I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modesty, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
1 Timothy 2:8-10
We older folk can remember the time when no one lifted their arms when they sang Christian songs in worship. This verse is hardly a proof text for that practice because it specifies the men in the congregation to be lifting up their holy hands. Paul turns to the women in the following verses exhorting them concerning their responsibility to clothe themselves with good deeds. If fanatics took verse eight absolutely literally they would say it was requiring males only over the age 18 in a congregation to lift their hands during the prayers. Of course, that is not the teaching, and the church has never interpreted it to mean that.
Paul is looking at Christian men and women, and he thinks of different weaknesses which, speaking quite broadly, make both sexes vulnerable. Particular weaknesses of men are prayerlessness and argumentativeness. One particular weakness of women is being too preoccupied with how to adorn themselves. These are proper generalisations, such as those we ourselves make and that are also found in the Bible (“Cretans are always liars,” Titus 1:12). There are of course many exceptions amongst Christian men and women.
1. Men Must Be Exemplary in Prayer. (v.8)
Paul has already written about praying at the beginning of the chapter, but here he is speaking about the one who prays. This is the only place in the New Testament where we read of lifting up hands in prayer. Solomon, at the dedication of the temple “stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven” (I Kings 8:22). The psalmists also speak of lifting up the hands in worship (Pss. 28, 63 and 134). There are other biblical postures for prayer: standing up, bowing down, kneeling before God, prostrating oneself with one’s face to the ground before God, and David before the Lord (2 Sam. 7:18). The Dutch American, Dr William Hendriksen, declares that “the slouching position of the body while one is supposed to be praying is an abomination to the Lord” and the Englishman, John Stott is with him. One would not slump down in the presence of a person of great honour and fame. One does not do it when praying to God.
That is all I shall say about posture in prayer but it is worth mentioning because we have the warrant from the Lord Jesus. He warns us not to pray like the Pharisees who would do so standing up so that all could have a better look at them, and he told us that our personal praying should be in a secret place where God alone sees us. The exhortation here to Timothy is ” Be like Moses!” You remember the incident of Exodus 17 when the Amalekites are fighting the Israelites led by Joshua in a valley, and Moses goes up on the mouitain side with Aaron and Hur and watches as the battle rages back and for beneath him. “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (Ex.17:11). Then Aaron and Hur helped Moses by seating him down on a stone and holding his hands up, one of them on each side until the sun set, when the people of God gained the final victory. Moses called the place ‘The Lord is my Banner’ because “hands were lifted up to the throne of God” (Ex. 17:16). Be like Moses, a holy man of prayer! That is the apostolic concern.
Our text is not emphasising that men should lift up hands when they pray, but the stress is on the adjective ‘holy.’ We live in an age that becomes excited about image and show rather than the hidden life of the soul. Man does indeed look on the outward appearance, while God looks on the heart. Our concern is not to encourage raising hands in prayer but raising the spirit of holy worship in all our lives. It would be a monstrous incongruity for someone to come to the Prayer Meeting red-handed from committing some sin and lift up the very hands that have just stolen a purse, or struck another person, or been involved in lust, to implore a blessing from an outraged God. Cowardly Pilate may wash his hands after signing the death warrant for the Lord Jesus, but they are still defiled hands. So Paul here is exhorting us to have hands of holiness if we are praying, which he underlines by adding the word “without anger or disputing.” How can you pray if you are fuming after a bitter dispute with someone in the church? The Lord Jesus has told us what we are to do in the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore, jf you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23&24). It is holy hands that must reach out to God.
The world is quick to spot a praying hypocrite. Ernest Reisinger, a long time trustee of the Banner of Truth, and a Baptist minister, became a church member when he was a teenager but, he says, “I soon quit going to Sunday School and church. The excuse I used was the life of one of the ushers of the church. I saw him tipsy on Saturday nights, and pass the offering plate on Sunday mornings.” The hands which are raising too many foaming tankards cannot be used in serving God without first some true repentance and a determination to overcome that sin. Where are we going when we pray? Into the Holy of Holies, to meet the One in whom is no darkness at all, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit. “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.” If our problem is alcohol we must raise a holy hand to God and beckon him to come and help us overcome our drinking to excess.
