Gabe and Darrian are writing their own series addressing questions surrounding women in ministry, so it feels like a good time for me to throw in my own observations, as I am, in fact, a woman in ministry.
My philosophy on women in ministry has long been in development and is now still very amorphous, so this is not supposed to be a thorough biblical analysis of the topic. Rather, I’m going to share a personal experience and God’s response to me.
This experience happened sometime around last spring. I was sitting in a coffee shop, reading through 1 Corinthians, trying to study the behavior of the Holy Spirit. I got derailed in a major way, though, because, like every time I read 1 Corinthians, I was distressed by the instructions Paul gives women in the church, such as that it would be shameful for them to speak during gatherings, and that if they desire to learn they should ask their husbands at home. Being a single woman whose primary spiritual gifts include words of wisdom and knowledge and teaching, I once again found myself frustrated with my lack of understanding about what Paul could possibly have intended and how we should apply that today.
So I did what I normally do when I’m frustrated – I went for a drive and talked to God about my frustrations, asking him to give me understanding. How do we reconcile the truth of God’s love for us with difficult, even offensive, passages in his word?
My answer was given a few weeks later. I was babysitting and had finally gotten my little charge to sleep, so I settled in and pulled out my daily Bible reading – Judges 13. I know I had to have read that passage before, but I had never heard it before.
The people of Israel sinned against God, so he allowed their enemies to oppress them. When they cried to God for deliverance, he answered them through the birth of Samson. This is how we’re introduced to Manoah, a Danite, and his barren, nameless wife.
If readers of the Old Testament have been paying any attention by this point, their interest should be piqued. New Testament readers should have even more interest, as this is yet another foreshadowing of the way in which the Messiah would appear. This is another story of God producing salvation out of barrenness, out of shame, out of despair. This is another story of God upholding a woman for his purposes.
We know nothing about Manoah or his wife’s relationship with God. We don’t know if they prayed for God to open her womb. What we do know is that one day the angel of the LORD appeared to Manoah’s wife and told her she would conceive a son, and he was to be a Nazirite from birth. This meant Manoah’s wife needed to carefully adhere to the Nazirite cleanliness laws for the duration of her pregnancy, and her child would need to keep to those laws his whole life. This child would be set apart, holy to the LORD, for the purpose of saving Israel. Manoah’s wife, believing the angel, goes and tells her husband the extraordinary news.
Manoah, apparently believing his wife but feeling a little fuzzy on the details, prays to the LORD to send the angel again to teach him and his wife how to raise their child. God hears Manoah’s prayer and sends the angel to give explanation, but he does not send the angel to Manoah. Once again, the angel comes to Manoah’s wife.
So Manoah’s wife fetches her husband and brings him to the angel to receive his explanation.
Manoah says, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?” And the angel of the LORD says to Manoah, “Of all that I said to the woman let her be careful… All that I commanded her let her observe.”
God. Loves. Women.
Women are made in the image of the eternal, all-wise, all-powerful, God-is-Love God. God uses women to tell the truth about himself. God uses women to minister to his church.
I can’t outline for you a list of do’s and don’ts about what that looks like, but we need to come into agreement with this truth. I can point to biblical women – Deborah, Abigail, Huldah, Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla, etc. – who God used to instruct and build up men. If we’re going to be wise, if we’re going to come into agreement with God, we need to be discerning and pay attention when God has commanded a woman to come into his service. We don’t want to stand in the way of her fulfilling the commandments he’s given her to observe.
Now, of course, observing these commandments cannot be divorced from submission to God and submission to the Body. Like the Syrophoenician mother (Mark 7), a woman following God in faith might be asked to submit to seemingly difficult, even offensive, standards. But if a woman is following God in faith, anyone else would be foolish to try and prevent her from doing so. Like last month’s post, I will allude to Elkanah and Hannah’s example (1 Samuel 1). After the birth of their son, Elkanah, being a man who followed God in faith, took his yearly trip to offer sacrifices to the LORD. Normally Hannah would accompany him, but desiring to wean Samuel before offering him in service to the LORD, and being a woman who followed God in faith, she submitted the matter to her husband. And Elkanah, being a man who trusted his wife to obey God, being a man who followed God in faith, said, “Do what seems best to you… only, may the LORD establish his word.”