Summary: Paul tells us how we should conduct ourselves when we come together to worship. He speaks separately to men and women. The issues are different for men and women
In 2:3&4 Paul says: “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” He reminds us that there is only one God and only one mediator between God and humanity, Jesus Christ. So he first asks us to pray for those who don’t know Jesus, but then he goes on to tell us how we should conduct ourselves when we come together to worship. Some of what he says is for good theological reasons, but much has to do with presenting a face to the world that promotes the Gospel rather than undermining it.
He speaks separately to men and women. The issues are different for men and women. And the instructions he gives speak to both our public presentation and our inner being.
He speaks first to the men in the congregation. He says he desires that in every place men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.
So his first instruction is that men should pray. That sounds simple enough doesn’t it? It certainly fits the culture of the day. The men were the ones who led in worship. But notice how they’re to do it.
The outward presentation is with hands upraised. That was the culturally relevant way to pray. You stood to pray and you raised your hands to God in heaven.
But there’s more to it than that. Their inward life needs to be in accord with their outward presentation.
So they’re to lift up holy hands in prayer. What are holy hands? Well, they’re hands that haven’t done anything to make them unclean. The psalm for today asks the question:
“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord: or who shall stand in his holy place? And the answer it gives? “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart: who have not set their soul upon idols, nor sworn their oath to a lie.” Holy hands here stand for a pure heart. There’s no point lifting our hands in prayer to God if they’re defiled by sin.
Notice that the sin he’s thinking of doesn’t just include what you’ve done with your hands, the physical expressions of sin. It also includes what you do in your heart and mind. Anger and quarreling are out if you want to bring your prayers before God. How can you pray to God if you have resentment or bitterness in your heart against another person or worse still against God himself? Do you remember Jesus saying that when you bring your offering to God, if you remember you have something against another person to leave your offering at the altar and go and first be reconciled with that person?
So holiness, love and peace are essential prerequisites for prayer. But what about holding up your hands? What do we do with that instruction? Do all the men who pray in church need to [become charismatics and] raise their hands whenever they pray? Should we stop this habit that some have of kneeling to pray rather than standing with their hands raised? No, there are other parts of Scripture where different postures for praying are mentioned – sitting, kneeling, bowing, even lying face down before the Lord. Clearly this is a culturally conditioned instruction that no longer holds any force for us. For Paul’s time it may have been important, particularly in a Church where the Jewish heritage was still strong. As long as our posture is appropriate to our culture and expresses the right attitude to what we’re doing, it doesn’t really matter whether we’re sitting or standing or kneeling - or waving flags for that matter.
Before we move on to the next set of instructions, I might mention that on our worship roster women outnumber the men 2 to 1 in the prayer section. I wonder whether the men have dropped the ball in the modern church as far as leading in prayer is concerned. Are we so busy doing stuff that we’ve left prayer to the women in the church?
After that very short instruction to men he then goes on to a much more detailed set of instructions for women. Now it’s been suggested that there was a particular issue in Ephesus, connected with the Temple of Diana, which meant that women were causing problems to the orderliness of worship and that this was bringing the gospel into disrepute.
[It reminds me a bit of what happened in the 60s & 70s when women’s lib first took off. Naturally there was a strong reaction in some churches to the limitations that had been placed on women’s ministry and leadership, when the wider world was beginning to accept that women had the same ability and educational level as men. But the issue wasn’t always addressed in a helpful way. In fact it was often done with anger and argument rather than gentle persuasion or thoughtful argument. Mind you the fault was probably on both sides. But it may be that a similar thing was happening here with women insisting that they be given the same rights as men.]