Suppose that you and your wife were to invite the president over for dinner. Suppose, too, that he and his wife were to accept your invitation. As the time draws nearer, your wife asks how many places to set at the table. There would be the president and his wife, certainly a number of security people, undoubted the press, and on an on it would go. What may have begun as a rather intimate meal, would quickly become a large production.
So it was with Jesus’ ministry. In my mind, I have always had a certain mental picture of Jesus going about from place to place, followed by His disciples. At the front of the disciples were, of course, Peter, James and John. As we look more closely at the description of the ministry of our Lord in the gospels we discover that very soon the party which accompanied our Lord became quite large. One of the few texts which informs us about this large group is our text for today. In addition, Luke informs us about the vital role which a large number of women played in supporting the ministry of our Lord and His disciples.
While our text is but three verses long, it is a very important passage. It provides us with details the other gospel writers avoid, or only casually allude to. It informs us about the relationship between ministry and money and also about the role of women in ministry. Let us listen well to our text, for it has much to say to us.
The approach of this message will be to begin with a number of observations about what Luke is trying to tell us here. Then we will conclude by focusing on the principles we learn from this passage concerning ministry and money, and concerning the ministry of women.
(1) Our text links the preceding passage with a new, second, missionary journey about Galilee. There is a sense in which our text seems almost parenthetical, but note that verse 1 begins by informing us of another missionary campaign of our Lord:
After this,144 Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1a).
The expression, “after this” informs us that the events which follow are related to the preceding verses, specifically, I take it, the story of the woman who washed our Lord’s feet with her tears? Is it possible that she is one of the group that accompanies our Lord, which Luke is here describing?
In the fourth chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus indicated very early in His ministry that He was committed to going about from city to city to preach the gospel. He had this commitment because He recognized that it was a vital part of His divine calling and commission. When the disciples urged Jesus to return to the people who were waiting for Him, He responded:
“I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other town also, because that is why I was sent” (Luke 4:43a).
There will be several other missionary campaigns mentioned in Luke,145 but this is clearly the beginning of one of the important ones in His ministry to the people of Galilee. I believe that verses 2 and 3 of chapter 8 tell us how our Lord’s ministry was logistically worked out. He was accompanied by many, and they were supported by the contributions of some of the women. In the parable of the soils which follows (vv. 4ff.), Jesus explains the different responses to His preaching of the kingdom, as well as providing the reason for His change to the parabolic method of teaching.
(2) Jesus was accompanied by a large group of followers on this campaign. In the early days of our Lord’s ministry, it seems as though He either traveled alone (e.g. when He went to the synagogue in Nazareth, none of His disciples are mentioned, Luke 4:16-30). At other times, some of His disciples were with Him. But now we are told that a large group of followers accompanied Jesus on this campaign.
There were, Luke tells us, the 12. Obviously these are the 12 disciples. I am not certain but what they may have been accompanied by their wives, at least a later practice of the apostles, but perhaps one which began here (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5). If other women accompanied Jesus and the 12, why not the wives of the 12? In addition to the disciples, there were many others, as we will soon see.
(3) Included among this large group of followers who accompanied Jesus on this tour were many women. Three women are specifically named: Mary Magdalene (from whom the seven demons had been cast out), Joanna the wife of Cuza, Herod’s steward (this may explain one of Herod’s primary sources of information about Jesus and His ministry, cf. 9:7), and Susanna, who is not mentioned again in the Scriptures. In addition to these three, who are named, were many other women:
… and many other. These women were helping to support them out of their own means (Luke 8:3b).
(4) The women who followed Jesus had all been miraculously helped by Him. I believe that Luke identifies the three women by name so as to indicate how different each was. But regardless of the diversity among the women who followed Jesus, they all seemed to have this in common: Jesus had miraculously delivered (healed) them of conditions for which there was no human solution. Some, like Mary Magdalene, were delivered of demon possession. Others were healed of sicknesses and disease. Others, may have been healed of injuries and disfigurations. But all were beyond human help. All of those who went with Jesus to be of help to Him were those who had experienced His help in their lives.
