The Ministry of Women
Tim Temple

Introduction

We have been looking for many months now at this first Corinthian letter, and we see that those problems are still relevant and still typical of churches even two thousand years later, so the subject of this book is not just what was going on at Corinth, but how any church in any generation can have the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord of the church. As we have gone through this book, we hopefully have seen that the key to having Christ Lord of our church is that each of us has a commitment to having Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives, and the spiritual vitality of your church depends on your own relationship to Jesus Christ. You can't count on anyone else to carry the load. Lordship is a matter of individual relationships, but if enough of us are willing to let Jesus Christ be Lord of our lives, we can expect to have a church that has Jesus Christ as Lord as well.

We've looked at many kinds of problems in this book, but one of the problems that was in Corinth and can become a problem in churches today is that aspect of the ministry of women. I can assure you that I approach this subject with great fear and trembling and with great trepidation, and it is one of those times that I am thankful that I have the Word of God from which to come with this message.

A few months ago I heard a speech given by a recently elected senator. In that speech, he was relating some of the experiences that he had had as a new legislator in that first session he had attended,which had just been completed at the time that I heard him give this speech. He had praised his wife for her participation in his campaign, and he talked a lot about what a help she was in his election. He said that soon after his election they were traveling in south Texas and they stopped to buy some gas. While he was putting gas in the car, he noticed that his wife was talking to this old, disheveled-looking guy. He thought that was interesting because the campaign was over, and she didn't have to be talking to just anybody she saw. He kept pumping the gas, and he noticed she just kept on talking. He got through pumping the gas, went in and paid and came back out, and she was still talking to this guy. He got in the car and waited and finally, after a few minutes, just as he was about ready to blow the horn, she finished the conversation and got in the car. He said, “Honey, who was that you were talking to all that time?” She said, “Well, that was Joe Blow, a man with whom we went to high school.” Senator Dickson said, “You mean that was Joe Blow? Why, he looks terrible!” She said, “He has had many interesting experiences since the years we were in high school together, and he had a lot of hard times.” He said, “Now Honey, where do you think you would be today if you had married that guy?” She had dated him in high school. “Where do you think you would be today if you had married that guy instead of me?”, and sat back expectantly to hear her answer. She said, “Why, if I had married him instead of you, I would be the wife of a state senator right now.”

I think we all have to admit that our wives have a great deal more to do with where we are than we would like to admit. Women are an indispensable part of our lives and are an indispensable part of what God has called us to do.

One of my favorite stories, and this lesson is not going to consist all of stories, but along that line, when I heard the senator tell that story, I was reminded of the time soon after Janice and I had moved back to Abilene ten or eleven years ago. We were at a reception, and Janice met a friend of my family who does not attend this church, but has been a close friend of our family for many years. I saw that he was visiting with Janice for a long time. Later on I ran into him. He had finished talking to her, and we were over in another part of the house. He said, “You know, I have just been visiting with your wife. I had the chance to meet her for the first time tonight, and I'll tell you, you've married way above yourself.” Of course I already knew that, but it hurt a little bit to hear someone else say it. I say women are a very important part of God's plan and of our lives, and the things that the Apostle Paul writes in this chapter are out of the whole matrix, the whole background, of the important place that women hold in God's plan. A chapter like this is not to be taken all by itself as all God has to say about women, but as we come to the latter part of I Corinthians, chapter 14, we have a passage that deals with the ministry of women.

Women In Public Worship

We have talked about the “Proper Pursuit of Worship,” and we have talked about the order of the worship services. Those things were creating problems in Corinth, but another thing that was creating problems in Corinth was that they had the wrong emphasis on the ministry of women. In verses 34 and 35 of chapter 14, he says:

I Corinthians 14

34Let 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.
35And 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.

Notice, first of all, the practice that is taught here, the basic principle that we find, is in verse 34. “Let your women keep silent in the churches.” Verse 35 goes on to explain that that extends even to the point of asking questions, but the general practice is, let your women keep silent in the churches.

