10. Are Women Second Class Citizens? (Part III: The Benefits of Silence and Submission)Related Media
1 Certainly God is good to Israel,
and to those whose motives are pure!
2 But as for me, my feet almost slipped;
my feet almost slid out from under me.
3 For I envied those who are proud,
as I observed the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they suffer no pain;
their bodies are strong and well-fed.
5 They are immune to the trouble common to men;
they do not suffer as other men do.
6 Arrogance is their necklace,
and violence their clothing.
7 Their prosperity causes them to do wrong;
their thoughts are sinful.
8 They mock and say evil things;
they proudly threaten violence.
9 They speak as if they rule in heaven,
and lay claim to the earth.
10 Therefore they have more than enough food to eat,
and even suck up the water of the sea.
11 They say, “How does God know what we do?
Is the sovereign one aware of what goes on?”
12 Take a good look! This is what the wicked are like,
those who always have it so easy and get richer and richer.
13 I concluded, “Surely in vain I have kept my motives pure
and maintained a pure lifestyle.
14 I suffer all day long,
and am punished every morning.”
15 If I had publicized these thoughts,
I would have betrayed your loyal followers.
16 When I tried to make sense of this,
it was troubling to me.
17 Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple,
and understood the destiny of the wicked.
18 Surely you put them in slippery places;
you bring them down to ruin.
19 How desolate they become in a mere moment!
Terrifying judgments make their demise complete!
20 They are like a dream after one wakes up.
O Lord, when you awake you will despise them.
21 Yes, my spirit was bitter,
and my insides felt sharp pain.
22 I was ignorant and lacked insight;
I was as senseless as an animal before you.
23 But I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me by your wise advice,
and then you will lead me to a position of honor.
25 Whom do I have in heaven but you?
I desire no one but you on earth.
26 My flesh and my heart may grow weak,
but God always protects my heart and gives me stability.
27 Yes, look! Those far from you die;
you destroy everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But as for me, God’s presence is all I need.
I have made the sovereign Lord my shelter,
as I declare all the things you have done.
A well-written song by Asaph (Psalm 73:1-28).1
Years ago I was about to speak at an in-prison seminar. An older lady sitting behind me sensed my eagerness, leaned forward, and whispered in my ear, “You’re chomping at the bit, aren’t you?” I confessed to her that I was indeed “chomping at the bit.” That’s the way I feel about this message as well. We’ve been talking about the ministry of women in the church for the past two weeks and both of those lessons have, of necessity, focused primarily on those things that women are prohibited from doing in the church – namely teaching and exercising authority over men.2
What makes me uneasy about my approach is that so much emphasis has been placed on what women can’t do that one might wrongly conclude that women have gotten “the short end of the stick” (so to speak). It is for this reason that I am eager to present this lesson, because we will now begin to direct our attention to the positive aspects of the ministry God has given to women in the church. I will seek to demonstrate that in the things that matter most God has dealt most graciously with those women who trust in Him and who seek to know Him intimately.
You might very well wonder why this lesson begins with Psalm 73.3 Actually, it is a very fitting text, which gets to the heart of the subject of this message. The psalmist is Asaph, who was one of David’s choir directors.4 He was also a “seer” or prophet.5 In this psalm Asaph comes to terms with his anger toward God for not blessing him in the manner he had come to expect, and even demand. The lessons he learns are applicable to virtually every Christian, as well as to those outside the faith.
Complaints from the Choir Loft
The psalm begins with Asaph’s affirmation of faith: “Certainly God is good to Israel, and to those whose motives are pure!” (Psalm 73:1). The verses that follow tell us just what Asaph assumed this meant. Asaph reasoned that God was obliged to bless pious Israelites for their piety, and that these blessings took the form of physical and material well-being. Believing himself to be one of the pious, Asaph expected material prosperity, long life, good health, and freedom from the calamities which he believed should fall on the wicked.
