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Woman! Inferior Or Subject?

Nowhere in Scripture is it suggested that the woman is inferior to the man. Nor is she considered to be a person without responsibility. In the kingdom of God she is viewed as having a definite role. She will be just as answerable as the man at the judgement-seat of Christ as to how she fills that role. We read in the Gospels and the Epistles of ministering women (Luke 8:3); of women who teach (Tit. 2:3); and of women who pray and prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5). Yet, Paul says, "I permit not a woman to teach... but to be in quietness" (1 Tim. 2:12). Does this suggest a conflict, a contradiction? We shall return to this question later.

In early churches of God a number of striking testimonies were paid to women and their work. Priscilla, for example, unquestionably played a large part in leading Apollos into the truth. It is interesting to note that in order to accomplish the work of expounding unto him "the way of God more carefully", Priscilla, and her husband, Aquila, took Apollos into their home (Acts 18:25,26). This seemed typical of the devoted Christian couple, who were to become Paul's fellow-workers. When they lived in Rome he remembered them with affection, and "the church that is in their house" (Rom. 16:4,5). Priscilla's part in building up the church of God obviously took place in her home.

Dorcas, like all of God's good women, was known more for what she did than what she said. This tribute to her is recorded for ever: "This woman was full of good works, and almsdeeds which she did" (Acts 9:36,37). The weeping Christians who greeted Peter, showed him the coats and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them (v.39). Did Dorcas not speak at all? It is hardly likely that she would not tell of the love of the Lord Jesus as Saviour, Master and Lord, as she bestowed her garments on needy souls.

Phoebe, a deaconess of the church in Cenchreae, performed a different service. It is quite possible that she was a wealthy woman, and used her means to provide sustenance for the saints and for others. Her home would be open for Christian hospitality, as in the case of Lydia at Philippi (Acts 16:15). Paul's commendation of Phoebe that she was "a succourer of many", adds substance to these thoughts.

God's esteem for women and their work is revealed in a multitude of ways. The labour and materials for the Tabernacle, God's house in the wilderness, were not all provided by the men. It delights the heart to read:

"And all the women that were wise-hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, the blue, and the purple, the scarlet, and the fine linen. And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun the goats' hair" (Exod. 35:25,26). Hidden from the eyes of many in the camp of Israel, but observed by the God of heaven, these dear women worked away skilfully in their tents, hour after hour, day after day, spinning the beautiful curtains for the divine dwelling. And they did it wisely! Dare anyone say that their work, done in the home, was any less skilful than that performed, perhaps more publicly, in gold, silver and copper by Bezalel, Oholiab, and their fellows (Exod. 36:1)? The precious, attractive material, of such glorious, divinely chosen colours handled so skilfully in the tents of Israel's women, speaks of the excellencies of Christ. In their day, Priscilla, Lydia, Dorcas, Phoebe, and a host of other godly women, revealed these very excellencies, and so set a magnificent example for their sisters in churches of God today.

At the present time there are in the world plans and programmes to expand the woman's role; to give her more freedom of expression, greater responsibility, equal status with men, and liberation from her role of subjection. Groups, committees, and movements, with captivating names which end up as initials, are being formed on local basis and national basis in many parts of the world. Much publicity is given to the WLM, the EOM, the WIY, and the aim is to provide women with a public voice or platform. While the response has been far from unanimous, great activity, with much enthusiasm has resulted. In addition, world acclaim has been given to the recognition, for the first time, of "women priests" among some national church groups. Public responsibility undertaken by them is on a par with that of the "male priests". Are these developments another facet of the many changes which are taking place so rapidly in the world today? Are they symptomatic of the restlessness, discontent, dissatisfaction, associated with the present world order of things? Is there a warning in it all for Christian women to ascertain what the Lord has to say about their status? To enquire of Him as to the work which is intended for them? Does a movement to establish the status of women in the world have a different basis from that revealed in Scripture for those in churches of God?

Let us now answer the question posed in the first paragraph of this article. We commence with the ministering women who accompanied the Lord Jesus. It is clear from the Scriptures that the Lord Jesus, the twelve being with Him, did the preaching; and the women, we are not told how many, acted as their attending servants, and generally cared for their needs (Luke 8:1-3). Their loving care has been noted for eternity.

The teaching women of Titus 2 were mature Christians in churches of God, who were encouraged to show young wives the value and importance of family life, and the actions and disciplines necessary to a happy Christian home. Love for husband and children would be stressed, and the great value of being workers at home, and the need for subjection to their husbands (Tit. 2:1-5). What grace, wisdom and skill would be necessary to accomplish such a task to the glory of God!

The women "praying and prophesying" were functioning as part of the church in Corinth and would not be doing anything different from their sisters in churches of God today. When Paul said of the Thessalonians, "From you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord", he was referring to the church in its entirety; the young, the old, the brothers, the sisters, the deacons, the overseers. So it was in Corinth. Not all were doing the public preaching, or the public praying, but the brethren elected by the Spirit to pray and to preach, did soon behalf of the church. They were the voice of the church. So at a prayer meeting, the brother who leads the assembly prays audibly on behalf of all, so all pray, and all say the Amen. Equally, when a brother ministers publicly, it is on behalf of the church, and his God-given message receives the united support of the saints. He speaks not for himself but for the church, and so all in the church are speaking as one. And this applies too, in judgement and reception of saints. It is the church of God which puts away, and the church of God which receives. Paul makes this evident when writing to put away the wicked man, and later to restore him as a repentant brother (1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Cor. 2:5-8). These instructions were given to the church of God in Corinth. In any public notification overseers act on behalf of the church.

When Paul writes to the same Corinthian Christians about the sisters wearing the veil as a head covering (1 Cor. 11), he is emphasizing authority and subjection. He instructs the woman to cover her head when the assembly meets to preach, to teach, to pray, and to worship. In so doing she acknowledges the headship of the man, who in turn has his head uncovered, and is subject to the Headship of Christ. The truth of subjection is also brought out in the apostolic injunction that the woman was not permitted to teach publicly in the church of God, nor to have dominion over the man, but she was to be in quietness (1 Tim. 2:8-12). These divine restrictions, however, did not exclude the sister from all service, as we have seen in the lives of others. There is much for a woman to do, and good examples are left for her in Priscilla, Dorcas, Lydia, Phoebe; the mature women under Titus' jurisdiction, and the serving women of Paul's day.

It is a great joy to God to see brethren bearing the burdens He intends for them; and for sisters to fill joyfully the role He has purposed for them. The united labours of both will contribute to a healthy, virile church of God.