Monday, January 7, 2013

Truly Beautiful and Deeply Good

Truly Beautiful and Deeply Good

What has gone before...

Paul has urged the leaders, the men, to cease their angry, devisive control of the church in Ephesus. Using prayer as a model for holy leadership, he exhorts the men to pray with the right motives, with godly desires.

Moving on...

Paul's focus of concern for the men is how their prayers might be hindered by their angry, quarrelsome hearts. For women, Paul asks that they examine how their choices in dress and adornment should genuinely reflect what is in their hearts.

"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 2:9-10 (ESV)

Paul's exhortation to women begins with "likewise", meaning that his words to both men and women share something in common. The central truth of both admonitions is found in the first chapter of Paul's letter:

"The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith." 1 Timothy 1:5 (ESV)

Paul knows how a pious, religious appearance can mask a heart filled with anger, superiority and perversion. He is passionate about helping people put off the same blasphemy, persecution and insolence that controlled him before he came to Christ.

Sadly, men and women both allow impurity and insincerity to sear their consciences, ruining their hearts while maintaining an outwardly pious and religious appearance.

If a woman professes godliness it would be quite appropriate for them to dress in a way that reflects that inner goodness. Braided hair, gold and pearls, beautifully expensive clothing would be a fitting reflection of a sincere, loving heart.

But the hearts of the women in the church were far from sincere and loving.

Paul observed the women dressing wondrously and exquisitely. He heard their professions of godliness. But where were their good works? Why did their words and actions express hearts filled with inner ugliness: confusion, confrontation, recklessness... contrary to the beauty of their dress?

The women adorned their outer appearance, but ignored their inner character.

ADORN: kosmeo (to put in proper order, to decorate, to snuff a wick); from kosmos (orderly arrangement, decoration; the world, including its inhabitants); probably from komeo (to tend, to take care of)

Our physical world, Earth, is an example of an orderly arrangement. Our atmosphere, climate and weather patterns, photosynthesis, liquid water...all of these characteristics, and more, make this planet habitable. The biological and ecological systems work together, and life flourishes without human intervention.

Paul urges women to "kosmeo" themselves, to put themselves together in proper order. In what way are women to have an orderly arrangement similar to that of the world? What is "proper order" for women? What is the connection between women "adorning themselves" and "snuffing a wick"?

"Adorn", or proper order, is used ten times in the Bible. A proper home is one in which one is swept and "adorned" or put in order (Matthew 12:44). Respect for loved ones who have passed away requires that their graves be "adorned" or decorated (Matthew 23:29). Wise bridesmaids were diligent in "adorning" or trimming the wicks of their oil lambs (Matthew 25:7).

A home might be clean and attractive, yet until it has necessary furniture and appliances it cannot be called "adorned" or put in order. A lamp might have oil enough, but without the final touch of trimming the wick for efficient burning, it cannot be called "adorned" or put in order.

Perhaps the most insightful illustration of the meaning of "adorn" is seen in the building of the Jewish temple of worship. The temple was "adorned with noble stones and offerings" (Luke 21:5). The purpose of the temple was expressed or reflected in the way it was decorated: "noble" or beautiful stones and precious offerings of good things all supported the central truth of worship: God is beautiful and good in all ways, at all times.

"Proper order" means that the outer appearance of a thing, or a person, should honestly reflect the inner, central character or purpose of that thing or person. Otherwise, the beautiful stones and precious offerings are hypocritical lies...attempts to deceive others and distort the truth.

This is what Paul was seeing.

The women in the church were depending upon gold and pearls, braided hair and beautiful dresses to disguise or make up for their lack of inner beauty.

Paul is calling the women back to truth: inner goodness and beauty. He does this by emphasizing the true source of inner beauty: good works, respect, modesty and self-control.

A woman who dresses simply, modestly and inexpensively, must completely depend upon her personality in order to impress or attract others. Without skin-revealing dress or expensive decoration, a woman must express strength and goodness by her words and actions.

And actions speak louder than words.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can a woman find herself in the opposite situation: dressing excessively plain in order to portray inner qualities that, in reality, she lacks? From a woman's point of view, how can someone find the proper balance of dress and jewelery? Is there such a thing as "Christian Fashion"? What part of Paul's admonition can apply to men, as well as to women?

