What’s a Woman to Do? (John 4:19-26)

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We have spent several studies examining what the Word of God has to say with regard to gender and the practical applications of this revelation.

We have concluded from the Scriptures that the original creation order is to be recognised and practiced with regard to headship in the church, and that this will affect her worship and her stewardship of the gospel. We have studied three crucial passages of Scripture in this regard.

First, we studied 1 Timothy 2:9-15. From this passage we concluded that a woman is restricted from (1) teaching men, and (2) from exercising authority over men, in the life and ministry of the church. We noted that these verses had particular reference to the corporate gathering of the church.

Second, we considered 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and concluded that the women are to have a proper demeanour in their attendance at corporate worship. This will be displayed by appropriate dress, which is to reflect male headship and feminine submission to her husband and to the biblical (male) leadership of the church. This dress or demeanour is to be coupled with an authentic disposition of submission and not to be a mere hypocritical show. In other words, she is not to wear a bun on her head while a rebellious attitude flows down her back.

Third, we studied 1 Corinthians 14:33-40, which further illumined us with regard to the responsibility for church life to display the order of God’s creative purpose. In this passage, Paul once again addresses the issue of the proper disposition and thus demeanour of women in corporate worship. She is not to behave in such a way that her husband is disgraced, for to do so is to bring disgrace upon his Head, the Lord Jesus Christ (11:3). We concluded from this passage that the wives, women are not to participate in the “weighing” of the prophecies that were revealed to the assembly. For her to participate in the exposition of these would be to violate the principle of biblical headship and to trample over other inspired texts, such as 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11.

From our exposition of these three passages we concluded that the underlying source of the problem with egalitarianism in the church and home (“evangelical feminism”) actually lies at the feet of failed masculine headship. That is, the men in the church have, for whatever reason, become emasculated and thus the church and the home have become increasingly feminised. Again, it is not a matter of “as goes the world, so goes the church.” Rather, the truth is “as goes the church, so goes the world.” As the church fails to set the biblical example, so society spirals further from God’s revealed truth.

Is it any wonder there is so much “gender confusion” in our society? After all, if the church can’t get it right then why would we expect the world to? Remember, as goes the church, so goes the world.

Having spent four studies determining what God’s Word says about gender roles–and particularly, thus far, the restrictions that God places upon women in the corporate worship of the church–one might come to the conclusion that this series should better be titled, “What God’s Word Says Concerning What a Woman Cannot Do!” However, in this study we turn a corner. Now that the groundwork has been laid, we can properly deal with the question, “What’s a woman to do?”

I trust that I have made it clear thus far that women are indeed valuable to the life and ministry of the church. In fact, apart from godly women, there can be no church (see 1 Corinthians 11:11-12). God’s “creation purpose” has always been to fill the earth with those who will worship Him; with those who will “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This requires a complementarian relationship between male and female, between believing members of both sexes. And I do not mean merely biologically; I mean in every way.

There is little doubt that we would all agree with this, and yet we need to examine what it practically looks like. Thus, in this study, we will begin to look at the questions surrounding what women ought to do and may do in the corporate life of the church. I will also take some time to address a woman’s relationship to the world at large.

In this study, I will seek to answer three major questions:

  1. What’s a woman to do when she wants to worship?
  2. What’s a woman to do when she wants to witness?
  3. What’s a woman to do when she wants to work?

The Bible addresses these issues and I trust that our study together will be illuminating, edifying and thus practically helpful. Without any further ado, let us consider the questions before us.

What’s a Woman to Do When She Wants to Worship?

To the question, “What’s a woman to do when she wants to worship?” our initial answer must be, “God bless her: go for it!”

We will want to remember that the most succinct definition of worship in Scripture is probably that spoken by our Lord in John 4 in which he told the Samaritan woman, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (4:24). Added to this is the fact that “the Father seeketh such to worship him” (4:23). Note that Jesus is instructing, not restricting, this woman to worship God.

Obviously God calls both male and female to worship Him. But as we have learned, with regard to corporate worship, there are restrictions with regards to a woman’s participation. Having seen clearly the comparatively few restrictions, let’s turn our attention to the numerous allowances.

Clearly the Scriptures open the door for a woman’s participation in corporate worship as long as it is in accordance with God’s prescription for worship (of course, this is true of male worship as well) and it is complementary to biblical male headship. The door is thus wide open.

Let me mention some very practical areas in which a woman can contribute to the corporate worship of the church: participating in congregational singing, singing in a choir, singing solos, playing musical instruments, praying with the congregation, giving with the congregation, affirming the Word preached, teaching children, teaching women, asking and answering questions in a Bible study (as long as her husband or the male leader of the study is not dishonoured), serving in helps ministries (e.g. greeting people, catering, practical preparations for the corporate worship, crèche, etc.). The list is one that will vary from church to church due to various opportunities.

