The Theological Grounds for Orderly Public Gatherings

I. Introduction – In General, the concern of this passage is what order and concern should prevail in the church in its public gatherings 2:1-15. Since the corruption of the public meetings through false teachers was one of Paul’s central concerns in chapter one, he now continues with instructions about how godly order is to be maintained in the public meetings of the church. He begins with instructions as to the content and theological rationale behind public prayer. This kind of praying should be done by the men. When, in verse 8 Paul says “in every place” he seems to refer to a variety of places that public gatherings might be held. Though these principles could relate to family prayer and private prayer, the reference to “without anger or quarreling” seems to indicate a group in which the possibility of jealousy and envy might arise over the issue addressed in the first chapter, the necessary refusal of teaching opportunity for those that swerve from the purpose of the gospel, wander into vain discussion, and are without understanding of law and gospel. Public meetings must have such order and be so in accord with doctrinal truth that they proceed in holiness and without the uncertainty of procedure that gives opportunity for the immature or unqualified to co-opt the exercise and create confusion.



II. How should prayer in the context of public worship and instruction proceed?

A. Men must pray 2:1-8 –

  1. For men in all types of situations, but particularly those who maintain law and order 2:1f – In prayer of this sort, we recognize that the triune God who is our Savior also is the maker and controller of all things for his glory and for the expansion of the gospel to all nations. We are quite often constricted in the scope of our concern, but notice how the apostle points to four types of spiritual engagement we should be involved in as we look to God for his present governing of the nations and the openness of these nations to gospel preaching. Supplications seem to refer to requests for protection from things evil or dangerous; prayers tend to be for the bestowal of goods consistent with the will of God but also demonstrative of the abundant mercies of God; intercessions are particularly related to requests made for the benefit of others; thanksgivings recognize the sustaining hand of God in all situations and that every blessing is the direct result of his gracious provision. Our involvement with “all people” in prayer must go beyond vacuous and insipid generalities to thoughtful content consistent both with their situation and our understanding of those things that would bring God glory in each case.
  2. So that holiness of life and propagation of the gospel may proceed unhindered
  • In particular, we are to pray for those that are in authority and have pivotal influence on the way in which we relate to society in general. We have instruction to ask for wise and benevolent policies from them that will allow for a life undisturbed by oppression. Chief magistrates and subordinate magistrates all need divine wisdom and have a legitimate claim on the prayers of the people of God who desire benevolent rule from their hands. A peaceful and quiet life is not a bad thing for which to pray if it is used in the development of godliness and Christian dignity. We are not to use our freedom as an occasion to the flesh but by love to serve one another (Galatians 5:13). Oppressive, intrusive, and persecuting policies are an outrage on a population and will certainly lead to a special display of divine wrath (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; Revelation 19:1-3). These are decreed by God to aggravate the punishment of the wicked and purify the lives of the godly (Philippians 1:28, 29; 1 Peter 1:6-9).
  • Verse 3 – Praying for such conditions is a good thing, for living with dignity in human society is in itself a good thing before God. Though we should not be surprised at trials and persecutions (1 Peter1:6; 4:12-14) and should endure them both with joy and thanksgiving; the condition of peace and quiet to enable a free and unhindered access to all places of gospel witness is far preferable and is a positively moral good.
  • Verse 4 – This kind of stability and freedom in government allows the leaven of the gospel to permeate all levels of society and all ethnic groups. Oppressive persecuting societies hinder, and sometimes darken completely a population’s access to the wonderful words of forgiveness of sins from a merciful God. God’s will, his desire, is for the extension of salvation beyond the nation of the Messiah to all nations, to all people – God’s salvation is not for the Jews only or for one level of society only. By his grace it will indeed extend to every tribe and every tongue. A mystery of divine providence is that he uses evil rulers to retard greatly the access that the nations have to the gospel in Islamic countries and in atheized totalitarian regimes. But even in those situations, God’s word is not bound, but will reach and call forth the elect (2 Timothy 2:8-10). Paul’s ideal was free access; those that hindered such access displeased God (1 Thessalonians 2:15, 16), but he did not despair of God’s wisdom and power in accomplishing the calling of all the elect. Though he was bound in chains like a criminal (2 Timothy 2:9), this did not becloud his confidence that God would reach and save all his elect through his word. Peter himself recognized that this Pauline insight-by-revelation was difficult to understand, but nevertheless affirmed the same thing himself (2 Peter 1:8-10 and 3:9, 14-18)
