Holy hands and simple clothes

Bible studyIn a discussion of prayer in 1 Timothy 2, Paul has some things to say to men and to women separately. Let’s look at the first section:

“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)

Rather than a word by word study, let me share some thoughts:

  • I don’t think Paul is saying that only men are to pray. He knew how to express that… and didn’t do so. (Few people limit Paul’s instructions in Titus 2:2 to men or 2:3 to women; why would we do so in this case?)
  • Paul is interested in men stopping their arguing and spending their time in prayer.
  • While this passage clearly shows that lifting hands is an acceptable prayer posture, I don’t think Paul is commanding that be done. He’s saying lift your hands in prayer, not in anger.
  • Women were to avoid showy clothes and hairstyles. (“Dress modestly” is contrasted with “dress ostentatiously” in the Bible. The concern isn’t about showing ankles or showing cleavage. It’s about showing off.)
  • If women wanted to “show off,” they were to do so with their good works. That’s a concern of Paul in 1 Timothy (note 1 Timothy 5:10).

One reason that we’ve focused on this passage as being about male-only prayer is we don’t want to live out the rest of it. Power struggles are common in the church; who wants to feel like they have to give that up to pray?

Somehow we’ve twisted “don’t wear expensive clothes” to “wear the best clothes you have.” Really?

And I come from a tradition that gave up hand lifting during prayer about a century ago; some people do it during songs, but few during prayer.

Here’s the summary: Don’t fight. Don’t try and outdo each other with your appearance. Outdo one another with good works. And pray.

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