“Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” So says Paul in our reading from 1 Timothy today, giving us one of the more confusing passages in all of the Bible, at least on the surface. But, of course, context is king and if you look at the rest of 1 Timothy chapter 2, it’s pretty clear what Paul is saying. He’s telling us that, in the life of the church, men and women are to behave according to the natural order of things–the pre-fall natural order of things. God created men and women differently to complete and serve each other with their differences, and we are to maintain that order in the life of the church.
God gave man greater strength than the woman for the sake of tending the garden of Eden. And we still possess that greater strength today. But men are not to use it, as so many men do, for violence. We aren’t to raise wrathful hands in anger or quarreling, but to raise our stronger hands in prayer and supplication, leading our wives to know the wisdom of Christ. God has made men to be spiritual leaders. He did not make us to sit back and put our wives in that position of leadership, which is precisely how the fall into sin happened. When Satan came to Eve asking her, “did God really say,” he was asking her to fulfill Adam’s vocation, asking her to preach. She did, Adam listened, and paradise was lost. It must not be so in the church.
Likewise, God gave women beauty meant to reflect the beauty of Christ’s bride and thus His love for her. But women are not to use their beauty for seduction or for self-glorification. This is why women should not clothe themselves in self-glorifying bits of luxury and seduction but should clothe themselves in good works that glorify both their husbands and the bridegroom Christ. God defines what it means to be man and woman. The world has a far different, corrupt understanding. Too bad. In the church, we are to be what God created us to be.
And so, all of this leads us to those rather strange words Paul speaks about women being saved through childbearing. What does Paul mean? Well, he obviously doesn’t mean that childbirth is a good work by which women can merit salvation. Salvation is, of course, by grace alone through faith alone. Nor does he mean that childbirth is a kind of sacrament that will confer salvation upon Christian women. No, what he’s saying here is actually a profound word of comfort to women, as much as that may sound like madness to our upside down, marriage-and-child-hating world today. What Paul is saying is, “women, you don’t need to become men to become Christians. You don’t need to take on their vocation in order to be pleasing to the Lord. Eve’s name means ‘mother.’ Women, you were created to bear life, and to raise your offspring to know the peace and salvation of Jesus Christ. That’s the task God has given you to fulfill. You don’t need to become anything else in order to win the divine favor that is already yours.”
Mary didn’t fulfill God’s will by going to the cross. She fulfilled God’s will by bearing the Son who went to the cross. The new Eve was content to be the mother God created her to be. The new Adam was content to be the hands-lifted-and-outstretched leader His Father sent Him to be. Let men be men. Let women be women. Be content with that, and God will preserve us all in the salvation won for us in the blood of Jesus and given to you by grace alone.