Many of you have studied this passage before, and so it doesn't sound as shocking to you, but if you have not studied it before, perhaps it sounds a little harsh. That harsh-sounding statement is amplified in two ways. First of all, notice carefully the way the verse is worded: “Let your women keep silence in the churches,” and notice that the word “churches” is plural. Now that may seem like a minor distinction, but I want to point out to you that it is a very important distinction. There is only one Church and that is the Body of Christ. Back in chapters 11 and 12, we talked in some detail about the Church, the Body of Christ, and we're not going to take the time to go back and review all that except to remind you that as believers in Jesus Christ, we form Christ's Body on earth. We are literally His arms and legs here on this earth now that He has gone back to Heaven. The Apostle Paul wrote in great detail, and we have talked about it in great detail, about the fact of the importance of every member of the Body. We are the Church and it doesn't matter which local church we're a part of or which denomination we're a part of, but believers in Jesus Christ are the Church.

The Scripture also says, and our experience shows even if we didn't see it in the Scripture, that we're all members of individual assemblies. In the Scripture when the word “Church” is in the singular, it is a reference to all believers in general, regardless of what building they meet in on Sunday. But when you find, as you do here in I Corinthians, chapter 14, the word “churches”, it is a reference to what takes place in those individual local churches.

The reason I'm emphasizing that is that this verse is not saying that women cannot participate in spiritual activities in general. This verse is not saying that women have nothing to do in the Body of Christ. If it were saying that, then it would contradict what we have seen in great detail in two chapters of this book. Women are not second-class citizens spiritually. Women are not kept over in the background, over in the corner of God's plans, but there is a particular area of God's plan in which women are not to participate, and that is the public worship services in the local church. In the concept of the Church, as all believers, women have a very important part to play, and we'll say more about that in a minute. That's the first thing to keep in mind–that this is talking about local church participation. The other aid to understanding this seemingly harsh statement is the whole principle on which this instruction is based, and that is developed in this verse also.

The Principle of Submissiveness

Look at verse 34 again and notice the principle in the last part of the verse: “They are to be submissive as the law also says.” The reason women are not to participate in worship services is this principle of submissiveness. Notice that he says,“… as the law also says.” If we were to take the time to go back through the Old Testament, because the phrase, “the law,” is usually a general reference to the Old Testament, we would find that the most specific reference to this matter of submissiveness is in Genesis, chapter 3. Let's take a minute to turn back to Genesis, chapter 3. It's a very familiar passage. It is the passage that deals with the fall of the human race into sin and the curse on the human race because of that fall and God's curse on Satan because of his bringing that about. In verses 14 and 15, God had pronounced judgment on the serpent. In verse 16, he says:

Genesis 3

16Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Let me mention in passing that the pain involved in child-bearing was not an original part of God's plan. Apparently if Adam and Eve had not sinned, God had designed child-bearing to be a painless experience. That in itself may be enough to make all you ladies rue the day that Adam and Eve ever sinned, but a particular part of God's curse on the human race is the pain of child-bearing. My dad often pointed out that if men had to bear the children, every family would have only one child. It is an amazing thing that women are willing to go through that pain,which is a very real factor in child-bearing. It goes back to the curse on the human race, but the thing that I want us to particularly notice is: “Your desire shall be for your husband and he shall rule over you.”

This principle of submissiveness goes all the way back to the fall of man. Now again, trying to not get too far afield, let me remind you that in Genesis, chapter 2, we are told that the woman was created as a completer of the man and not as a slave for the man and that no man is all that he can be until he has the wife that God created for him. Jesus spoke in Matthew, and Paul wrote in I Corinthians about the fact that there are some instances in which some men are given the gift of being single and are able to serve the Lord because they are single, but the general norm is that a man is not all that he could be without his wife. Then the Scripture goes into a great deal of detail about the matter of the loving headship of the husband and the submissiveness of the wife. But another aspect of submission is this in Genesis, chapter 3, verse 16, the curse that God placed on the earth. At least a part of the principle of subjection is the fact that at the time of the first sin of the human race, God rearranged things in the makeup of women to the fact that there is a natural desire on the part of a woman to have her husband in authority.

