Yesterday I had the privilege and honour to preach my first sermon!! It was amazing. My pastor and I sat down to plan and discuss the summer sermon series, when we realized that one of the days he was away was one of the only days I’d actually be there (we have a travel trailer and had a lot of summer plans already booked.) He asked me if I wanted to fill in for him and preach. I accepted the challenge with extreme enthusiasm! And so began my first ever sermon.
I followed in his summer series, Life in The Neighborhood, with the topic “God in our Networks.” I wrote it myself, and met with him for some coaching and on Sunday, August 13th 2017 I preached it! It was amazing. I was overcome with emotion as I approached the pulpit, so I tripped up over a few words especially as I began because I was so afraid of crying, but I think overall for a first shot, I did well. I received some amazing feedback within the church and from people who watched the sermon on YouTube (https://youtu.be/KauTYEj_oRQ) and I feel so thankful for the support and encouragement I received. I am definitely going to do this again!
There are many denominations that will not let women preach, unless its exclusively to other women (they believe women shouldn’t teach men.) I have been in dialogue with my own pastor about this, and it has crossed my mind that perhaps there may be people who feel I shouldn’t be preaching my sermon. Of course as I sat the morning of my first sermon drinking my tea and reading my Bible, without meaning to, I came across the very verses that have been used to make people believe women shouldn’t teach. Irony, eh?
The verses are from 1 Timothy chapter 2. The book is written by Paul as a letter to Timothy, a man Paul called a spiritual son to him, and it is written to the people of Ephesus in about 64 A.D. The verses in question are as follows, 1 Timothy 2:11-12:
“Women should learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.”
Umm. Okay. So I’m about an hour or so from leaving for church to preach my first sermon and I’m reading this and thinking “well, now what?”
I’ll tell you what! Study Bible to the rescue! (More about that here: https://seekinghispeaceblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/note-to-self-read-my-bible/) I have said it before, and I will say it again, owning a study bible is the most important tool you can have because it actually helps you to be able to understand the Bible and make sense out of things that culturally don’t make sense to us 2000 years later.
So, to put these verses in context, Paul said them to the first-century Jewish people. Their culture did not allow women the ability to study. So, though to us today these verses seem restrictive, they were actually liberating! Paul was saying, even though you guys don’t think women should be allowed to study, I’m speaking on behalf of the women to say that yeah they can! Let them learn about Jesus, let them hear and read the Word of God, let them grow in knowledge! Paul was going against everything that was normal at that time and actually liberating women.
But… he is telling them to listen quietly. How does that go along with liberation? Again, its all about context! The church that Timothy was at, in Ephesus, that would receive this letter had women who excitingly were on fire for all that they had recently learned. The problem was that they were then stepping into roles of leadership and teaching, with very little knowledge. They didn’t have the necessary experience, knowledge or maturity in Christ to be teaching, especially to those who did have extensive scriptural education. You wouldn’t send someone in to teach Nasa astronauts about space after they watched a few YouTube videos, would you? Its the same concept. Paul is saying this particular group of women in Ephesus needed to grow in their knowledge and maturity more before they began to preach to others.
If you only look at the verses I shared and try to apply them to women you know in your own church, or in general, you’re doing yourself a disservice and misusing the Bible. The best way to understand scriptural truths is to understand the context, like I mentioned, but also cross reference with other scriptures. Acts 18:24-26 shares briefly about a woman named Priscilla who was a co-worker to Paul and taught Apollos, a great preacher! Paul himself even writes of several women who held important roles in the church too.
In Romans 16:1, Paul commends “our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea.” In verse 6, Paul asks for the readers to, “Give my greetings to Mary, who has worked so hard for your benefit.” and in verse 12, he adds, “Give my greetings to Tryphena and Tryphosa, the Lord’s workers, and to dear Persis, who has worked so hard for the Lord. ” All were women who worked within the church, and as Paul says, worked hard for Lord. He knows of these women in these positions and he doesn’t say anything against them like he did about the women in Ephesus. This shows that Paul is not against women teaching, but he was against the women specifically in Ephesus teaching because they hadn’t yet matured enough in their faith to teach. To top it off, the Ephesian church had a real problem with false teachers in general, so these women who didn’t have the ability to discern the truth without the knowledge were just a further part of the problem Paul was writing to Timothy about in the hopes he could correct the Ephesian church as a whole to see them succeed more.