  • The gods of the nations are no gods at all. Only Jehovah is God and he is the triune God, three persons in a single divine essence, which essence embraces the reality of personal distinctions in an eternal relationship of interpersonal fellowship, unblemished love, perfect harmony of will, and reciprocity of pleasure and delight. The Father is Father eternally, and from him the Son is eternally generated and the Spirit eternally proceeds; The Son is the Son eternally and, as generated by the Father is the express image, the perfect replication, of all the perfections of his divine attributes and glory (John 8:58; 10:15, 25, 30; 14:7-11; Colossians 1:13-15; Hebrews 1:3). The Son returns to the Father his pleasure in this status in the perfect communication flowing from him to the Father by the Spirit. The Spirit, in this double procession, perfectly enjoys the glory of the eternal relations between Father and Son, knows and embraces eternally all these perfections in perfect approval and love. The Spirit Himself constitutes the fullness of communication of all the infinitely excellent wonder of divine perfections (“yea, the deep things of God” 1 Corinthians 2:10) from the Father to the Son and in turn, returns from the Son to the Father as the personal expression of joy that the Son has in his essential union with the Father. These eternal relationships intrinsic to the eternal Trinity show themselves in personally appropriate ways in salvation. So, it is the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and all these blessings are perfectly brought to us “in Christ” and sealed to us by the Holy Spirit, who by his very nature knows the depths of God. (Ephesians 1:3-14; 1 Corinthians 2:10, 11).
    • There is one God, not many, and he is the triune God. Reconciliation must be made to this God and no other – He has created all, all are under his judgment, and no truth exists but that which extends from his nature and the creation that reflects his glory.
    • For this reason, there is only one mediator between sinful humanity and the God who created them; All the factors involved in the reconciliation of sinful moral beings created in the image of God must come in a way that accords with the perfection of his moral nature. Just any way will not do, but only the way contrived by divine wisdom, the work of a mediator who has pure interest in the well-being of both parties involved in the need for reconciliation.
    • Christ Jesus, the anointed one whose name is Jesus of Nazareth, who represents fully the interests of a sinful humanity for he himself partakes fully of our humanity (cf. Hebrews 2:10-18). He also represents fully the interests of divine holiness, justice, and goodness and is the embodiment of mercy in that he is God in the flesh, our Lord (1:2). No other being is a fit mediator between God and man.
    • Christ Jesus, the man, mediated by becoming a ransom as he taught as a startling manifestation of servanthood in Mark 10:45 – a payment given in substitute for many. As a ransom he meant that the whole price, the entire cost of freeing his people, the “many”, from certain death as the wages of sin was paid by him instead of them. The “many” are the “all” in this passage. They were under obligation to pay the wages of death. In fact, they themselves were to be the wages since the payment must be an actual infliction of wrath on their persons, for their having served sin; but he substituted himself [antilutron].
    • Only he could provide the ransom – for “All:” not every person but every race. All that ever were saved or ever will be must come through him (John 14:6) for he alone is the ransom. No other ransom can be found. That this ransom extends beyond the ethnic parameters of the physical ethnically identified descendants of Abraham into the Gentiles, the nations, was an astounding reality that had to be treated by all the apostles.
    • Verse 6 b – “Testimony given at the proper time” – This testimony is the peculiar glory of the new covenant, and is now announced through those commissioned by Christ himself as his apostles. This message extended to the Gentiles and redefined the manner of identifying the people of God by the spiritual qualities set forth in the New Covenant (Ezekiel 36, 37; Jeremiah 31:31-40). “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising . . l The sons of foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you” (Isaiah 60:3, 10).Their unending habitation of a purified and abundantly productive land is now fulfilled in the preaching of the gospel of Christ as fundamental to the new birth and the thus-created new people. “Therefore, he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance . . . If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. . . . For here we have no lasting city; but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 9:15, 11:15-16; 13:14).
  • Verse 7 – This reality shows that Paul’s mission to the Gentiles is warranted.
    • His calling included three offices – Preacher, that is a herald, a proclaimer; apostle, sent with a particular message, not of his own devising but as a faithful steward of the one who sent him; teacher, unfolding the implications of this message layer after layer for the change of both mind and action of those who hear.
    • He was responsible for their knowing doctrine both in faith and in truth. There can be no faith in something that is false. Belief and trust in a falsehood is the essence of idolatry and guarantees a failed life and a violent eternity in wrestling with an immovable justice. Paul defined his apostleship in this two fold manner, for the proclamation of something “true” in order to evoke a heartfelt submission to such truth (“faith”) [cf. Gal 3:1-5, 23-29 –where Paul insists that falling from the truth is the same as a falling from faith and grace]. This same formula in Titus 1:1 –“Paul, a servant of God, particularly an apostle of Jesus Christ, focused precisely on the faith of God’s elect and conjointly their knowledge of the truth that produces true worship and piety intent on the hope of eternal life which the unlying God promised before the ages of chronological time began” (my translation). The same was true in his proclamation to the Thessalonians: “God chose you from the beginning [or as the first-fruits] through sanctification by the Spirit and beliefin the ”That the Messiah was also for the Gentiles, that God’s electing purpose extended to the Gentiles and that Abraham’s seed by faith would include them was the great mystery revealed in the apostolic preaching (Acts 10:44-48). See Colossians 1:27.
  1. Confidence in the singularity and exclusivity of the Gospel Message – All of these things meet in the sure conclusion that no other God saves, no other mediator qualifies to be a propitiation, provide a ransom, and effect reconciliation, and no other message is true.


