Paul's Instructions on Prayer and the Role of Men and Women in the Church

Paul provides teaching on the importance and various types of prayers to be offered, as well as valuable background information concerning the proper roles men and women have in the church.
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In chapter two of this letter, Paul will move from personal encouragement of Timothy, by confirming his teaching and the necessity of disciplining false teachers, to instructions concerning prayer and its purposes.

In this section, Paul will remind Timothy that prayers are to be made for all men so that mankind might come to know the truth and be saved. For this reason, Paul stresses that prayer is an absolute necessity in the work of bringing the lost to salvation. In addition to this, he also comments on the proper role of men and women in the church who are committed to the task of bringing the gospel to the world.

Instructions on Prayer — 2:1-7

Types of prayer

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings,
- I Timothy 2:1a

Paul describes different types of prayers and objectives we should strive for in our conversations with God.

A. Supplication (entreaties)

This means a specific request or a request within a certain situation. For example, "Dear God, please help my husband to find a job."

B. Prayer

A general word referring to all types of prayers that we make throughout our day (e.g. request, adoration, praise, confession, etc.).

Note the difference between supplication and prayer: we should always pray that our families be saved; a supplication, however, takes place when we pray that our cousin, who has begun to study the Bible, obey the gospel. Supplications are more specific.

C. Intercession (Petition)

This word suggests a more intimate relationship with God. It is a pleading or a begging of God, without restraint, on someone else's behalf. In Romans 8:27, 34, Paul says that the Spirit and Jesus do this for Christians. We can intercede for others with God because the Spirit is within us (Acts 2:38) and Christ is among us (Matthew 28:20).

D. Thanksgiving

Gratitude is the first of the heavenly virtues. Ingratitude, on the other hand, is the first step that leads to total ungodliness (Romans 1:21). Cultivating a grateful attitude in prayer and in life leads us to a more peaceful heart and joyful spirit. Gratitude for what God provides enables us to enjoy our blessings without guilt.

Who to Pray for

1b…be made on behalf of all men, 2for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.
- I Timothy 2:1b-2

Prayer for all because salvation for all begins with prayer. Even those in authority, kings and rulers, are to be subjects of our prayers. At that time, there was an issue in the church where some felt that it was not right to pray for pagan rulers. Paul, however, teaches them that when society is at peace and running well, it is easier to proclaim the gospel and for this reason it is necessary to pray for those whose charge it is to maintain that social order.

  • Tranquil and quiet - A calm and orderly nation without strife describes the priority task of rulers in society, this and to maintain justice as well.
  • Godliness and dignity - These words describe a Christian's state of mind in an environment of quietness and tranquility. Godliness means that one is devoted to God. Dignity describes one who is serious or sober-minded.

Although these attributes are best developed in times of peace, they can also be cultivated in times of stress and war.

Why should we pray for these things? (verses 3-7)

A. This is God's will

3This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
- I Timothy 2:3-4

God is pleased when this environment is present. These prayers are offered, therefore, because they promote His ultimate goal, which is the saving of all men. God wants everyone to know the truth and to be saved, not just a chosen few, and this is best achieved in a society that is orderly and at peace.

B. God's will is worked out with the gospel

5For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. 7For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth; I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
- I Timothy 2:5-7

There is only one God and one manner in which men can be saved (through the preaching of the gospel), therefore, any environment that promotes or facilitates this activity is pleasing to God. In verse 6 Paul makes a parenthetical statement reviewing the main points of the gospel message (Christ's atoning death to redeem or to pay for our sins).

Since this letter was designed to ultimately serve the church at large, its contents were meant to be taught publicly. Paul, therefore, takes this opportunity to mention the gospel in general terms and uses the word ransom (ransom for all). A ransom is a payment made to buy something back. In this sense, Jesus is the ransom given to buy back our moral debts owed to God and thus free us from the penalty of death at judgment due to our sins.

This, not the Gnostic teachers' ideas, was the true gospel and manner of salvation. The testimony, given at the proper time, refers to the many who had proclaimed this message throughout history:

  • Mankind's salvation to come, spoken of by the prophets.
  • God announcing Christ's deity and work to the Apostles:
    • at His baptism
    • at the Mount of Transfiguration
    • at His resurrection
  • The proclamation of the gospel by the Apostles at Pentecost
    • God declared His plan to save man at proper times and events throughout history so that everyone could receive the good news.
  • Paul concludes that he has been chosen to be one of these proclaimers (in a long line of proclaimers) about the manner in which God would save mankind.
    • This is why he says that he was chosen to be a preacher, a proclaimer and an Apostle (special messenger).
    • His particular mission was to bring the message of the gospel to the non-Jews (Gentiles).

