She was not suited for it.
Think about it this way: why did Satan tempt Eve and not Adam directly? It is because he knew there was a weakness here. He didn’t go after Adam because he knew the odds were Adam would have more power to resist. The tactics of any enemy are to invade at the point where they have the most opportunity of success. And, for Satan, it was through Eve.
So, what happened to the woman in her innocence, when she was the strongest to stand mind you, is indicative of where things stand now post-fall.
So you see what Paul says here. These truths are rooted in the creational order and are not subject to changing tides of particular culture. God has instituted this as a rule: men will lead and women should take their role to heart.
Now I know that to modern ear this will sound repugnant. And it may be difficult for most Christians to swallow. But we live by faith and not by sight. If we are going to be a gospel based church, God’s word has to guide and orders all of our lives. And if we are going to be a gospel based church, we have to promote the biblical notion of submission and understand a woman’s role in the church.
There’s one more item in our text. A biblical woman will not only take to heart what the Scripture says about fashion and church authority, she will also take to heart what the Scripture says about her calling in life.
III. The calling she embraces.
That’s what verse 15 is talking about. When you read it, it sounds rather peculiar. It says, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”
Now, we know no one can be saved by works. So, having babies cannot save you. So what does it mean that she will be “saved through childbearing?” There have been some who have said that this is talking about the birth of Jesus (the Seed of the woman). But I think that is pretty difficult to get the text to say that.
I think the best way to take this is to say that a woman will be saved when she, by faith, embraces her role as a mother.
We are saved by faith in Christ, right? What does a woman’s faith in Christ look like? How does she express that faith? She lives by faith as she fulfills God’s calling in her life. And what was she called to do? She was called to be a mother. God designed her to bear children and raise children. Eve was called “the mother of all living.” When Adam named her that he was expressing something of her primary role in life.
So, a woman is saved through childbearing in that she is living by faith, seeking to respond to God’s grace by fulfilling God’s calling on her life.
Now, to be sure, this doesn’t mean that those who are not able to have children are not saved. Neither is this saying that a woman can never have a job or contribute to society outside the home. Again, we look at the Proverbs 31 woman and we see how industrious she was. She was quite the entrepreneur.
Paul’s words here are simply picking up on the general rule: A woman’s main realm of work revolves around her home and her children.
Of course, this idea is attacked with some vehemence today. One of our presidential candidates is a woman and is renown for having said, “What am I supposed to do? Stay home and bake cookies?”
That mockery is the motto of today’s feminist movement. And we hear it every time someone asks a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up. The understanding behind that question is “You obviously do not want to be just a wife and mother, do you?”
Again, a woman can do many things outside the home. She is not locked in the kitchen. But a woman who embraces Christ must be a woman who knows the role Christ has laid out for her. She’s going to recognize that she was divinely designed to be her man’s helpmate and she’s going to know that she was called to govern her home with integrity.
As she lives by faith, well, she will have that future salvation that is promised to her.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.