Paul is not forbidding braided hair, gold, pearls or expensive dress. Rather, he's emphasizing the need to allow God's Holy Spirit to develop within us the inner qualities of respect, modesty and self-control, expressed by good works. We cannot rely upon outer appearances to make us "good" or "valuable".

RESPECTABLE: kosmos (orderly arrangement, decoration; the world, including its inhabitants); probably from komeo (to tend, to take care of)

"Adorn" and "respectable" are from the same root. Literally, Paul is saying to women: "Put upon yourselves in proper order that which is an orderly decoration".

"Adorn" and "respectable" are directly related to our English word: Cosmos, meaning the universe as a well-ordered whole.

Paul is painting a word-picture of a woman as a well-ordered world, with every creature, continent and circumstance carefully considered by a wise, good Creator. If a woman were a world, a "cosmos", her outer appearance would reflect the imprint of her Creator, pointing to His wisdom, goodness and power. Her dress would be an honest reflection of her inner quality. There would be no distortion or deception.

Beautiful dress would reflect a beautiful mind and heart.

MODESTY: aidos (bashfulness, especially towards men, or awe towards God); perhaps from a (not) and eido (to see, to know, through mechanical, passive or casual vision)

"Modesty", at its root, means to see something and consider it important, to not see it casually. The action of seeing results in a feeling of awe and humility. It is not a passive, insignificant experience.

This word occurs only twice in the Bible. Paul rebukes the lack of modesty in women, and the writer of the Book of Hebrews urges all Christians to be "modest" toward God:

"Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." Hebrews 12:28-29 (ESV)

"Reverence" is the same word as "modesty".

It seems a bit inaccurate to translate "aidos" as "modesty". The popular meaning of "modesty" frequently describes clothing that does not reveal excessive skin.

However, the English word "modesty" does mean to have "a moderate or low estimate of one's own merits".

Considering "reverence" or "modesty" towards God, we can understand that the word implies understanding, and submitting to, the powerful wisdom and ability of God.

Imagine a creature glancing at its Creator, making an assessment of it Creator's worth based upon a casual, disinterested look. If the look ended with little desire or interest or esteem on the part of the creature, the encounter should be described as "irreverent" or "immodest". Rather than seeing God as a consuming fire, the creature would consider God to be an insignificant candle flame. The creature would regard itself as equal to, perhaps more important than, the Creator. Looking at the Creator, with an arched eyebrow, a superior pose or perhaps a hand gesture to imply, "Look at me, if you want to see real value!"...the irreverent attitude becomes a challenge, a desire for others to choose the creature over the Creator.

Now, transfer the situation to that of a woman looking at a man.

Imagine a woman glancing at a man, making an assessment of the man's worth based upon a casual, disinterested look. The woman sees nothing of value, at least, nothing to compare with her own value. Perhaps the casual look becomes a challenge, with a slight change in body position to reveal more skin or to assert superiority and value, as if to ask, "Do you desire me? You are right to desire me. I am of so much more worth than you!"

Paul discerned hearts of immodesty, attitudes of irreverence, within the women in the church, perhaps expressed toward men, certainly toward God.

Paul is saying that a heart of modesty, an attitude of reverence, will result in outward expressions of beauty, far beyond the power of braided hair or jewelery.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? How do women express disdain for men, without using words? How do women express respect or worth of a man? Is immodesty and irreverence, whether towards people or God, expressed the same way by men, as it is by women? Why didn't Paul include men in his rebuke of disrescpect, immodesty and lack of self-control?

SELF-CONTROL: sophrosyne (soundness of mind, sanity); from sophron (safe and sound, in mind; moderate in opinion or passion); from sos (safe) and phrao (to rein in or curb)

The opposite of "self-control" is "insanity":

"Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind. - But Paul said, - I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words." Acts 26:24-25 (ESV)

Here, "rational" is the same word as "self-control". Governor Festus accuses Paul of being "out of your mind", meaning to be crazy, to rave as a maniac, to long for something with uncontrollable craving.

"Self-control", thus, is the opposite of being crazy, the opposite of running headlong after uncontrollable cravings.

"Self-control", acting in a way that is safe and sound, is always presented in a positive context in the Bible. A leader in the church is urged to exercise "self-control" (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8). Older men in the church, whether active leaders or not, are commanded to have "self-control" (Titus 2:2). Women are urged to live a "self-controlled" life (1 Timothy 2:9, 15; Titus 2:5).