In other words there can be real praying without real mortification. As Alexander Whyte says, “our sin is the mother of all our trouble: get rid of the mother, and you will get rid of her offspring.” Kill the mother and the babies that feed on her will be dead too. Mortify the flesh – the principle of remaining sin – by the Holy Spirit. When we come to God we must pour out our sinful thoughts before him before they settle in our minds. Cleanse your heart of all unclean imaginations, of all angry and self-pitying thoughts, of all ideas of revenge and jealousy – wash them all out. Repudiate them. Deny them. Denounce them. Dump them at his footstool. Declare before God, as he shall judge you, that you are weary of all those thoughts. Protest to him that what you wouldn’t wish to find in your life you’ve actually discovered there, and pour them out like poison. Pour them out like a cancer. For poison and cancer can kill the body but bad thoughts, entertained in the heart, will kill both body and soul in hell. Let no sinful thought settle in your heart for a moment. Call aloud to God the instant you discover its presence. Wherever you are, and however you are employed, and in whatever company – that moment call on God. That moment pour out your heart to God. You are reading something. You are watching the television. You are at work. You are on the tractor. You are playing. You are driving along, in the car and listening to the radio. God knows all that is in your heart in the moment of temptation; and he waits to see what you will do, whether you will lift a holy hand up to beckon him to come and assist you. Don’t disappoint him. Don’t neglect him. Don’t displease him. He has told you a thousand times what you are to do at that moment. Do it. Do what God’s tempted and tried people are doing every moment all around you – lift holy hands to God for help.
Paul is urging men in particular to be men of prayer because we have our careers, and are out of the home all day, and are more aggressive and into more places of temptation than women. Generally speaking women are not as enticed by the excitements of the world than men. Mothers are not as giddy as the men they are married to. They are more conscious of their children and their homes; they treasure more highly the values of domestic peace, reliability, faithfulness and trust. Men want to climb the corporate ladder and do well in their vocations. They are vulnerable to certain temptations. For so many Christian women their homes and children are their careers. There are five million women in Great Britain between the ages of 16 and 59 who do not work, full-time or part-time. They have committed themselves to their homes and families. But men are under other pressures at their businesses, and they need this exhortation which is to them. Listen! “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.”
Consider it in this way. Think of the high calling of fatherhood. According to the Bible it is the men of the family in particular who, within their households, are called to be prophets, kings and priests to God. As a prophet: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephs. 6:4); as a king: “For I have chosen [Abraham], so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Gen. 18:19); as a priest: “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer” (I Tim.2:8). Consider the patriarch Job taking up the responsibility to be a priest to his family: “Early in the morning [Job] would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job’s regular custom” (Job 1:5). He was a priest to his family, remembering each one of them before God. As priests to their children fathers must be sympathetic and not discourage his sons and daughters: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Cols.3:21). A father must be touched with the feeling of his own children’s infirmities. I remember one of my daughters weeping at unusually poor grades in a certain examination and myself being broken-hearted for her grief. Fathers, raise holy hands in prayer for your families!
Consider again the church Prayer Meeting. Each week we meet, and it is the conviction in our own congregation, that women should be invited to pray. Most prayer meetings are domestic and family affairs as we share our joys and griefs and needs with one another before we pray, as we soon learn when intercession is made for my people by name, for sick children, bereaved parents, the hard-pressed, the unemployed and elderly, all very specifically. This is quite different from the Sunday pastoral prayers in which some of these references must be more veiled. We want the Christian women to pray, and we seem to be blessed in some special ways by hearing them intercede. They introduce an affection and devoted earnestness into the Prayer Meeting which is a God-given grace. Sometimes some women’s voices may be too soft to be heard – we had a particular case with a Downs Syndrome woman would pray quietly. But I understand everything she said, and we were glad to hear her give thanks for the precious blood. However, we do believe that it is the duty of the men to assume the leadership in the time of prayer at the church’s Prayer Meeting, and the women in particular want it so. Their desire is to be in a New Testament congregation where godly men rule through the Word. The women will sigh to one another and will say, “Why don’t more of the men pray?” At the Prayer Meeting I would expect each man to be sitting on the edge of his seat waiting for an opportunity to pray, and whenever women prayed, for each man to rebuke himself for his silence. “I want everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.” But women pray! Please pray! When there are pauses and silences they are as much an invitation to you to pray as your sheepish brothers. Then there is that whole psychological/theo1ogical problem of the holy man who pray, but refuses to pray, and deprives the congregation of his intercessions. And I cannot begin to understand that.
