Manhood, Womanhood and the Freedom to Minister By Dr. John Piper

Manhood, Womanhood and the Freedom to Minister

By Dr. John Piper 

Listen to the sermon on mp3 by clicking this link > Manhood, Womanhood and the Freedom to Minister by John Piper 

Before we read today’s text I want to put it in the context of where we have been so far or at least part of where we have been so far picking up last week. Last week we saw from Ephesians 5:32 that marriage is a mystery. That is God designed marriage a long time ago and he gave it a meaning which was kept secret or at least partly secret for a long time and then through the apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians especially in other places in the New Testament its meaning was unfolded fully for us to see and meaning of the mystery of marriage was this: God designed marriage to be a parable, or a picture, or an image of Christ and the church. Marriage is meant to be a display to the world how Christ and his bride the church relate to each other. So when God created men and women or the way we are with our differences of manhood and womanhood he did so that we could fit into these complementary roles of Christ and the church in marriage and the other expressions of complementarity outside of marriage. And in this drama man was meant to represent Christ in his servant leadership and love toward his wife and the wife was meant to represent the bride of Christ in her free and glad response and support and honour of her husband’s leadership.

And we stressed, well in fact we stressed for five weeks now that these differences are not the result of sin. Manhood and womanhood did not come into existence because of sin, God made them. And the diversified complementary roles of male and female, marriage and in the church were not the result of sin – they were the result of God’s loving and wise ordinance. Before sin ever entered the world God ordained and fitted Adam to be a loving, caring, strong leader in relationship to Eve, and before sin ever entered the world God ordained and fitted Eve to be one who supports and honours that leadership and helps carry it through according to her gifts. Both in the image of God, both equal in their godlike personhood, but different in their manhood and womanhood. The pattern was beautiful – they respected each other, they served each other, they complemented each other, they enjoyed each other – it could not be improved upon before sin. And then sin came and what sin did was not create complementary and diverse roles but ruin them. Sin took the kind of manhood and the kind of headship that God had ordained for Adam and just obliterated it. Turned men into either passive do nothings, or into harsh and insensitive, and uncaring, domineering people or something somewhere distorted in between. It took the intelligent free affirmation of woman of that leadership and distorted it into some kind of manipulative forcefulness or some kind of domineering, or something in between that is just all out of proportion to what he created. Sin ruined the harmony, the complementarity, the beauty and mutuality of what God had created.

So when we get to the New Testament and you study the life of Jesus, and then you come to Ephesians 5 and other texts. What you find is what we saw last week, is not that Paul and the apostles and Jesus now attack what God created namely diverse roles and obliterate them and call for a unisex egalitarianism. Rather what they try to do is recover what God made, and redeem what God made. They try to get back to true biblical headship and true biblical submission. So let me rehearse the two definitions that I gave which to me have been so helpful in getting a handle on what does it mean to be a husband and what does it mean to be a wife? First a definition of headship. Headship you remember is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership, protection, and provision in the home. A divine calling to husbands to take primary responsibility for Christ-like servant leadership, provision, and protection in the home.

What then would submission be? Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honour and affirm that leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. To honour and affirm that leadership and to assist in carrying it through according to her gifts. When a husband leads like Christ and when the wife responds like the bride of Christ – the harmony, the mutuality is beautiful and satisfying. More fruitful than any other pattern in marriage that anybody could conceive today and put forward as an alternative to God’s pattern. God is good, he loves us, and he loves his glory and therefore by faith we can say yes to the pattern that God has ordained and know that in saying yes to it we will be most satisfied and he will be most glorified.

Now the real test this morning of whether we have grasped the biblical essence of manhood and womanhood and whether we affirm it and regard it as beautiful is whether or not we are offended and surprised at the form this pattern takes in the church. Which is what we turn to now and I invite you to open your Bibles to 1 Timothy 2. If the New Testament roles of manhood and womanhood in the home are not rooted in selfish pride and not rooted in cultural expectation but are rooted in God’s beautiful order of creation then we would expect something corresponding to this order to turn up in the family of God as well as the nuclear family of the home. Which is exactly what we have found in the New Testament happens. And I am going to shorten down the text to several verses just to save time and read with you 1 Timothy 2:11-14.

