Chapter 11: Godly Women in Paul's Epistles
by David McAllister, Zambia
We will consider Paul’s teaching on godly women using the following themes: spheres, service, standards, submission, support, snares, and samples.
In Paul’s writings, the godly woman is seen mainly in two spheres: the home and the assembly. Believers in places of employment will find passages such as Eph.6.5-8 and Col.3.22-25 helpful to them, but such passages apply equally to men and women; there is nothing ‘gender-specific’ in them. Of course, a woman who follows the teachings given for her in the Scriptures will be a great testimony in work, but so will a man who follows the teachings given for him. If we want to find material that pertains particularly to women, then we discover that it is in the home and in the assembly that they have a unique role to play.
Not only so, but these two areas are linked, for the woman who fulfils her role in the home will have a very positive effect on the well-being of the assembly. We trust that this will be evident as we proceed.
Paul is often (wrongly) accused of being ‘negative’ towards women. However, there is much in his epistles that shows his appreciation of godly women, and of their service for the Lord. Women have God-given characteristics, which equip them to serve in a way which men cannot do; or, at least, not as effectively as women can. The reader who has read all the earlier chapters in this book will have seen examples of women who showed unsurpassed devotion to the Lord, deep compassion, unswerving loyalty to the things of God and to His people, unsparing care for their parents, husbands and children, and overwhelming kindness. These traits still characterise godly women; qualities which fit them to carry out their vital service for the Lord.
Not all sisters will be involved in all the areas of service mentioned below. For example, service specific to married women will not apply to all. Nevertheless, there is plenty that unmarried sisters can do to help those who are married; and many an unmarried sister has been a big help in bringing up children. So there should be little that any sister, whatever her ‘status’, can read and say, "There is nothing I can do in this area".
Firstly, we consider the presence of godly women at assembly gatherings. In 1Cor.14.23, Paul writes: "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place." That might seem a surprising place to start, particularly as women are not actually mentioned. True, but that is the point: in all Paul’s writings, it is accepted that, when the assembly gathers, all will be there: both men and women. It is "the whole church" that meets. Thus we see a vital aspect of women’s service that is often underestimated: their presence at the gatherings of the saints.
Someone may ask: "Can assembly gatherings be described as service?" They can indeed, and if we were to be more conscious as we gather that we have the great dignity of being engaged in the service of God, as we approach Him, enter into His presence, and offer up spiritual sacrifices, then it would greatly help our gatherings.
Now imagine what the assembly gatherings would be like with only the males there. Would it give a balanced view of the assembly? Would it have the dignity that is there when all are present? Would it give such a clear testimony to godly order and reverence? Would it encourage women not in fellowship (whether saved or not) to come to hear the Word of God? The answer to each question must be in the negative. We cannot assess the great richness that sisters give to assembly gatherings, by their very presence and demeanour.
Secondly, let us think about the prayers of godly women. A godly widow "continueth in supplications and prayers night and day" 1Tim.5.5. Here is a work of incalculable value, unseen and largely undervalued by us. But it is all seen and highly valued by God, and He Who sees in secret will reward openly. The Scriptures have many examples of godly women and their prayers; and saints in the present day can speak of the great help that praying sisters have been to them.
We note the consistency of a godly sister in this holy exercise. She "continueth" in it. All can start off with good intentions, but how important it is for this to characterise one’s whole life. We also note the length of time given to it: it is "night and day". Many hours are spent in prayer. This is a high standard indeed, and how commendable is a saint who attains to it.
Thirdly, in Paul’s writings, the provision made by godly women for the practical needs of the people of God is also stressed. In the passage just mentioned above, we read of a godly widow who has "lodged strangers … washed the saints’ feet … relieved the afflicted" 1Tim.5.10. In Rom.16.1,2, Phebe is described as "a succourer of many", and Paul adds, "of myself also". In v.13 of the same chapter, he greets Rufus, and then "his mother and mine". Evidently, in her service, she had been like a mother to him. Time and words would fail to describe the incalculable service that godly women have rendered to the Lord by their hospitality. It was true in New Testament days, and it still is. This is a work in which men could not even begin to compare with women. Yes, an elder is to be hospitable, 1Tim.3.2, Titus1.8, but the ability of the elder to carry out this work will be highly dependent on the womenfolk in his household.
