From 1 Timothy 2
This evening I encourage you to think. I hope the things I share with you will
encourage you to think beyond the time of this evening's assembly. I want to state
clearly that you do not have to agree with me. If you sincerely disagree with me, that is
fine. I have no "hidden agenda," no "ulterior motive." I want to share some information
that can advance understanding and deepen commitment to God's message in God's
When we discussed 1 Timothy 1, I stated that an understanding of the situation
in the city of Ephesus was basic to understanding Paul's letter. The city of Ephesus
was the dominate influence in that region and probably beyond. What Paul wrote to
Timothy was understood by Timothy in the context of the religious and social systems
formed by the culture, economic realities, and social environment at Ephesus.
- This is my understanding: every writing in the Bible should be understood in
the context of its age and its culture.
- The objective of establishing and respecting the context of a Bible writing is to
better and more accurately understand the message.
- The better I understand the message, the better I can obey the message.
- The better I understand the message, the better I can live by the message.
- As I better understand the message, I reduce the likelihood that I will either
pervert the message, abuse the message, or substitute my convictions for the
- If I am to increase the accuracy of my understanding of Paul's message to
Timothy, I must increase my understanding of life and the culture in Ephesus.
- All of us understand this need when we seek to understand our world; I can
illustrate that fact.
- Over a hundred members of this congregation have worked at least briefly in
other countries in either medical or evangelistic missions.
- Is the culture and social system in any other country identical to the culture
and the social system in the United States?
- Cultures and social systems are not only dissimilar, in many specific
situations they are strikingly different.
- Let me give you some specific illustrations.
- When I lived in Cameroon, West Africa, men at times carried purses and
held hands with men as they walked down the road.
- That had nothing to do with homosexual conduct.
- They were required to carry so many documents with them at all times
that the best way to carry them was in a purse.
- Best friends frequently held hands as they walked.
- Holding hands with the opposite sex was never permissible; the only
women that held hands with men in public were prostitutes.
- In Poland, anytime that I was invited into a home as a guest, it was a common courtesy to take fresh cut flowers to present to the hostess.
- But do not take red roses.
- Red roses had a specific, unique meaning.
- If you are invited to a home in Canada, it is customary to take your shoes
off at the door.
- In the house you walk about in your socks.
- Or, you wear house shoes.
- Some people carry house shoes with them when they visit.
- We know that, we understand that, we respect that, and we make allowances
for that when we are the visitor in other cultures.
- We understand without question that we must learn the basics of another
culture if we are going to treat people within that culture with respect,
understand them, and not offend them.
- Do we not realize that if such is necessary to create understanding in the
cultures and social systems of today, it is certainly necessary if we are to
understand letters written to social systems and cultures that existed 2000
- Let me try to put this in full focus.
- Is the Bible the word of God? Absolutely.
- Is it "God breathed," inspired? Absolutely.
- Does it reveal the will of God? Absolutely.
- Did God through His Spirit guide this revelation? Absolutely.
- Does that mean when Paul, Peter, John, Luke, Matthew, or Mark wrote one
of the letters that is a part of the New Testament, that the writers of these
letters were thinking of us, our world, and our situation as they wrote? No.
- They were writing to people who lived then in that world teaching them
how people who belonged to Jesus Christ lived and acted in their culture
and their social systems.
- Can we learn and understand God's will from their writings? Absolutely.
- But the more that we understand their social systems and cultures, the
more accurately we will understand their messages.
- Perhaps more importantly, the more we understand their social systems
and cultures, the less likely we are to take what they said and create our
- We really object when another religious body takes a scripture out of its
context and creates a doctrine or theological principle.
- It is just as incorrect for us to do that as it is for any other group to do that.
- Paul likely had to leave Ephesus quickly after the riot.
- To put it in accurate terms that we understand, conversions to Christ were
having a significant negative impact on the economy of this very wealthy city
known for its luxurious living.
- One of the major industries in Ephesus centered around the temple of
- The temple, one of the 7 wonders of the world, was the center of a world
- It was a major economic institution that served as a major bank in the
- The riot occurred because some of the Ephesians did not like the impact
Christianity had on the economy of the city and region.
