Holy Hands and Hair do's

“I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. ”
(1 Timothy 2:8-10 ESV)

The verses above are taken from some of among the most controversial in scripture. These verses and the ones surrounding it address the roles of Biblical manhood and womanhood in the church- something widely disputed amongst believers and non-believers alike… But that’s another post for another day. In my continual study of this age old topic, the verses that first caught my attention most recently were those listed above.

My initial response was annoyance. In fact, I said to my husband “what, so the only real command for the women here is to ensure they don’t distract the men?” Obviously I was being flippant and reactionary. However, comments similar to my ill advised statement have been the foundation for some of the gender role arguments I mentioned earlier. Truth be told, my small comment stemmed from a feeling that I know I’m not alone in.

“Why do the men get to pray, lift holy hands? Why am I to just worry about what earrings I’m wearing? What about the men and their appearance?” These thoughts amongst others were what circled my mind before I promptly stopped myself, reminding myself of what is true (Philippians 4:8)…

God is in control. God’s plans and purposes are for my good and His glory. (My GOOD!) God knew what He was doing when He created me ‘woman’. If 'all scripture is God breathed and profitable’, then what is it that is making this word so hard to swallow? Then it clicked. These verses so totally go against what the world I live in says. In the 21st century, these verses and those surrounding them are sexist and unfair, and so even as a Christian woman, I found myself siding with my current environment and wondering why the admonition for men and women differed so greatly. But men and women ARE so greatly different. Why should we be surprised that God inspired instruction for us therefore follows suit?

Let’s not get confused here, there’s evidently NOTHING wrong with women praying. It’s encouraged in fact. But for the there and then, this was the instruction. The church in Ephesus were slightly out of control, so these instructions were set to put a bit of order into the mix. “So then, these verses are merely contextual!” I hear you cry. Maybe. But would the words to the church of the 21st century sound very different? A recent study produced by the charity 'Tearfund’ reveals that 65% of UK churchgoers are women. Perhaps Paul’s encouragement towards men to pray and lift holy hands wouldn’t be so misplaced here either? It seems that church attendance has long been subscribed to by more females than males. And what of Paul’s sudden concern for women’s hairstyles and jewellery choices? With a recent poll identifying women spending up to £160 a month on beauty products in comparison to men spending £100 at most, maybe it is the women who could do with the gentle reminder more than the men. Then again, why does it matter if women spend more than men on beauty products? It doesn’t, really. But I suppose, for a Christian woman it is certainly something to think about. Is our priority to glorify God? Or to look good whilst we do it? A recently written article identified that on almost every site, more women than men are members of online dating websites, with one website listing 71% of it’s members as female.

So in a nutshell- 2015 looks as though less men than women are going to church and that women are spending a lot more time and money on looking good and finding a soulmate than their male counterparts. To a believer, I feel as though Paul’s words perhaps shouldn’t seem as alien as we’d first think. Going back to my previous lightbulb moment- If I truly believe that God is good, especially when I read verses that speak of His everlasting love for me and brilliant plans for my future, then is it God or me who’s changed when I read the verses above and visibly cringe? God is still in control. Even when His Word challenges our hearts.

So what of the 'yes’ list for women in this portion of text? What are we to do as opposed to being fixated on making the 'Best Dressed at Church’ shortlist? Good works. Another audible groan perhaps? Well, as we probably know, this isn’t the first time these two little words have appeared in scripture. All believers are in fact to be partakers of good works. The very outworking of our hope in Christ is that faith and good works are combined. So why then, was this only mentioned to the women at this point? I found myself asking. Again, I thought about my context and current circumstances and found myself biting my tongue before pulling for the sexist card once more. I can certainly recall countless times during my pre-married years where I was far more concerned about finding 'Mr Right’ than I was about what I could do for God 'right now’. I spent far more evenings chewing my poor friends ears off about being left on the shelf than I did weeping over the many challenges of the teenagers I work with day in and day out. It is when I recall moments like this, that I find myself seeing Paul’s words as encouraging as opposed to chauvinistic.

A gentle reminder to remember our first love and seek first His will for our lives can’t be a bad thing. Let’s prioritise what’s important in 2015. Let’s ask The Lord to show us areas of our lives where we are falling short. Too image conscious? Easily prone to anger and bitterness? Whatever it is, God is able to carry it. When met with a challenging portion of text, before writing it off as 'contextual’, let’s ask ourselves what God is trying to say to us as individuals through it. We might be surprised.