Fourthly, godly women have an important part to play in the propagation of the gospel. In Phil.4.3, Paul speaks of "those women which laboured with me in the gospel." Some have tried to infer from this that women were involved in the public proclamation of the gospel. We will not pre-empt the discussion on public participation of sisters (which will be further down the chapter), suffice it to say that Paul would not advocate women doing something which he writes they are not to do! These women (likely Euodias and Syntyche, named in v.1) would have been well-acquainted with another woman in Philippi, Lydia, of whom we read in Acts chapter 16, one who greatly furthered the work of the gospel, without the slightest suggestion of her being involved in public preaching. And we thank God for sisters who still labour in the gospel. This has never been more important than in our day, when, for example, most unsaved at our meetings are there due to personal contacts and invitations from individual believers; in most cases, from sisters. Often, during the day, when the husband is at work, it is the wife who is in the area, coming into contact with the neighbours, shop assistants, school-parents, and so on, and this can be so fruitful in the gospel. It is usually the mother, rather than the father, whose interaction with the school principal allows an opening for invitations to children’s meetings to be distributed in a school. These are just examples of the many ways in which sisters have a huge role to play in the going forth of the gospel.
Fifthly, godly women are of great service to the Lord in the pattern they show to younger women. This is clearly seen in Titus chapter 2, where "the aged women" v.3, are, by virtue of their "behaviour", to "teach the young women to be sober" v.4.
There are those who have used these verses to support the practice of "women’s meetings", in which women gather together, for the teaching of the Scriptures, or perhaps for the teaching of things like cooking and child-rearing. But, as the context shows, it is primarily by their manner of life that older women teach younger women how they should live. The younger ones look to the pattern set by the older women, and thus learn how they should behave. Of course, this does not preclude verbal advice and instruction; it would be a strange thing if the older women never offered counsel to the younger. But to try to use this as a pretext for women’s meetings is to read into the passage something which is not there.
Sixthly, there are many godly women who serve Him in the partnership they have with their husbands. Evidently Peter, the other apostles, and the Lord’s brothers, were accompanied by their wives as they moved around in the service of the Lord, 1Cor.9.5. And there is the example of Priscilla, who is always seen united with her husband in service for the Lord. The testimony of Paul’s epistles corroborates the record in Acts: in Rom.16.3-5, they are referred to together by Paul as "my helpers in Christ Jesus". He elaborates: "Who have for my life laid down their own necks." Moreover, Paul is not the only one to have benefited from their self-sacrifice, for he says that unto them "all the churches of the Gentiles" give thanks. He also adds that the assembly meets in their house; a fact also stated in 1Cor.16.19. These things speak for themselves: a wife who is united with her husband in his service for the Lord is herself of great service for the Lord.
Seventhly, in Paul’s epistles we see the service rendered to the Lord by godly women in parenting. In 1Tim.5.10, he says that a commendable deed associated with an older widow is that she has "brought up children". In v.14, Paul states his will that the younger ones "marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully". In Titus 2.4,5, we read that the younger women are (among other things) to "love their husbands, to love their children … keepers at home … that the word of God be not blasphemed".
Nowadays many in society despise the Christian woman who puts her family ahead of a career. However, the standard for the believer is not the opinions of godless people, and the mother who gives priority to the raising of her children, despite pressures from society, or from relatives, or from financial constraints, is certainly following the guidance given in Paul’s epistles, and the other Scriptures.
Doubtless the phrase given in Titus 2.5: "keepers at home" is of help to us here. This does not mean that she is to be "kept" at home, as if she were a slave. Quite the contrary: the phrase, which translates one word in the original, has the thought that she is the one who keeps guard of the home; one who is responsible for the care of the household. This is indeed a weighty and noble responsibility.
The obvious example of service as mothers from Paul’s epistles is Eunice and Lois. Writing to Timothy, Paul could "call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also", 2Tim.1.5. They taught him God’s Word from his infancy, 2Tim.3.15, and their faithful labours were used in the salvation of one who became a "man of God", 1Tim.6.11.
Perhaps there are sisters who are reading this and saying, "I can never be used in this way, for I do not have children." Not so. Many women who do not have children have been influential in bringing the Word of God to the children of unsaved siblings, or brought children to children’s meetings, or taught them in Sunday School. Many a primary school teacher (with no children of her own) has taught the Word to children who come from the most godless of homes. The results of this work will only be revealed in a day to come.
