One of the few heresies today is to suggest that there are many if any differences between men and women. We are even at the point where some are arguing gender is so fluid that categories like men and women are becoming superfluous. I suspect however that few will find offence with a hypothesis that submits that anger is a more aggressive issue among men than for women.
The reason for mentioning this is because I’ve come across research that supports a biblical proposition. The Bible presents many positive differences between men and women but on this occasion I’m thinking of a negative example.
I’m about to start preaching through Paul’s first letter to Timothy at Mentone Baptist. The Epistle is filled with encouragements and instruction for churches, which together provide directives for how a church is to conduct herself. As Paul says to Timothy, this conduct matters because God’s household is “church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth”.
Despite the positive and constructive way the Apostle outlines life for a local church, some parts of the letter have created significant controversy; not least are the sections that discuss the roles of men and women in the church. I’ll preaching through the entire letter, including ch.2, but for now I want to share an interesting article that I recently came across which may help us further understand what Paul means in 2:8,
“Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing”
Verse 8 is an instruction given by God to men in the church. What follows in vv.9-15 are instructions given to women in the church.
Paul introduces verse 8 (and the following verses, 9-15, for they 8-15 form a coherent section) with the strong conjunction, ‘therefore’. Paul is tying this application with what he has written previously in verses 1-7. The connection between vv.1-7 and v.8 is not only the subject of prayer, it is also ‘godliness and holiness’. Similarly, godliness and holiness is the concern of vv.9-15. The Apostle is concerned with godly behaviour in the church as it pleases God and because it functions as a Gospel witness to outsiders. That godliness is on view in v.8 is confirmed by the way Paul contrasts hands used in prayer and hands used in anger.
Why does Paul’s teaching on men here focus on ‘anger’? Surely anger isn’t a male only attribute?
1 Timothy 2:8 seems to support the idea that anger is a greater issue among men than it is for women. In a paragraph where Paul is making distinctions between men and women in the church, it is observable to Paul that a proclivity toward anger is one characteristic that sufficiently differentiates men from women. It’s not the only distinctive attribute but it is one.
It’s not that women don’t experience anger. Of course women can be angry, for good reasons as well as for sinful reasons. Is there however something in Paul’s statement that rings true? For example, we know that most cases of domestic violence are perpetrated by men. We also know that most violent crimes are committed by men. Do men and women process anger in different ways? It’s not only such extreme forms of anger.
In 2018, The Conversation published an article on differences between men and women. The focus was on ‘happiness’ and how men and women experience happiness in different ways. The article also speaks of the converse,
“Gender differences in depression are well established and studies have found that biological, psychological and social factors contribute to the disparity.”
I note that despite all the talk about how cultural influences inform and determine behaviours research suggests that social factors lack the explanatory power for defining how men and women experience the highs and lows of life in distinctive ways. There is more going on.
I think of 1 Thessalonians where Paul speaks of masculine traits and feminine traits, not because they are mutually exclusive but because there are observable differences between the two genders. The fact that these analogies make sense to us living in 21st Century suggests the meaning is not fixed to those living in Thessaloniki in 50-51AD. It’s also worth highlighting that these metaphors are used positively and with affection.
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (1 Thess. 2:7–8).
“For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11–12).
Back to 1 Timothy. As I read the piece in The Conversation, my eyes were drawn to the section on anger. According to the piece, research demonstrates that men and women express anger differently.
“Psychologically it seems men and women differ in the way they process and express emotions. With the exception of anger, women experience emotions more intensely and share their emotions more openly with others.”
“However within these studies lies a significant blind spot, which is that women often do feel anger as intensely as men, but do not express it openly as it is not viewed as socially acceptable.
When men feel angry they are more likely to vocalise it and direct it at others, whereas women are more likely to internalise and direct the anger at themselves. Women ruminate rather than speak out. And this is where women’s vulnerability to stress and depression lies.”
This makes sense of Paul’s observation about men raising hands in anger. It’s not that 1 Timothy 2:8 is valid because of what researchers are learning, but rather we shouldn’t be surprised to find that reality matches what Scripture teaches and affirms.
In any discourse about men and women it is unhelpful to overstate differences. What we share, namely our humanity and the imago dei and union with Christ is of staggering beauty and importance. Without losing or diminishing any of those things and more, it is also unwise to downplay or ignore the simple fact that there are also differences. As The Conversation explains, these differences extend beyond social influences, and neither can they fully explained by physiology such as muscle and bone density, and sexual organs. There are psychological and personality differences. 1 Timothy 2:8 seems be to a Scriptural acknowledgment of such differentiation. Indeed, I would argue differences also exist for theological reasons, but that’s a topic for another ocassion.
At a time when we are hearing so many stories about men mistreating women, even within churches, 1 Timothy 2:8 is a timely verse (not that the verse is specifically aimed at men’s behaviour toward women but it surely includes such). It’s also an example of how Paul’s ecclesiastical paradigm in 1 Timothy isn’t limited to First Century Ephesus but how the God’s ways remains poignant and powerful today.
As our society recognises harmful versions of masculinity, it’s good to be reminded that God is also in opposition. God does not condone sinful anger, and neither should the church. The Apostle mentions anger because despite its prevalence among men, it is out of place in God’s household. The answer though isn’t simply to cease a certain behaviour or attitude, it is to replace it with one that is better and is good. It’s a picture of repentance. Paul instructs men, instead of using hands in anger, men ought to lift their hands in prayer. In other words, men should use their bodies for godliness not sinfulness, and they should focus their attention on God who brings peace rather than igniting disputes.
For men who are aware of anger issues in their life, reach out for help. If you’re part of a church, talk to your pastor. For women who are living with an angry man, please reach out for help.
In addition, here are some further services:
1800 Respect National Helpline: 1800 737 732
Safe Steps Crisis Line (Vic): 1800 015 188
Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491
Mensline: 1300 789 978
Lifeline (24-hour Crisis Line): 131 114