WHAT CAN WOMEN DO FOR THE LORD?
I received the following e-mail from a pastor:
“You are way off base with your theology on women preachers. Just because a women preaches does not mean she is exerting authority over men. You don’t have to be a pastor to preach the word or hold the office of a prophet. It is clear that women did prophecy and pray openly in the church both in the old and new Testaments. You know that.
“Perhaps if the men in many of our Baptist churches got on their knees and prayed a little more or got out to witness in their communities a little, God would not have to use women as much as He does. Do you yourself allow women any voice at all in the church? If you do, then you are guilty of a double standard because of your stand. Why don’t you send them all home and let the men do all of the teaching and all of the praying and all of the testimony if you really believe what you preach? The women can always ask the men what it is the preacher said and ask questions. Sorry my brother, but double talk don’t cut it with God!”
REPLY FROM BROTHER CLOUD
First of all I have a couple of verses that I would like to quote:
“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” Proverbs 18:13
“Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” Job 38:2
These verses describe precisely what you are doing in your e-mail. You are speaking from ignorance: ignorance not only of the Scripture but ignorance of what I teach on this subject.
As for what I preach about the woman’s service to Christ, I do not teach that they cannot do anything or that they are nothing in the work of God. Far from it. Women are very valuable in the work of God and they have always had a great place in our missionary work, but the Bible plainly teaches that there are restrictions upon the woman’s ministry. There are restrictions for men, too. Not all men, for example, can be pastors or deacons, because God has specific standards for these offices. Likewise, God has certain restrictions on the woman’s ministry.
As for the women leaders in the Old Testament, I have replied to that in the article “Women Leaders in the Bible.”
The following is what I teach about the woman’s spiritual ministry.
WOMEN IN THE WORK OF GOD
There are two errors among Christians in regard to the woman’s ministry: (1) Some teach that women can do anything. (2) Others teach that women can do almost nothing. Neither position is Scriptural.
Godly women have a large and important role in the work of God. Though there are some restrictions upon their work, they should not be despised by the churches. The Bible often mentions women in an honorable manner. They held an honorable place in the life of Christ as well as in the ministry of the apostle Paul.
THE LIMITATION TO THE WOMAN’S MINISTRY
1 TIMOTHY 2:11-15
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”
1. The woman is to have a humble, teachable spirit and is not to push herself into leadership positions (v. 11). Compare 1 Peter 3:4, “But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.”
2. There are two simple restrictions on the woman’s ministry.
“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence,” 1 Tim. 2:12.
First, she is not allowed to usurp authority over the man.
Obviously, then, she can never hold a position such as pastor. In contrast to this biblical restriction, we have churches today, such as the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, pastored by David Yonggi Cho, and Willowcreek Community Church, which have woman pastors.
One of the qualifications of a pastor/elder is that the officeholder be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2, 12).
Second, the woman is not allowed to teach men.
This does not mean that a woman can never talk to a man about the Lord. I do not believe it is wrong for a woman to give her testimony and to share Christ with men in a casual setting. Not long ago I received an e-mail from a woman who wanted to talk to her father-in-law about the Lord, and she asked if I thought that would be appropriate. I told her that she should definitely talk to her father-in-law about Christ.
The women who arrived first at Christ’s empty tomb were told to go and tell the male disciples that Jesus had risen (Matt. 28:7-8). This does not mean we can ignore plain restrictions in other passages, such as 1 Timothy 2:12, but it does tell us that women can testify to men under certain conditions.
What 1 Timothy 2:12 means is that the woman cannot teach with authority. That is the context. Examples of this would be teaching from the pulpit, teaching mixed Sunday School classes, teaching in Bible conferences to mixed crowds of men and women, and teaching at mixed Bible college classes. When a woman stands before a mixed crowd that includes men and opens the Bible and preaches or teaches, she is taking authority. There is not a more authoritative thing in the world than to teach and preach the Bible, and God’s Word forbids a woman to do this.
3. God tells us the reason for these limitations (“For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression,” 1 Tim. 2:13-14).
First, the order of creation requires these limitations (v. 13). The woman was created after the man to be his helpmeet and not his head.
Second, the nature of the woman requires these limitations (v. 14). The woman was not created to lead but to serve, and she was given the equipment to do the latter, not the former. As a result, she is more easily deceived, as Eve was.
4. God’s Word describes the woman’s greatest sphere of influence (“Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety,” 1 Tim. 2:15).
In this verse Paul exhorts the women saints not to be discouraged because of the fall but to know that they have a very important role in the world and in the church.
It is possible that this is a faint allusion to God’s promise to Eve that her seed would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), the prophecy of Christ’s coming as man’s Saviour. It is a great encouragement to godly women to remember that though the woman was the first sinner, the woman is also the instrument that God used to bring the Saviour into the world to redeem sinners.
Consider what this verse does not teach:
The verse is not saying that women obtain eternal salvation through child bearing. Salvation is not by faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. That would be a works salvation, but we know that the salvation of the soul is by God’s grace in Christ through faith without works (Eph. 2:8-9).
1 Timothy 2:15 also does not promise escape from the pain of childbirth. Godly women usually suffer as much as others in childbearing.
Further, the verse does not promise that a godly woman will never die in childbirth. Many godly women have died while bearing children.