We will look at a number of different ways Paul presents the high standards of conduct that God expects of a Christian woman:
We shall base this mainly on Titus 2.3-5, as this includes most of Paul’s specific instructions for the behaviour of women. The passage speaks of older and younger women, but we will not distinguish between them as far as their actions are concerned. For the younger are to become what the older already are, in godly behaviour. There are not two different standards: one for the older and another for the younger. Similarly, in 1Tim.3.11, instructions are given for "wives" (the context shows that it is the wives of deacons, as it is deacons who are described in the preceding and succeeding verses). But what is good for these wives is good for all Christian women.
At the beginning of the verses in Titus chapter 2, a general term is given: "that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness" v.3. This is a good standard for all saints, male and female: one’s whole manner of life should be as befits those who are set apart unto God. At the end, a reason is given for such behaviour: "that the word of God be not blasphemed" v.5. This is an incentive to us all in our behaviour: the consciousness that the world is looking on at us, and that we should avoid doing anything that would cause the Lord, and His Word, to be evil spoken of.
In between, several helpful phrases are given:
"not false accusers" v.3. This highlights the danger of the wrong use of the tongue. Here the reference is to making slanderous statements, but there are many other uses of the tongue which are harmful, and which should be avoided. It is sobering to note that the word translated "false accusers" here is diabolos, which is the word translated "devil". Such behaviour is to be involved with the devil in his work. The same instruction is given in 1Tim.3.11: "not slanderers".
"not given to much wine" v.3. In Crete (where Titus was) the people were known for their love of alcohol. Likely most reading this book are also in a society where they can identify the same problem. And the specific instruction given here is as relevant today as it was then. But, once again, it is possible to apply it in a much wider way, for there are many temptations that we face in this world, to which society in general is given over, which we are to avoid.
"chaste" v.5. Here the thought is of purity; cleanness; unsullied Christian character. In a world that is far from pure; sullied by sin and all manner of vice, Christian women (and men too) are to be altogether pure from it.
"good" v.5. So much is included in this word that it would take a whole chapter to give it adequate coverage. It refers to everything that characterises God; and which should characterise His people. It includes that which is honourable, pure, faithful, morally upright, beneficial, helpful, pleasing to God, and much more. In 1Tim.5.10, Paul speaks of the widow whose life is summarised in the words: "well reported of for good works; … if she have diligently followed every good work".
"faithful in all things" 1Tim.3.11, could well also be included here. Does "faithful" here refer to her faith in God and the things of God, or to her dependability? We need not debate the matter, for both should be true. Equally, the "all things" have as wide an application as possible. A sister should be faithful to the Lord, and utterly dependable, in whatever sphere she is involved.
These are intertwined with her actions, and cannot be separated from them. Once again, we find much help in Titus chapter 2, from which we observe some phrases:
"discreet" v.5. This is also translated as "sober", and it indicates that the person thereby described is of a sound mind, and thereby self-controlled; able to curb fleshly desires. The words "grave" and "sober" in 1Tim.3.11 are different, but they also point to a woman who is worthy of honour, vigilant; careful to live as God would have her do. Having the right mind will be a great preservative against wrong behaviour.
"to love their husbands" and "to love their children" v.4. We have already considered the service of a married sister in relation to her husband and children, so we pause only to observe that the motivation for such service is an attitude of love. If she truly loves her husband and her children, then she will not find it difficult to be a good wife and mother to them.
"obedient to their own husbands" v.5. Here we have the thought of submissiveness, which is an attitude leading to right behaviour. We will consider it more fully later.
In 1Cor.11.14,15, Paul states: "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering." Here then is indicated a clear difference in the appearance of a man and a woman: that which is shameful in a man is glorious in a woman. Surely if God takes such an exalted view of a woman’s long hair, so should we. Also, it is "given her". By whom? It can only be by God. So it should be highly valued. This is not a mere cultural issue, nor peculiar to Corinth, as the phrase, "Doth not even nature itself teach you …" shows. In other words, even if we did not have Scripture for it, we should know from nature that these things are so.
Paul says, "If": here is an acknowledgment that not every woman has been given long hair by God. This has important implications. Firstly, the fact that not everyone has been blessed in this way should make those who have received it, grateful for it. In addition, if a woman has not been given long hair, then she cannot be held responsible for not having it. This should make us very careful in passing judgement when observing people. For example, a woman who has had an illness may have lost some or all of her hair. The Lord knows, and has total sympathy in such cases. So should we. However, we should not take that "If …" as licence. The fact that not every woman has been given long hair by God does not give those who have been given it the authorisation to cut it.