Consider the new Christian, and the enormous hurdle he crosses when first he prays in the Prayer Meeting, and the blessing his words are to us. Larry Crabb talks about his memory of the evening he prayed in the midweek meeting: “Filled less with worship than with nervousness, I found my theology becoming confused to the point of heresy. I remember thanking the Father for hanging on the cross and praising Christ for triumphantly bringing the Spirit from the grave. Stuttering throughout, I finally thought of the word ‘Amen’ (perhaps the first evidence of the Spirit’s leading), said it, and sat down. I recall staring at the floor, too embarrassed to look around, and solemnly vowing never again to pray or speak aloud in front of a group . . .
“When the service was over, I darted toward the door, not wishing to encounter an elder who might feel obliged to correct my twisted theology. But I was not quick enough. An older man, named Jim Dunbar, intercepted me, put his arm on my shoulder, and cleared his throat to speak. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Here it comes. Oh well, just endure it and then get in the car.’ I then listened to this godly gentleman speak words that I can repeat verbatim today: ‘Larry,’ he said, ‘there is one thing I want you to know. Whatever you do for the Lord, I’m behind you one thousand per cent.’ Then he walked to the door. Those words were life words. They had power. They reached deep into my being. My resolve again to speak publicly weakened instantly” (from “Encouragement: The Key to Caring,” NavPress). Think what he would have rnissed if he had not lifted up holy hands in prayer.
2. Women Must be Adorned in Good Deeds. (vv.9&1O)
“I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls, or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” It would be easy to misunderstand Paul’s concern here if we failed to note that he is setting up about a contrast between outward and inward adorning – just like the outward lifting of hands in a posture of prayer has been contrasted with the inward need of holiness. Paul is not saying that expensive clothes, braided hair and jewellery are wrong in themselves. The apostle is writing about how a Christian woman can truly make herself more beautiful. His aim is a church of genuinely lovely people.
Of course there were men in the dark ages of the medieval church who quoted a scripture like verse 9 and proceeded to denounce anything attractive in clothing. They might even protest that if a woman adorned herself it was a sure sign that she was being seduced by fallen angels, and they appealed to Genesis 6 to support their views. So nuns sought to look as dour as they could, as have women caught up in various cults through the ages. Islamic women have appealed to similar themes in the Old Testament prophets (Isa. 3:16), and many of them dress accordingly darkly. They think that that guarantees they are ‘holy’ women.
The apostle Paul is t banning certain hairstyles or jewellery or some expensive clothing. Having such things is not sinful for a Christian. The New Testament does not prohibit a Christian from adorning herself. There was the Prodigal Son welcomed home by his father and immediately the wardrobe is raided and he is clothed with the best robe and a ring is put on his finger.
Another reaction, more familiar than that abuse of the passage, is to dismiss these words and claim that expensive clothes and intricate hairstyles was basically an Ephesian problem. The cult prostitutes of the temple of Diana apparently made themselves up like that and so it was crucial that Christian women should not. Be that as it may, aren’t these words of Paul concerning true adorning utterly relevant to us today? What has been one of the features of 20th century life? Growing enslavement to fashion by both men and women. The press is full of photos of catwalk scantily clad models and reports of spring and winter collections. There is that oft-repeated quotation of a super-model who would not get up in the morning for less than £10,000 a day. Calvin Klein’s jeans make more than a billion dollars a year. The profits are simply breathtaking. The clothing and textiles industry in Britain is worth about £8 billion year and is responsible for some £3 billion worth of exports, as well as keeping 364,000 people in work. There is also the matter of the expenditure of some people on clothes, hairstyles, perfume and jewellery. There are new pressures on women to get cosmetic surgery, while body-piercing and tattoos are giving new dilemmas to parents.
Is the Bible silent about all of this? This is an area of conduct we cannot ignore. Parents are disturbed at the price of sports shoes for their teenagers. Mothers and daughters talk about what the girl is wearing to an 18th birthday party, or what beachwear is suitable. Of course the Bible is not going to tell you exactly what suits you, or where a hem line should be, but it does give some important principals which make it possible for us to figure out the parameters of Christian acceptability. The New Testament opens up this theme because God knew that what we wear is directly related to what we are, and what we think of ourselves and others. If you are serious about your relationship with God you can be sure that he wants your hair, clothes and jewellery to be to his glory, as everything else. You have to make judgements in the light of his word.