As Asaph looked out from the choir loft (so to speak) what he saw did not conform to his expectations.6 Those he knew to be ungodly were doing very well. They seemed clothed with prosperity of all kinds. No doubt he could discern this by their clothing, jewelry, and transportation (which could be observed in the temple parking lot). These folks who fared so well were wicked. They not only spurned God’s law, they arrogantly shook their proverbial fists in God’s face, daring Him to do anything about their sin. They felt untouchable and safe in their sin. Meanwhile, the pious were those who seemed to be pursued by problems, not prosperity. It looked to Asaph as though God had forgotten the rules of the game; or, worse yet, that God simply did not care what men did. In Asaph’s mind God was giving away his blessings to the bad guys, while he, himself, was reaping the painful consequences of their sins. Had God forgotten how things were supposed to work or, worse yet, did He not know or care?
A Change of Heart
Asaph confesses that he was tempted to throw in the towel. It seemed to him that there was no benefit to faithfully following God. His reward for piety was trouble, while the wicked seemed to enjoy the good life.7 Fortunately Asaph realized that because he was a leader in Israel his sin would adversely impact many – his entire generation. When his perspective changed, he saw these same circumstances in a very different light. From here on in this psalm, Asaph’s thinking is from an eternal, God-centered, point of view.8 Now Asaph contemplates the events that take place in time in the light of eternity.
A Revised Definition of “Good”
Asaph now looks on the wicked in a radically different way. Do the wicked seem to “have it made”? Is life going smoothly for them, with no bumps in the road? It won’t last long. Their good times are going to be short-lived. Their physical ease has not drawn them to God; quite the contrary, they feel independent of God. In their minds, they neither need nor want God. They arrogantly speak against God, and assume their prosperity is a validation of their rejection of God. Because of this their eternal torment awaits them in the not-too-distant future. After death comes the judgment, and it is then that the wicked will face the eternal wrath of God.
Asaph sees himself in a different light as well. He realizes that he is not nearly as pious as he thought. He was bitter toward God, pointing a finger of accusation in His direction. He was ignorant and acting like a mere animal (pursuing his appetites, and not thinking clearly). Did Asaph think God was distant and removed from his plight? Did he assume that God did not care? He is now aware of God’s presence. God had not left him; He had a firm grip on his right hand, guiding him with wisdom toward true honor and glory. True, his flesh may fail, and death will come, but God is always with him, in this life and will be throughout all eternity. The wicked are hastening to their destruction; Asaph is now overwhelmed with the joy of God’s presence. God is all that He needs, and Asaph is now eager to share this with others.
I love the translation of verse 28 that reads: “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.”9 Here is a new and very different definition of “good.” Good is the nearness of God, and not the mere absence of pain or physical need. Whatever draws me near to God is good, while that which draws me from God is evil. Asaph’s troubles had ultimately drawn him to God. More accurately, God had drawn Asaph near to Himself through his adversities (see Psalm 119:71, 75). The prosperity of the wicked only made them more arrogant in their rebellion against Him. God was “good” to Asaph in the midst of his afflictions, and now, at last, he knows it.
So what is the connection to our subject? It is possible that some women may feel the way Asaph did. They may feel that their piety has not been rewarded as they would wish. They may conclude that men (perhaps men who are not as godly as themselves) have gotten the limelight and the most prominent positions in the church, while they are left with the mere scraps of Christian service. The whole matter hinges on one’s definition of “good.” What is the “good” that both men and women should seek, and what does leadership have to do with it? If it is prominence and visibility that is the “good” that is sought, there will be disappointment. But if we recognize, like Asaph, that “the nearness of God (spiritual intimacy with God) is our good,” then we will never be disappointed. We see this not only in this Old Testament text, but also in the New. Let us next consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians chapter 11.