Unlike the Gnostic teachers, he does not lie but always teaches the truth faithfully. This truth that he proclaims to the Gentiles is that we are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Instructions on Conduct and Role — 2:8-15

A. Men

Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.
- I Timothy 2:8

Verse 8 summarizes and climaxes verses 1-7.

Since God wants all to live in quietness and security so that the saving gospel can be preached, we should be busy making all kinds of prayers for people in power, like kings and others in positions of influence.

With this in mind, Paul specifies that he wants men (the word is not generic. It is not mankind, or humans. The Greek word is for a male, actually for a husband) to lead the prayer. When the types of prayers he mentions in the first chapter are prayed, the men are the ones who should be doing the praying.

"In every place" refers to every place where public worship is offered; since this letter is an instruction to the church, not to the family unit, and is meant to direct the ministers in how to conduct church affairs, especially when it gathers publicly.

Paul also specifies that those who pray are not to be just any male, but the ones that are qualified: only those men who could lift up holy hands (lifting hands was the Jewish style of prayer, a different posture than today). Paul is more concerned with the man's character than the style of his posture in prayer. The term holy refers to a person who is pure and undefiled, who is clean. How could an immoral brother's prayer be effective on behalf of another, without wrath or dissension? This description refers to one who is not a cause of trouble or division in the church. Men who lead in prayer have the responsibility to remain pure and peaceful. Better to have no prayer than a prayer by one who is not qualified.

The man that prays brings all of the hopes and needs of the church before God in prayer. He, therefore, should be worthy and prepared to go before the King of glory!

Culture vs. Command

This verse concerning prayer and who is to lead it brings up a common point of discussion, and sometimes division, in the assembly: the role of women in the church.

There are various opinions on this issue. Here are four main positions:

  1. The conservative view. Brethren who hold this opinion teach that women should do nothing in public worship, except sit and listen, both during the worship and the Bible class. Women never speak, period.
  2. The mainline position. Here, Christian women help, perhaps by preparing the elements for the communion. They do participate in Bible class and share their ideas but they do not teach a mixed class of adults (male-female) and do not preach during the worship assembly.
  3. The progressive view. These brethren encourage women to participate in the public assembly by passing the communion trays, leading prayer, and they believe that woman can serve as deacons (deaconess).
  4. The liberal view. In short, women and men can do all of the ministries, including serving as elders, deacons or preachers.

The differences in positions are caused by a disagreement over the concepts of culture and command. In other words, what belongs to culture and can be changed as culture evolves, and what belongs to Divine commands, which are given by God and not subject to change. Deciding which parts and activities in the church belong to either cultural mores or Divine commands cause the differences that exist between various groups and thus create division.

A. A modern example of changing culture in the church - dress codes: Today, many women wear jeans to church. One hundred years ago, however, a woman wearing pants to church, let alone jeans, would have been scandalous. Today, however, in our culture, we think nothing of it. This practice is part of evolving culture and the church has to adapt as things like this change.

B. An ancient example of changing culture in the church - foot washing: While sharing the Passover meal with them, Jesus told His Apostles to wash each other's feet (John 13:5-15). While actually washing their feet that night He said to them, "If I, your teacher, wash your feet, you should wash each other's feet."

Does this, therefore, mean that every time we have communion we should wash each other's feet? In answering this question we must first understand that in that time and culture, foot washing was a sign of hospitality and respect. Those walking on dusty roads wearing sandals were welcomed into a home with the opportunity to bathe their dirty and tired feet before entering their host's home.

  • Today, we have cars, shoes, carpets and slippers. The cultural ritual of foot washing is gone, but the meaning behind it remains. Today, we do other things to show our love, welcome, respect and humility before others. For example, we offer our own room to sleep in for overnight guests or we give them a favorite comfortable place to sit while they visit and offer them their preferred refreshments.

Jesus taught His Apostles to humble themselves, to respect others and to offer hospitality. He used a cultural form of that era, foot washing, to make His point.