Bible words must always be defined by their context, and here the term “salvation” is used in the sense of fruitfulness and fulfilling God’s purpose in this world. The main teaching of this verse is that the woman’s primary sphere of blessing in this world is the home and involves the work of bearing and training children. She shall “be saved” through the instrumentality of bringing up children and guiding the home, through the faithful performance of her duties as a wife and mother. “She shall be saved from the arts of impostors, and from the luxury and vice of the age, if, instead of wandering about, she remains at home, cultivates modesty, is subject to her husband, and engages carefully in the training of her children” (Wetstein).
The pronoun “they” refers either to women in general, to the woman and her husband, or to her children.
Women will be fruitful in this world if “they” continue faithfully in the things of God.
If she and her husband continue in the faith in a godly manner, they together will raise godly children.
Likewise, if the children continue in faith in a godly manner, they will be the woman’s “salvation” (Prov. 22:6).
We see an example of this in Timothy’s mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). Because of their faith in Christ and godly Christian living and because they taught Timothy the Word of God, Timothy went on to serve Christ, and God’s blessing was upon all of them as a result.
This should be an encouragement to all women. Even single women and women who have no children can teach and influence children by their relationship to children as aunts, cousins, in laws, etc., by Sunday School and Bible clubs and other children’s ministries.
1 CORINTHIANS 14:34-35
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
This is referring to teaching and prophesying, which is the context. The woman is not allowed to speak out in the church services in the sense of teaching or preaching. She is forbidden to teach men or to usurp authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12). I do not believe it is appropriate for a woman to lead in public prayer in a mixed congregation. 1 Timothy 2:8 says it is the men who should lead in prayer (1 Tim. 2:8). I do not believe that it is appropriate for a woman to lead the singing in a mixed congregation or choir. She should not be put into a position whereby she is exercising authority over men.
This passage also forbids women to speak out and disturb the meetings with their questions and comments. Recently I heard from a pastor who was troubled about two women in his church who have the habit of speaking out during the teaching and thereby cause disturbance in the church. This is forbidden in 1 Corinthians 14.
This does not mean, though, that a woman can never say anything in the congregation. She can sing and testify in due order. A woman can testify about what God has done in her life without getting into a teaching mode, but she must be very careful that she limits herself to a proper capacity. If there is an open question and answer time, women can participate, but she is not to blurt out questions in a disorderly fashion in other contexts.
What Paul is talking about in the context of 1 Corinthians 14 is orderliness and the exercise of ministry gifts in the church services.
THE BLESSING OF THE WOMAN’S MINISTRY
Though there are restrictions upon the woman’s ministry in the Word of God, there are also many encouragements for the woman to serve the Lord. Women are exceedingly valuable in this world and in the service of Christ.
“... if women have mastered men for evil, they have also mastered them for good -- we gladly make declaration that some of the fairest and most fragrant flowers that grow in the garden of God and some of the sweetest and most luscious fruit that ripens in God’s spiritual orchards are there because of woman’s faith, woman’s love, woman’s prayer, woman’s virtue, woman’s tears, woman’s devotion to Christ” (R.G. Lee, Payday Someday).
Consider some of the ways that God has used women:
• It was a woman who brought Jesus into the world.
• Many women assisted Jesus during His earthly ministry (Lk. 8:2-3).
• It was a woman who anointed Jesus for His burial prior to His death (Mat. 26:6-13).
• It was mostly women who stood at the cross (Mat. 27:55-56).
• It was women who observed Jesus’ burial and who came to anoint Jesus after He was dead (Lk. 23:55-56).
• It was women who first came to the empty tomb and first believed the resurrection (Mat. 28:1-6).
• It was women who first reported the resurrection (Mat. 28:7-8).
• Women were waiting with the men in the upper room for the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:14).
Women are very, very important in church work, too (Romans 16:1-5). Many of the first Christians were women (Acts 17:4, 12), such as Lydia the first convert of Asia (Acts 16:14).
• Women can teach other women (Titus 2:3-5).
• Women can teach children. Women such as Lois and Eunice trained up young workers for the Lord (2 Tim. 1:5).
• Women can witness and bring sinners to Christ (John 4:28-30).
• Women are essential in the work of building strong spiritual homes so that the church is thereby strengthened in the Lord.
Consider three Bible examples:
Lydia is an example of a godly woman who is a blessing to the work of God (Acts 16:12-15, 40). She was the first convert in Philippi. She then influenced her entire household to trust Christ. After she was saved she begged Paul and Silas to stay as guests in her home. The Bible says “she constrained” them. This means she was a very persuasive woman! The church at Philippi started in Lydia’s home. In Acts 16:40, when Paul and Silas were loosed from jail they came first to Lydia’s home and there they “comforted the brethren.” It is obvious that this is where the church was accustomed to meet. This godly businesswoman was a very important member of the early churches.
Phebe is another example (Rom. 16:1-2). She was a servant of one church, the church at Cenchrea, which was near Corinth. This teaches us the importance of church membership and the importance of faithfulness to the church. We serve the Lord Jesus Christ, but we serve Him in this world through the church. Those who despise the church today despise the work of God. When we see her in Romans 16, Phebe was doing the work of the Lord. She was on business pertaining to Paul. Many believe that she was carrying the Epistle of Romans. Paul instructed the believers to treat her with respect and to give her whatever assistance she needed.
Priscilla is another example. She worked with her husband in starting churches (Romans 16:3-5). She assisted her husband in instructing Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). In some passages Paul mentions Priscilla first, before her husband (Acts 18:18; Rom. 16:3). This might mean that she was the more zealous of the two, or it could mean that her husband spent more of his time with the tent business while she spent more of her time in the spiritual ministry, or it could mean that Paul was closer to her. Whatever the reason, it is a fact that Paul honored her and valued her as a servant of the Lord.
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