Satan’s Schemes are Still the Same
2 Corinthians 11:1-4
1 I wish that you would be patient with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you are being patient with me! 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy, because I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his treachery, your minds may be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus different from the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the one you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough! (2 Corinthians 11:1-4, emphasis mine)
The Corinthian saints were all too eager to follow new leaders and their teaching, teaching which turned them away from Christ to pursue so-called “wisdom.”10 Paul likens the situation to that which we find in Genesis chapter 3 and the fall of humanity. In the fall of mankind Satan deceived Eve,11 offering her wisdom (the knowledge of good and evil) that was to be achieved by disobedience to God’s command. While Satan promised Eve that they would be “like God” (in knowing good and evil) he did not inform her that this act of disobedience would disrupt their relationship with God. The intimacy they had known initially in the Garden of Eden would be lost. We knew that as soon as Eve and her husband ate of the forbidden fruit they sought to hide themselves from God. And very soon they would be cast out of the garden, never to return in their lifetime.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 11 Paul will go on to say that Satan is now speaking through his spokesmen in the Corinthians church, seeking to turn them away from their pure and simple devotion to Christ.12 The sophistication and worldly wisdom of these false apostles had deceived some, seducing them from a pure devotion to Christ to following (worshipping?) mere men. The point to which I am seeking to call your attention is that the highest “good” is a pure and sincere devotion to Christ, the same “good” of which Asaph spoke in Psalm 73. Satan is seeking to draw us away from this pure and sincere devotion. God blesses us by facilitating this devotion. And so the question arises, “Does the role God has appointed for women in the church contribute to or hinder a woman’s (and a man’s as well) highest good – enjoying intimacy with God?” That is the question we will seek to answer in this lesson.
Is Public Egalitarian Ministry Necessary for Intimacy with God?
There are other goals that are essential for Christians,13 but the one I would like to deal with is that of sincere and simple devotion to God (as 2 Corinthians 11:3 puts it), or as the nearness of God (as Asaph expressed it in Psalm 73:28). And so in this lesson we are faced with this question: IS PUBLIC14 “EGALITARIAN”15 MINISTRY NECESSARY FOR INTIMATE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD. Put differently, Does the prohibition of leading men in the church hinder women from enjoying intimacy with God? I believe we will find that the answer to both questions is a resounding “No!” Allow me to document my understanding from the Scriptures.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:1-18 warns of the danger of seeking to practice one’s religion in a way that gains public attention and approval. It is the nature of our flesh to desire man’s praise. The Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day had developed their attention-getting ministry techniques to a fine art. Our Lord sets the stage for His teaching with these words:
1 “Be careful not to display your righteousness merely to be seen by people. Otherwise you have no reward with your Father in heaven. 2 Thus whenever you do charitable giving, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in synagogues and on streets so that people will praise them. I tell you the truth, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:1-2).
Jesus warns against purposefully public demonstrations of religious devotion, in order to gain the praise of men. Instead, He teaches us to perform our acts of worship as privately as possible, knowing that God sees what we do in secret, and will reward us accordingly. Jesus identifies three particular religious practices: (1) charitable contributions in verses 2-4; (2) prayer in verses 3-15; and, (3) fasting in verses 16-18. Men are commanded to take the spiritual leadership in the church, and thus their roles are, of necessity, more public and visible. Women are restricted from much that is prominent and visible when the church gathers, and our Lord’s words in Matthew chapter 6 should make a woman reluctant to assume this visible role. (Needless to say, men should not perform their responsibilities in a manner intended to attract attention to themselves, and thus encroach on the preeminence of Christ.) I believe it is safe to conclude from our Lord’s words in Matthew chapter 6 that public ministry is no proof of piety; indeed, it can even be contrary to true piety.
A comparison of the spiritual insight of men and women in the gospels does not support the contention that the restrictions imposed on women regarding spiritual leadership limit them to a second class relationship with the Lord. I hate to admit it, but when I read the New Testament it seems that men – specifically the disciples – are spiritually less perceptive than women. This is in spite of their more dominant role in the life and ministry of our Lord.