In their words and behavior, the women in the church of Ephesus were going beyond irreverent, immodest flirting and hypocrisy...they were going crazy with uncontrollable cravings for attention and stimulation.

They were outwardly beautiful and desirable, and this led them to believe they had license to seek and demand any and all pleasures, with little consideration for respect and service toward others.

They were lovely to look at, and fatal to live with.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Insanity is often pictured as wildly violent or socially self-destructive. Is there such a thing as "quietly insane" or "socially-acceptable insanity"? What has been your experience with being "out of control", whether yourself or another person? In what ways can the lack of self-control lead to insanity, and at what point does "lack of self-control" become "insanity"?

Paul urges women to depend upon inner qualities for their beauty and desirability: reverence and self-control. However, the strongest evidence of a woman's inner beauty, even beyond reverence and self-control, is godliness with good works.

GODLINESS: theosebeia (devoutness or piety); from theosebes (reverent of God, pious); from theos (a deity, especially The Divinity; figuratively, a magistrate; sometimes used as an adverb meaning "very") and sebo (to revere or adore)

"Godliness" (theosebeia) occurs only this one time in the Bible. A closely-related word, "reverent" (theosebes) is found in the Book of John:

"We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him." John 9:31 (ESV)

"Worshiper of God" is the same word as "reverent" (theosebeia). Both "Godliness" and "worshiper of God" share the same root word.

John is quoting a blind man healed by Jesus and later interrogated by unbelieving Jewish religious leaders. The blind man knows little of Jesus except the one amazing truth: Jesus healed the man's blindness, miraculously. The blind man attributes the power of Jesus to His adoration and obedience of God, allowing God's power to heal the man's blindness.

In this account we see that worship and obedience combine to create the spiritual quality we call "godliness" or piety. "Godliness" is adoration of God, evident or proven through obedience to God, expressed in good works toward others.

People who truly adore God, will obey God.

And their obedience will result in good works toward others.

One more word that is closely related to "godliness" is "revere" (sebo). This word occurs more frequently than "godliness", and it is often translated as "worship" or "devout".

A sterling example of how "reverent godliness" leads to loving service to others is found in the Book of Acts:

"A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, - If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." Acts 16:14-15 (ESV)

"Worshiper" and "godliness" share the same root word: sebo, meaning to revere or adore.

Lydia's heart of genuine worship, sincere adoration for God, resulted in her opening her home to Paul and those traveling with him.

Godliness always leads to loving service...else it is not true godliness.

GOOD: agathos ("good"; intrinsically good, rather than valuable for appearance or use)

"Intrinsic" means "belonging naturally", something deep within. An "intrinsic" quality or element is something that is essential to a person or thing. Some might say, for example, that a high quality of life absolutely requires access to the arts. In this instance, access to the arts is "intrinsic" to a high quality of life.

There are at least two different Greek words often translated as "good". "Kalos", means beautifully good, valuable for its appearance or use. Paul used a different word, "agathos", implying that genuine godliness leads to actions that are good because of their deep, essential nature. "Intrinsic good" goes far beyond outward appearance or functionality.

Paul connects "godliness" with "intrinsically good" works. Genuine godliness results in actions that contribute to a person's well-being. Godliness leads to good works that are essential, deeply internal, and ultimately life-giving.

One description of "intrinsically good works" is found later in Paul's first letter to Timothy:

"Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work." 1 Timothy 5:9-10 (ESV)

"Every good work" and "intrinsically good works" are from the same Greek words. Paul is describing the reputation of women who would qualify for financial assistance from the church. "Intrinsically good works" would include:

  • Child care
  • Hospitality
  • Foot-washing
  • Care for the afflicted

In his letter to Titus, Chapter Three, verses 1-2, Paul adds more the list of "intrinsically good works":

  • Speaking evil of no one
  • Avoiding quarrels
  • Gentleness
  • Perfect courtesy toward all

"Intrinsically good works" are encouraged in the Bible for everyone, whether man or woman or child. Genuine godliness leads to service toward others which is genuinely essential and thoroughly good.

Godliness and good works go together, else it is not godliness.

And it is not good.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What would be an example of good works that are NOT intrinsic, perhaps something seen as beautiful or useful, but not essential for a person's well-being? What would be an example of an "intrinsically good work" that is not mentioned in the Bible? How would a non-Christian, an atheist or a non-religious person's good works be "non-intrinsic" or less than essential?

Beautiful Malay Woman from Malaysia provided by, Creative Commons License