1 Timothy 2:11-14 (ESV – English Standard Version)

11Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness.  12I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14and Adam was not deceived, butthe woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

Now in order to understand that text we need to sit down at its feet. It is probably the most inflammatory texts you could read in contemporary culture and my guess is that there is enough of this world’s spirit in every one of us to put us on a continuum somewhere from hmm…can that really be to if that is what it says I am not going to be a Christian anymore. There are 3 things that I think we need to ask about it in order to understand the parameters of what is going on here. We need to ask:

1)     What is this silence being called for?

2)     What is this teaching being forbidden to woman?

3)     What is this authority over men that women are not to perform?

4)     What is this submissiveness referred to in 1 Timothy 2:11?

In all of that we will go into feeding what is this submissiveness referred to in 1 Timothy 2:11? Lets take those one at a time.


Lets talk first about silence from the text.

1 Timothy 2:11

Says, “Let a woman learn in silence,”

Now that word silence is used two other times in these nearby verses and they are very important to see. First you can glance back up at 1 Timothy 2:2 of this chapter. The Greek word behind this word silence hēsuchia or hēsuchion in the adverb form is used here just like it is used in 1 Timothy 2:11. It says in 1 Timothy 2:2

1 Timothy 2:2

It says, 2Pray that (skipping now to the end) that we may lead a quiet (there is the word) a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.

Now I think the use of the word silent or quiet there gives us a tone and an extent of meaning that is very helpful in understanding what Paul is commending here. When you say you should live a quiet life, you don’t mean an absolutely silent life, that don’t mean you can’t talk to your neighbour, it don’t mean you can’t talk to your husband or the policeman on the corner. The word seems to carry the idea of being untroubled and serene and content. Maybe a better translation and silent would be quietness – that carries a little different connotation than the absoluteness that we tend to hear in the word silent – no words coming out of your mind. The other use of the word is right at the end of 1 Timothy 2:12 the reason this use of silent or quiet is important is because of its opposite.

1 Timothy 2:12

It says, “12I do not permit a woman to teach or have authority over men (and then literally the text says) but (the big strong but) to be silent.

So you put the two together not to have authority over men but to be silent. They are alternatives, they are like opposites here. In other words the quietness being commanded here is the opposite of using speech to exercise authority over men. Don’t exercise authority over men but instead remain in quietness in this regard.

Now can we generalise what sort of quietness then does Paul have in mind here? And here is the first thing I would infer so far from the text. He has in mind a kind of quietness that respects and honours the leadership of the men God has called to oversee the church. Let me say that again, it is the kind of quietness that respects and honours the leadership of the men God has called to oversee the church.

1 Timothy 2:11

Says, “11Have quietness in all submissiveness. 12quietness is the opposite of authority over men.”

So you see what, you can see the thrust or the point being made here. Quietness instead of submissiveness, quietness instead of authority. You can see those two things fitting very nicely together here. So the point is not so much as we can see from 1 Timothy 2:2 absolute wordlessness, the point is being sure that the speech that comes out of your mouth does not compromise does compromise the authority being spoken of here which we will talk about in a moment that is coming from men. Now we are going to come back to that and unfold that in more practical terms in just a moment.


Let’s go to word number two. We were just focusing on the word quiet or silent there and now we are focusing on the word teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12. How extensive is this prohibition?

1 Timothy 2:12

12I do not permit a woman to teach.

Now probably one way to go about answering that would be to look at places where Paul talks about women teaching or other writers in the New Testament talk about women teaching. So let’s look at two or three of those. For example in Titus 2:3 he speaks of the older women teaching the younger women in regard to their family affairs and he says.

Titus 2:3

3They are to teach what is good, 4and so train the younger women to love their husbands and children (and so on,)

And so there is a call for women to teach what is good to the younger women. Another example is in 2 Timothy 3:14.

2 Timothy 3:14

14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it

We looked at this a couple of Sunday nights ago when we were talking about Christian education and here Paul is simply telling Timothy to remember from whom he learned the things of the scripture and the book makes very plain who that is 1 Timothy 1:5 it is Lois and it is Eunice that is his grandmother and his mother and Paul makes a great deal out of the character of these teachers. Remember from whom you learnt these things Timothy because the one from whom you learned them also has a bearing on whether you should stand by them.