  • The Apostles continued to teach the church to humble itself, as well as love and respect others. Paul taught this in Ephesians 4:31-5:2 and John did so in I John 4:7. But they did not command foot washing as the way to demonstrate this Christian humility, respect and love. It was an eternal principle wrapped in the first-century custom of foot washing.

We have other ways and cultural forms today that enable us to practice the eternal principle of love and hospitality.

C. An ancient example of Divine command - baptism: Jesus commanded His disciples to be baptized as their response of faith to the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:16). At that time, baptism (immersion in water) was an ancient religious cultural form used by both pagans and Jews, usually as a purification rite.

Jesus took this form and gave it His meaning (regeneration). He tied this practice to the gospel message and commanded the Apostles to preach this to the world (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). The Apostles taught and preserved this rite in their writings. They commanded that it remain unchanged as part of the gospel message (Galatians 3:26-28). This was a religious and cultural form that was given by Jesus to keep, and confirmed by the Apostles' teaching (Acts 2:38; 22:16). Baptism was and continues to be an enduring command and remains despite the changes in culture since it was introduced because:

  • Jesus commanded it.
  • He imposed it upon all those who would become His disciples.
  • The Apostles taught and preserved this rite in their sacred writings.
  • They taught other Christians and preached to non-Christians that baptism was a necessary step in the process of becoming a Christian.
  • This remains a command today and is meant to be kept until Jesus returns (Ephesians 4:5).

Many issues of disagreement, therefore, between liberals and conservatives crop up when determining what is a command and thus not changeable, and what is subject to the natural changes that can be made when things are in the area of man-made customs and cultural practices. Churches, therefore, that have women who serve as deacons or practicing homosexuals who serve as ministers do so because they consider certain issues simply cultural things that can be changed to suit today's mindset. For example, those who use the "cultural" argument to defend their practices claim that homosexuality was forbidden in the first-century simply because it was not accepted in Jewish culture (of course this was so because it was forbidden in Scripture - Leviticus 18:22). Their conclusion is that today we are more permissive of this in our culture, so it has become acceptable in churches as well.

The key is to realize that some things in the Bible are based on culture and subject to change, and some are eternal commands and not to be changed ever. The goal is being able to know the difference and being gracious with those who disagree.

The point of all this is as follows, in this epistle Paul specifically calls on the men to pray in every place. Was this instruction given based on culture or command? One could legitimately make the argument that it was a cultural norm for men to be in leadership roles at that time, especially in Jewish society. However, it was also true that women served in pagan temples, taking significant leadership roles in Greek and Roman religious rites.

The answer lies in noting that Paul is teaching this to the church as a general instruction, and this instruction is confirmed in another passage with even stronger language.

34The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. 35If they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church. 36Was it from you that the word of God first went forth? Or has it come to you only?
If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment.

- I Corinthians 14:34-37

Paul was giving a command for the entire church and had the right to do so because the Lord had authorized him as a chosen Apostle (Romans 1:1) to teach this concerning men and women's roles in the assembly.

Also, there is no other teaching that contradicts this anywhere in the New Testament. This practice was universally followed in the early church when it gathered for public worship. That holy and peace-loving Christian men were to lead in prayer whenever the church met for public worship was what Paul taught and the only teaching provided on this matter in the New Testament.

It may be tempting to change this in light of different attitudes about women in our culture today. However, we have to remember that our first goal is not to follow the fashion of today's culture but to remain faithful to the teachings of God's word.

Our task is to know what God desires and carefully follow that, even when it is not popular.

B. Women

Paul explains how men are to express godliness (holy hands, etc.). Now, he explains how women are to do the very same thing.

9Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, 10but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.
- I Timothy 2:9-10

Note that he says "likewise." In the same manner that the men are to comply to God's will, so are the women. He teaches that the women who claim to be godly need to practice or avoid certain things. Of course, the things a woman does in order to be godly are the same today as they were then. Jesus charged men with certain things to do that do not change. The same thing can be said of women. Both men and women do similar things today to achieve this state. Being honest, kind and righteous are things that have no gender. This epistle, therefore, applies to women of the first century in the same way that it does to women of our day.