The areas of participation mentioned above are really “no-brainers.” No one would offer any honest resistance to a woman participating in any of the said activities. But the question does become more complex. For instance, what ought we to say about women publicly reading the Scriptures, receiving the offering, serving communion, or leading the congregation in prayer? Are these worship activities restricted to men?

The key word here must be “leading.” I do not believe that the Scriptures lend support to the participation of women in the leading of worship. Thus leading in prayer or leading the congregation in the public reading of Scripture should remain in the portfolio of men.

With regard to receiving the offering and the serving of Communion all I can offer is my opinion and thus my preference and the preference of the eldership of Brackenhurst Baptist Church. Whilst the Bible does not address this issue directly, the serving of Communion in our own church (and the receiving of offering) is not likely to ever include women, for the following reasons.

First, men should be courteous and thus be willing to serve the women. Our attitude toward women in the corporate worship of the church is, “You relax and enjoy the worship.”

Second, I personally feel (and incidentally, so does my wife) that to “open up” these avenues of ministry to women is somewhat demeaning. When one considers also that this puts them in the “spotlight,” it actually may cause them great discomfort. Neither my wife and my daughters nor your wife and daughters need this kind of patronising “opportunity” to make them feel significant.

Third, there is no biblical precedent for women participating in these areas. The only somewhat detailed account we have of the serving of Communion is that of Jesus and His twelve male disciples. If it be true that the Lord’s Supper fulfils the type of the Passover it is interesting to note that the instructions were given to the male heads of the household (see Exodus 12-14). No doubt the women prepared much of the Passover meal but the “man of the house” was responsible for its proper observance.

Fourth, in the practice of patriarchal worship (the only kind recognised in Scripture) the men should be taking the lead in these areas. Simply put, if there are enough men in the church to serve in this area, what reason is there to ask a woman to do so? I would argue that any participation of women in worship which leans towards an egalitarian ethos rather than a complementarian environment should be avoided.

Finally, we must conclude that, since Scripture does not pointedly deal with these issues, the decision is left in the hands of the biblical (male) leadership of the church. And thus what they decide should be submitted to without contention. Certainly a Spirit-filled woman may indeed disagree with the policy and practice of her local church in this area. But, if she is truly Spirit-filled, she will joyfully submit to the biblical male leadership of the church, which seeks to lead the church in acceptable worship for the sake of faithful stewardship of the gospel. Those with a biblically feminine worldview joyfully embrace the blessing of being served by biblical men in the church.

Allow me to briefly make a comment on “worship” outside the corporate worship of the church. There are clearly many avenues of ministry for women in the church. One thinks of the opportunity for counselling, hospital visitation and visitation of the homebound, discipleship, mentoring, and ministries of encouragement and hospitality. Truly the list is almost endless. Thus, pay heed to the biblical admonition, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

What’s a Woman to Do When She Wants to Witness?

This is a vitally important question, which must be Scripturally answered. And surely our initial answer must be, “God bless her: go for it!”

But before attempting a detailed answer, let’s state the question another way, “If it is not permissible for woman to teach men in the church and to exercise authority over them, then is she by extension forbidden to share the gospel with unbelieving men?”

Obviously this question has many “tentacles” attached to it: What about women missionaries? What about women participating in outreach ministries, whether at home or abroad? What about women passing out tracts? What about women witnessing to their husbands and adult sons?

I believe that the biblical answer to this is that Scripture nowhere forbids women from proclaiming Christ to all, including men. But please note that this evangelistic ministry is that which is outside the corporate gathering of the church. In other words, this is not a preaching ministry that is exercised within the sphere of corporate worship.

One easily gains the impression that the early church was zealous to share Christ with all and sundry, and that all and sundry of the church participated in this (see Acts 11:19-21; 2:42-47). Was it not women that the Lord sent to tell the male disciples that He had risen (Matthew 28:9-10)? Indeed, they were commanded to be witnesses of the resurrection! To share the gospel with unbelieving men is not to necessarily violate the truth of 1 Timothy 2. But note the qualification: “not necessarily.” It is possible to violate the spirit of this restriction by preaching Christ in such a way that God’s original creation order is distorted. Under no circumstances must a woman so “preach Christ” that the man is disgraced by a disposition that violates biblical male headship.

I therefore believe that Scripture gives plenty of allowance for women to be in evangelistic ministries. The term “missionary” might even be applied although our own church would refrain from that designation. Regardless of the terms used, there is no escaping the fact that the Mary Slessors, Amy Carmichaels, Lottie Moons, Maria Taylors, Elizabeth Elliotts and many present women in this capacity, serve a legitimate and valuable role in evangelising the lost.

In sum, the church should be equipping all with the gospel, and husbands should be equipping their wives to share Christ with others.

What’s a Woman to Do When She Wants to Work?

Whilst this may surprise some, I am convinced that our initial response to this question must be, “God Bless her: go for it!” For the kingdom of God needs workers!