I know that if you are listening, there are some antenna that are shooting straight up, and you might be saying, “Not on your life; not me, Brother!” Sometimes women resent that desire and try to pretend that desire isn't there. Sometimes they successfully sublimate that desire, but let me remind you that there are other things about the curse that we also don't like and that we also try to sublimate–things such as heat, weeds, sweat and all kinds of things that are part of the curse on the human race which we would rather not have. Someone said one time that every advancement that has been made in the human race since the beginning of time has been an effort to get away from the effects of the curse on the earth. If you think about it, that's true. Why do we have such wide-ranging herbicides? Well, it's because we want to get rid of weeds. Why do we have the wonders of air-conditioning? It's because we want to get out of the heat. Why do we have the amazing provision of deodorant and antiperspirant? It's a effort to get away from the curse on man. Why do we have women who insist that they will never be in bondage to any man? Because there is always this desire to get away from the curse that God has placed on the earth.

I say that not to disparage women, but to say that even though we don't like various things that take place as a part of the curse and even though we may try our best to squelch those things, there is still that factor that we cannot get away from. Just like heat and sweat and weeds and all of the rest of it, a part of the curse is that in women there is a desire to have authority over her by a husband. Sometimes a woman is placed in a position where she doesn't have that authority. Some women do not ever get married. Some women are widowed at an early age. Some women have husbands who are not what they ought to be and so that's not to say that every woman always will have that authority, but there is a desire within the makeup of women, because of God's curse upon the earth, to have a man in authority over her. That is the general program, even though God has made some exceptions to it.

Explanation for Subjection

Turn with me to I Timothy, chapter 2. Paul takes this Old Testament passage of Genesis, chapter 3, and elaborates on it. He ties in the same thing we are talking about in I Corinthians, chapter 14. Notice down in verse 11. We find in I Timothy, chapter 2, verse ll, a verse that sounds very much like I Corinthians, chapter 14, verse 34:

I Timothy 2

11Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.
13For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.
15Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

We have several strands of truth that we need to sort out here as we get at the principle thing we want to look at. Verses 12-14 give the explanation for subjection, for submission. In addition to being a part of the fall of man, Genesis, chapter 3, and a picture of Jesus Christ and the Church, as outlined in Ephesians, chapter 5, there is also this basic reason having to do with the nature of a woman's makeup–the way women are made, the way God has created women. Notice what it says in verse 13:

I Timothy 2

13For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

Think carefully what those verses are saying. They're not saying women are more deceitful than men. In fact, let me back off here for just a minute and look back on that first sin in Genesis, chapter 2. You remember what happened there in chapter 2 and chapter 3. The serpent approached Eve, and he deceived Eve, and that is what Paul is talking about here. That doesn't mean that Eve was any worse than Adam, any more deceitful than Adam, any more stupid than Adam. It's just that her natural makeup was such that she could be more easily deceived than Adam was; but let me remind you, though Adam was not deceived, there is a sense in which Adam had the more serious sin, because he deliberately sinned. In fact, he tried to blame it on the woman, but God didn't let that stand. All through the Scriptures do we read about the sin of Eve? No! We read about the sin of Adam. Do we read about sin coming into the world because of a woman? No! We read about the first man, Adam, and how by his sin he plunged the world into sin. That's because Adam deliberately sinned.

Authority In the Local Church

Paul's focus at this point is that the woman was deceived, but because he doesn't take the time to develop the part about Adam's sin and the seriousness of that, I want to just remind you of that again, trying to emphasize that God is not down on women and Paul is not down on women. The liberal commentators on these verses say, “Paul is just a mean old bachelor and tries to blame everything on women.” That's not true, and that's not the Scriptural focus. Throughout the Scripture, the focus on sin is on the man's deliberate sin. A factor in there was that Eve sinned because she was deceived; and so the point of I Timothy, chapter 2, is that women have a tendency to be more easily deceived than men do and because of that, God says, “I do not want them to be in authority in the church.”