The Dullness of the Disciples
On numerous occasions Jesus informed His disciples that He was going to be rejected in Jerusalem, crucified, and then rise from the dead on the third day. In spite of the directness of our Lord concerning His death, it either went over the disciples’ heads and they missed it completely, or they actually sought to compel our Lord to avoid such a course.16 More than once we find the disciples discussing (or debating) who was (or would be) the greatest in the kingdom, and amazingly this often took place in close proximity to our Lord’s prediction of His upcoming death.
30 They went out from there and passed through Galilee. But Jesus did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man will be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand this statement and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum. After Jesus was inside the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest (Mark 9:30-34, emphasis mine; see also Luke 9:44-46; 22:20-24).
I am inclined to conclude that one of the reasons why the disciples failed to grasp our Lord’s predictions of His rejection, suffering, and death was because they were too caught up in their expectations related to His success. His success (being recognized as Israel’s king) seemed to mean their glory as well.17 His death seemed to put an end to it all, as we can see from the despair of the disciples after His death and before His resurrection.18
When Jesus indicated to His disciples that He was to be betrayed by one of them, they once again missed what should have been clear. In John 13:21 Jesus told His disciples that one of them would betray Him. In John 13:26 He indicated that His betrayer would be the one for whom He dipped a morsel and then gave it to him. In Matthew 26:25 Judas asks Jesus if he is the one, to which Jesus answers in the affirmative. And yet the disciples had no clue as to what Judas was about to do.19 I believe it is because they were too intent on debating who among them was regarded as the greatest.20
In John 12:1-8 we read an account of Mary anointing the feet of our Lord with very expensive ointment. We are informed that Judas protested, insisting that this was a needless waste. After all, he complained, the ointment could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. But we know that his real motive was to have more money from which to pilfer (see verses 4-6). When we go to Mark’s account of this same incident (Mark 14:3-9) we are told that “some” of the disciples were complaining to each other about this “waste.” In other words, the disciples found it easier to agree with Judas than with Jesus. I would probably have been among them, but I must confess that this is pretty dull. In contrast, women like Mary were far more in tune with what Jesus said and did, and where this was leading.
I am fascinated to observe the way in which Matthew dealt with the subject of “bread” in chapters 14-16. In chapter 14 Jesus feed the 5,000 (men) with “bread” and fish. In chapter 15 the Pharisees and scribes protested because Jesus’ disciples ate their “bread” with (ceremonially) unwashed hands.21 Later in this chapter we read of the Canaanite woman who begged our Lord to deliver her demon-possessed daughter. Listen to this interchange between Jesus and this woman:
26 “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” he said. 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! Let what you want be done for you.” And her daughter was healed from that hour” (Matthew 15:26-28).
This woman understood “bread” as a symbol, and she got it right! So also received what she requested, and was praised for her faith.
Moving on in chapter 15 we come to the feeding of the 4,000 in verses 32-39. When Jesus expressed His compassion on the hungry crowd the disciples respond as though they have never experienced such a situation. Didn’t they learn from the first feeding? Following Jesus’ instructions, the crowd was fed. But when we come to chapter 16 and the subject of “bread” we find the disciples as dull as ever:
5 When the disciples went to the other side, they forgot to take bread. 6 “Watch out,” Jesus said to them, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 So they began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “It is because we brought no bread.” 8 When Jesus learned of this, he said, “You who have such little faith! Why are you arguing among yourselves about having no bread? 9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand and how many baskets you took up? 11 How could you not understand that I was not speaking to you about bread? But beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” 12 Then they understood that he had not told them to be on guard against the yeast in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:5-12).
Unlike the Canaanite woman (who did not have the advantage of spending much time with Jesus), the disciples could only think of bread in literal terms. They did not understand that Jesus was using bread (and leaven) as a symbol. The disciples don’t score very high in this section of Matthew, but the Canaanite woman does.