We should not be afraid of the word “work” when speaking of believing women. Our problem is that we often immediately picture a “working” woman in a suit with a briefcase marching up the corporate ladder at the expense of her husband and/or her home. But let us be careful of immediately jumping to that concept of a “working woman.” We need to first of all address the issue of what it means for a woman to work, for I believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that woman are to be workers. In fact, as someone has well said, “The godly woman is the tired woman.”

Let me begin by saying that every woman should cultivate the desire to work for the growth of God’s kingdom. Whatever else can be said with regard to the question of “working women” we must understand that God calls all believing women to the same overall task, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). I believe that if we start here, rather than with all the emotional debate with regards to “working moms,” then we can probably come to some proper biblical conclusions with regard to this issue.

As I understand the Scriptures, the question is not, “To work or not to work?” Rather, the question is, “What kind of work?” Once we have answered this question, then we can ask and answer the questions that follow: “Where to work?” “Why to work?” and “How to work.”

So, what kind of work should a woman be engaged in? Simply put: kingdom work. All believing woman should be asking the question, “How can I best contribute to the kingdom of God?” If this is the driving motive then most of the other issues will fall into place.

For example, if you are a single female, then you need to seek the Lord with regards to the best sphere in which you can contribute to God’s kingdom. Would it be as a teacher, a clerk, a doctor, a sales-person, lawyer or an accountant? Perhaps the Lord would even have you serve in a full time capacity in a woman’s ministry. Beth Mack is a wonderful woman of God, involved in a fulltime capacity in a counselling ministry. She understands the principle of biblical male headship and thus, through her ministry, she is a great help to the pastors of her church.

The Scriptures do not outline the specifics but they do teach the principle of “vocation.” In fact, in some ways a single female has more liberty to pursue “vocation” than does a married man whose first priority is to provide for his wife and family.

What if you are married–should you work? Well, as we are learning, in one sense, yes! Now, if you desire to work outside of the home, then the same kingdom principle must still be applied. Your husband and you should determine whether or not “working” will help him in his responsibility with regards to the kingdom. If your working–whether inside or outside of the home–hinders his involvement in the life and ministry of the local church then I would think twice about it. In fact, let me be so bold as to say that you really do not need to think about it. Remember the principle of “complementarianism.” He is the head, you are the helper.

I know of many godly women, whom the Lord has soveriegnly chosen to not give children, who have chosen not to work a fulltime job, simply so that they can better minister to the Body. If anyone demands that a woman without children must work then they are very misguided.

If the Lord has graciously given you children then I believe the answer is a lot clearer. Children are a gift of God for His kingdom (see Psalm 127). Thus a mother should be devoted to working hard to raise a godly seed. And this is pretty much a fulltime job!

Some might object entirely to “working women” on the ground of Titus 2:5, which speaks of young women’s responsibility to be “keepers at home.” This phrase literally reads, “to be workers at home.” The emphasis is not on “at home,” but on “workers.” Thus, the command is not for women to stay at home, but for them to be productive while at home. Hence, the older women are to teach the younger wives to work at home, not to merely be at home.

This issue of working mothers is always controversial and sometimes there is more an emission of heat than light. We need to face the question with compassion and with conviction.

Again, if a mother can raise a godly seed and still have time to work outside the home for the furtherance of the kingdom then so be it. But she and her husband need to be earnestly honest with regards to this.

Having raised this “landmine,” let me address the issue of mothers who feel that financially they must labour outside of the home (i.e. away from the priority of the children and the home). The fact is, in a fallen world there are sometimes situations that temporarily must be endured. In such situations, you must decide before the Lord whether there is an alternative or at least set in place a plan to eventually get out of the “stop-gap” measure.

What many in our culture need to honestly assess is why there is the sense that the mother must work? Would it be possible to reduce your “level of living” so as to allow your wife to get out of the workplace? Must you drive the Mercedes E-Class, or could you perhaps get a cheaper vehicle? Must your car be the newest model, or could you perhaps settle for a pre-owned, slightly older vehicle? Must you live in a large house in an upper class neighbourhood, or could you settle for a cheaper house in a middle class suburb? A healthy dose of honesty would probably reduce the number of mothers in the workplace!

And so, as to the question, “What’s a woman to do when she wants to work?” let me summarise by saying that there are other questions that need to be asked.

First, for married women (particularly with children), one should probably ask “Does she really want to work?” Or is her working the selfish, worldly desire of her husband?

Second, she should ask herself, before the Lord, “Why do I want to work?” Are you simply buying into the “Oprahfied” culture? Are you seeking to escape a hard lot? Or perhaps the question should be faced, “Am I rejecting what God’s Word says about fulfilment and embracing the godless counsel of a Christ rejecting egalitarian culture?” Husbands, be men and help your wives to answer these questions!

These issues are vitally connected to what we have been learning with regard to male headship, acceptable worship and faithful stewardship. Men, let us give biblical guidance to our families and be examples before a growing church and a watching world.

Yes, women are equipped and even commanded by God to worship, witness and work. And His Word gives the instructions and the principles with regard to how to do so.

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