The Quiet Life – 1 Timothy 2:3-4

1 Timothy 2 is one of the most difficult passages in the New Testament, primarily because of the potential abusive applications of the second half of the chapter. Paul’s words have been used to silence the voice of women in the church despite the very clear Pauline teaching that in Christ there is neither male to female. Perhaps the situation is clouded by American political debate over feminism and the role of women in the church. Before getting to the controversial section, I want to set the context of the chapter.

Cabin in the Woods, Quiet LifePaul’s main point in 1 Timothy is that the church ought to conduct itself in a way that is honoring to God and attractive to outsiders. In order to honor God, Paul insists Timothy guard the truth of the Gospel and train others to keep that deposit of truth faithfully. In this section of the letter, Paul tells Timothy the local church must conduct meetings in such a ways as to gain the respect of outsiders. On the one hand, this means praying for authorities, but more problematic is Paul’s concern that the behavior of some members of the congregation run the risk of repelling the outsider, the Greek or Roman who needs the Gospel.

Paul says the Christian community should be seen by outsides as dignified and worthy of respect (v. 3-4). Paul wants his churches to be models of a dignified “quiet life.”  What is a peaceful (ἤρεμος) and quiet (ἡσύχιος) life? This sounds like Paul is telling the reader to go live in a cabin in the woods. This might sound a little too Amish for most Christians! But these two words are often found in lists of Greco-Roman virtues. Socrates was a model of calm in the face of peril for the Greeks (Theon, Progymnasmata, 8; Rhet. Graec., II, 111, 27 f.). For the Greeks, rulers were to be calm and have a quiet demeanor (Xenoph. Ag., 11, 2. 6. 20; Isoc. Or., 2, 23; see TDNT 6:646).

In a Greek papyri dated to the sixth century A.D. (P Oxy I. 1298) a father repudiates a betrothal because he wishes his daughter would “lead a peaceful and quiet life” (εἰρηνικὸν καὶ ἡσύχιον βίον διάξαι, MM, 281). While this letter is dated well after the writing of 1 Timothy, a similar use of the word appears in PsSol 12:5:  “May the Lord protect the quiet person who hates injustice; may the Lord guide the person who lives peacefully at home.” This is a Jewish text, probably reflecting the Pharisees, predating Paul by about 100 years. The writer parallels one who is quiet (ἡσύχιος) and lives peacefully (although the more common εἰρήνη is used).

Paul also describes this idea life as “godly and dignified in every way.” Both words would be idea virtues in the Greco-Roman world as well as the Christian or Jewish. The word “godly” is the common word εὐσέβεια, and was used by Diogenes Laertius (third century A.D.) for “the pious follow sacrificial custom and take care of temples” and was common used in the Aeneid to describe “pious” people (BDAG).

The word translated dignified (σεμνότης) is often translated with the Latin gravitas (a Latinism used in contemporary English for someone who has power). It is often associated with “denotes a man’s visible deportment.”  When Josephus retells the story of Saul and the witch of Endor, she recognizes the king because he carries himself like a king; in retelling the story of Pharaoh’s first encounter with Joseph, Philo comments that the king was impressed with Joseph’s dignity (Philo, Jos. 257, cf. 165).

This command is not unusual in the Pauline letters. “Live a quiet life” is similar to Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonica 4:1-12.  In that context, there were individuals who were not working to provide for their own needs.  The ultimate motivation for living in a quiet, dignified manner is that the outsiders will see this and “come to a knowledge of the truth.” As in 1 Thessalonians, Paul is concerned with the public reputation of Christians. Their lifestyle needs to be worthy of respect and attractive to outsiders. Christians were a strange superstition to the Greco-Roman world; as the church grew Christians came under increasing scrutiny for their practices and beliefs.

Since the quiet, dignified life was a virtue in the Greco-Roman world, any chaos or discord in the church would drive people away from the Gospel. With this “quiet dignified life” in mind, Paul then turns to a problem in the Ephesian churches which is disrupting that kind of life and potentially bringing shame on the church.  This problem appears to center on some women in the Ephesian churches who are not living a “quiet dignified life.”

The quiet life has unfortunately become a hipster clothing line that a way to live out one’s Christian life. In fact, it is hard to look at the typical evangelical as presented by the media as loving a quiet life that earns the respect of outsiders. Is the ideal of a quiet life for individuals only, or does Paul see this as a model for the whole church to follow? How can the contemporary church live out this ideal of a quiet life so that it can earn the respect of outsiders and (perhaps) attract them to the Gospel?

8 thoughts on “The Quiet Life – 1 Timothy 2:3-4

  1. The BIBLE is the sweetest book everybody must read. Now we here in Africa have realized through the Emmanuel tv of Prophet TB Joshua, Nigeria that the Bible is not just a history book but a real living word; alive just as we have read it. Yes! Jesus is alive today tomorrow & forever more Amen

  2. Interesting. Would Greeks, Jews, and Christians have agreed on what it means to be quiet and dignified? Since Paul is concerned with the impression the churches give off to outsiders, I would think there was a large degree of agreement. Yet Paul also speaks of Greco-Roman culture, at least in its idolatry, as overwhelmingly bad. He characterizes the world as evil and foolish—undignified and arrogant. I’m interested in better understanding what aspects of Greek culture Paul quibbled with and what aspects he thought were on the right track.