The third illustration is not from Paul but from Luke in Acts it is Priscilla in Acts 18:26.

Acts 18:26

It says, “26when Priscilla andAquila heard Apollos, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately.

So Aquilaand Priscilla together take Apollos aside in private so as not to embarrass him I guess and they together improve upon his doctrine.

Now in view of those three illustrations as examples I would say it is unlikely that every kind of teaching is being forbidden to women in 1 Timothy 2:12. There are examples of older women teaching younger women, there are examples of teaching of children, there are examples of a wife and a husband together correcting teaching evidently a confused uninformed Apollos. Is it possible then to generalise, to say something as a general principle that would help give guidance in a lot of different circumstances about well what is being forbidden if anything here and what is being permitted? When Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach.”

Now I think rather than just filling up the word with teach with anything you would like it to mean or I would like it to mean we might do well to go to the next phrase put the two together and let the tone and the parameters of the prohibition be determined by the pair.

1 Timothy 2:12

You see what I mean in the next phrase, “12I do not permit a woman to teach, or to exercise authority over men.”

So I think this is the least we could say and I think it is probably the point namely the kind of teaching that is being spoken of here that is being denied to women is some kind of teaching that relates to authority – teach and exercise authority go together here. I don’t allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority. So at least one general thing I think we could say is this Paul forbids women to teach where that teaching is an exercise as authority over men. Paul forbids women to teach where that teaching is an exercise of authority over men. That is the bottom line in this text by putting those two things together Paul seems to at least say that, and in view of the other teaching that is going on in the New Testament we would probably be careful not to go too far beyond that in what we say.

But now that of course raises this question: what do you mean authority? What is this authority? Can you say anything about this authority that would help us understand what is going on here. So let’s turn now to the third word.


We have looked at silence, we have looked at teaching, and now we look thirdly at authority. Now the key to unlocking what authority means comes from a real interesting observation that I think you can all make if you look at it closely. When you read the rest of 1 Timothy and you study the qualifications for elders in the next seven verses of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 – what you find is that elders in this book are given two main responsibilities in the church. Elders by the way now for those of you who haven’t been in on the series that we have been doing is virtually synonymous in the New Testament with pastors, overseers, and bishops. Elders is used here and bishop at the beginning of 1 Timothy 3 and what we see is they fundamentally have two responsibilities:

You can use different words for it, here are three;

1)     oversight

2)     governance

3)     ruling

The other responsibility is teaching or instruction or preaching. The moral I mean the doctrinal guardians and the spiritual overseers. Those would be the two spheres where elders are given primary responsibility. Now let me show you this, you could see it in these verses 1 Timothy 3:1-7 but the easiest place to see it is in 1 Timothy 5:17.

1 Timothy 5:17

17Let the elders who rule (or you could say govern or oversee) well be considered worthy of double honour especially those who labour in preaching and teaching.

So elders rule or govern and they teach or preach and maybe some of you remember in Acts 20:28 where it says the Holy Spirit has put you elders into the church as oversees to pastor the flock of God – oversight and feeding, governance and teaching are the two responsibilities given to the eldership in the church. Now is it coincidental I ask you and I hardly see this pointed out anywhere in all the articles and books that I read on this issue. Is it coincidental in 1 Timothy 2:12 that it is precisely these two things that are forbidden to the women in the church?

1 Timothy 2:12

12I do not permit women to teach or to exercise authority over men

Which I now say the easiest way to paraphrase that is this: women ought not to be elders in the church. I think that is the clearest way to restate the parameters of 1 Timothy 2:12. The elders are charged with leadership and instruction, they are given the primary responsibility over the church like that is the summary of their job description. The leadership, governance, oversight and the teaching, preaching, doctrinal guardianship for the church and so Paul says now to women I don’t permit women to do those two things. They ought not to be invested with those two responsibilities in the church.

So what can we say about the authority that we are talking about now where it says, “I don’t allow a woman to have authority or exercise authority over men?” I think we can say that it is the authority of the eldership. It is just that simple – the authority that God gives to the elders.

