Putting the Church in Order: Worship

The word of the day is “order.”  In our reading of 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2:8-15, St. Paul begins with the subject of public worship to speak about good order in Timothy’s congregation .  The Apostle writes that men should lift up holy hands without “wrath and doubting” (vs, 8).   And women should dress in a way that becomes “godliness and good works” (vs, 10).

The selection of this reading gives the impression that its focus is on women’s behavior in worship. The topic of women in the church thus becomes the overriding concern of this passage and, perhaps, the entire letter. However, in this epistle, the Apostle speaks of kings and civil authorities, men, bishops, deacons, elders (presbyters), older men, older women, widows, elders, bondservants, and the wealthy.  The duties, qualifications, and care of these social categories comprise the scope of the letter.

Speaking in Terms of Directives

It is helpful to view Paul’s teaching about these groups as the instructions that a superior teaches to his followers so that they might pass them along to the faithful (Strong’s #3352, 188-89).  In Chapter 1, the word for such teaching is translated as “commandment.”  Later in the chapter, the same word is translated as “charge,” a responsibility to which Timothy is committed (1 Timothy 1:18).  But in Chapter 2, the Apostle writes, “I exhort…”  In the original Greek, this term is rooted in the idea of “calling to one side.”  Thus, the word means a call to produce a particular effect. Therefore, with this word, Paul directs that the congregation offer  prayers for earthy authorities.

Thus, in various ways, Paul gives directives to Timothy about the life and affairs of the congregation that he serves.  He uses such words and phrases as,”Let no one…” (4:12); “Do not rebuke…” (5:1);  “Honor…(5;3), “I desire…” (5:17…); “Let the…”; “I charge you (5:21); “ Do not… (5:22); “No longer…” (5:23); “Let… (6:1); But you… flee these things (6:11); “Fight the good fight…” (6:12). “I urge you…” (6:13); “… keep this commandment “(6:14); “Command…” (6:17), “Guard what is committed to you…” (6:20). All of these terms are functional imperatives for the leadership and ministry of the Church.

Practical Matters of Church Life

This review of Paul’s imperatives shows that this letter’s content concerns the practical matters of how to manage a congregation’s life for the sake of good order, sound doctrine,  and the building up of the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). These teachings are important because certain hypocrites are leading Timothy’s flock astray. They are making up rules and regulations that threaten to disrupt the peaceful life and the firm faith of the congregation (1 Timothy 41-3).

With this analysis in mind, today’s focus will not be on these instructions’ specific stipulations. But we will concentrate on their purpose as Paul does at the beginning of the epistle. There, as we have seen, he states that the “purpose of the commandment [his instruction] is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith” (vs, 1:5).

The Purpose of Paul’s Stipulations for Worship

For example, in today’s study, we will restrict our comments to the purpose of Paul’s instructions for appropriate conduct in worship. Paul divides these guidelines into the categories of men and women.  But their goals can be applied to both.

Paul instructs men that they should pray without wrath, that is, without anger, the passion of displeasure  (Strong’s #3709, 181).  And they should lift up their hands in supplication to God without “doubting.”  In the original Greek, the word that the Orthodox Study Bible translates as “doubting” generally comes from the thought of a debate.  Its primary meaning is “dissension” (Strong’s #1261, 66). Therefore, the sense of Paul’s teaching is that men should offer their prayers without anger and division in their hearts.  This thought is in keeping with the word of  Jesus, who said, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go your way.  First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 23-24).

But St. John Chrysostom teaches a more specific interpretation of Paul’s directive to men.  He asks, “Do you pray against your brother?… You provoke God by uttering those impious words, ‘Show him the same;’ ‘So do to him;’ ‘Smite him;’ ‘Recompense him;’ and much more to the same effect”  (NfPf1: 13, 427).  Rather, Chrysostom notes that Steven, the first martyr, prayed for his persecutors rather than against them (NfPF1: 13, 427). Thus, in matters of worship, the purpose of Paul’s instructions to men is that they engage in it in the spirit of love, not vengeance, and unity, not division.

As for women, Paul instructs them to “adorn themselves” with what is fitting for professing “godliness with good works” (vs. 10).  The Greek word for “professing” refers to proclaiming or announcing.  We might say that “professing” asserts something.  What does modesty in dress show?  “Godliness,” that is, reverence  (Strong’s #2317, 115).  But according to Paul, good works of love for one’s neighbor should accompany this devotion to God.  Thus, the goodness of the women’s deeds would match the pious words of their prayers. Chrysostom praises women who follow Paul’s teaching.  He says, “In thy humble dress, you exceed her who wears the costliest ornament and are more imposing in appearance than she who is arrayed in gold”  (NfPF1: 13). Thus, for women, the purpose of Paul’s instructions for worship is that it shows reverence and devotion that is accompanied by good works.

For Reflection

Matthew the Poor adds to our understanding of worship, which he calls “vocal prayer.”   He states, “Vocal prayer calls for the mental effort to follow the meaning of the words we utter.  It also requires an inward interest in their subject matter.  We should not merely recite words as if they proceeded from others to God. They should pass through our own selves and then proceed directly from our own persons” (Matthew-the-Poor 2003, 40).

“One should approach vocal prayer with a contrite heart.  He should humbly worship God with the sense that he is ministering before the Holy Trinity…. Vocal prayer is a divine ministry that has its value and effect on one’s spiritual life.” (Matthew-the-Poor 2003, 40).

As we observe the Nativity Fast, may the worship of our vocal prayer be purified from anger and division.  And may it be reverent and made complete in good works.

Works Cited: Matthew-the-Poor. 2003. Orthodox Prayer Life. Translated by Wadi El-Natroun The Monastery of St. Macarius the Great, Egypt. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.



About Fr. Basil

Now retired, the Very Rev. Archpriest Basil Ross Aden has served as a parish priest, parish pastor, diocesan mission director, writer, and college teacher of New Testament and Religious Studies. He has a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry degree from the University of Chicago and has published daily devotional and stewardship materials as well as a college textbook on Religious Studies. He also has published papers and/or lectured on the Orthodox perspective on Luther and the Reformation. religious freedom, current issues of religion and society, and St. John Chrysostom. He is married to Sandra and has two sons and three grandchildren. He is still active as a priest as well as a writer of articles and materials on Orthodoxy and topics of faith and life today.

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