    • Yes, I think most educated and cultured people would agree on quiet and dignified. I just read a biography of Cicero, it was interesting to read some of his rhetoric condemning opponents for being undignified. Although the Roman world did have exceptions, of course. The worship of Dionysus comes to mind. And what counted as shameful would be different, a Roman man would see no shame in visiting the prostitutes or even having sex with a male slave. Jews would have none of that for the most part!

      I wonder if Paul (and most Jews) had assumptions that all pagans were more or less indulging in pagan revelry all the time (sexual sins, etc.)

  3. 1 Timothy chapter 2’s opening verses encourage believers to “live peaceful and quiet lives.” Paul makes a similar statement in Romans 12:18 where he urges the Romans to “live at peace with everyone.” By living at peace with others we will create a good name for ourselves in the community. This respect will hopefully translate into a positive response to the gospel. Although we should not only base our actions on what others will think of us, we should consider how unbelievers would view Christians if they knew you. Some people may only know a couple of Christians. They base their perception of Christianity on those few that they know. On this individual level, we must be worthy of respect so that when the opportunity comes to share the gospel, the unbeliever may be receptive to it. Paul says that this respect comes by pursuing “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). Ultimately, we are seeking God’s approval, not man’s (1 Thess 2:4).

  4. I think the call to live a “quiet life” is the same as being called to be different in the world around you. I usually think “living a quiet life” means living a humble life. Being humble and not seeking the attractions of this world. Our world is prideful and we are always looking for ways to raise ourselves up the social ladder or to be noticed, praised, accepted. To live quietly is not seeking those things from the world but finding those things through Christ. I think the whole church is called to be humble and there are different ways to demonstrate humility. The way the church conducts itself and the individual gifts people bring can be attractive to outsiders. Through humility and love, the church can attract outsiders because people are attracted to things that are different. Someone doing something “weird” on the streets? juggling or jumping on a pogo stick? People are going to stop and watch because it’s different from their everyday. Living the “quiet life” Paul talks about is a way for the church to stand out in the middle of a busy society. Showing love when it is normal to show anger, showing forgiveness when it is normal to chase vengeance. This I believe is what will show the difference between the world and the one who follows Christ.

  5. Outreach can sometimes be a tricky thing. You may want to make Christianity look attractive to those in your culture, but you can definitely not compromise Christian morals. The issue then is that, inevitably, large parts of unbelieving culture that Christians live in will not mesh with Christianity. The first thing that comes to mind for me is the pagan feasts in the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth. Therefore, instead of attempting to somehow incorporate or mirror some of these more extreme aspects of their culture, Paul is saying that these Christians should make themselves attractive to unbelievers by leading peaceful and dignified lives. If they are respectable members of society and above reproach, than it is likely that outsiders would see this strange “Christian cult” in a more positive light. Furthermore, another vital part of this outreach is prayer as Paul outlines in verses 1-2. In these verses, Paul tells the importance of praying for all men, including those in authority over us. In fact, this final point could have been a little harder for early believers as the Roman authority during this time was not always that nice to early Christianity. But regardless, this is important for Paul as this is what he was appointed to do (v. 7).

  6. As Christians one of our greatest strengths but also a hindrance is how opinionated we can be. These opinions we have causes us to be louder than normal. We wish for people to be saved and sometimes the way we go about it can be twisted. All of us as a body should know that our job is to preach the gospel to the Lord’s wandering children. Before we leave this earth our main goal should be to bring as many people to the glory of God as possible. Where we fall short is when we condemn people and cast stones at them. The church as a whole has become the modern day pharisees. Every act we do has to be posted on social media. When we disagree with someone it is to the pit of fire they go. Then, we want to act all high and mighty. There is nothing quiet about the modern day church. And the attention we are receiving is nothing but negative lately. As the body of Christ we should move differently than we have been doing. Instead of going on mission trips why not venture out into the community. Why condemn someone gay or struggling with addiction when we can love them and teach them unconditionally. And before condemning someone why not get to know them and understand their past that got them where they are now. Our genuine acts of service should be doing majority of the talking for us. This is a way the modern church can live a quiet life. Less talking and more doing, less condemning and more compassion, less judgement and more understanding. God’s people are in need of His love and His teachings. So, that also means less of us and more of Him.

  7. The way Paul seems to view what it means to live a quiet life i believe refers to individuals as well as the church. If you are outside of the church, setting a bad example in your own time, people who know you are a Christian may lose respect for Christianity as a whole. Thos is even more so as a church. If churches aren’t behaving “quietly” and more respectfully, then they may be seen as hypocritical, causing people to reject the idea of taking any part in the church or following Christ. I know quite a few people who think of Christians as hypocrites because the hand full that they know do not walk the walk or they have only visited churches that do not walk the walk of walk of a follower of Jesus, leading them to believe that ALL Christians are hypocrites and ALL churches are corrupt. I’m sure this is what Paul was trying to get across, but after reading this post my first impression was that Paul wasn’t taking into account that we are all sinners and we do not want to appear as though we are perfect. If we did, then we WOULD be hypocrites because we sin every single day and if we forced ourselves to look polished and tidy for people outside of the church just so they will come in and join us, then this is not for the right intention! But I am aware that this is not the point Paul is trying to make. I think as a body of believers today, living quietly could mean that we live our lives striving to be reflections of Jesus. This does not mean that we shouldn’t be honest with people and the world about our sins. We need non-believers to know that we don’t believe we are perfect and that we fall all the time! But this is where God’s grace and mercy are to be revealed to them. This is where we show them by the way we live that our God is so merciful and He loves us so much that He sent His one and only Son to die for us.

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