Two thousand years ago, therefore, Paul said that if women wanted to be seen as "righteous" there were some things that they needed to do:

  • Adorn - They needed to cover and surround themselves with things that were good and godly.
  • Proper clothing - The word proper, here, provides the context for this teaching. Clothing that was proper for the gathering of the saints at that time. Proper in the sense that the clothing was indicative and reflective of other religious and holy women of the era.

This is where the wearing of a veil by a Christian woman became an issue. In first century culture the veil meant that a woman was self-controlled and respected the leadership of her father or her husband. Without the veil a woman could not freely and easily move about in that society. At that time, veils were the proper way to express this truth. Today, however, they do not represent this. On the contrary, if a woman wears a veil today she is actually separating herself from the culture (in non-Muslim societies).

The covering of oneself also pointed to one's attitude of modesty. It was the clothing and the attitude together that mirrored a person's true character. Paul describes the proper attitude and behavior that a Christian woman should cultivate then as well as now. For example:

  • Purity and decency, as opposed to suggestive or sensual – A woman who reveals her body in some immodest way reveals her lack of love for her Christian brothers, who may have to struggle with lust and other sins, provoked by her immodesty and their weaknesses. After all, love is kind (I Corinthians 13:4).
  • Modesty also refers to a freedom from conceit, pride or vanity – Many women spend more time preparing the outside before coming to worship, but very little time preparing the inside.

Paul links the word "discreetly" to the word "modesty." The word discreet does not simply mean that a person can keep a secret:

  • It means to be sober or serious-minded or spiritually-minded.
  • Not given to showing off, not ostentatious, frivolous or silly.
  • Not overdressed to create a false or puffed up attitude.
  • Also, not under-dressed to create a false image of poverty, or not caring about one's appearance.
  • It means to be mature and reflect that maturity in how one dresses, lives and relates to others, as well as how we use our resources.

Paul says that the way to adorn or cover ourselves with modesty and discretion is not by wearing certain clothing or jewelry, or the way the hair is fixed. It seemed that in the church at that time there was an attempt by women to make statements about their position in society by what they wore and how their hair was done (note that nothing has changed).

Paul is not saying that a woman cannot look well groomed, wear jewelry or have her hair done. He is merely saying that these are not the things that create a sense of modesty and discretion in a Christian woman. He also says that a woman achieves true modesty and discretion by covering herself with good deeds. Jewels, fashionable clothing, makeup and hair are not wrong in themselves (with God, all these things are neutral). However, if a woman depends on these things to please God or to be noticed by Him, she will be disappointed in the end.

The point is that God notices and blesses obedient, humble, godly and modest men and women in the church.

Attitude of Women While Learning

Paul leaves off the idea of how a woman needs to be – pleasing to God, and moves on to the issue of how women should conduct themselves while learning and worshiping in the assembly which, he has previously taught, needs to be led by men.

A woman must quietly receive instructions with entire submissiveness.
- I Timothy 2:11


Here, the word quiet (Greek - HÉSUCHIA) refers to one's quiet disposition or tranquil nature, which is a manifestation of a meek and gentle inner life.

It is an attitude of mind and does not mean to keep absolute silence, otherwise how could a woman sing praises to God, confess Christ or proclaim the amen! It is the ability to learn in a spirit that does not disturb others. Just because a person does not teach or lead, or says little in class, does not mean that they are quietly receiving instruction. Quietly receiving instruction is learning in the spirit of gentleness and humility. This spirit will be evident even in a woman who asks questions.


Submissiveness is her outward attitude (quiet is the inward attitude). In these circumstances, it would mean that she neither takes on the role of teacher nor judges the teacher. Submissive, as a student, is to learn what is being taught with a mind to apply something to one's life, rather than listening to the lesson and judging the ability of the teacher and his knowledge.

The point is that a woman is to cultivate an attitude which promotes personal growth and knowledge within her, and harmony with others around her.

But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.
- I Timothy 2:12


An apposition is a grammatical construction where two words refer to a common thing or person. For example, today I prayed to the Lord Jesus. In this sentence, Lord and Jesus are two words that refer to the same person. Paul uses this apposition device in verse 12 with the words teach and authority. In the Jewish culture, the one who taught was also the one who had the authority.

In regard to women, Paul is saying that a woman is not to exercise authority over a brother in the body of Christ when it meets. In the church, teaching and preaching involves the exercise of spiritual authority. It did then and it continues to do so now.

