Men are called to lead in the Church

[8] I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.
Last time, I highlighted the fact that the Bible teaches two important and countercultural principles when it comes to men and women. The first principle is that men and women are fully equal. In the eyes of God, neither men nor women have an inferior or superior position relative to the other. Counter to the prevailing culture of the New Testament writers’ contemporaries, women were highly regarded as faithful workers and even patrons of the church. Paul goes so far as to say that in Christ, there is no distinction, spiritually speaking, between men and women. The second principle is that men and women are called by God to fill distinct roles. We’ll begin to look at those roles today. The point of all this is that the effort to really understand and follow not only the equality God has designed into humanity, but also the unique and distinct roles God has for men and women, then we will find that God has a plan for a more just and equal world.

In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul begins with an instruction to men. In this verse, Paul uses a word that applies specifically to men. Paul uses the word aner which refers specifically to the male sex. Paul is writing to timothy, who is an overseer or a pastor over churches in Ephesus, which was a city known for its temple dedicated to the goddess Diana. The priests of Diana were both men and women, and worship practices featured ritual prostitution (Diana, ISBE). Paul is instructing Timothy to teach the men in every place—in the churches for which Timothy was responsible—were to dedicate themselves to the ministry of prayer. Paul was teaching that in the church, the men were to lead this ministry. This makes sense of the contrast in verse 12, “I do not permit a woman…to exercise authority….”

The unique instruction to men is to lead in prayer (verse 8), to lead in teaching/doctrine (verse 12), and to lead in government (verse 12). Today, men need to hear Paul’s exhortation here, and devote themselves to prayer, and study of the Bible. In early adulthood, there are a number of different competitors for the attention of young men, including school, career, social life, or hobbies. More and more in our time, faith is not a high priority. Paul is asking Timothy to challenge the young men to pray. So men, devote yourselves to prayer. Make time in your life to dive in to the Bible and learn it. This is not a call or responsibility for the future, it’s a call for us today. Devote yourselves to a life of prayer.

Second, Paul challenges men where men tend to fail in this regard. Paul calls men to pray “without anger and quarreling.” If anything is characteristic of young men it’s hot heads and loose hold on self-control. If you get young men in a group, all dedicated to serious study of any topic, and egos will begin to assert themselves. Paul warns against this kid of quarrelling in Romans, in 1 and 2 Corinthians and in Titus. James identifies the source of this fighting and quarreling: “your passions are at war within you.” Paul calls us to avoid anger and quarreling. The way we do that is to find our hope, or joy, our passions, our affections, the source of our expectation and hope in Christ. The way men (and women also, though this verse is speaking to men) can apply this passage is to study the life and example of Christ. When he met with difficulty, he would step aside and pray. He always contended for the glory and justice of the Father, but he never contended based on ego or vanity, but out of love for God and neighbor.

A third way young men can apply this teaching is to explore ways to contribute to the life of the Christian community. Find ways to serve in ministry. Not everyone is called to be a deacon or elder in a church—we’ll learn more about that in an upcoming post—but all men can devote themselves to leading by the way they live their lives. We can all dedicate ourselves to following Jesus. To the extent our lives are reflecting Jesus, we are on the right track. Men, explore ways to learn from Christ and put on Christ in your life and in your community.

One point of explanation. To say that men are to lead in prayer, and then to contrast that with Paul instruction to women to learn silently, can be mistaken to mean that women may never engage in public teaching, or scripture reading, or prayer in church. I don’t believe that is the argument here. Paul teaches in verse 8, and then in chapter 3 that the office of elder (also called pastor or bishop) is designed to be held by men. God calls men to the office of elder. But god gives a variety of gifts to all Christians—men and women—including teaching gifts, and including devotion to prayer. God gives all Christians a variety of competencies. There are places in scripture where women played significant roles in the training and instruction of men. Remember two things. Paul is speaking about Ephesus, whose culture was far from being biblical, instructing the church to reorder their ideas of leadership by the Bible. Second, Paul is teaching that the primary leadership in the church is to be given to men, and that this leadership is put in practice by praying for the congregation and teaching the congregation. There is no prohibition of women from teaching or praying or reading or speaking in congregational meetings. The regular work of teaching, though, belongs to the elders, who the Bible says are to be men.

The main point of all of this, however, is to look to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the chief shepherd and overseer of our souls. He is the senior senior pastor of every church and every individual Christian. He is the word of God who was present at creation. He is the authority that Christian leaders are called to exemplify. And he always submitted his will to the Father. He only ever did what the Father told him (John 5:19, 12:49-50). In that sense, submission to an outside authority is something that belongs to all Christians, and especially Christian leaders. And finally, the source of any authority to lead in prayer is ultimately and finally grounded in the good news that Christ is for us. That on the cross, he stands in our place. He willingly identifies with us and takes a penalty we deserve and offers us the benefit of his own perfection. Men are called to follow Christ, not only as example, but as savior and Lord.

Paul says, “I desire that in every place the men should pray.” Men: Look to Christ. He is your example in submission to God, humble leadership, and self-sacrifice. More than that, he is your only hope in the world.



In this series
  1. Men and Women
  2. Men are called to lead in the church
  3. Modesty
  4. Submission and Authority
  5. Saved through Childbearing?

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