How many times had the disciples heard Jesus speak of His death, burial, and resurrection? Even His enemies understood that Jesus had foretold His resurrection.22 And yet when the women reported to the disciples that Jesus had been raised, they thought the women were out of their minds.23 Once again, the women are ahead of the men in spiritual insight. While it is unclear as to who among the male followers of Jesus was present at His crucifixion, it is clear that the women who followed Jesus were present.24
I’m not quite sure how to word my next observation, but let’s just call it the “affection quotient.” When you think of all the men (especially the 12 disciples) who were closely associated with Jesus, how many of them do you find expressing their deep love and devotion to Him during His earthly ministry? Aside from John, whom we assume to be the beloved disciple,25 the one who reclined on Jesus’ breast,26 I do not find many instances of pure and simple love and adoration expressed by men. My sense is that women at least as frequently and likely more fervently and freely demonstrated their love for the Savior.27 In short, women worshipped Jesus just as much, or more so, than the men who followed Him.
I would conclude from what we see in the Gospels that while women were not given a public and prominent role in the preaching of the gospel, they were not deprived of intimate fellowship with Jesus, nor from a spiritual grasp of what Jesus’ ministry was all about. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the women who were near Jesus may have had a better grasp of His ministry and message than did the male disciples.
Spiritual Intimacy and Spiritual Gifts
It should be very obvious that one’s spirituality cannot be discerned by one’s spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are not bestowed on the basis of one’s personal piety, but they are sovereignly bestowed by God.28 Paul indicates that it is not only the gifts that are sovereignly bestowed, but also the ministries through which these gifts will be deployed, and also the outcome of these ministries.29 Thus, one’s ministry is divinely directed, and if one is discontent with it, their complaint is with God.
Beyond this, Paul turns things upside-down when he challenges the Corinthians’ thinking regarding the greatest gifts. He teaches that those gifts which get the greatest honor are those which need a measure of compensation:
22 On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, 23 and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, 24 but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another (1 Corinthians 12:22-25).
The Corinthians sought the more public and spectacular gifts, specifically tongues. But Paul seems to indicate that more honor is given to this gift because it is a lesser member. The unseen (less visible) gifts are actually the most important members of the body. In our human body we refer to our hidden members as “vital organs,” and rightly so. I believe that to seek a public, visible, gift and ministry may be to seek a lesser gift.
There is yet another important lesson to be learned from Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts. Consider the implications these words:
27 If someone speaks in a tongue, it should be two, or at the most three, one after the other, and someone must interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, he should be silent in the church. Let him speak to himself and to God (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).
Think about what Paul is saying here. One with the gift of tongues must use that gift publicly (that is, when the church has gathered) within certain boundaries. In general, his30 participation must be edifying to those gathered.31 But more specifically, if two or three have already spoken in tongues, or if there is no one to interpret, then the tongues-speaker is to be silent publicly. He may, however, “speak to himself and to God” (verse 28). The tongues-speaker is not deprived of the benefit of his gift. The only restriction is its public manifestation.
Does this same principle (of personal benefit, even if there is no public manifestation of the gift) not apply to the participation of women in the church? In this case there is no question but what the women cannot speak publicly.32 And yet they can “speak to themselves and to God.” They have complete freedom to worship God privately. Their opportunity for personal intimacy is unlimited; it is only occasions for public ministry that have been restricted.
And so to put Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts into the context of our message, are women seeking the visible manifestation of their spiritual gifts.33 God has placed certain limitations on them in this regard. But God has in no way hindered their opportunities for fellowship and the enjoyment of intimacy with Him.
Distinguishing Between Heaven and Earth
In Psalm 73 it was not until Asaph viewed his circumstances from a heavenly perspective that he understood his circumstances correctly. Asaph felt that God had given him “the short end of the stick” because He had withheld what he perceived to be “the good life” – a life of physical peace and prosperity. But then he came to God’s sanctuary and he began to see things from an eternal (heavenly) perspective. The wicked will not spend eternity in the presence of God. They will spend eternity suffering the consequences of their sin. On the other hand, the righteous may draw near to God now, as well as for all eternity. Seeing things from an eternal perspective gives us the proper vantage point for understanding life.