In one sense, the group which accompanied Jesus was a testimony to the identity of Jesus Christ as Messiah. As Jesus went from village to village and city to city preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, those with Him bore witness to the fact that Jesus had given them sight when they had been blind, had enabled them to walk, when they were paralyzed, had freed them from demonic possession, when they had been in bondage to demons. The crowd which accompanied Jesus was, in one way of viewing it, the answer to John the Baptist’s challenge that Jesus prove His identity as Messiah.
It is not difficult to understand why those who had been healed by our Lord would want to be with Him as He traveled. The delivered demoniac expresses not only his desire to be with Jesus, but that which many like him must have felt as well:
“The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him (Luke 8:38-39).
In both cases, that of the demoniac, who went home to his own people, and those many who accompanied Jesus, the good new was proclaimed by those who had been helped by the Messiah.
(5) The women who had been healed by Jesus and who now accompanied Him, were those who also supported the whole group out of their own means. Luke wants us to know that these women were not mere “clingers-on,” they were active contributors to the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom. Humanly speaking, this campaign could not have been waged without their support. The party had to eat, and the food was provided by these women. I cannot say for certain that no men contributed to the support of our Lord’s mission, but we do know that many women played a crucial role in this matter.146
I should note at this point that while the women contributed the money which provided for the needs of this group, a man (Judas, to be specific, cf. John 12:6; 13:29) kept and distributed the funds.
The more I have read this text, the more I have become convinced that meeting the physical needs of the crowd that accompanied our Lord was a secondary matter, an outgrowth of being with Christ. To put the matter differently, I am convinced that these women did not follow our Lord to “have a ministry” as much as they followed Christ to be with Him. Being with Christ, these women were, like Him, sensitive to needs (even the hunger of those in the group) and to meeting these needs. Thus, these women were with Christ and also acted as He did in the face of needs.
(6) The women who accompanied our Lord and His disciples met needs which our Lord did not meet in a miraculous way. In one way, it is amazing to find our Lord and His disciples in need. In another, it is amazing that He purposed that women meet their needs. The Lord Jesus had proven His power and sufficiency in the lives of each who followed Him. He did that which men could not do—He performed a miracle in each life. And yet He did not miraculously provide for the need of the group for their daily bread. Why didn’t Jesus miraculously provide food for His party?
The precedent was set at our Lord’s testing in the wilderness. There, He refused to turn “stones into bread” as Satan challenged Him to do. He would not use His power to provide for His own needs. Similarly, He would not use His power here to do something similar, only on a much larger scale. Jesus would not make “miracle meals,” even though His followers were hungry.
On two occasions, Jesus did miraculously provide for His followers, once at the “feeding of the 5,000” and again at the “feeding of the 7,000.” In both cases, there was no earthly way to feed these hungry. Jesus feed these crowds by performing a miracle because there was no other way to feed them. Also, in so doing He gave further evidence to the fact that one greater than Moses was present.
I believe that there are several reasons why Jesus did not miraculously provide for His followers, thus making the group dependent on the generosity of these faithful women followers.
This was a part of our Lord’s humiliation, of His humbling in coming to the earth.
This gave men and women the opportunity and privilege of having a part in His ministry.
It was an example for later apostles and missionaries, that God provides for the needs of His people through people. The Lord’s practice of allowing women to support Him and His followers gave approval to the supporting of those who proclaim the gospel. Our Lord set the precedent that those who proclaim the gospel should be supported by those who benefit from that preaching. This is seen earlier in the Old Testament prophets (cf. 1 Kings 17:7ff.; 2 Kings 4:8-10), and is taught in principle by the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 9).
Our Lord’s practice of being supported by women affirmed the importance of women in the proclamation of the gospel, and the practical partnership attained by underwriting the preaching of the gospel.
(7) These women, who followed Jesus during this Galilean campaign, continued to follow Him to and through the end. Luke likes to introduce key characters to his reader before he focuses on them. For example, Paul is introduced briefly (Acts 8:1, 3) before the accounts of his conversion (Acts 9) and of his later ministry (Acts 13:1ff.).
Later texts tell us more about these women as time went by:
“Many women were there [at the cross], watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matt. 27:55-56).
“Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Jesus, and ‘Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there” (Mark 15:40-41).
