We come today to a difficult teaching of St. Paul: his teaching on women in the church. So what does Paul teach? First, that a woman should learn in silence with all submission. Second, he does not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, but to be in silence. Third, that the reason that women are to be submissive and under authority is that Adam was formed first. Fourth, that Eve was the one who was deceived, and not Adam.
I don’t want to get distracted from the devotional heart of this passage by trying to prove a case, but in the context of the entire passage and in the context of the entire Bible, especially as it has been interpreted for 2000 years almost universally, there is a principle of authority and submission that Paul is teaching here. One manifestation of it is the submission of women in the church under the authority of men whom God has appointed to be there.
But we chafe at the bit: we want to be unbound from God’s created order and be free to express ourselves. And God says, “No. I am the one who created male and female, and when I did, I created them with a specific relationship that I want them to have.”
To which we often say, “No!” I don’t like what you’ve ordained, and therefore, I will not believe it.
But the submission of women to God’s appointed male leaders in the church is only one kind of submission Paul discusses. He also says in verses 1-2 that we are to pray for kings and all who are in authority. He doesn’t say, “But earthly kings come from a privileged class of people and often aren’t the most suited for the job of king, and therefore you don’t have to submit to them.” Paul simply says that we should pray for them, assuming as he does in Romans 13 that it is God who has ordained that they be in authority.
But the real issue of authority and submission implied in the passage is the authority of God in our lives and our submission before Him. The way we submit to kings and elders, and husbands and parents, has everything to do with whether or not we are truly submitted to God, who has ordained both the principle of authority and those who are in authority. Ultimately, submission before earthly authority is about humility before God and submission to Him.
Eve’s sin was to question and to violate what God had clearly commanded – to doubt the wisdom of what God had said. “Surely He can’t have meant to deny me fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Surely God wouldn’t deny me this good thing.” And we are prone to say, “Surely He can’t have meant for me to be submissive to my husband or President or pastor or parents.”
And God says, “Surely I have.”
There. Now that I’ve officially dealt with the “hard” part of the Bible – Paul’s teaching on women in the church and spiritual authority – I can get on to the really hard teaching of Paul – that we are supposed to be praying. Here, too, the principle of authority and submission is at work. If God is really in control of our lives, and if He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, then the most important kind of submission in our lives is our submission before God. And the most important kind of submission before God is the submission that takes place on our knees in prayer.
St. Paulcommands us, therefore, to pray in each of these ways.
There is one last startling teaching of Paul’s on submission and authority. Men, this applies especially to you. At first glance, it doesn’t appear that Paul ever directly addresses men, male humans, in this passage. But if you look more closely at verse 8, especially in the context of Paul’s teaching to women in verses 9-15, you will see that Paul does specifically address men. He says “I desire therefore that the men . . . .” It is not just the generic “men,” meaning “humans,” but “the men.” This is clear by the contrast Paul makes between verse 8, “I desire therefore that the men . . .” and verse 9, “in like manner also, that the women . . . .”
And what is Paul’s teaching to men? That they, the men of the church, would pray everywhere. The authority of men in the church and the home is a spiritual authority that requires true spiritual leadership. This leadership and authority originates and finds its authority from God and a humble submission before Him. And this submission is shown especially by a life of prayer.
This seems simple enough, but how often is it that the women who are the ones who are known for going to church and for praying? Too often, men neglect their duty to pray, and when they neglect their duty to pray but are commanded to have authority, then one of two things will happen. Either they will become tyrants who want to rule without being under submission to God, or else they will abdicate their duty to lead and have authority altogether. While in earlier centuries, men often acted as tyrants (and some still do), more often today they act as abdicators.
God desires His people to submit to Him, and to show their submission in the human relationships which He has ordained for them.
But the most essential act of humility and submission for all Christians – both men and women – is to pray.
Prayer: Almighty God, who alone is the King of kings and Lord of lords, rule over my proud heart today. Cause me to love you more and to love to pray. Where I have not been willing to submit to You or those You have placed in authority, give me the humility of Your Son. Where I have been weak in prayer, give me such a sense of Your glory and power and my own weakness and standing before You that I may enjoy Your presence in prayer again. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- Do I have a problem with authority in my life – with God, spouse, parent, boss, pastor, or civil leader? Examine your attitudes in this area and pray for a humble servant’s heart.
- Examine your prayer life. Do you set aside the amount of time without distraction to pray as the Lord has told you to? Find one way to be more faithful in prayer today.
Resolution: I resolve today to practice submitting to God’s ordained authority in my life. But I resolve first to practice submitting to God by making sure I have prayed.
© 2011 Fr. Charles Erlandson
CC Image courtesy of Librarian by Lel4nd on Flickr.jpg