I believe the same principle applies in the New Testament as well as in the Old. Paul says this in the concluding verse of 1 Corinthians chapter 13:
And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Why was love the greatest of these three things? I believe that the answer is clear in the context of chapter 13. Both faith and hope are for this life, while love is for this life and for all eternity. Faith deals with that which is unseen.34 Faith is not needed in heaven because we will see it all (1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 John 3:2). Hope also has to do with that which is yet future, that for which we wait. It also deals with that which is not yet seen.35 That for which we now hope will be fully ours in heaven. Thus, our present afflictions, suffering, and groaning will end when our Lord returns.36 Love, however, is not just for this life; it is for all eternity.
So, the principle is that the best things are those which last forever, while the lesser things are those which last only in this life. Assuming this principle, let us ponder the implications of these words of our Lord regarding marriage:
29 Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the scriptures or the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven (Matthew 22:29-30).
There will not be marriage in heaven. It is an earthly institution. Thus, there will not be a husband/wife relationship. Wives will not submit to their husbands in heaven, only on earth. Will all man-female distinctions disappear in heaven? I’m not sure, but it does seem possible.
Furthermore, the visible leadership roles to which some seem to aspire do not appear to exist in heaven:
33 “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the Lord. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people. 34 “People37 will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the Lord. “For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done” (Jeremiah 31:33-34, emphasis mine).
11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature (Ephesians 4:11-13, emphasis mine).38
Think of it, as a Bible teacher I am a dinosaur, a dying breed. What good will teachers and preachers be in heaven, when all is known and we are sitting at the Savior’s feet? What need will there be for leaders, when He is there to Shepherd His flock? What need will there be for evangelists or pastor-teachers? The public, visible, prominent gifts and functions that some so strongly desire on earth will not exist in heaven.39 Should this not serve as a clue to us as to what is eternally important?
A Lesson from Mary and Martha
38 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted with all the preparations she had to make, so she came up to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work alone? Tell her to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things, 42 but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the best part; it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).40
Martha is working in the kitchen, preparing the meal. This was her place, was it not? This was no doubt where Martha received expressions of gratitude and appreciation: “Martha, that soufflé was incredible. Be sure to get that recipe to my wife.” Martha is irritated that Mary is in the other room with Jesus, perhaps with other guests. Martha is simmering: “Why isn’t Mary in her with me, pealing the potatoes?” Rather than complain to Mary, Martha complains to Jesus. Doesn’t the Master care about her, slaving away in the kitchen? Why doesn’t He make Mary join her, so that she can help? Jesus is very clear. One thing is needed. One thing is really important, and Mary has chosen it. That one important thing is not fixing dinner; it is enjoying intimate fellowship with Jesus. Once again it is the nearness of God which is our ultimate good. Mary chose the best thing and Jesus will not take it from her. Our Lord did not keep Mary, a woman, from that which was the ultimate good.
And so I am forced to conclude that while our Lord has clearly instructed us that the ministry of women is quite different from the ministry of men (especially in the public meeting of the church), this in no way hinders or restricts them from what is the greatest good by far – intimate fellowship with the Lord. Conversely, I believe it is safe to say that the public ministry of men in the church does not give them any greater opportunity than women to enjoy this same experience with God.
After what we have seen in this lesson I must ask this question: “Just what is it that God is allegedly withholding from women that egalitarians are so desperately seeking to gain?” Look at what the psalmist says in Psalm 84:
11 For the Lord God is our sovereign protector.
The Lord bestows favor and honor;
he withholds no good thing from those who have integrity (Psalm 84:11).