A straightforward reading of the above Scriptures would seem to make the matter clear enough. However, in response to them, a question is often asked, to the effect, "When Paul says ‘long’, how long does this imply?" The very articulation of the question indicates a problem: it suggests that the enquirer wants to know the minimum she can ‘get away with’, and if she could be given an indication of what that is, then she would do that, and no more. But if, as the verses say, one with long hair has been given it by God, and it is a glory to her, why would she want to cut it to the ‘borderline’?
In addition, if the Bible was to give a specific length, where would this leave sisters whose hair could not grow to that length, even though they dearly wanted it? And, on the other side, those whose hair was naturally much longer than the "limit" could cut away at it, and yet feel very self-righteous, as they were still above the boundary. It does not take too much examination to see that the question is unreasonable.
Finally, and happily, we are not expected to answer the question, because the One Who is the Giver of the woman’s hair knows what "long" is in each individual case, and has given each woman that which is, by definition, her natural length. Thus, He will not expect it to be any longer than that which He has given, and, on the other hand, if she cuts it, she is making it shorter than what He considers "long". So, the sister who lets her hair grow to its natural length has no need to worry about questions such as "How long is long?"
Some try to ridicule this position, by asking questions such as, "Do you mean a woman should let her hair run wild, and let it be full of split ends, and so on?" No, we are not advocating that a woman neglect her hair. She is responsible to keep it in a healthy condition. This would include discreet removal of split ends; an action which will not noticeably affect the length of the hair, but which will promote healthy growth, and thereby, most likely, actually increase its length (and its thickness) in the medium to long term.
Another objection to the above teaching – not so much an objection as an attempt to justify not following it; is a statement such as, "But it is possible to have long hair, and yet to be carnal; surely a woman’s actions are more important than the length of her hair?" To which we respond that, sadly, it is possible for a woman to appear "right" with her long hair, and yet to be all wrong as far as her character is concerned. No sister should think that, provided her hair is long, she has fulfilled all that Scripture demands for a godly sister. Nor should we make the length of hair the sole criterion of spirituality. There are godly women who do not have long hair. Perhaps some of them have never been taught what the Scripture says, or maybe they have failed to see the teaching clearly. Or possibly they see it, but think it is of little consequence. Or the issue may have been addressed in a critical way, and this has provoked a reaction in the opposite direction. Perhaps some feel that the reproach, or the inconvenience, is not worth it. The Lord knows each heart.
Having said all that, the above question "Surely are a woman’s actions not more important than the length of her hair?" assumes that we are free to put Bible teachings in "rank order" of importance, and then dispense with "less important" items, provided that we keep the "more important" ones. But God expects us to be obedient to all of His Word. Even in the lands in which we live, there are laws that are considered "more important", but keeping them does not free us from keeping the lesser ones. We are under obligation to obey them all. So it is with the Word of God. We are not to "pick and choose". Putting it a slightly different way: having long hair and being of godly character are not two incompatible options, from which a sister must choose one or the other; she can have both!
We will now look at what she puts on. Here we turn primarily to 1Timothy chapter 2.
All around in today’s world, we see both extravagant and immodest clothing, elaborate hair styling, and expensive ornaments. It is evidence of the timeless relevance of Scripture; that these are the very things of which Paul wrote, almost two millennia ago, and are not to characterise godly women: "not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array", v.9. Evidently, the emphasis of the world on ostentation and expense in terms of clothing has changed little, but the Christian woman must remember that God’s standards have not changed either, and that these things are not for her.
Having considered the negative side (what she is not to be adorned with), we now turn to what Paul says positively on it. It is threefold:
The Materials with which she is adorned: "in modest apparel" - v.9
The word here translated "modest" occurs only one other time in the New Testament, and this is in v.2 of the following chapter, in which it is translated as "of good behaviour". This would strongly indicate that a woman’s clothing should be consistent with behaviour that is godly. People can deny it, but the fact remains that how a person dresses does make a statement about him or herself.
We note, with sadness, that the dress of some people, even at gatherings of the saints, is, at least, verging on the immodest. It ought not to be so. It is a deeply regrettable thing if, for example, some of our young women are imitating the world in their dressing, in order to attract the attention of young men. It should have the opposite effect; a young brother should take such behaviour as a clear indication that a woman who flaunts herself in this way will not be a suitable, godly wife for him. And a sister who is choosing whether or not to buy an item of clothing should ask, "Would all my fellow-believers regard it as modest?" If there is even a slight doubt as to the answer, then she should speedily leave it on the shelf.