B. Women should focus on quietness, submission, and modesty – The men must perform their public ministry of prayer with holiness “lifting up holy hands” so the women must participate in the assembly with appropriate submission fostering holiness.

  1. Women likewise must focus on holiness as that which most powerfully advances the worship experience. Neither clothing, not hairstyle, nor jewelry should be ostentatious but discreet and modest 2:9 – Matthew Henry wrote “They must be very modest in their apparel, not affecting gaudiness, gaiety, or costliness . . . because they have better ornaments with which they should adorn themselves.” Neither men nor women should be captive to style if style exudes ostentation and immodesty. She must be characterized by good works – The concern of a woman should be not to draw the attention of other women by the stylishness of their habit, and certainly not to draw the gaze of men by any hint of sensuality, but to reflect a life that is given to God in doing works of help and mercy and in bringing that spirit of service and humility to the public assembly. Women receive particular instruction about their apparel because they are more likely to entice both envy and lust through indiscreet clothing.
  2. She must not assume a position of instruction [that is in the assembly of the entire congregation] but maintain a position of being instructed –She may encourage a man to pursue his task faithfully {Acts 18:24-28; Phil. 4:23,] and may be of service in teaching in her home as both Timothy’s mother and grandmother instructed him effectively in the Holy writings. She must not, however, be the instructor or the leader in the corporate, public period of exhortation, supplication, and instruction.
  3. Paul’s Rationale for this instruction to women
  • In creation, she was created as one suited to help Adam, but not to rule him. Adam already was established as the primary one to relate to the world as an instructor by naming the animals; at the same time he saw that no other creature was fit for him for fellowship, emotional fulfillment, propagation of his own kind, and mutuality of joy. The woman, therefore, was created out of Adam’s own body in order to show her perfect fitness for him and essential equality to him, not as a dominant spirit but as a helper. “Neither was man created for woman but woman for man.” (1 Corinthians 11:9) Not all men should teach for many men do not have the gifts to synthesize truth, develop and apply ideas of truth from Scripture, and communicate these effectively (“Able to teach” 3:2). But men as a class are not excluded from the teaching office in public worship; women are.
  • The fall occurred when Satan used the woman as his avenue to temptation, deceit, and disobedience (Genesis 3:1-6). For this reason she is given a very personal reminder of the disorder that influenced the fall.
  1. The reminders of childbirth
  • It is painful, thus reminds us of the Fall, but not designed to kill the mother. Though the fall brought us all under condemnation, the woman is extended the promise that even with this particular affliction, through faith, expressed in love, holiness and self-control she may be saved. Stark reminders of the fall should drive us with greater determination and gratitude to the redemptive grace of the Savior.
  • And it is precisely through the seed of the woman that this salvation will break into this fallen world. Through this means, from the seed of the woman apart from the seed of the man, the incarnation occurred (Mt. 1:25; Lk 1:35; 2:5-7; Gal. 4:4, 5).
  • Through the incarnation, one fit to be Savior entered the world. Of the seed of the woman, he did not partake of the corruption of Adam. But since woman was taken from man originally, the human relation to Adam is intact. At the precise moment of the conception in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, also the eternally generated Son of God fully assumed the human nature into his eternal personhood (Luke 1:35).



III. Serious contemplation

A. Should not men be aggressive in leading the church to pray and engagement in public prayer? Yes, they should and it their sin when they relinquish this biblically-mandated spiritual work.

B. Serious reflection on the nature of Christ’s reconciling work should give us confidence in its proper universality, invincible effectuality, and necessary exclusivity.

C. With the aid of their husbands and the entire church body, women should look for opportunities for godly ministry without violating the divine purpose in their creation and the apostolic proscription.


Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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