That’s completely fair! When I was a new believer, I had a crazy zest for the Lord, but without the knowledge of scriptural truths I wasn’t handling myself properly. I was sharing my opinion without evidence to back it up. Even worse, I judged those who weren’t Christian thinking they need to follow Biblical truths despite them not having a relationship with Jesus as I did. My heart was in the right place, but I was immature enough that it would have been extremely damaging to offer me the chance to write and preach, even, say, 5 years ago when my faith was much more immature than it is now.
Paul was an amazing evangelist, missionary, author, apostle and motivator. He wrote 2/3 of the New Testament and had a deep theological background having been raised as a Jewish man. He knew his stuff, and when he encounters Christ, he is able to speak with authority because he had the scriptural background and knowledge as well as a deeply personal relationship with Christ. Simply put, that particular group of women just wasn’t qualified. In fact, Paul never once said that women in general shouldn’t teach. So, I will continue growing and maturing in my faith, and working hard for the Lord, so that I am a woman who Paul will say “good job” to when I meet him in Heaven someday.
But aside from that, I will continue to grow and mature because it brings me closer to Jesus, the one whom I want to be more like because his example on this earth is profoundly amazing. Jesus himself treated women differently then what was considered normal at that time as well. Jesus didn’t come for the “perfect,” he came for the marginalized, the sinners, the broken, the hurt, you name it. At that time, women were the marginalized, and yes, Jesus came for them. He showed deep compassion for women, he respected them, taught them, and healed many of them. He was a bit of a revolutionary, in fact, for how well he treated women.
Honestly, there are too many examples for me to write about but my favourite story of Jesus showing compassion to a woman is from the book of Mark, Chapter 5 verses 25-34:
“A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Immediately the bleeding stopped, and she could feel in her body that she had been healed of her terrible condition.
Jesus realized at once that healing power had gone out from him, so he turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?”
His disciples said to him, “Look at this crowd pressing around you. How can you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
But he kept on looking around to see who had done it. Then the frightened woman, trembling at the realization of what had happened to her, came and fell to her knees in front of him and told him what she had done. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace. Your suffering is over.” “
So what you need to understand about the context of this story was that Jewish women who were bleeding as she was for so long were considered “unclean” and were isolated from their community. Imagine being isolated for 12 years from your parents, spouse, siblings, children, and best friends! Imagine paying every doctor you can to help you, and the problem only gets worse! How disheartening and isolating! This woman had suffered a great deal. Jesus was on route trying to get somewhere and everyone was pressing up against him (picture trying to walk anywhere during a concert or outdoor celebration like New Years Eve!) and yet he knew that one person touched him specifically for healing, and stops to find out who. The men of this time would likely have been rather annoyed with this women who stopped Jesus from doing what he was doing, who interrupted and tried to almost take advantage of his ability to heal, but Jesus wasn’t mad. She was terribly frightened because she knew that culturally she was facing deep consequences for her actions, especially because she was considered ‘unclean.’ Again, Jesus wasn’t mad. He instead tells her that her faith in him has made her well, and she will suffer no more.
Jesus treated women radically different than the cultural norm of the time, and believe it or not, by Paul telling them in 1 Timothy 2:11 to learn quietly and submissively, he was too. I imagine in today’s Canadian society, the woman who touched Jesus probably wouldn’t have been so afraid because women today are seen as equals, able to approach men freely. I can also imagine that Paul’s writing to the Ephesian church now a days would probably be more along the lines of, ‘People, keep growing in your faith. Keep reading the Word of God, keep learning and maturing and when the time is right you will be able to teach with authority and confidence because you will have the knowledge to back up your words.’
So, I will keep on teaching. I will continue to be thankful that Jesus revolutionized the way women are seen and treated, bringing us up to be considered equals and allowing us the opportunity to learn alongside our male counterparts. I will take Paul’s words seriously, and I will really ensure that I continue growing in knowledge so that I can continue teaching, men and women, the Word and Love that God offers us all. Mostly, I will continue celebrating the woman God is growing me to be, thankful for the gifts He has equipped me with, including the opportunities before me.
“Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.”