The apostle says here, “I also want women to dress modestly.” There seem to be at least three principles we can derive from that:
i] What we put on should not embarrass or tempt others. You see a group of young women waiting to go into a night-club and a wife will shake her head and say to her husband, “They are asking for it dressing as immodestly as that.” The Lord Jesus talks of the lustful look in the Sermon on the Mount that, “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt.5:28). We ask God not lead us into temptation, and we ourselves are not to lead others there.
ii] There should be a restraint in what we put on, that is, we should not dress in order to call attention to ourselves. Exhibitionism is being outlawed by these two words, “decency and propriety.” That doe not mean we have no appreciation of style, fabric, understatement, colours that suit us, creativity and good tailoring. But there is a line you learn not to cross which would mean you are calling attention to yourself. That would not conform to Christ’s law of modesty. You think of what every Christian can say, “I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gals.2:20). You dress as someone who is expressing that reality.
iii] There should be some economy in hairstyle, clothing and jewellery. The issue we are thinking about now is Christian stewardship: “If we have food and clothing we will be content with that” (I Tim. 6:8). All around us there is such lavish expenditure on luxuries, and we are followers of someone who said, “the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Everyone has to workout the implications of that according to their means. A wedding dress is worn only once, and it seems expensive, but that expenditure reflects that the event celebrated that day is the most important, outside of salvation, that two people will ever go through. So you don’t begrudge that expenditure, nor the expense everyone else goes to in order to be the back cloth to the bride and groom. My concern would be that no one in a congregation put pressure on a Christian family who cannot afford it to spend exorbitantly. There should be no displays of affluence.
The Bible also condemns immodesty. For one reason, immodest dress alters one’s approach to the wearer. No one could take seriously, or accept the authority of a woman in a miniskirt and cleavage speaking on ethical issues. Will people who are not Christians think soberly about a message – telling them they need to repent and believe in Christ and present their bodies as living sacrifices to God or they will go to hell – from a woman with half her body looking bare? They won’t hear the message because of barely clad medium, and the Mini spells “bimbo.” Clothes, since the time the apostle wrote these words to Timothy, have been about signs – what the academics calls semiotics – and the signal from the mini-wearer says: “I am wearing the uniform of the young girl as sex object – please treat me like one.” Mini says, “I am drawing attention to my sexuality.” Mini says, “I am doing this to arouse men.” Think of it: do you want to see your cancer consultant walking towards you in the out-patients’ department of the hospital in a mini? Your solicitor? Your MP? A magistrate? A Sunday Schoolteacher? No. It is completely inimical to authority, purity, and credibility. There comes a time when women have to choose whether they want to be ogled or taken seriously, and if they want to be taken seriously the mini has to go. All this is also true of a low-cut top, of course, maybe more so. “I also want women to dress modestly” says the Holy Spirit. When Jeremiah talks about the decadence of his society he says something very striking; “They did not know how to blush” (Jer.6:15).
Does the Bible warn us about these thing? The reason is we often sin in very simple ways. One of the elements of our depravity is that we do not sin grandly, we sin in terms of very elemental characteristics of our make-up. It is, very often, merely our glands that cause us our problems. The foolish arousals that set us off on escapades of undifferentiated lust are often caused by stupid wanderings into obvious no-go areas. There are situations in which we will lose control of ourselves. Human beings have a very, very disappointing record when it comes to self-control in connection with sexual matters. So the Bible is very straightforward. It tells us what women to avoid, what kind of clothes not to wear, what situations to get out of quick. It does so very rationally because we are capable of great self-delusion in this whole area. We can see the stupidity and folly of the behaviour of others but we think our playing with fire is safe and clever. I am saying that religious people can fabricate the most idiotic rationalisations for their adulterous adventures.
Of course, one realises that the reality is that principles and attitudes of modesty cannot be enforced. School head-teachers, Baptist ministers or parents will find it hard to enforce modesty upon someone because this comes from within a person. Listen to the apostle Peter speaking on this theme, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewellery and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet s]2J which is of great worth in God’s sight” (I Pet.3:3&4). He is saying that beauty comes from your inner self, not in hairstyle, jewels, clothes, cosmetic surgery, body piercing, tattoos and perfumes. They are all applied to the surface of the person, but beauty comes from within. It is that which illuminates a life.
“Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing.