This may imply an unsuitableness for leadership in secular life as well. It's not a question of whether it may imply that in the Scripture, because the Scripture is clearly saying this is why women are not to be in authority in the church. Whether that carries over into life in general, the Scripture does not say; but I think it is a very important implication to think through in this era in which we may face a candidate for the highest office in our nation as a female. That's coming eventually; it's just a matter of when it comes. Maybe we don't need to think this through until that time, but when we face those issues, we need to think carefully through the implications of this scriptural rule. This applies to the leadership of the church. It may, by extension, apply to leadership in general, even to the point of mayors of cities, the city councils, or presidents of companies. Those are things that you and your wife will have to argue about after church. We're not going to get into that today.

What we do want to point out though, and we can point out boldly and unequivocally, is that God says women are not to be in positions of authority in the local church. That's the point of this passage. I think sometimes that point gets clouded when we get off into this other issue that the Scripture does not really speak to except by application. Without dealing with the application to other areas of life, it is clear that these verses say that women should not be pastors of churches. These verses say that women should not be elders in churches. These verses say that women should not be Sunday School Superintendents. These verses are saying that women should not be in a place of decision-making about the handling of the Word of God. Where is the authority in the local church? The authority in the local church is in the Word of God, or at least that is the way it ought to be. That's God's plan. Many of the churches are in the mess they are in today because the authority is in the hands of some man, or maybe even some woman, and not in the Word of God. But the authority is in the Word of God.

Ordination of Women

We all know by experience that taking the Word of God and deciding on the basis of the Word of God what the policies and practices of the particular local church are going to be falls upon human beings, and so there is that sense in which the authority in the church is in the hands of those human beings who interpret the Scriptures. From a human standpoint, the authority in the church is in the hands of the pastor, the elders–at least the way this particular church is organized, the authority is in the hands of the elders of the church, two of whom in this case are pastors of the church. They are the ones who take the Word of God and decide prayerfully and carefully what position this church is going to take on various issues, and these verses say a woman is not to have authority in the local church.

I have said that as clearly as I know how, hopefully as graciously as I know how; but I want to go ahead, while I am being specific and say that those churches who are ordaining women as pastors and as elders–perhaps even as deacons–are not in line with the Word of God. I hope that doesn't offend you. I hope that if you are visiting with us and are an elderess or preacheress that you are not hurt by that; but we don't have to worry about what other churches do. We have to worry about whether we are consistent with the Word of God. I'm being that specific because so many churches are doing that today, so many churches that seem to be true to the Word of God. I've never even heard their explanation for that,and some day maybe I will. I just haven't had the time yet to find out what their explanation is, but in light of the verses at which we are looking, that is not a Biblical position to take.

Satisfaction In Childbearing

Coming back to I Timothy, chapter 2, notice verse 15. There is a very important word in verse 15. It is the word “nevertheless”. At this point someone might say, “Women just can't do anything. God is shortchanging women,” and many women often feel that way. “There is just nothing for me to do to serve the Lord.” Verse 15 says:

I Timothy 2

15Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

A woman may say, “So you think that is comforting?”. It's really kind of a confusing phrase there in verse 15. “…she shall be saved in childbearing.” There are some cults who say this means a woman can't be saved without bearing children, and therefore it's all right to have many wives, because after all women can't get saved without bearing children. The men need to help with that, so it's all right to have many wives. You're doing them a favor if you have several wives because that insures that they will get saved. Baloney! That is not what this is saying.

Turn over to chapter 4. There is a very similar phrase in chapter 4, of I Timothy, down in verse 16. This verse is very clear in it's context. It's addressed to young Timothy, who was a believer and a pastor. There is no question about his being saved. Notice what verse 16 says:

I Timothy 4

16Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.

Was Timothy going to get saved by continuing to teach the Word of God? Was Timothy going to get saved by taking heed to himself and to the doctrine? No, obviously Timothy was already saved. There is plenty of evidence in the verses before this. Timothy was already a believer. What does this mean? It means that fulfillment, that satisfaction, that ministry, will come from continuing in these principles that Paul is talking about in the verses above this. In fact, the word “saved” is a translation of a Greek word that would be better translated “fulfillment” or “satisfaction.” So in I Timothy, chapter 2, verse 15, what he is saying is: “Nevertheless she will find satisfaction, she will find fulfillment in childbearing.”

