Wednesday, March 31, 2004

1 Timothy -- Passing the Baton (6)

My apologies for being offline for a few days. In fact, that has been the problem. I have been offline waiting for my DSL provider to correct an outage. My link was down from Tuesday afternoon until Friday morning.

Paul now instructs Timothy about attitudes in worship. He addresses men and women separately:

Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension. 

Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness. (1 Timothy 2:8-10)

The word "likewise" is an important connector linking the two thoughts. To me it means that the goals for men lifting their hands and the women dressing modestly are similar. These similar goals have to do with avoiding "wrath and dissension." This is simply said, but it is hard to comprehend exactly how these things relate.

How do "lifting up holy hands" and "without wrath and dissension" relate? Simply this, angry hands are not holy. The important point that Paul is making is not the lifting of hands as the heart that is lifting them. It is the same thing that Jesus said, 

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:21-24)

Lifting hands in praise and worship is an offering to the Lord. It expresses a desire for His Presence, a declaration of His majesty, and a means to thank Him. None of these sentiments is valid outside the context of the love Christians are to maintain for each other.

Wrath and dissension represent disease in the body and we do what we can to remove it from us.

The main issue with clothing is two-fold. First, it can draw attention to the person and distract attention from the worship of God--the "likewise" connector, to me, signals Paul is primarily talking about a gathering of worshipers. Second, it has a way of conferring status on a person that is not otherwise deserved. Indeed such status can have the effect of excluding certain members of the community from attending the meetings. This would not be from the bylaws of the local church, but just the effect of not wanting to be embarrassed. A claim to godliness needs the adornment of good works, but since we humans tend to see outward appearances only, we can easily miss this point and gravitate to beauty and popularity rather than heart.

So you can see that Paul is talking about the heart and cautioning us about externals. We are to develop our hearts. Leaders in the congregations are to promote an atmosphere that recognizes and rewards godliness. Leaders must support and promote an atmosphere that all are welcome: rich and poor, stable or instable, soul-saved or sin-sick. Jesus never met a "sinner" He did not like through His eyes of mercy. Our churches are to be places where sinners can come and meet Him and, in the meeting, find solutions, healing, and wholeness.

Unlike the next topic, there is room in these words of Paul for cultural change over time. Certainly the history of fashion has been such that men have had their times of adornment just as compromising as the women of Paul's day. And nowhere is it said that women cannot raise hands in praise and, therefore, must do so in holiness and without wrath and dissension.

Tomorrow, however, I must enter a controversial area.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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