I am forced to conclude that God has not withheld anything “good” from godly women. Thus, whatever they feel God has kept from them is not really good at all. Is this not the lesson which Asaph had to learn? He was angry with God for withholding earthly peace and prosperity. But he came to understand that it was not the ultimate good – the nearness of God was his good. And for him this nearness came through adversity, rather than through worldly success.
I fear that what some women really want is to have what men have, just as Asaph wanted what the wicked possessed. I have no alternative but to conclude that they are seeking that which is not God’s best.
I believe that the submission and silence of women in the church are not a hindrance to their worship. Indeed, I believe that they may even facilitate worship. Let me attempt to illustrate what I mean. In the church meeting the men are to lead as the Spirit leads them. When there is a period of silence, I sometimes find myself getting too concerned about the silence. I wonder if I should stand and speak, or if one of the other elders should do so. And if I am prepared to speak, I find that I may be waiting for that moment of silence, so that I can do so. I find that I may be thinking more about what I will say than about our Lord and His marvelous work at Calvary.
A woman does not need to worry about what she is to say, or when she should say it. She is free to listen to what is being said. And when there is a period of silence, she can worship. She can pray for those whom God has prepared to speak. She has more opportunity for “undistracted devotion” to our Lord. Silence and submission need not be a curse for her, but rather a blessing.
These texts which we have been considering in terms of their implications for women also apply to us as men. There are times when a man’s silence is sin. Adam’s silence in the Garden of Eden was certainly sin. He listened to his wife and obeyed her, but he did not speak up, even though he was “with her” at the time of the temptation.41
But there are also times when the silence of men can be golden. In 1 Corinthians chapter 14 we read that when two or three prophets have spoken that is enough. Any more prophecy can be shared another time.42 The same is true of the tongues-speaker. If two or three have already spoken in tongues (or if there is no interpreter present), the tongues-speaker should be silent. He can speak to himself and to God.
What I am trying to say is that some of us are inclined not to speak up. I am not one of those. There are others among us (me included) who are inclined to speak, perhaps too much so. The very truths which encourage women in their silence can serve as encouragement to men to be silent, even though they could speak. It may be that a very inspiring thought comes to mind, or that someone is eager to share what he has seen from a particular text of Scripture. That person does not have to speak, especially if doing so usurps time that was to be dedicated to other important tasks such as prayer. If women can experience God intimately without speaking, so can men. We should speak when others will be edified, and not just when we feel inclined to speak.43
Satan’s scheme is to keep people from what is best by tempting them with some lesser thing which appears to be good and desirable, but which is a forbidden fruit. When we think of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden we tend to think of the “one tree” – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – and less of all the other trees, from which Adam and Eve could freely eat. But we should remember that there were two trees44 in the center of the garden: (1) the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; and (2) the tree of life. By focusing Adam and Eve’s attention on the forbidden tree and its fruit, they lost sight of the most important tree of all – the tree of life. Satan seeks to keep our eyes off what is best, what is most important, and to distract us with something inferior, something forbidden.
In the first verses of 2 Corinthians chapter 11 Paul teaches that Satan is still employing his same tactics. He is still seeking to get us to desire what God has forbidden, and to neglect the truly good thing(s) He has provided. Satan wants to keep us from that which is truly life to us, and to tempt us with that which leads to death. I would venture to say that for each and every person hearing (or reading) me there is some particular forbidden fruit that Satan keeps dangling before us. It might be pornography, or an illicit relationship, or bitterness. These things can easily turn our attention from what is most important – a devotion to Christ which is pure and simple.
The “tree of life” is before us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is He and He alone who can forgive our sins and save us from an eternity in hell. It is He alone who is the way to God the Father. It is He alone who gives eternal life. I fear that there are some who reject the offer of salvation because they fear that trusting in Jesus will mean the end of our worldly pleasures. We fear that if we follow Him God will take away the “good things” of this life. All I can say is that God never takes away what is truly good. God takes away that which is not truly good in order that He may replace it with something better. Whatever you give up to follow Jesus (and there will be things to give up), you will not give up what is good, and you will gain that which is truly good.
