“Anything you can do, I can do better. I can do anything better than you.”
Allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite childhood mantras. I recall many days on the playground yelling this at boys I chased at recess. Chants like these flooded my head and heart so much that I started to believe it was my duty to prove women were capable to do anything a man could do, and probably to a better degree. After I was converted, I struggled to rewire my mind to see that God didn’t intend for me to prove myself to the other sex; He intended for me to work in harmony with men and to respect their God-given authority, specifically within the bounds of the local church.
One of the most debated passages in Scripture concerning the roles of man and woman in the church can be found within the book of 1 Timothy. In this epistle, Paul tells Timothy that women are not to exercise authority over man; therefore, a woman is not permitted to teach men. Rather, the role of teaching and exercising authority in the local church is given to trustworthy, qualified men who serve as pastors. Paul says, beginning in verse 11 of chapter two, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.” So, what does Paul mean by “quietness” and “remain quiet?” Are we to remain silent when in the church and never express our thoughts, suggestions, or opinions about church-related matters? I don’t think that’s what Paul is communicating here.
John Piper says in an article on the freedom to minister, “Verse 11 says that the quietness is ‘in all submissiveness,’ and verse 12 says the quietness is the opposite of ‘authority over men,’ and so the point is not whether a woman says nothing, but whether she is submissive and whether she supports the authority of the men God has called to oversee the church. Quietness means not speaking in a way that compromises that authority.”
With this conversation of authority, let’s look at how our roles as women came to be, how God gains glory through these roles, and how God intended for these roles to stand the test of time.
The roles of women were ordained by God, not brought about by sin.
Roles of man and woman were established before Eve ate of the fruit in the garden, signifying they had been unstained by sin, since sin had not yet entered the world. As God looked on what He had created (even the roles), He deemed it all “very good” (Gen. 1:31). We can confer that since sin had not yet entered the world when roles are first seen in Scripture (Gen. 2:15; 2:18), they were ordained and carried out by God, all according to His good and perfect plan for mankind.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see men as prophets, priests, and kings in leadership positions over God’s people, but we do not see women portrayed in any of these roles. Women are not unloved by God or unable to serve Him, and they certainly are not deemed of lesser value than men; instead, women are given unique ways within their womanhood to serve God and those around them. The women in Exodus 1 are a wonderful example, using their gifting to deliver children as a means to preserve the lives of Israelite boys whom the King wanted dead. So, the truth we find in 1 Timothy is not instituted because of sinful man, but instead reinstituted by Paul to remind believers of God-ordained roles within the local church.
Join me in thanking the Lord for how He ordained the creation of you and me, and use your giftings as a woman to serve Him: Teach and counsel other women, work in the sound booth, lead a women’s book study, or serve in the nursery. Don’t let the world convince you that the church doesn’t need you—she does, and the Lord ordained for it to be so.
The roles of women were stained by sin, but still meant to be glorious in Christ.
The roles of man and woman were perfectly constructed by God, free of dominance and selfishness, and full of God’s glory; however, once Eve took of the forbidden fruit, sin entered the world. Sin ruined the harmony of roles, causing the penalty we read about in Genesis 3:16: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” The man, in his sin, may seek to use his headship to domineer over woman and disregard her personhood, while the woman, in her sin, may set out to be the head of the man, regardless of his authority. Sadly, this all too often creeps in the church, causing disunity and deep hurt between men and women, and diminishing the glory of God.
Reading that last sentence may be far too real for some of us, especially as we think about roles and leadership within the church. Many of us may be scarred after a poor experience with church leadership, but sweet sister, hold fast to Paul’s instruction to Timothy. When we’re tempted to rear up against God’s design, let us remind ourselves that though sin has tainted our God-given roles, we are still able to bring glory to God in the way we live out the truths of 1 Timothy alongside our sisters and brothers.
Link arms with your fellow Christian servants and look for ways to serve your local church together: cook meals for new moms, visit the widows and homebound, become an on-staff women’s counselor, host a conference, or create a social media presence to let people in your area know where they can worship. Don’t let the enemy keep you from working alongside other church members for the sake of the Gospel.
The roles of women are intended for all time, not just for those ancient church days.
God created the roles of man and woman before the fall when all of creation still existed in perfect unity. There were no economic, social, or racial barriers; inequality among genders didn’t exist. The roles of man and woman, however the culture may evolve overtime, are meant to stand for all of eternity.
This passage in 1 Timothy should not be seen as an out-of-date cultural mandate, free to be disregarded; it holds authority for the 21st century church just as it did for the first century church. 2 Timothy 3:16 states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The profit of this passage extends beyond the original audience to us today.
Even now “we are persuaded that the Bible teaches that only men should be pastors and elders. That is, men should bear primary responsibility for Christ-like leadership and teaching in the church. So it is unbiblical, we believe, and therefore detrimental, for women to assume this role” (Piper).* But, sisters, we are not without ways to serve our church! Much like the possibilities in the garden for food were practically endless, except for the one forbidden tree, so it is with us in ministry—endless possibilities and opportunities, except that we are not to exercise authority over men (i.e. pastor, elder). If you’ve ever thought that because women can’t be pastors, they can’t do anything in the church, I hope you’ve been encouraged by reading a few ways that you can serve. Click here if you’d like to view a more comprehensive list.
The real test of whether we have grasped the biblical essence of manhood and womanhood and affirm it as true and beautiful is whether Paul’s application of it to the life of the church surprises and offends us or not. If the New Testament roles for man and woman in marriage are rooted not in sinful pride and not in cultural expectations, but in God’s original design for creation, then how would you expect this original design to express itself in the life of the church? (Piper).
*Though we believe that men primarily lead out in authority as pastors/elders and that females should submit to assigned men as leaders and teachers, we do not understand Scripture to teach that all men have all authority over women. Men and women should work together, within the body of Christ, to believe the gospel and take it to the ends of the earth.
Women in the Church by Kostenberger and Schreiner