The Mind with which she is adorned: "with shamefacedness and sobriety" v.9
The word "shamefacedness" occurs only here and in Heb.12.28, where it is translated "reverence". Thus, a sister should be adorned with a mind that is reverential towards God, as well as proper self-respect and respect towards others. The "sobriety" denotes soundness of mind and self-control. These are qualities for which gold, expensive clothes, and style, are a very poor substitute indeed!
The Morality with which she is adorned: "with good works" v.10
Paul states that God views good works as an adornment. They are a true and worthy embellishment. They are honouring to God, and they receive honour from Him. They, rather than the outward fashions favoured by the world, are what we should all value highly.
In Gal.3.28, we read, "there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." This shows that there is no difference between men and women as far as their standing in Christ is concerned. All are equal in His love for them, in the work He has done for them, and in the many blessings He has bestowed upon them. However, the Scriptures make it equally clear that, as far as practical living here on earth is concerned, and the roles given by God, there are distinctions. They also teach that there is such a thing as headship, and that we are all to submit to it. Paul deals with two important areas in which it is to be demonstrated:
In Eph.5.22 and Col.3.18, Paul says, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands", and in Eph.5.33; "the wife see that she reverence her husband". This indicates an attitude of deferential obedience. This is not a message popular in the world today, but Paul gives us powerful reasons for such an attitude:
the "husband is the head of the wife" Eph.5.23. Godly order is involved. He is not superior to her, but the place of headship has been given to him.
"even as Christ is the Head of the Church … as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing." Eph.5.23,24. The husband-wife relationship is a beautiful picture of Christ and His Church. The wife, in being submissive to her husband, is helping to picture the submissiveness of the Church to Him.
it is "as unto the Lord" Eph. 5.22. It is part of the woman’s submission to Him. It may sometimes be difficult to be submissive to one’s husband, but when she remembers that it is as unto Him, this should be a big help.
it is "fit in the Lord" Col.3.18. The wife who is submissive to her husband is doing that which is appropriate, in acknowledgment of His Lordship.
The wife who acknowledges these things will not only show this submissive attitude on a day-to-day basis; she will also give due weight to the teaching given in 1Corinthians chapter 7, where much instruction pertaining to married life is given. She will render to him all the kindness that he is due, v.3; she will not leave him, v.10; if circumstances are so difficult for her that she is forced to leave, then she will do all in her power to seek reconciliation, and if this does not succeed, then she will remain unmarried, v.11; she will accept that she is bound to him as long as he lives, and that only if he dies is she free to marry another, v.39. In a day when fidelity and life-long commitment to marriage are treated ever more lightly in the world, it is the responsibility of a godly woman to be faithful to her husband, and to do all she can to maintain the marriage until one of them dies or the Lord comes. Of course, the man also has great responsibilities as husband, which will be considered later in this chapter.
In 1Cor.11.5, we read, "But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head." Clearly some women believed they could appear in gatherings of the assembly with uncovered heads, and that they could participate audibly. Paul deals with the head covering in chapter 11, and with audible participation in chapter 14. Both relate to the submission of sisters.
The Head Covering – chapter 11
A full consideration of the teaching on the subject in this chapter (and the objections to it) could take a whole book! We must content ourselves with summarising the salient points. Paul gives some very strong reasons why a sister should cover her head in the assembly gatherings:
Because it Brings Shame not to Wear it – vv.3-6
V.3 says, "the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God." This is not a question of superiority or inferiority. Christ is not inferior to the Father; nor is the woman inferior to the man. It is a matter of authority; of the different roles that each has, in accordance with Divine order.
On the basis laid in v.3, when we read "Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head" v.4, it is not just a matter of him dishonouring his own physical head - that would be a relatively small matter - but it goes far further than that: he is, by doing so, dishonouring the One Who is his Head – Christ Himself, and thereby God. By the same token, the woman who "prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered" v.5, is not merely dishonouring her physical head, but is implicitly denying the whole order of headship, as given to us in v.3.
A measure of how shameful such behaviour is, is given in the subsequent statement: "that is even all one as if she were shaven" v.5. Very few women would consider it an honourable way to be treated for all her hair to be removed. But Paul is arguing that refusal to cover her head is tantamount to the same thing, and, if she regards being "shorn" (hair cut very short) or "shaven" (hair totally removed) as a disgrace, then she should wear a head covering, v.6.