Ministry to Women and Children

In summary then, a woman's ministry is not to be a ministry of having authority in the church, but rather it is to be in the area of child training. This kind of thing is amplified over in chapter 5 of I Timothy, verse 14:

I Timothy 5

14I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.

Turn to Titus, chapter 2, verse 3. Paul is giving a list of the ways Titus ought to approach various groups of people in the church at Crete, where Titus had been assigned:

Titus 2

3The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;
4That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
5To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

So you see, it's not just a matter of bearing children, because if that were the case, all of the single women would not have a place of ministry. It is all of these things that have to do with home and with children and with training other women and teaching other women and being an example to other women. Women have an extremely important place in God's plan, and at the beginning of our talk we mentioned that we all know by experience how important women are to us, to our marriages and to our church and to our nation. Women have an extremely important place, but that place is in the area of the home and of children and of other women, not only raising their own children, but if their own children are raised or even if they have never had any of their own children, as they get older, teaching and training other women in the ways of God's Word.

Obedience to God's Standard

There is a great deal more that I would like to elaborate on about that, but let me just say in summary that as the end of the age approaches, I think that this high standard set by the Word of God is going to be more and more divergent from the standards of the world around us, even among Christians. I've mentioned to you many times before that in the beginning of our nation, basically the standards of the Word of God were the standards of society, and they went along in very close parallel lines. But as time has gone by, as evil men have waxed worse and worse as the Scripture says they would, God's standards have remained here, but society's standards have continued to degenerate, and by this time God's standards are far above the standards of society. The Scriptures tell us this is going to continue to be true as the end of the age approaches so that as human standards continue on a downhill slide and God's standards remain on a high plane, the disparity between the two becomes greater and greater, and the status of “odd-ball” for the believer who tries to live by God's standards is greater and greater.

We are at the point today where to speak of women finding their fulfillment in ministering in the area of the home and of children is a very oddball position, even among Christians. Let's just go ahead and admit that. But does that change the Word of God? Does that mean that's not to be the focus of women? No, it simply means, as the Scripture says, society is going to get worse and worse; and as believers, we need to be very careful that we do not adopt the standards of society.

We could make a whole series out of this. But what about women who have to work? I'm sure that's a question that is in the minds of all of you. There are women who have to work, and I know that, and God knows that, but the focus that a woman has in the Scriptures is in the home and with children and with the teaching and ministering to other women. Now if there is a situation where a woman simply has to work, then she and her family must call upon the grace of God for her to be able to do that work and at the same time have her real focus in the home. It is a very difficult thing to do, but when it is a necessity, God can give the grace to do that. The problem I am afraid we face in Christian homes today is that there are many women who really don't have to work. It's helpful for them to work, but if worse came to worst, it's not really a need. That's something that every family has to decide for themselves. It's not for me as a pastor to dictate who should work and who shouldn't. That is something that only can be decided by the family under the prayerful submission to the Holy Spirit. But it is something the Scripture speaks to, and it is something that as Christian families we must not just let go by the boards. We must come to grips with that. It's something that every family has an obligation before the Lord to think through very carefully and to make specific decisions about and to trust God for the grace to implement whatever decisions are made.

Conclusion

The ministry of women, in short, is not in authority over the church, but it is in doing that which men really are not equipped to do–ministry to children, ministry to other women, older women ministering to younger women, particularly in these areas. That verse does not mean that the only person who can teach women is an older woman; it means that an older woman's focus should particularly be in these areas of loving the husband and taking care of the children and being the keeper of the home and those kinds of things. It doesn't necessarily mean that women cannot learn systematic theology or the text of the book of Genesis only from older women. It means that this is a specialty for older women to teach younger women in these matters that deal with the female aspect of God's creation. So this passage does not teach that women cannot have a ministry–in fact, just the opposite. They can have an invaluable ministry, but that ministry is a very focused and specific ministry. If we as leaders of the church and we as part of the church family let that get out of focus, our church will not be all that it can be. We will not be able to have Jesus Christ as the Lord of our church if we let that careful, precise focus of the Scripture slip out of our grasp.


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