Women, as I conclude my hope and prayer is that you will respond by praising God for what He has withheld, and for the vastly superior good that He has given – intimate fellowship with Himself.
Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 10 in the series, Can We Serve Church Cafeteria Style?, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on April 13, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
2 1 Timothy 2:11-12; also 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35.
3 A more thorough exposition of Psalm 73 can be found on bible.org:
4 1 Chronicles 6:39; 2 Chronicles 29:30.
5 2 Chronicles 29:30.
6 This is not to say that Asaph’s perception of things was accurate. His view is a rather distorted one. It is difficult to see clearly with the tears of self pity in one’s eyes.
7 My friend, Don Grimm, reminded me that the Hebrew term rendered “prosperity” in verse 3 is shalom. This word conveys the whole spectrum of blessings, of well-being. It is not just material wealth that the wicked enjoy. They had “the good life” in every sense.
8 That is how I understand Asaph’s reference to the temple. It wasn’t just being in the temple that changed his thinking, but viewing life from an eternal, God-centered, perspective.
10 See 1 Corinthians 1:18—3:4.
11 In 1 Timothy 2:14 Paul makes it clear that Adam was not deceived, as Eve was. His sin was more deliberate.
12 By their proud claims: “I am of . . .” (1:12; 3:4), we can see where their devotion has shifted.
13 Other crucial goals are: the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31); and (2) the edification of others (1 Corinthians 14:26). I believe that if time permitted we could demonstrate that the biblical directives regarding the ministry of women in the church would satisfy both of these goals.
14 “Public” refers to the conduct of women when the church is gathered, or at least when men are present.
15 By “egalitarian” I mean the belief that women can do the same things that men can in the church, thus setting aside divine distinctions so clearly evident in the Scriptures.
16 Peter is a case in point in Matthew 16:21-23.
17 See Matthew 20:21.
18 See Luke 24:10-24.
19 See John 13:28-29.
20 See Luke 22:33-24.
21 Matthew 15:1-2.
22 See Matthew 27:63.
23 Luke 24:4-11.
24 See Matthew 27:55f; Mark 15:40f; John 19:25.
25 See John 20:2; 21:7, 19.
26 John 13:23.
27 See Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8.
28 1 Corinthians 12:11, 18.
29 1 Corinthians 12:4-6.
30 I use the masculine pronoun “his” here because throughout verses 27 and 28 Paul uses the term “him.” This is because it is assumed that only men will be speaking in tongues publicly in the church meeting.
31 See verse 26.
32 Verses 33-36; also 1 Timothy 2:11-12.
33 I am not suggesting that women cannot possess more public gifts such as teaching, leadership, and exhortation. I would only challenge the context in which these gifts can be used.
34 Hebrews 11:1-3.
35 See Romans 8:24-25.
36 See Romans 8:18-25.
37 It is unfortunate in my opinion that the masculine gender, expressed in the original text, is set aside for a kind of neutered rendering (“people”).
38 See also 1 Corinthians 13:9-12.
39 One might very well ask whether any of the spiritual gifts will be needed in heaven.
40 I find it of interest that in John 12 (where Mary is anointing our Lord with precious ointment) Martha is also said to be serving. Either this is the same incident, or Mary is once again at Jesus’ feet while Martha is in the kitchen.
41 This is my understanding of Genesis 3:6.
42 1 Corinthians 14:29-33.
43 I am dealing with a very delicate subject here, but it is one we must consider. Some people feel that an impulse (or, worse yet, a compulsion to speak) is the Spirit’s leading. Sometimes our desire to speak or to lead is not really God’s leading, but an impulse of the flesh. (I confess, I struggle with this matter personally.) Even when our impulse is from the Spirit (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:26-33), it may not be the time for us to speak.
44 Genesis 2:9.