“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment … It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense” (Luke 23:55-56; 24:10-11).
“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14).
Taking all of these texts together, we know that these women who are mentioned by Luke are the same women mentioned by Matthew and Mark as well, who continued to follow Jesus, not only in Galilee, but also to Jerusalem. They are the women who stood by our Lord at the cross, and who were the first to come to the empty tomb. What a marvelous and wonderful group of women these were! What a tribute Luke gives them! These were faithful women, faithful in meeting the needs of our Lord and of His party, faithful in staying with Him even in danger, faithful even after His death. Indeed, they were among those present and praying at the time of Pentecost.
Out text provides us with several vitally important principles, related to two major areas of Christian experience and ministry. The first pertains to the relationship between ministry and money. The second pertains to the role of women in ministry.
(1) Ministry costs money. This principle is so obvious it seems almost silly to state, but there seem to be those who overlook this reality, or who chose to ignore it. Even our Lord’s ministry required money. He did not have the need for television production costs or for office space, but He and those who followed Him did need simple provisions, namely food. Our Lord’s overhead did not include a hideaway retreat in the mountains or a yacht, nor a high personal income, but He and His followers had physical needs which people were privileged to participate in meeting.
(2) Ministries sometimes mismanage money. It is very apparent that some ministers and some ministries mismanage the funds which are given in support of that ministry. Judas, we know, misused some of the funds which were given to support our Lord’s money. Such evils should not be minimized, but neither are they an excuse for failing to support God’s work. Let us take every precaution to prevent and to clean up mismanagement; but let us not avoid our responsibility to support God’s work.
(3) Those who share in the costs of ministry, participate as partners in that ministry. I believe that Luke is telling us that these women who accompanied our Lord and who helped to finance it were a vital part of the “team” which proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God. Our Lord put the matter this way:
“Anyone who received a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:41-42).
Thus, to sustain a prophet in his ministry is to share in the reward of his ministry. To support a prophet is to share in his work and in his reward.
(4) It is biblical, in some cases, to be supported in ministry. Luke has told us that Jesus was supported in His ministry by a faithful group of women. Surely if our Lord can be supported, it is biblical for other “missionaries” (those who proclaim the good news) to be supported as well. Paul emphasized this in 1 Corinthians chapter 9. I understand the Gospel of Luke to indicate three major forms of support of those who minister.
First, men may be supported in proclaiming the gospel by those who have previously benefited from their ministry. This is the case in Luke 8:1-3 as I understand it. These women had personally benefited from our Lord’s ministry to them, and now they support His ministry to others. Paul was supported by the Macedonians, to whom he had previously ministered (cf. Philippians 1:3-6; 4:10-13).
Second, men may be supported by those to whom they presently minister. When Jesus sent out the 12 (Luke 9:1-6) and the 72 (Luke 10:1-12), He told them to take nothing. That was because they were to be ministering to those to whom they came, among whom they lived and served. The 12 and the 72 were to heal and to cast out demons. Surely the cities to which the came should have gladly sustained these preachers and miracle-workers. They were indeed servants “worthy of their hire.”
Third, some men were self-supported. When men became hostile toward our Lord and His message, Jesus spoke to His disciples about a different means of being supported as they proclaimed the gospel:
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?” “Nothing,” they answered. He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment” (Luke 22:35-37).
When the disciples of the Lord previous went about preaching and healing, they were generally well-received. But after our Lord’s rejection and crucifixion, it would be different for His disciples as well. Now they were to continue to go out, preaching the gospel, but this time fully prepared to care for themselves. In effect, they were to be self-supporting in the hostile world which was to come. Because of various evils and abuses (mainly those of the false teachers) Paul refused to exercise his right to be supported by the church, and to minister at no cost. Indeed, Paul even worked with his own hands so as to be able to support others (cf. Acts 20:34-35).
This last method is not a very popular one today. Few seem willing to dirty their hands with common, mundane labor. Many are those who want someone else to support them in their ministry. Many of these ask people whom they do not know, to whom they have never ministered, to support them in ministry. I do not see this kind of support in the New Testament.