The question has been asked: "When a man covers his head in the gathering, or a woman uncovers hers, is it the physical head that is being dishonoured, or the ‘head’ in the sense in which it is used in v.3?" Surely these verses indicate that it is both. The reference to the woman being shaven or shorn in v.5 would indicate that her own physical head is in view: even a woman who knows nothing of the truth of headship would consider being shorn or shaven as bringing great dishonour upon her (physical) head. On the other hand, the clear theological statements given in v.3, showing that God, Christ, the man and the woman are all inter-connected in the area of headship, must be there (right at the beginning of the passage) for a purpose. And it is undeniable that the subsequent verses show that what we do with our physical heads has implications which are not confined to those physical heads, but which impinge on the whole area of headship: the physical pictures the spiritual, and disobedience in the physical implies a denial of the spiritual. Thus, for example, when a woman is uncovered in the gatherings, she is dishonouring her own head, but she is also dishonouring the man, and (from the inter-relationship spelt out in v.3) she is dishonouring Divine Persons.
Because of Divine Glory – v.7
The man is the "image and glory of God": he is the one who represents God and who is responsible to bring His excellence into view. As such, he "ought not to cover his head." It would be totally wrong to do so, as it would be covering that which ought to be displayed: the glory and greatness of God.
On the other hand, "the woman is the glory of the man." There is no place in the assembly gatherings for man’s glory to be displayed. By covering her head, she is acknowledging this fact.
Thus, a gathered company, where the men’s heads are all uncovered, and the women’s heads are all covered, is making a beautiful statement: not only acknowledging Divine headship, but also indicating that man’s glory is not being displayed – only the glory of God is to be seen.
Because of the Order in Creation – vv.8-12
This is closely related to the previous point. Man was made before the woman; she was made from him, v.8, and she was made for him, v.9. This is recognised by the woman having "power on her head", v.10, that is, a symbol that she is under authority. In vv.11 and 12, Paul beautifully balances his teaching of man’s headship. He reminds us that the man and the woman are not independent of each other. He also reminds us that, while the first woman came from the first man, now every man has come from a woman. This helps to guard the man from thinking that headship implies superiority; he should see that there is mutual dependence and respect between the sexes.
Because of the Angels – v.10
There have been several suggested explanations for this interesting statement. These include: that the angels set the right example, by covering themselves in God’s presence, Isa.6.2, and we ought to follow their example; or that the elect angels did not rebel against God’s order, and we should do likewise; or that angels are observing the assembly gatherings, and it is important that heaven should see Divine order carried out on earth.
These (and other) suggestions are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, perhaps the very reason that Paul does not elaborate is because they are all valid. At any rate, the implication is clear: the women should have their heads covered, and the men theirs uncovered, and the reason goes beyond the material world, to the unseen world.
Because of What is Fitting – vv.13-16
Paul calls on the Corinthians to draw their own conclusion. It ought to be evident to them that the head covering is that which is appropriate for the woman, just as it should be evident to them, from nature itself, that it is shameful for a man to have long hair, v.14, and that a woman’s long hair is a glory to her, v.15.
Comparison of v.15 with vv.5,6 indicates that, since "her hair is given her for a covering", then, to be consistent, she should wear a head covering in the assembly gatherings. The suggestion by some, that v.15 indicates that a woman’s long hair will do instead of putting on a head covering, is untenable. For one thing, the Greek word translated "covering" in v.15 is completely different from the one used (in various forms –"covered", "uncovered", "cover") in vv.4-13. Also, if her hair was what was in view in the "covering" of v.6, then the opening phrase of that verse would mean: "But if the woman has no hair, let her hair be cut off", which is too ridiculous to merit consideration.
Some take the teaching given in these verses as having a wider bearing than public gatherings, so that, for example, some sisters believe that they should cover their heads whenever prayer is being made, even when they are alone at home. Certainly there could never be an occasion when it is wrong for the sister to cover her head. However, it is the view of the present writer that the mention of "the ordinances" v.2, marks the change in the subject matter of the epistle from personal walk (chapters 7-10) to public witness (chapters 11-14). The reference to the custom of the "churches of God" v.16, would also indicate that it is public gatherings of the saints that are in view.
In v.16, Paul says: "But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God." There were those who would oppose his teachings. Clearly things have not changed much! From this verse, we should learn the lesson to accept and carry out Scripture teachings, rather than try to fight against them. We also see (from the reference to what was the "custom") that Paul’s teachings were not for Corinth alone, but for us all. This serves to emphasise what is evident (from points already made, such as Divine order, creation, angelic observation, and the teaching of nature) that this teaching is applicable to all assemblies, throughout this age.
