A Commentary by John Stott
1 Timothy. 2:8-15. b). Three apostolic instructions.
Following our excursus into the hermeneutical principles which we should apply to the passage (8-15), we are ready to attempt its more detailed exposition. It consists of three instructions which all relate, as the context makes clear, to the conduct of public worship: the men and their prayers (8), the women and their adornment (9-10), and the women and their relation to men (11-15).
i). Men and their prayers (2:8).
*Everywhere* (literally ‘in every place’, namely wherever public prayer is offered) the men are *to lift up holy hands…without anger or disputing* (8). Here are three universal characteristics of public prayer, or, expressing them negatively, three hindrances to prayer, namely sin, anger and quarrelling. The reference to ‘holy hands’ reminds us of Psalm 24 in which those who wish to ascend the hill of the Lord and stand in his holy place must have ‘clean hands and a pure heart’. Here too Paul uses ‘the outward sign for the inward reality, for our hands indicate a pure heart’. So it is useless to spread out our hands to God in prayer if they are defiled with sin (Is.1:15; cf. 59:1ff.). As for anger and quarrelling, it is obviously inappropriate to approach God in prayer if we are harbouring resentment or bitterness against him or other people. As Jesus himself insisted, reconciliation must precede worship (Mt.5:23-24; cf.6:12ff.; Mk.11:25).
So holiness love and peace are indispensable to prayer. But what about the lifting up of our hands – is this equally essential? No, bodily postures and gestures in prayer are cultural, and a wide range of variations occurs in Scripture. The normal posture while worshipping was to stand, as when the Levites summoned the people to ‘stand up and praise the Lord your God’ (Ne.9:5; cf. Gn.18:22; 1 Sam.1:26; Mk:11:25; Lk.18:11, 13; Rev.7:9). And while standing before God, it seems to have been common either to ‘lift’ the hands to him or to ‘spread’ them before him, as an expression of dependence and faith. So we read: ‘I lift up my hands towards your Most Holy Place’, and ‘Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven’ (Ps.28:2; La.3:41; cf. Ex9:29; 17:11-12; 1 Ki.8:22; Ne.8:6; Pss.63:4; 134:2; 143:6). Meanwhile, the eyes could also be lifted up in expectation (E.g. Pss.25:15; 121:1; 123.1-2; 141:8; Jn.11:41; 17:1) or else be cast down in humble penitence (Lk.18:13).
But standing was not the only acceptable prayer posture. David ‘sat before the Lord’ (2 Sam.7:18), and many times we read of people, especially in times of humiliation, anguish or confession, bowing down or kneeling before God (E.g. Gn.17:3; 24:26, 48; Ex.12:27; 1 Ki.8:54; 2 Ch.29:30; Is.45:23 = Phil.2:9ff.; Ezk.9:5; Dn.6:10; Mt.2:11; Lk.22:41; Acts 7:60; 9:40; 20:36; 21:5; Rom.14:11; Eph.3:14; contrast Mt.4:9). Sometimes it seemed natural to God’s people to express their sense of awe in his presence by prostrating themselves, with their faces to the ground (E.g. Nu.14:5; 16:4, 22, 45; Dt.9:18, 25-26; Jos.5:14; Jdg.13:20; 1 Ki.18:42; 1 Ch.29:20; 2 Ch.7:1ff.; Ne.8:6; Mk.14:35), especially after the vision of the majesty of God (E.g. Ezk.1:28; 3:23; 9:8; Dn.8:17; 10:9; Rev.1:17; 11:16). To sum up, although holiness, love and peace should always accompany our prayers, yet whether we stand, sit, bow down, kneel or fall on our faces, and whether our hands are lifted, spread, folded, clasped, clapping or waving are matters of little consequence, although we may be inclined to agree with William Hendriksen that ‘the slouching position of the body, while one is supposed to be praying, is an abomination to the Lord’. Otherwise, we need to make sure that our posture is both appropriate to our culture and genuinely expressive of our inward devotion. For Jesus warned us of the dangers of religions ostentation (Mt.6:1ff), and our worship must never be allowed to degenerate into ‘a piece of sacred pantomime’.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.