When, then, should men be supported, by whom, and under what circumstances? From the entire book of Luke I believe we would have to say that this would differ for different people, and even for the same people, under different circumstances. I believe that we should be supported either by those to whom we have ministered or by those to whom we presently minister. And, we should be supported only when it promotes the gospel of Jesus Christ. There were times when Paul avoided taking money for his ministry because of the abusive practices of the false teachers. There were times when Paul was trying to practice the gospel by working with his own hands, supporting others. And there were times when Paul accepted support so that he could devote himself to proclaiming the truth of the gospel. Whether we are supported or not should be determined by determining whether or not the gospel will be best served by being supported or by being a supporter of others by working with out own hands. Too many people in ministry refuse to consider both options.
(5) Supporting the gospel ministry involves the support of many. The women who supported our Lord’s ministry did not support only Jesus—they supported the entire ministry team:
These women were helping to support them out of their own means (Luke 8:3).147
There are many Christians who want to support the leader of a ministry. After all, he is visible, vocal, and dynamic. But they are not so eager to pay the secretary who takes his calls or types his sermon manuscripts, which are essential functions too. When the gospel ministry is supported the gospel team should be supported.
(6) Supporting the gospel ministry involves the mundane. I am sure that there was nothing very exciting about buying heads of lettuce, or vegetables, or meat, but these were the things from which the meals were made. Today, Christians are not eager to pay for the office rent, for the utility bills, or for printer ribbons. All of these mundane matters are necessary, however, and buying them as a part of the gospel ministry is supporting the ministry, no matter how mundane that may seem.
(7) He or she who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. These words of our Lord refer to ministry with money, and then ministry in other ways:
“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16:10).
In the context of this passage it is clear that money is the “little thing” while other matters are the greater things. These women, who were faithful to follow our Lord in Galilee, and to meet the needs of the group, were faithful also at the foot of the cross and at the tomb of our Lord. Their faithfulness in the little thing of money assured them of faithfulness in the greater things of a later time. Judas, on the contrary, who was not faithful in the little thing of money was not faithful in greater things. Faithfulness in the matter of money is critical, for it leads to faithfulness in greater things as well. Investing in the gospel ministry determined where the hearts of these women were:
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).
(1) Jesus elevated women above the status given them by society. Luke is a man who gives greater attention to women in his accounts than do the other New Testament authors.148 Throughout the life and ministry of our Lord, Jesus loved and esteemed women. Throughout the gospels, women are described in a very favorable light.149
(2) Jesus used and encouraged women in ministry. Luke’s account of these women who followed Jesus and supported the Galilean campaign is a tribute to them and to their ministry. It commends the women for their faithfulness and commitment to the Lord and it values their ministry as a partnership in the proclamation of the gospel.
(3) Jesus differentiated the ministry of women from that of men. Jesus did not use women in ministry in the same ways that He used men. He did not choose 6 men and 6 women as apostles; He chose 12 men. He did not send out 36 men and 36 women from city to city (10:1ff.); He sent out 72 men. Jesus did not send out women to preach to people. Jesus used women in ministry, but in a way that is entirely consistent with the principles and practices of the apostle Paul, those principles and practices which are viewed as “narrow” by some evangelicals and most others. Jesus did not use women in ministries which caused them to teach or to have authority over men.
(4) Jesus did not allow His culture to dictate the ways in which women were used in ministry. Today, some Christians are tempted to think in this way: Jesus elevated women above the culture of their day. Therefore Christians should continue to press for women’s rights and ministry which surpass society’s standards and structures. If Jesus was a “liberator of women” in His day, the church should seek to liberate women today.
They miss the point of what Jesus did. Jesus did not allow His culture to dictate how women were used in ministry. In Jesus’ day, the culture was suppressing women. In our day, our culture is liberating women to the extent that no distinctions between men and women are tolerated in terms of their ministry and function. In the church we must obey God’s commands, and not culture. Now, instead of surpassing culture by elevating women (as Jesus did), the church is forced to firmly plant its feet and refuse to give women offices and functions which are clearly unbiblical. Women are forbidden in Scripture to teach or to lead men (1 Tim. 2:11-12), and the church must obey, whether culture or women hail this as fair and proper or not. Following Christ often means resisting our culture. Jesus did not allow His culture to dictate His practice, but rather divine principles. We must do likewise, whether we are praised or mocked for being obedient. In the final analysis, we do not honor women by treating them like men. We honor them by dealing with them as a special creation of God with a complementary, not a competitive role to play with regard to men.
