My daughter-in-law, April, who’s a family practice physician, recently told me that women now comprise more than 50% of all medical school students.
In the past 50 years, we have witnessed more women in prominent positions in every profession and occupation. In business, industry, entertainment, education, finance, health-care, and politics, women are serving, excelling, and occupying leadership roles.
Some feel that the Lord’s church is out of touch with our culture and the role of women in the church. In recent years there has been much discussion about the expanded role of women in ministry. Restrictions regarding their public role based on Scripture have been argued, discussed, and debated. Some are frustrated by what they view as an outdated, old-fashioned, and even misogynistic attitudes toward Christian women that are deemed oppressive and hurtful.
While it is clear, based on Scripture, that God has placed the leadership role of both the home and in the church on men, He has also provided an important place for women’s ministry. Unfortunately, it seems that we too often focus on what women can’t do, instead of what they can do. Probations regarding the public assembly do not prohibit women from ministry in many areas of Christian service.
In today’s Bible reading, the apostle Paul mentions a sister named Phoebe, whom he identifies as “a servant of the church.”
“I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also” (Rom. 16:1-2).
What did she do? How did she help? Who all did she assist? We’re not specifically told. Some suggest she was the messenger that carried Paul’s letter to the Roman church. Regardless, when she arrived he instructed them to assist in whatever way she needed. Phoebe, like so many women I have known, had infinite value to the church.
It’s important to note that Phoebe stands alone as a Christian woman for whom Paul held in high regard. She’s not identified as someone’s wife. Mother. Sister. Or daughter.
Paul commended her. The word “commend” means to “be worthy of confidence.” “To recommend.” “To give approval to.” She is a woman worthy of praise.
Phoebe was a servant. This is the word that is translated “deacon.” Some have suggested this was an office of the church and she was a “deaconess.” Nothing in Scripture suggests this is so. It does, however, highlight, that Phoebe was a servant. A worker. One who ministered to her brothers and sisters.
It is important to remember that not all ministers are preachers. Or elders. Or deacons. Or men. The scriptures speak of many women who ministered in various ways. This chapter mentions several other women who made a difference in Paul’s life and in the Lord’s work.
Priscilla was a “co-worker in Christ” and labored alongside her husband, Aquila.
Persis who is spoken of as “beloved,” and as having “labored much in the Lord.”
There was a woman named Mary that we don’t know much about, but she is said “to have worked hard for you.” And Juna, who was well known among the apostles.
Tryphena and Tryphosa, are mentioned together and praised for their hard work. Some commentators believe they were sisters. Maybe twins.
Then there was the mother of Rufus whom Paul said had been like a mother to him. Finally, he mentions, Julia, and the sister of Nereus. These women, like Phoebe, were all involved in the ministry of the church.
Through the years, I have known of many godly women who’ve been a source of financial strength to the church. Without fanfare, they not only contribute generously to the common treasury but give individually to those in need.
It’s women who more often than men visit the sick, assist the needy, prepare and deliver food when needed, cheer up the elderly, write notes of encouragement, support the weak, and call or text with words of encouragement. I know because I’m married to such a woman who has often put me to shame with her tireless work of ministry in serving the needs of others.
Women also are wonderful teachers. You don’t have to be a pulpit preacher to minister in the word, like Priscilla and Philip’s four daughters. Timothy, the protégé of Paul was firmly grounded in the Word because of the teaching of both his mother and grandmother. How many men are preaching the gospel today because of the influence of a godly mother or grandmother?
Today women are finding more and more opportunities to teach through blogs, lectureships, writing books, workshops, marriage seminars, and retreats. Only God knows the good that our Sisters are accomplishing through these various means.
Look around you in your church family. See how many women are ministering in so many ways? Let’s celebrate their work. Honor their ministry. And thank them for their selfless service.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman