We are as young as the newly baptized middle-schooler and as old as the great-grandmother breathing her last breath. We are single, married, divorced, and widowed. We work tirelessly both at home and as waitresses, doctors, engineers, and day care workers. We are the women who have submitted ourselves to God’s service. We are the women of the church.
Much ink and bile have been spilled trying to understand our role as women of God. Is our primary task to keep a clean house? This is a common misunderstanding. In a 2012 Barna poll, women who identified themselves as Christians believed their greatest struggles were disorganization and a lack of productivity. Most striking is not what they did not mention struggling with: sin. Perhaps our role is to get married and tend babies? I love babies. I adore my husband. However, neither my marriage nor my children are my primary service to my King. I could be an equally pleasing servant if I were single (and certainly more single-minded, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 7). We can define our role as women in God’s kingdom best by examining how God’s women served Him in the days of Jesus and the apostles.
Mary and Martha serve as a great example of women who loved and served Jesus (Luke 10:38-42). As a girl I learned that the moral of the story is that housework must not take priority over Bible reading or prayer. That takeaway is true, but it tends to pull the teeth of this as a revolutionary tale. The story begins with Martha in the kitchen working, and Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet. To the first-century readers, Martha had an honorable place, a woman’s place: working in the kitchen to serve her guest. They would have been surprised to hear that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet. She was in the wrong place, a woman sitting in a disciple’s spot. For this Jesus praises her. He didn’t praise her for defying gender roles; that’s a modern conceit. He praises her for following Him, the only proper pursuit for every person — male or female, young or old, Jew or Gentile.
By the world’s standards, a woman should be beautiful, thin, healthy, poised, confident, successfully married, a mother of well-behaved children, not to mention fashionable. By God’s standards a disciple should be fully dedicated to Jesus as his or her Rabbi, humble, obedient and ready to serve. There is little overlap between the world’s vision and God’s. The women of God still follow in Jesus’ footsteps and sit at His feet. First and foremost they are disciples. Jesus valued discipleship over every other pursuit. He put being a disciple over happiness, family, riches, having a home, over and above the cost of our very lives (Matthew 8:18-22, Luke 14:26-33). In this story Jesus makes it clear. Mary has chosen the greater part.
What did female disciples do in the New Testament? They were teachers, and not just a few of them. Priscilla worked with her husband Aquilla in both professional and spiritual matters. Together they privately taught Apollo the way of God more clearly (Acts 18:24-28). Anna, who had dedicated her life to God after her husband’s death, was privileged to see the baby Jesus. She then spent the rest of her years telling everyone she saw that the Messiah had come (Luke 1:36-38). Lest we think that we have to be single or with lots of free time like Anna or already well educated in the Word like Priscilla, we have the story of the Samaritan woman (John 4). She is not educated in the Word. She’s not a Jew. She’s not even a good girl. Yet she encounters Jesus. This single meeting is enough to send her scurrying back to her village, letting everyone know she may have met the Messiah. None of these women of God took the place God had assigned men. Rather, beginning where they were, they shared Jesus with everyone they encountered.
Not only were the women of the New Testament disciples and teachers, they were hard workers. Dorcas gave so generously of her time and talent that not only the church but the community’s widows gathered around to mourn her death and celebrate her resurrection (Acts 9:36-42). Lydia, a businesswoman, turned her home into the headquarters of Paul’s ministry in Philippi, first hosting him and his companions then housing the growing church (Acts 16:14-15, 40). These extraordinary women didn’t seem extraordinary to the New Testament church. Paul lists these and other good works as being a mark of a “worthy widow.” In other words, the standard for being a women in God’s kingdom is to work the works of the one who called us!
Today’s women of God run alongside these sisters from long ago. We are disciples sitting with Mary at Jesus’ feet. We are mighty in poetry, prayer, and obedience like Elizabeth, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Anna. We are evangelists of the first order: both learned women who teach others God’s way more accurately like Priscilla and enthusiastic sharers who simply tell the story of their encounter with Jesus like the Samaritan woman. We are those who are created for God’s good work like Dorcas, Lydia, and the worthy widows. We are vessels of honor — unashamed workmen, able to teach, patient when wronged, gentle and sanctified. As we take up their mantle to be disciples, teachers, and workers, we too fulfill our role as the women of God.
Tassie and her husband were missionaries in China for almost nine years.