(5) One’s spirituality or significance to Christ is not measured by one’s prominence, power, or position, but by one’s heart for God and devotion to Him. The reason why both men and women clamor for the “right” to possess positions of power and prestige is because we think that our significance to God is measured by our standing before men. I have little doubt that the women whom Luke mentions in our text were more “spiritual,” more spiritually perceptive, than the 12 disciples. The men who followed Jesus wanted to call down fire on God’s enemies; they wished to gain power and prominence for themselves; they argued about who would be the greatest in the kingdom; they failed to grasp the spiritual implications of what Jesus was saying and doing. The women, on the other hand, seem to be more sensitive, more devoted to pure worship of the Savior, and more perceptive that Jesus’ death was becoming eminent (thus, the anointing of Jesus for His burial, by a woman, of course). Position and power have nothing to do with their devotion to Christ and the intimacy of their fellowship with Him. Thus, “having a significant ministry” was not, and never should be, a driving force in the lives of these godly women. They only wished to be with Him, even if that were while washing His feet. Let us seek this mind as well.
Allow me to make one final observation. This text is divine testimony to the fact that God knows those who follow Him, and He honors both their devotion and their deeds of service. Whether men praise us or not, God will reward our faithfulness and devotion to Him. Let us seek His praise, His favor, His “well done, good and faithful servant.”
144 A. T. Robertson comments: “This word means one after the other, successively, but that gives no definite data as to the time, only that this incident in 8:1-3 follows that in 7:36-50.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), II, p. 110.
146 It is my guess that the disciples supported Jesus early on, when they were still working (e.g. at their nets). Now, Jesus’ disciples were working with Him, and thus could not provide for the material needs of the group. Supporting Jesus was something which the women “could” do—“could” in the sense that it was appropriate, in the sense that they had the means to do so, and also in the sense that they were eager to do so.
147 It should be pointed out the some Greek manuscripts have the singular “Him,” no doubt a reflection of Matthew 27:55-56 and Mark 15:40-41. Nevertheless I believe that the entire team was supported, and not just our Lord. In supporting “Him” these women supported “them.”
148 “The evangelist pays special attention to women in his narrative of Jesus and the early church: Luke 1:24ff., Elizabeth (only in Luke); 1:26ff., Mary (only in Luke); 2:36ff., Anna (only in Luke); 4:38ff., Simon’s mother-in-law; 7:11ff., the widow at Nain (only in Luke); 7:36ff., the sinful woman (only in Luke); 8:2-3, women who ministered to Jesus and his disciples (only in Luke); 8:43ff., woman with a hemorrhage; 10:38ff., Martha and Mary (only in Luke); 13:10ff., the crippled woman (only in Luke); 15:8-10, the parable of the woman with a lost coin (only in Luke); 18:1-8, parable of the widow (only in Luke); 21:1ff., the widow who gave her all; 23:49,55, the women at the crucifixion; 24:10-11, 22-23, the women at the tomb; Acts 1:14, the woman and Mary at prayer; 5:1ff., Sapphira; 6:1ff., the widows; 9:36ff., Dorcas; 12:12ff., Mary the mother of Mark and Rhoda; 16:14ff., Lydia; 16:16ff., the slave girl who is healed; 17:12, Greek women of high standing believed, 17:34, Damaris; 18:2, 18, 26, Priscilla; 21:9, Philip’s four daughters; 23:16, Paul’s sister; 25:13, Bernice.” Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1984), pp. 90,91.
149 “What a challenge and inspiration it must be for every woman to consider that, while nowhere in the four Gospels is mention made of any women who were hostile to Jesus, there are numerous references to ministration and marks of honour which they accorded Him. With much affection and faithful devotion they ministered to Him with their possessions (verse 3)—to Christ Jesus who became poor so that we might be made rich. What an example of service to be followed by every woman who believes in Him!” Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975 [reprint]), p. 239.