Silence – Chapter 14
Having dealt with disorder regarding the head covering, Paul deals with the issue of audible participation in 14.34,35: "Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak … it is a shame for women to speak in the church".
It is difficult to think of a way Paul could have made his meaning more obvious. Despite this, numerous attempts have been made to try to explain away his words. A full consideration of them here is impossible, but none of them is sustainable. Some can be answered without even leaving these verses. The fact that a woman with questions is to ask them at home, v.35, immediately disposes of a few. The idea that Paul is merely forbidding women from chattering. However, women would hardly go home to ask their husbands questions about chatter! Also, some suggest that Paul is forbidding women from speaking in tongues, but not from speaking in their own language. But they would hardly ask questions in a tongue! Again, others contend that the prohibition on speaking refers only to some assembly gatherings, and not to all. However, the fact that she is only to ask questions at home excludes audible verbal participation at all assembly gatherings. And so on. Let us humbly accept Paul’s admonition in v.37, and acknowledge that what he writes are "the commandments of the Lord".
What Paul says in 1Tim.2.11-15 is entirely in keeping with what he says in 1Corinthians chapter 14. Some have tried to make play of the fact that the word "silence" in vv.11,12 is different in Greek to the word "silence" in 1Cor.14.34, and can be translated as "quietness", as in 2Thess.3.12. Its only other occurrence in the New Testament is in Acts 22.2, where it clearly does mean refraining from speaking. So we must judge the meaning by context. The immediate context, where it stands in contrast to the audible participation of the males, 1Tim.2.8, and comparison with 1Corinthians chapter 14, both show that "silence" is the correct translation and meaning.
It is highly instructive that both 1Corinthians chapter 14 and 1Timothy chapter 2 make reference, not to local conditions, but go right back to the beginning of the Bible: "as also saith the law", 1Cor.14.34, and "For Adam was first formed …" 1Tim.2.13,14.
None of us should think that we can live without the help and support of others, and our sisters are no exception to this. Paul gives a number of references to the help that is to be rendered to women. We will consider three cases:
Much has been said earlier in this chapter about the responsibilities of the wife in a marriage. We can now balance this by pointing out that the husband has many responsibilities towards his wife. In Ephesians chapter 5, we see that he is to love her, v.25, and, in doing so, he is picturing the great self-sacrificial love of Christ for the church. He is to treat her with the same devotion and care that he shows for himself, vv.28,29. In Col.3.19, the command to love her is repeated, with the addition that he is not to be bitter against her. How easily bitterness can rise within marriage, and the husband should do all he can to prevent it from occurring. And the instructions given to her in 1Corinthians chapter 7 are paralleled in instructions to him of equal weight.
If a husband treats his wife as he should, with love, care and respect, in accordance with Paul’s teachings, then it is likely that she will happily be submissive to him.
In 1Tim.5.3-16, we are taught that widows are to be supported, and that, if there are relatives capable of doing this, the responsibility is theirs, vv.4,8,16. If, however, a widow is without any other means of support ("desolate" v.5), the responsibility lies with the assembly, to "honour" her, v.3. Thus, a "widow indeed" v.3, who fulfils the criteria (of age, v.9; of moral purity, v.9; of service, v.10) is to be "taken into the number" v.9, that is, put on the list of those for whose maintenance the assembly takes full responsibility.
Does this teaching have relevance for us today? Likely most people reading this book live in a country where there are relatively few women who are totally destitute. However, in many parts of the world there are widows who are in this position, and the assembly has a responsibility to ensure that they are cared for. However, the safeguards given by Paul should be followed: relatives should not burden the assembly in order to free themselves from their responsibilities; and the assembly should ensure that such support is going to women of proven godly character; the danger of unspiritual women taking advantage of the kindness of the saints is spelt out in vv.11-15.
In 1Timothy chapter 5 Paul is dealing with the case in which an assembly assumes total responsibility for support, and this is why strict criteria are applied. This does not rule out the general principles of care that are to be shown to one another as believers. For example, there may be a widow who is not totally destitute, but who would benefit from material help. The assembly should be sensitive to this, and be willing to help, even if she does not fulfil all the conditions laid down in this chapter. This is part of assembly life, and it is to be encouraged. The teaching in this chapter is the extreme case: total destitution requires total support; other cases, while not as extreme, will also require the help of the saints.
