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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Privilege of Submission

This Sunday I taught our church from 1 Timothy 2:11-14, which says, "Let a woman quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being quite deceived, fell into transgression." I didn't have enough time (what else is new?) to share some quotes that I think are helpful regarding the issue of submission, so here I will reproduce a slightly modified section from my book Life in the Father's House that contains them...

The numerous interpretive issues in that passage and the many questions of application that arise from it are beyond the scope of my discussion in this article. They are dealt with ably and exhaustively elsewhere (see Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, by Piper and Grudem). But I believe that two concepts are very clear in that passage, and others in the New Testament: (1) In the context of the local church, each woman should submit herself to male leadership and should learn from the teaching of men rather than being a teacher of men. (2) Eldership and other positions of authority over men are not a biblical option for a Christian woman. God has designed for the submissive learning of women to be a key element in the revelation of His character through the church and the effective witness of the body.

This submissive role of women does not mean that they are inferior to men in any way. The difference between men and women is not one of quality or ability, but of function. This difference is illustrated in 1 Corinthians 11:3, where Paul says, “I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Man being the head of the woman does not mean man is superior to woman any more than God’s being the head of Christ means that God is superior to Christ! “God is the head of Christ” refers to the subservient role Jesus took upon Himself when He walked the earth, and “man is the head of woman” simply refers to the differing roles God has assigned to men and women.

And the “differing role” of women, contrary to the complaints of feminists, is not a burdensome one at all. As William Hendriksen wrote in his commentary on 1 Timothy, "Though these words in I Timothy 2:11 and 12 and their parallel in I Corinthians 14:33–35 may sound a trifle unfriendly, in reality, they are the very opposite. In fact, they are expressive of the feeling of tender sympathy and basic understanding. They mean: let a woman not enter a sphere of activity for which by dint of her very creation she is not suited. Let not a bird try to dwell under water. Let not a fish try to live on land. Let not a woman try to exercise authority over a man by lecturing him in public worship. For the sake both of herself and the spiritual welfare of the church such unholy tampering with the divine authority is forbidden."

In a similar vein, R. L. Dabney wrote, "Paul does not say that the woman must not preach in public because he regards her as less pious, less zealous, less eloquent, less learned, less brave or less intellectual than man. In the advocates of women’s right to this function there is a continual tendency to a confusion of thought, as though the apostle, when he says that a woman must not do what a man does, meant to disparage her sex. This is a sheer mistake... woman is excluded from this masculine task of public preaching by Paul, not because she is inferior to man, but simply because her Maker has ordained her for another work which is incompatible with this. So he might have pronounced, as nature does, that she shall not sing bass, not because he thought the bass chords more beautiful—perhaps he thought the pure alto of the feminine throat far sweeter—but because her very constitution fits her for the latter part in the concert of human existence, and therefore unfits her for the other, the coarser and less melodious part."

Our sinful society (and perhaps our sinful hearts) have convinced many of us that it is more blessed to lead than it is to follow. That is not necessarily true, for leadership brings problems, difficulties, and heartaches that followers never experience. God made women to be dependent upon men, so that men would protect, provide, and care for women. Any husband who truly loves his wife and desires to be the proper head of the home knows that this is no easy task. Sometimes it would be much more enjoyable to follow than to lead. And any elder who truly loves the Lord and desires to be the proper leader of the church knows that his is no easy task. During many difficult times he might desire strongly to relinquish his role to an eager successor!

So submission in the church should be viewed as a privilege rather than a problem! The direction and instruction of the whole body is not a burden that women have to bear. They should be grateful to God for that, and joyfully seek to fulfill the many other crucial ministries to which they have been called.