When Scripture is Hard

KIM BARNES|GUEST

Recently, my 20-year-old daughter, who is taking a Pauline Epistles class in Bible college said, “I’m not a feminist, but sometimes it’s hard to stomach some of the things Paul wrote about women.” She believes the Bible is authoritative, but the struggle is real. How does she reconcile these hard teachings with her own feelings and experience?

This reminded me of something that happened when I was 14 years old. It was 1979 and I had recently become a Christian. Unlike my daughter, who grew up in the church as a pastor’s kid, I grew up in an unchurched, non-religious home. So nearly everything about Christianity was new to me. When I joined the church, I was given a nice hard-cover NIV Bible—my first Bible. A friend also gave me a paperback of The Living New Testament—Reach Out. It was very 1970s. It included a page in the back where you could check off each book as you read through the New Testament. I was an over-achieving, “Type A” teenager, so the checklist worked for me.

Every night before going to bed I would read as much as I could in my Reach Out New Testament. One night, I came to 1 Timothy 2:9-15:

“And the women should be the same way, quiet and sensible in manner and clothing. Christian women should be noticed for being kind and good, not for the way they fix their hair or because of their jewels or fancy clothes.  Women should listen and learn quietly and humbly.

 I never let women teach men or lord it over them. Let them be silent in your church meetings. Why? Because God made Adam first, and afterwards he made Eve. And it was not Adam who was fooled by Satan, but Eve, and sin was the result.  So God sent pain and suffering to women when their children are born, but he will save their souls if they trust in him, living quiet, good, and loving lives.” (TLB)

What was I reading? What did it mean? This was the 1970s. Feminism was mainstream. The Equal Rights Amendment was debated vigorously. Ms magazine was launched. The Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King garnered significant attention. In 1975, Time Magazine’s, “Man of the Year” was “American Women.”

Being the liberated young woman that I was, I wanted answers. So, without respect to the fact that it was around midnight, I picked up the phone, called my youth pastor, and told him he had some explaining to do. The irony of demanding answers about a passage about the importance of learning quietly with humility, is not lost on me.

This wasn’t the last time I read something in the Bible that I struggled with as a woman. The Bible is filled with exhortations to women to be quiet, gentle, respectful, and submissive.

I’m loud. I’m talkative. I speak my mind. I’m strong-willed and opinionated. I’m a leader. I’m a teacher. How can I be all these things and be obedient to passages like 1 Timothy 2:9-15, 1 Peter 3:1-6, or Ephesians 5:22-33?

When we come to parts of Scripture that we don’t like, seem impossible to apply, or that simply don’t make sense to us, we come to a crossroads. We have to decide: Do I believe God, or not? Do I trust Him, or not? Do I believe the Scriptures are true, or not?

We don’t get to set aside the parts of the Bible that we don’t like or that we find challenging.

But we’re also not stuck. We’re not doomed to be frustrated. What is the proper response when we don’t like what we read in God’s Word?

1. Realize, that maybe we’re not viewing things rightly and ask God to lead us to repentance and change us. God promises to conform us to His image. Instead of us changing the Bible, God changes us. He changes our desires.

“Trust in the LORD, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him, and he will act.” (Psalm 37:3-5 ESV)

and;

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6 ESV)

God is in the changing business. He sanctifies. He changes our wants to conform to His wants. In His kindness and mercy, God causes us to see things differently; rightly, and to want different things.

2. Focus on the character of God. God is good, and He is always right. He is not petty or vindictive. He loves His church and He loves me individually. He is doing all things for the good of His people and for His glory.

3. Talk to a wiser believer. My instinct to call my youth pastor that night in 1979 was right. It probably would’ve been better to wait until the next morning. But my instinct was right.

4. Keep reading. An important principle of Biblical hermeneutics is that Scripture interprets Scripture. When we come to something we don’t understand or don’t like, keep reading. Maybe we’ll come to something that will help make sense of that difficult passage. In the case of the passage I struggles with in 1 Timothy, it helped to find out what else the Bible has to say about women in the church, submission, leadership, and speech.

I am independent, opinionated, and a leader. As I’ve grown in my faith and my understanding of God’s Word, I’ve come to understand that these qualities aren’t inherently bad or inherently unfeminine, but they must be submitted to the Lordship of Christ. There are times and situations where it is good and right for me to be independent and opinionated. There are many opportunities for me to use my leadership skills and gifts that don’t violate Scriptural principles. There are also times, when I need set aside my opinions and submit to authority.

The Scripture is filled with exhortations and commands to both men and women to be humble, and submissive; to talk less, listen more, and be wise with words. Just as my pastor-husband sets aside his views and submits to Scripture, to his Session, to his Presbytery, and to other legitimate authorities, I may set aside my passionate opinions for God’s glory. Ultimately, our example of meekness and submission, is Jesus. He gave up his rights and he poured himself out for us.

This battle between unsanctified speech and strong opinions, and God’s best for my relationships continues. But I’m learning to value God’s glory and other people’s ideas over the sound of my own voice. I’m learning to taste the joy of really listening instead of just crouching, waiting to pounce on the next pause and start talking again.

I don’t remember what my youth pastor told me that night, after being awakened by the rantings of a teenage girl. But whatever he told me calmed me. I didn’t give up on the faith and I didn’t stop reading the Bible. Few, forgotten words—but eternal impact.

About the Author:

Kim Barnes

A Florida native, Kim has been married to Robert for over 28 years. Together they have a 20 year old daughter and a 19 year old son. One of her favorite things to do is to lead the women’s Bible study at Dayspring PCA in Spring Hill, Fla., where her husband is the pastor. Kim would love to tell you about the joys of homeschooling, convince you that Florida is a great place to live in spite of the lack of four seasons, and offer you tips for feeding a crowd.

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