Now what is that though? You see one of the confusing things on this whole debate is that there is just loads of people who don’t believe in leadership in the church. They don’t believe that there is any such thing as authority in church and that is the easiest solution to putting men and women on exactly the same roles. If you don’t have any kind of authority or leadership structure in the church then there is no problem with male and female. You saw the problem by ruling out the New Testament teaching about eldership. Well you just can’t do that if you believe I don’t think in the authority of scripture. But you can say something revolutionary about the leadership of these elders. Just the way Paul revolutionises the leadership of husbands. For example you go right back to Jesus in Luke 22:26

Luke 22:26

And he says, “26let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.

Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 2 Corinthians 13:10.

2 Corinthians 13:10

Says God has given me authority in the church not for tearing down or destroying but for building up.

And thirdly 1 Peter 5:3.

1 Peter 5:3

Peter says to the elders in the churches, “3do not domineer over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock.”

And you know that he is referring back to that time when he saw Jesus on his knees washing his feet and saying, “as I have done unto you, so do to one another.” Every elder in the church is called to then servant authority, servant leadership. So elder, authority, or elder, leadership is servant leadership and isn’t it interesting then and this is a remarkable thing. That is why teaching is at the heart of the exercise of this authority. Because you don’t in the church you don’t exercise authority by coercion or political manoeuvrings – you exercise authority by teaching and persuasion. And if an elder cannot show the church it is in this book he has no authority. But derivatively he is called to give guidance in the understanding of the book and in so far as he can lead people into the book. He has then that derivative kind of leadership capacity in the church.

Now I think it would be helpful to just step back here and do for the eldership authority and submission to it what we did for headship and submission last week. Namely to give definitions to them and this might be the most helpful thing I could say this morning. So let me try to give a definition of authority as it is to be exercised by the elders and submission as it is to be exercised by everybody else men and women. Here it is: authority refers to the divine calling of spiritual gifted men to take primary responsibility as elders for Christ-like servant leadership and teaching in the church. You see I am modelling that definition almost word for word on the headship of the husband in the home and I think that is not accidental, that the two go hand in hand.

Now submission here is my definition of that and I am defining it with 1 Timothy 2:11 in view where it says, “be silent in all submissiveness”: submission refers to the divine calling of the rest of the church male and female to honour and affirm the leadership of the elders and to be equipped by it for the hundreds and hundreds of various ministries available to men and women in service to Christ.

Let me say that again now: submission refers to the divine calling of the rest of the church both men and women to honour and affirm the leadership of the elders and to be equipped by it for the hundreds and I would not be using overstatement to say thousands of various ministries available to men and women in the service of Christ.

And that last point maybe very important because for men and women who have a heart to minister and every man and woman ought to have a heart to minister – to save souls, to heal broken lives, to resist the devil, to meet needs. There ought to be – there are fields of opportunity that are simply endless in their scope. Every man and woman in this room who wants to serve the living God to lay your life out to meet the needs of as many people as you can, have one thousand fields of opportunity endlessly open to you in this world. And God intends to equip and mobilise the saints every saint man and woman through accompany of spiritual men who take primary responsibility for leadership and teaching in the church.

And I know that there are many voices today who claim to know a better way to equip and mobilise men and women for ministry than this way. But I commend to you this morning with all my heart the plain meaning of these verses that manhood and womanhood mesh better in ministry when men take primary responsibility for leadership and teaching. Manhood and womanhood are better preserved, better nurtured, more fulfilled, more fruitful in this church order than any other and I commend this to you for your belief and for your behaviour. Because number one it is what these verses teach as the order of the church. God inspired these words and God is good and has the best interests of you and his church and world on his heart, and what we are going to do next week is pick this text up at 1 Timothy 2:13-14 and then conclude the series next Sunday by broadening it out to ask what is it like to be male and female or man and woman just in society in general? What are the dynamics implied in texts like this for relating as single and married?

The Closing Prayer

Let’s pray. Oh Father in heaven we proclaim together now to you that you are not dead, you are alive. You have spoken and you have ordained that in the home husbands be Christ-like servant leaders, wives be willing responsive partners who honour and affirm that leadership and carry it through with him into action. And we believe that in the household of God you have appointed that there be heads, servant leaders that are men whom you have called and anointed to bear the primary responsibility for the oversight, the governance, the leadership, and for the doctrinal guardianship, and teaching in the church. In order that all the saints men and women might no longer watch television but pour their lives out for a dying world in Jesus name amen.


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