Saturday, 18 May 2013

Lifting Up Holy Hands

     In light of 1 Timothy 2:8, should Christians lift their hands as they worship God? At least three things need to be considered here: what this passage actually says, what it means, and how it applies. Paul wrote to the young evangelist in Ephesus: “Therefore I desire that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (NKVJ). Notice first of all that this admonition is addressed to “the men” (tous andras = adult males) in contrast to “the women” (tas gunaikas, v. 9), therefore this was something enjoined on the male Christians who pray rather than everyone in the worship assembly. Furthermore, notice that Paul does not simply refer to lifting up hands, but rather “lifting up holy hands.” This raises the question: is Paul addressing one’s physical posture (i.e. the position of his hands) when he prays or something else? If the focus is on what a man does with his literal hands, in what sense are they to be “holy”?
      The Bible describes a number of different physical positions for prayer: e.g. standing (Mark 11:25), kneeling (Dan. 6:10), sitting (Luke 22:14, 17), lying down (2 Sam. 12:16), prostrate (Matt. 26:39), bowed head (Ex. 4:31), eyes looking upward (John 17:1), facing a wall (2 Kgs. 20:2), lifted hands with bowed head (Neh. 8:6), standing with lifted hands (1 Kgs. 8:22), kneeling with lifted hands (1 Kgs. 8:54), etc. It is evident that there is no prescribed posture for prayer. However, God’s word consistently emphasizes that the condition of a man’s heart and life is essential when he prays. “Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Pet. 3:11-12; cf. 1 John 3:22; 5:11-15; Prov. 15:29; 28:9; Isa. 59:1-2; et al.). Therefore the key word in 1 Timothy 2:8, in connection with prayer, is “holy” rather than “hands.”
      Since a person uses his hands for most physical activities, the hands symbolize one’s actions (cf. Gen. 16:12; Job 14:15; 20:10; Matt. 6:3; Mark 9:43). And a person’s actions (good or bad) are directly related to the condition of his heart (Matt. 12:34-35; Mark 7:20-23). Those guilty of sin (as opposed to being “holy”) are metaphorically depicted in the Bible as having dirty “hands” (Isa. 1:15; Ezek. 3:18, 20; Jas. 4:8), and thus the removal of sin from one’s heart/life is symbolized as cleansing the “hands” (Deut. 21:6-9; Job 17:9; Psa. 24:4; 26:6; Jas. 4:8). When Pilate wanted to proclaim his innocence in condemning Jesus, he “washed his hands” (Matt. 27:24). David wrote: “The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me” (Psa. 18:20). Obviously there is much more in view here than personal hygiene!
      In the Bible the actual lifting of one’s hands in prayer symbolized that a pure life was being offered to God and thus the prayer should be unhindered. But the same could be accomplished without the literal raising of one’s hands (cf. Matt. 26:39). Whether a person’s hands are lifted or not, dirty or clean, has nothing to do with the acceptability of his prayers.  It is the condition of one’s heart and life that matters to God. Sin (the “dirt” of the soul) causes one’s prayers to be hindered (Isa. 59:1-2; Psa. 66:18), not the condition or position of his physical hands. 
      God directed Isaiah to write: “And when you spread forth your hands, I will hide my eyes from you: yea, when you make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil” (1:15-16). It is clear that “lifting hands” is a metonymy for prayer, just like “bowing the knees” (Eph. 3:14) is a metonymy for reverence and humility of heart.  To lift up your hands in prayer is to lift up and present your heart, soul, and life to God (cf. Psa. 63:4; 86:4; Lam. 3:41). If your spiritual “hands” are stained with sin, God will not hearken unto your prayers (Psa. 66:18). But if your spiritual “hands” are cleansed from sin (Psa. 18:20, 24; 24:4), your prayers will be acceptable to God (1 Pet. 3:12). “If you would prepare your heart, and stretch out your hands toward Him; If iniquity were in your hand, and you put it far away, and would not let wickedness dwell in your tents; Then surely you could lift up your face without spot; Yes, you could be steadfast, and not fear” (Job 11:13-15).
      In 1 Timothy 2:8 the emphasis is not on the position of men’s hands but rather the holy lives of the men who pray (or lead prayers in the assembly). A Christian mechanic with grease-stained hands or a Christian amputee with no hands at all can still lift “holy hands” in prayer as long as his heart and life are set apart in faithful service to the Lord. Regardless of physical posture, when men pray God wants their hearts and lives to be holy (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 1:4). A praying man can raise his hands in the air if he chooses (or kneel or stand, etc.). But if an unrighteous man prays with hands lifted and a righteous man prays with unlifted hands, only the latter is in harmony with Paul’s sentiment in 1 Timothy 2:8.
--Kevin L. Moore

     With respect to those who feel compelled to wave their arms in the air during worship, please consider the following. (1) If the intention is to comply with 1 Timothy 2:8, the point of Paul's directive has been missed, and there is no other passage in the New Testament to which an appeal can be made. (2) The men who pray are singled out in the text, not the women (vv. 9-15) or even the entire assembly. (3) If the practice is borrowed from our charismatic neighbors (many of whom, incidentally, ignore or dismiss or explain away vv. 11-12), the standard of worship is all wrong. (4) If the purpose is to generate a special feeling, or it results in drawing undue attention to the one(s) doing it, the focus of worship is all wrong. (5) If it causes a distraction to others who are trying to worship, or even a potential distraction, how is this practice, which is not legitimately based in scripture, justifiable? On the other hand, if everyone in the assembly is reverently and discreetly lifting hands simply as a customary worship posture (cf. Neh. 8:6) with which all are comfortable and no one stands out (similar to bowing heads or sitting or standing), there is no biblical teaching that would be at variance with it as long as the above five points are taken into account. 

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