True lowliness of heart
Which takes the humbler part
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing”
That is beauty. Everyone acknowledges that a definition of true beauty is impossible, but Christians say, Do you want to be beautiful? Then you must know Jesus Christ, because he is the most beautiful being of all. Everything that the divine power and aesthetic can do to make him lovely has been done so that there is actually none like him. He is the loveliest of ten thousand. That is in a crowd as large as the population of our town the Lord Jesus Christ would stand out. In beauty he is head and shoulders above the rest. Not one person would remotely compare to him. In May or June 1721 the 18 year-old Jonathan Edwards saw this as never before. He recounted it in what he called his ‘Personal Narrative.’ The whole little paragraph should be studied, but he records this in one place: “my mind was greatly engaged to spend my time in reading and meditating on Christ, on the beauty and excellency of his person, and the lovely way of salvation by free grace in him. I found no books so delightful to me as those who treated of these subjects. Those words Cant 2.1, used to be abundantly with me, ‘I am the Rose of Sharon, and the Lily of the valleys’. The words seemed to me, sweetly to represent the loveliness and beauty of Jesus Christ . . . there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express – I seemed to see them both in a sweet conjunction; majesty and meekness joined together; it was a sweet, and gentle, and holy majesty; and also a majestic meekness; an awful sweetness; a high, and great, and holy gentleness” (quoted by Iain Murray, “Jonathan Edwards” Banner of Truth, 1987, p.36).
You become wiser by being with wise people, hearing them speak, especially watching them under pressure and in difficulty. You become beautiful by being with genuinely beautiful people, coming under the influence of their graciousness, humility, self-restraint, the beauty of their holiness. Conversely you become coarse and hard and ugly and worldly wise by keeping company with such people. The best company you can keep is Almighty God. He designed the world: he made tropical fish; a galaxy; a crystal; a panda; an atom; a snowflake; a copper beech; a waterfall; a rainbow; a fawn; the Alps, etc. The list is unending. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. He is the one who is prepared to make his dwelling in you. We sing of Christ, “Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down.” He is the joy of heaven, and is at the centre of your life. He starts to teach you about yourself. He informs you that you matter to him. So the abuse has to go, and the excess, and the self-contempt. Your body is like a temple and you have to adorn it as becomes the gentle holy Saviour who lives in you. It does not honour him to look drab, nor to look tarty. We know the extremes to avoid, and that is helpful. In the Bible there were people who were judged and persecuted, and we are told about them that they wandered around in sheepskins and goat skins. They looked like John the Baptist – deprived ascetic refugees. We know that in the gospels there is a deliberate contrast between how John lived and the Lord Jesus, that our Saviour went to feasts and a wedding. He did not wear a cloak of camel’s hair tied around him with a leather rope. So we are not hostile to any sense of harmony and attractiveness, however we are not a gathering of Epicureans who meet here on Sundays. We know the extremes. We dress for the occasion, and this occasion is to meet with the Lord Jesus Christ.
So the question is this, are you going to allow the Word of God to influence every part of your life, even if it means the people in school cruelly vote you the least fashionable girl in the school – and that would certainly be horrible for you. Would you want to win the prize for the most fashionable? I am saying you have every freedom as a Christian to wear good clothing, even those colours and styles that are in today. You have the right to wear cosmetics, and to have your ears pierced. The principle you have to remember is this. These things do not define beauty and that is not where you must look for it. In Proverbs 31 is the description of a woman who has a noble character, and the book of Proverbs ends by telling us that “Charm is deceptive, and is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Provs.31:30). I have known professing Christians destroyed by the charm of good-looking decency. God is saying real beauty is not fleeting because it is a matter of the inner life, and that is being constantly renewed.
What is appropriate adorning for women who worship God? Paul tells us here in verse ten, “good deeds.” The New Testament tells us that we are saved ‘unto’ good works. It does not say we are saved ”by good works. What’s the difference between two little prepositions, ‘to’ and ‘by’? The difference is heaven and hell. No one has ever been saved by their good works. We are saved by the good works of Jesus Christ alone. So does that mean that our good works are unimportant? No. The good works of the Christian are the proof that he has been saved by Jesus Christ. We are so grateful to him for his salvation that we show it by loving other people, turning the other cheek, bearing the burdens of the weak, enduring all things, visiting the lonely, doing to others as we would have them do to us. Beautiful good works as the clothing the true Christian wears. The Lord Jesus says to his people, “You are the light of the world.” The light is a life of good works.
Men and women are attracted to light. What gives a beauty? What makes someone really attractive? It is the light of a life of good works. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
You remember Don Quixote’s noble lady. She thought she was only a harlot, but when she began to trust Don Quixote, she began to act like a noble lady. For he accepted and treated her with respect and true love. Her faith in him made her act in accordance with the new person she was in the eyes of the one who had saved her from that wretched life. Her language changed, her walk and her dress and her whole appearance. She clothed herself in good works.
We have to do that. We have to keep reminding ourselves who we are, who saved us, how much we owe to him, and worship God. That is how you overcome immodesty, and the envy of sinners, and learn true beauty – worshipping God.
31st October 1999 Geoff Thomas