Paul continues to discuss Christian behaviour that will help to convince people outside the church of the truth and power of the gospel. Here the focus is on what goes on in the church—in particular how the church worships God. Paul had already dealt with problems in the Corinthian church where rowdy and disorderly worship turned unbelievers away (1 Corinthians 14:22–25). In Ephesus the problems seem to be disunity, and the lack of modesty and submission.
Imagine a church where the men pray fervently, but also fight with one another fiercely. No one would be convinced of the gospel from their behaviour. Therefore Paul requires that men in church pray without “anger or disputing” (v.8). It does not mean that there should be no differences of opinion at all in church, but differences should be handled in a mature Christian way that shows a deeper unity in Christ. It is for this reason that Jesus prayed for the unity of His followers, so that the world might believe in Him (John 17:21,23).
In sophisticated Ephesus, the immodesty of fashionable society was being imported by some women into the church. Therefore Paul has to insist that Christian women “dress modestly, with decency and propriety” (v.9). Rather than focus on their hairstyles, jewellery and expensive and stylish clothes, they should spend time and energy on their inner character and good deeds (v.10). Character is far more important than cosmetics. After all, what adorns the doctrine of God is not our dressing or cosmetic attractiveness, but our inner character and outward good deeds (Titus 2:9–10).
There was also the problem of unsubmissive women, who in their newfound Christian freedom were doing things in church that destroyed their witness in a society where such things were looked upon negatively. It is in this context that Paul forbids women to teach men or exercise authority over them in church (vv.11–12). Modern ears may find this offensive or irrelevant, although Paul uses biblical principles drawn from creation and the fall to argue his case. Paul seems to suggest that motherhood may be an important aspect of a woman’s calling (v.15). Other biblical passages will help us have a fuller picture of the place of women in the home, church and society (Genesis 1:27, 2:18; Judges 4:4–5; Proverbs 31:10–31; Luke 8:1–3; Acts 21:9; Romans 16:1–6; 1 Corinthians 11:3,8–9, 14:34–35,40; Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 5:22–24; Colossians 3:18; 1 Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:3–5; 1 Peter 3:1,4–6).
What modern versions of disunity, immodesty and insubordination do you find in the church? How do they drive people away from Jesus?
Can you remember Bible passages that speak of the dignity and ministry of women (e.g. Galatians 3:28; Acts 16:1; John 20:17–18)? How would you reconcile these verses with what Paul instructs in this passage?