As you read Paul’s instructions to Timothy about how he was to lead the church at Ephesus, remember that the church had been victimized by false teachers. They had wormed their way into the fellowship and confused many of the members. The false doctrines they taught were wreaking havoc in families, undermining church leadership, and sidetracking the mission. In my opinion, it is safe to assume that each subject Paul addresses in this chapter is a response to one of these false teachings and was given to Timothy as a corrective for what was false. The introduction to this section in verse 1, “First of all, then”, seems to suggest that. (Note: My assumption may be wrong, but I don’t think so. I’m just trying to read it in context.)
Apparently some of the false teachers in Ephesus were telling people that prayer was unnecessary. It could have been a faulty understanding of the sovereignty of God that led to the belief that human prayers don’t matter because God’s will is already set — whatever will be, will be, regardless of what we say to God or what we ask of Him. The corrective: keep praying. Don’t stop praying. In fact, the church should pray every kind of prayer they can pray (supplications, intercessions, thanksgivings) for “all people” (v.1-2). Those prayers make a difference; they matter. Paul mentions specifically that the church should pray for the leaders of government. That instruction is especially meaningful when you consider that the Roman emperor at the time Paul wrote this was Nero, a notoriously cruel, Christian-killing maniac. But God responds to the prayers of His people, and He can change the hearts of kings.
The evidence in verses 3-4 suggests that some false teachers in Ephesus taught that God does not want everyone to be saved. That doctrine persists even today in the teaching that individuals are pre-programmed for either salvation or destruction, and that nothing they do or the church does can altar that fate. That belief renders evangelism and missions unnecessary, and is contrary to the desire of God to save everyone. Verses 5-6 suggest another errant teaching: Jesus is not the only way of salvation; there are alternate paths to God. But Paul corrected that horrible error with a statement that carried the full force of his apostolic credentials: Jesus is the only way of salvation. The ransom, the price necessary to release captive sinners, was Jesus Himself — and no other.
The information in verses 9-15 is evidence that the women of the church had been especially susceptible to the lies of the false teachers. My guess is that they were being taught that their freedom in Christ meant that they should abandon modesty and flaunt their bodies with suggestive clothing (v.9-10). Paul’s corrective: if you profess to be a godly woman, show some self-control and modesty. Point people to Jesus, not your cleavage. Let your “good works” (v.10) be what people remember most about you, not how pretty you look. Apparently some false teachers had taught the younger women the other extreme — that they should suppress their femininity and sexuality to the point that they would not be involved with men at all, including marriage and childbearing (v.15; see also 5:14-15). Certainly marriage and motherhood is not God’s plan for every single woman, but it is generally His plan for womanhood, and it should be celebrated and elevated as such.
My view of verses 11-12 is that Paul was teaching that in the church, as in the home, men are to take the lead. This is not an issue of the value or worth of men over women, but an issue of responsibility. God’s plan is that men are responsible for being the heads of homes and the pastors of churches. The great tragedy of our culture (and many of our churches) is the irresponsibility of men. It goes all the way back to creation when Adam remained silent and did nothing to protect Eve from Satan’s deception (v.13-14). Everything is thrown into chaos when men shirk their responsibility as leaders. Women can’t fulfill their own responsibilities if they have to pick up the slack for lazy men. That’s how I see it anyway.