  • When there is a mixed assembly, men are to provide the spiritual leadership embodied in the teacher's role.
  • Women can teach, however. They can teach other women, they can share the gospel and teach the unsaved, they can teach children.

The Bible is silent on women's role in the world of professional employment. There is nothing in the Scriptures that says a woman cannot work outside the home. A woman can become President of the United States and due the respect and authority that is associated with that position to the same degree that it would if a man held that role, but in the church she receives instruction quietly (even if she served as President in the world of politics). This is her challenge in the modern world. Obeying God in this question, against all social norms in our culture, is very difficult. We should note that men also balked at Jesus' teaching, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, in that they did not like the fact that they were to only have one wife. However, if they were to be faithful disciples they had to submit to teachings that were a personal challenge and not only those that were easy and advantageous to accept (i.e. all sins forgiven).

Two Reasons Why the Teaching on the Role of the Women in the Church is a Command and Not a Cultural Thing.

13For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. 14And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
- I Timothy 2:13-14

According to Paul, this teaching is eternal and unchangeable for two reasons:

1. God Created Man First, and Then Woman - verse 13

Man has the primary position in the creation, established by God, not society. Paul confirms this idea in I Corinthians 11:2-3. In the spiritual body of Christ (the church) all things function according to the spiritual order and the divine model, not the secular model. The church is not like society, the government or corporations. It is a spiritual entity and it is organized along spiritual lines. There is God, Christ, man and then woman: this is the divine order and this order is reflected in the church.

2. Woman Sinned First - verse 14

Eve was deceived into disobedience. Adam was not fooled; he was induced through his feelings for his wife. Because of this deception God reestablished (originally Adam and Eve were co-rulers of the creation - Genesis 1:28) the role of the woman as one of submission to her husband (this done to establish peace and order in the home and society. Otherwise man would use his natural physical strength to impose a position of superiority and woman would use her natural complex psychological make-up to usurp man's attempt to dominate her thus creating a never ending struggle between the sexes that would result in chaos). The position of submission was assigned to her by God because she answered Satan's seduction. She was seduced into exchanging her allegiance with her husband for a partnership with Satan and brought her husband into that union which led to their downfall and the ruin of mankind after them.

Her original position of co-rulership was replaced with her new role as submissive wife and her punishment was to be the birthing of children in sorrow and pain. Giving birth to a child was meant to be a happy experience but turned into a sorrowful and painful one for her and all women in the future. This is the idea that helps explain verse 15.

But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.
- I Timothy 2:15

This experience of birthing and raising children, however, would be turned into a favorable one because of her ultimate salvation. If she continued in this universal life-giver role, and she did so with faith, love, purity, modesty and good sense, she would survive child bearing and rearing, and would also survive death to be raised again (along with her husband) to eternal life when Jesus returned.


Paul sets the initial structure of the church by ordering it along fundamental lines of men and women. He establishes what is natural and what is eternal, what is commanded as well as what is cultural, and the roles that men and women should play in the body of Christ.

In the following section of his letter, Paul will discuss the qualifications of those men who are responsible for the leadership in the local church.

Discussion Questions

  1. Explain the various types of prayer from I Timothy 2:1.
  2. Explain why Paul encourages prayers for those who are responsible for his imprisonment (I Timothy 2:1-2).
  3. Why does Paul state we should pray (I Timothy 2:3-7)?
  4. How does Paul explain God's plan of salvation in I Timothy 2:5-7 and how does Paul express his role in this?
  5. How does I Timothy 2:8 serve as a conclusion and transition in Paul's instruction, and why is this important to us?
  6. How is I Timothy 2:8 related to I Timothy 2:12?
  7. Answer the following questions related to culture vs. command:
    1. Explain the four main discussion points related to culture vs. command and the role of women in the church.
    2. What are some current examples of culture and its impact on the church?
    3. How is baptism both a cultural practice and a command?
    4. How is the role of women in the church both a cultural practice and a command?
  8. Answer the following questions from I Timothy 2:8:
    1. Who is the "men" Paul is referring to?
    2. What does Paul mean by "every place"?
    3. How does "holy hands" relate to those offering prayers?
  9. How does Paul use "therefore" in I Timothy 2:9-10?
  10. How do you understand "modesty"?
  11. How does Paul's instruction to women in I Timothy 2:11-14 apply today?
  12. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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