What do the following people have in common: Sarah, Rebekah, Miriam, Rahab, Ruth, Deborah, Esther, Mary, Lydia, Priscilla, Lois, Eunice? All of these are women who have been used of God to accomplish His plans and purposes. For example:

Miriam was the older sister of Moses. When he was placed in an ark of bulrushes by the river in Egypt, she watched to see what would happen to him. When Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby Moses, Miriam offered to have his real mother nurse him for the princess. Miriam later became a prophetess who spoke for God as He directed her.

Esther was a young Jewish woman who won a beauty contest and became the queen of Persia. She proved to be much more than just a woman of great beauty; she was also a woman of faith. When the wicked Haman devised a plot to destroy all the Jews, she realized, through the mentoring of her cousin, Mordecai, that God had raised her up “for such a time as this.” She took a stand for her people, Israel, before the Persian king without consideration for her own life; in doing so, she saved the people of God from destruction.

Priscilla was a fellow worker with the Apostle Paul. She and her husband, Aquila, “risked their own necks” for the life of Paul and helped him greatly in his ministry for the Lord.

The stories could go on and on, demonstrating that God has an important place for women in the ministry of His Word, including a place in the local church.

What is the role that women play in the ministry of the local church? The Apostle Paul addresses this question in his first letter to Timothy.

“I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Tim. 2:8-15)

There are two extreme responses to this passage of Scripture. The first misses the spirit and context of this passage, assuming that women have no real role or place in the local church. This interpretation takes a rigid application of the dress requirements insisting that women must dress plainly with no makeup, no jewelry, and no arranging of their hair. Women are not to teach at all and are to keep silent in church at all times. The attitude seems to be that women should be seen and not heard.

The second flawed response to this passage is to dismiss it altogether as being out of date. This interpretation gives precedence to cultural influences over the teaching of the Scriptures. As a result, we see many churches and denominations today where women take active roles as pastors, teachers, and evangelists, as well as leading roles in many other areas of local church ministry.

Looking at this text more closely, it becomes clear that neither response reflects what God’s Word teaches.

We begin with 1 Timothy 2:8, where Paul expresses God’s will for “the men.” The word for “men” is from the Greek “andras,” which refers to a man or husband, as opposed to a woman or wife. In an earlier verse, 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul uses a different word for “men,” the Greek word “anthropos,” which refers to mankind, meaning all people, both men and women.

There are two different Greek words for “will,” both found in this 2nd chapter of 1st Timothy. The word “desire” in 1 Timothy 2:4 is from the Greek “thelo,” which speaks of a person’s natural inclination; it expresses a wish or desire that originates from the emotions. For example, because of His great love for us, God “desires” that all men might be saved, but this is not something that He determines will happen.

The second word for “will” is used in 1 Timothy 2:8, also translated “desire” in the New King James Version. This word is from the Greek “boulomai,” which speaks of a person’s resolve; it expresses a deliberate determination or purpose based on reasoning. It is often the result of “thelo,” a person’s wish or desire. In 1 Timothy 2:8, we find God’s determined purpose for men, as opposed to women, regarding the issue of public prayer in the local church.

We started with verse 8 because the following verse, 1 Timothy 2:9, says “in like manner also, that the women …” In the same way that verse 8 expresses God’s will for “the men,” verses 9-15 describe God’s determined purpose for women. Since the word “women” can be used to refer to women or wives, some believe this passage addresses the role of women or wives in the home. However, the subject matter of 1 Timothy is conduct within the local church (1 Tim. 3:15); it is reasonable to assume this passage refers to God’s role for women in the local church.

Paul deals with three different aspects of God’s role and purpose for women in the local church: 1) Adornment of women (both inside and outside), 2) Role of women, and 3) Reasons for this role.

Adornment of Women

“In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.” (1 Tim. 2:9-10)

The word “adorn” is from the Greek “kosmeo,” which means to put in order, arrange, prepare, or make ready; it can also mean to embellish with honor. The word “world” is from the Greek “kosmos,” the noun form of “kosmeo.” The world that God created is an ordered, prepared world. Our English word “cosmetics” is from this word; referring to preparations designed to beautify the physical appearance.

Women are to adorn themselves in two ways: outside and inside. Women are to wear “modest apparel (clothing).” The word “modest” is from the Greek “kosmo,” the adjective form of “kosmeo.” Modest apparel is orderly, well arranged, tasteful and fitting or proper. A woman’s outward adornment should reflect her inward adornment, which is to be characterized by “propriety and moderation.”

A woman’s choice of clothing should demonstrate her “propriety.” The word is translated “shamefacedness” in the King James Version, but that term can give the wrong connotation. A woman is not to lower her face in shame at herself or her appearance, but she is to maintain an attitude of genuine humility. Her outward appearance should exhibit a modesty that shows her regard and respect for God and for others.

A woman’s outward appearance will also demonstrate her “moderation,” a word that literally means “safe or sound in mind.” Her choices should be reasonable, coming from a spiritually healthy mind, a mind that exercises self-control over her fleshly passions and desires.

Paul addresses some specific areas of concern regarding a woman’s outward adornment: braiding the hair, wearing gold, pearls, or costly clothing. This does not mean that women are never to arrange their hair, wear jewelry, or wear attractive clothing. What Paul is saying is that women should not dress in a way to draw special attention to their outward appearance. They are not to parade themselves or make a spectacle of themselves by wearing gaudy ornaments and clothing, especially in the local church. Paul instructed Timothy to warn the women not to overemphasize their outward appearance.

Women are to adorn themselves in a way that is “proper for women professing godliness.” A women who professes herself a Christian should be godly. She should have a reverence for and a devotion to God that is evident in every area of her life, including her dress. When she comes to church, she is there to worship the Lord. Her choice of clothing should reflect that.

Peter addresses this same subject in his 1st letter to the Jews of the dispersion:

“Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.” (1 Pet. 3:3-4)

The adornment of a Christian woman should not be “merely” outward; it should focus more on the inward—”the hidden person of the heart.” Unlike a woman’s physical beauty, the beauty of a “gentle and quiet spirit” is incorruptible and “very precious in the sight of God.” The word “precious” literally means “of great price” or “of great value.” The world often judges women based on outward appearance, but God values what is in a woman’s heart.

Another way women are to adorn themselves is “with good works.” Women, just as much as men, are called to work for and serve the Lord. As Christians, we are God’s workmanship; our salvation has nothing to do with our works, only His. Nevertheless, believers are created in Christ Jesus “for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

What types of good works has God prepared for women? In particular, what role do they play in the ministry of a local church? We will consider these questions in our next issue.