- Paul wrote Timothy about matters he did not want Timothy to forget or neglect as
Timothy remained in Ephesus.
- Problem one is the focus of chapter one: people were teaching strange
doctrines, genealogies, and the law.
- The "strange doctrines" were strange to Christ's teachings, not strange to
the thinking of people.
- You had people teaching as though they really understood what they
were saying, but they actually did not know what they were talking about.
- Problems two and three are the focus of chapter two.
- I want to address the context of problems two and three. My conclusion is
that you need to be aware of the context before you approach the text.
- There is nothing in the text that suggests that either of these problems concern
- Our primary assumption is that Paul is talking about worship.
- Our primary application has been to a worship situation.
- We assume that Paul is talking about worship, so we just naturally think
worship when we look at this chapter.
- Christians had a major image problem in Ephesus.
- They were not seen as being good citizens or a beneficial social influence.
- As far as many Ephesians were concerned, if Ephesus was primarily
Christian, it would be a disaster for the city.
- Why were Christians seen to be this kind of people, this kind of influence?
- One basic reason: the men did not offer sacrifices at any of the three temples
dedicated to the Roman emperors.
- A basic act of good citizenship was to go to one of these temples and
pray to and for the ruling Caesar.
- Responsible citizens did that as a matter of routine practice.
- Christians did not do that, so Christians were seen as bad citizens and
enemies of the government.
- A second basic reason was seen in the conduct of Christian women.
- The goddess Artemis was said to be the daughter of Zeus and Leto, and the
twin sister of Apollo.
- If my understanding is correct, in the time of Paul this goddess was
principally known as a virgin fertility goddess.
- Again, the city was a place of wealth and luxury.
- My understanding is that the behavior and status of significant women in
Ephesus was not typical of women in the Roman empire.
- Women who were Christians seemingly behaved in ways that were more
typical of the Ephesian women.
- Thus there were people that did not regard Christian women to be good
influences representing stability in home, family, and social relationships.
- Paul addressed each concern.
- "Men, while you cannot pray in the temples dedicated to the Roman emperors,
you can pray in public for all government authorities."
- For Christian men to be regarded as bad citizens did not serve the purposes
and objectives of Christ.
- Jesus came to offer salvation to everyone and to call all to the one God.
- For people to see Christian men as enemies of the government who were
not good citizens would not help achieve those objectives.
- Christians were not enemies of the government; they were not bad
- Paul' s instructions to Christian men in Ephesus seem strange to us; we
would feel very uncomfortable doing what Paul said do.
- In public assume the common, recognized posture of humility and prayer:
raise your hands.
- In public, pray for authorities and those who are not Christians.
- For this to address their image problem, people had to hear and
understand their prayers.
- My conclusion is that Paul is instructing them to do this audibly in public.
- Paul's instructions to women also seem strange to us.
- Do not reflect wealth and affluence in the way you dress.
- Paul was not referring to clothing that exposed the body.
- He was saying to not reflect the image of the affluent women of
- Be known for the good you do, not the clothes and jewelry you wear.
- Be respectful of men, not domineering.
- The model for determining respectful, appropriate conduct is not the
culture and social system of the affluent women of Ephesus.
- The model is Adam and Eve.
- There are two powerful, much needed lessons for us in Paul's emphasis.
- Christian men must not live in isolation and build an image that declares that
they are a threat to government and society.
- Christians are good people who exist as a blessing in society.
- They are responsible citizens who promote what is good and stable.
- Make that truth evident to all.
- The difference between women who belong to Christ and women who are
devoted to the affluent lifestyle must be obvious.
- Women who belong to Christ are known for doing good.
- Women who belong to Christ are respectful.
- Women who belong to Christ are assets to marriage, to respectful
behavior, to stability in society.
1 Timothy 2 is not about what happens in worship assemblies. It is about the
way that Christian men and women conduct themselves in an alien society.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
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Evening Sermon, 17 October 1999
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