Paul’s Imperatives for Worship (Wed. Dec. 7)
The word of the day is “order.” In our reading of 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2:8-15, St. Paul begins his directives about establishing good order in the church. He starts with the subject of public worship. The apostle writes that men should lift up holy hands without “wrath and doubting” (8). And women should dress in a way that becomes “godliness and good works” (10).
The selection of this reading gives the impression that its focus is on women’s behavior in worship. 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 whole letter.
A Letter of Directives
It is helpful to view Paul’s teaching about the conduct of these social groups as the instructions that a master hands on to his disciples so that they might pass them along to the faithful (Strong’s #3852, 188-89). To refer to these directives, in the first chapter Paul uses the Greek term that means a “charge,” that is, a responsibility to which Timothy is committed (1 Timothy 1:18). But in the second chapter, the apostle uses a term that is translated as “exhort,” “to admonish,” or “to entreat” (Strong’s #3870). This word is rooted in the sense of “calling to one side.” Thus, the word means a call to produce a particular effect. Thus Paul strongly urges that the faithful pray vigorously for all, especially earthy authorities.
Likewise throughout the letter, Paul continues to give orders to Timothy about the life and affairs of the congregation that he serves. He uses “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); “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 are functional imperatives for the leadership and ministry of the Church.
Practical Matters of Church Life
This review of Paul’s imperatives shows that the letter of 1 Timothy 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). Paul voices these exhortations 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, it would be helpful to probe into the context of Paul’s admonitions, not their specific content. This emphasis is in keeping with Paul’s statement at the beginning of his letter. He states that the “purpose of the commandment [his instruction] is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith” (1:5).
The Purpose of Paul’s Guidelines for Worship
Take, for example, Paul’s instructions for appropriate conduct in worship. Paul divides these guidelines into the categories of men and women. But their underlying purpose can apply to both genders.
Instructions for Men
Paul instructs men that they should pray without wrath, that is, without anger, the passion of displeasure (vs. 2:8) (Strong’s #3709, 181). And they should lift up their hands in supplication to God without “doubting” (vs. 2:8). 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 discord 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” (NfPf113, 427). Instead, 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.
Instructions for Women
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” demonstrates something. What does modesty in dress show? The answer is “godliness,” that is, reverence (Strong’s #2317, 115).
But note that according to Paul, the good works of love for one’s neighbor should accompany this devotion to God. Thus, the goodness of the women’s deeds should match the pious words of their prayers. Accordingly, 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.
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).
Moreover, Matthew goes on, “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…. Finally, Matthew adds that 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.
Matthew-the-Poor. 2003. Orthodox Prayer Life. Translated by Wadi El-Natroun The Monastery of St. Makarios the Great, Egypt. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.