In Phil.4.3 we read: "help those women which laboured with me in the gospel." He may be referring to the two women named in v.1, and indicating that they needed help to resolve their differences. But whoever is being referred to, and in whatever way they are to be helped, we can deduce that Paul appreciated the help that he had been given by godly women, and desired that they, in turn, be given the help that they needed. From this we can draw a principle for ourselves: that sisters who have laboured for the Lord, in the ways that the Scriptures have given for them, are worthy of any assistance that can be given to them.
Paul does bring before us some dangers to which women are exposed. None of them is the sole preserve of women – they are dangers to men as well – and so we should all take heed to the warnings in them.
In 1Tim.5.11, Paul speaks of young widows who "when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry." Here he is not condemning remarriage of a widow - indeed he advises it in v.14, but the attitude of one who has the determination to marry, even if it involves going outside the will of God.
This is a great danger, and it is not confined to young widows; it affects both genders, and all age groups. We need to be reminded of the perils of desires based on emotion, which can lead us to take life-changing decisions, which are contrary to God’s Word. How sad, for example, it is to see a young sister, who seemed to be doing well, but who accepts a proposal of marriage from an unsaved man, and goes ahead with it, knowing full well that it is contrary to Scripture. Many have done so, and have lived to regret it bitterly.
In the same chapter, we see that such wrong desires will be followed up by wrong actions: "And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not" v.13. How relevant are the Scriptures to today’s world! There is danger in having too much time on one’s hands, which encourages laziness, nosiness, and unprofitable and harmful talk. In Paul’s day, with limited transport and communications, the main damage in such behaviour was "from house to house", and there is still plenty of that going on. How damaging it is, to assembly life in particular, when such activity takes place, and how we must seek to avoid it. Now, with the Internet, and its social networking sites, the influence of such malign behaviour is much more far-reaching and immediate. How many hours are wasted, how many worthless words are spewed out, how much gossip is generated and propagated, and what untold harm is caused, at the keyboard of a computer! And it is not only women who engage in it.
Another danger is given in 2Tim.3.6: the false teachers who "creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts." It may well be that the women referred to here are not believers; and if they are believers, they are certainly unstable. But whoever they are, we would all do well to be warned: that there are false teachers around today, in the religious world ("having a form of godliness" v.5) who use subtle methods in order to lead people into their false belief systems. One method they use is to come to homes when the men are absent, and prey upon women who are vulnerable to their errors. This is nothing new, for it is exactly how Satan first attacked in Genesis chapter 3. And let us all be grounded in the truths of God’s Word, so that we do not fall for such things.
We mention again the differences between the two sisters in Phil.4.2. How sad it is when differences, perhaps not even based on doctrine but on personal issues, cause division between saints who once worked happily together. And it is certainly not confined to the womenfolk. How good it is to "be of the same mind in the Lord".
1Tim.2.15 says: "Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety." In this passage, Paul has been warning of the danger of the woman stepping outside her sphere of service as a woman, and he has given Eve as an example: she transgressed by taking to herself a role that God never meant for her, with disastrous consequences. How will a Christian woman be preserved from making the same mistake; by continuing in the role which God has given to her, which, in general, is covered by the word "childbearing"? So it is not salvation of the soul that is being referred to, which depends on faith alone. Nor is it physical preservation – he is not suggesting that a woman will be guaranteed to be preserved from dying during childbirth. Nor is he saying that every woman must bear children, or that doing so will (in some mysterious way) have a preservative effect spiritually on her. It is preservation from acting in a way that is dishonouring to God. It is a general statement; that happily accepting the work that God has given will be a spiritual preservative; while trying to go outside her scriptural role will be a spiritual disaster.
Let us all, men and women, be content with what God has given us to do, and continue happily in it. This will indeed be to our spiritual preservation.
Some examples of godly women mentioned in Paul’s epistles have already been discussed above: Phebe, Rufus’ mother, Lois and Eunice, Euodias and Syntyche. There are others, including Mary, "who bestowed much labour on us", Rom.16.6; v.12 of the same chapter names other women labourers, Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis; Chloe and her household, with their concern for the well-being of the assembly in Corinth, 1Cor.1.11; Apphia, probably the wife of the hospitable Philemon, Philemon v.2. Of them we know nothing else; but their record is in the Scriptures, and on high. May we seek to follow their godly example.