My wife reminded me introductions were supposed to be used as a way to ease the congregation into the theme and to prepare them for what lies ahead. Its purpose was to give the hearers some time to align themselves with the flow of ideas and to pace themselves as they get familiarized with the terms used in the sermon. I think this is a good indication that she is taking her role in the ministry seriously by giving me this helpful feedback.
Indeed, women in the church are called to study and learn Scripture and giving a positive reaction shows that we are practicing what we are learning. As your pastor, I welcome any form of feedback to any of our teaching and as well in our practices. It is always good to learn from each other and as students of Scripture, we are called to be humble learners.
So as a manner of introduction, let me just simply point out again that in the ministry of the church, women played an active role in the nurture of the believers and the missions of the nations. As the church gathers together to worship every Lord’s Day and then dismissed to serve the world through its ministry of nurture and missions, women had a special role to play. This cycle of going in and going back out movement of the church was the weekly rhythm observed by all believers, men as well as women. Yes, worship was ground zero for everyone yet as they go out, they fulfill their role to the world outside their public gatherings. This morning, we will focus on how women played a big role in the ministry of the church.
Women are called to actively participate in the ministry of mercy and hospitality in the church. Under the office of the deacons, women are to care for and to serve those who are in need in the church. At the same time, women are to use their home as centers for expanding the gospel to their neighbors and to the rest of the world. Lastly, women are called to be a positive role model of biblical womanhood. In this way, they will be a biblical portrait of a godly woman.
The ministry of the church, according to Edmund Clowney, may be summarized into three things: worship, nurture, and mission. Clowney explains, as Christians, we are called, accordingly as deemed appropriate to our God-given roles, to be involved in these God-given ministries. Last week, we have heard how women are encouraged to participate in the worship ministry of the church namely, to study and learn the whole counsel of God, to speak God’s truth of Scripture, and to pray with the community of faith. This Lord’s Day we will now focus on the nurture and mission ministry of the church and determine how women are called to participate in it. Here are the last three roles women are called to do in the ministry of the church: (1) To work on the ministry of mercy with the deacons; (2) To be witnesses of the gospel at home and the world; and (3) To become a positive role model of biblical womanhood.
To work on the ministry of mercy with the deacons
The members of the early church got involved with each other’s lives even outside its public gatherings. The natural effect of the means of grace in the lives of God’s people enabled them to graciously serve each other even after the Lord’s Day. This is how the works of mercy began.
Soon after the apostles established a thriving church in Jerusalem (Acts 2:42-47), the members of the church began to take care of each other’s needs. We can read from the account of Luke in Acts 4:
“Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet (verses 32-37).”
They all shared everything in common. They concerned themselves with the needs of others especially those who were deemed weak. Naturally, this led to the forming of a special group of men to take care of these needs officially. They were called deacons. As what I have explained weeks ago, the office of the deacons was based on the Scriptural support from Acts 6 where seven men were selected to “serve” tables so the apostles may focus on the work of preaching and praying.
Now, under the office of the deacons, women actively participated in the ministry of mercy and hospitality which happened outside the public gatherings. As we can see from Scripture, aside from the office of the deacons, there is an order for the women serving the widows which can be found in 1 Timothy 5. In here, Paul gave specific instructions on how to take care of the weakest members of the church namely, widows. And he involved women in such a task. What was the character of the women who participated in this work?
“Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” (verses 9-16)
I know this is a long passage. I read it so that we can discern how the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write them down as a witness to how women should participate in the ministry of nurture. But I want us to focus on the old women being portrayed here in verse 9-10. It showed us a picture of a godly woman serving: She had a reputation for good works; She was known for her hospitality; She washed the feet of the saints meaning she literally performed the most mundane task a servant in their time would naturally do; She cared for the afflicted meaning she took care of those who are in need; And going back again to the first point, she devoted herself to every good work. We can say that she was no idle woman and even in her age she was actively doing the work of mercy and hospitality.
Then there is Phoebe who was the servant of the church in Cenchreae. She was also a portrait of a godly woman engaged in the work of serving the church. She even received a personal commendation from the apostle in Romans 16:1-2. Some take this to mean that Phoebe was a deaconess and often used to justify women in office. However, the term “deacon” here used as a feminine noun can also mean in a general sense as someone involved in the ministry of mercy and not necessarily belongs to the formal office of deacons. We already established the deacons are men in office. But let this not eclipse the fact that Phoebe, a woman, was actively participating in the ministry of the church. As a patron, she may have been well in using her capabilities to further the gospel work outside of her own church and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, her role in the ministry was highlighted by Paul.
How can we apply this to our church? Practically speaking, we are all called to get involved in the lives of each other even outside our public gatherings. We are encouraged to meet the needs of our co-members in the church. Now, this is where the role of deacons become crucial. They need to take an active role in leading the women to get involved in the ministry of mercy but at the same time, this can only happen if we all take time to know each other well formally during Lord’s Day gathering but also informally during days in between.
I would like to commend the use of the messenger chat at this point. We have a group chat that dubbed as “ZCRC Prayer Meating” where everyone gets involved in the preparation of our weekly food potluck, in the prayer request of each member, as well as other things that may concern every member of the church. I know not everyone has access to the internet or have the means to participate in this medium but I believe it is a good start. For those who need to contact our deacons, I listed Deacon Jaypee’s number and email in our bulletin. My personal number is 09373734563. I know I work during the weekdays but I reply as quickly as I can. We already live in a world of modern communications so let us utilize it to keep in touch with each other. We are called to extend the ministry of mercy and hospitality even during weekdays.
I would also like to encourage everyone especially women to participate in the visitation of the sick and attending the funeral wake of our members and on a case to case basis even to their family members. I expect this first and foremost to all our office-bearers. However, I think it is also my duty as your pastor to also exhort everyone to serve in this way by giving their time and even money. But to apply it in particular to women who are particularly gifted in the ministry of nurture, I would like to encourage you to devote your lives in serving the church in this way. Older women in the church have this special role to play and I personally observed that when women are not actively doing their part in the nurture of their co-members, the church goes weak and even becomes sick.
Women of ZCRC(Imus), your church needs you. Please take good care of her well-being. Never ever imagine that we can survive without your nurture and care. God put you in our church to take hold of such responsibility. Please do so as God enables you.
To be witnesses of the gospel at home and the world
Which brings us to the effect of nurture and hospitality of in the work of the gospel outside the church. Taken as a result rather than the source, the intimacy of the relationship between members of the church was the expression of Christian sincere care and love. And women, as we can read from the ministry of Jesus and even the history of the early church, played a big role in its development.
In Luke 8, we can read, “Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means (verses 1-3)”. Women supported the ministry of Jesus and his disciples. At the same time, when the apostles were preaching the gospel to Judea, Samaria and the rest of the nations, women were also involved in bringing the good news everywhere they went. In Acts 8, we can read, “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went (verses 1-4)”. The word used here “preaching” was not the technical word used in the official sense meaning “kergyma” which the apostles were tasked to do but simply “proclamation” or “eaugelion”. Women took part in the role of proclaiming the gospel wherever they went.
Aside from the women’s role in the expanding work of the gospel in every town and city, they played a very special role in bringing the gospel in their homes. We all know that the man is called to take the role of leadership of the household. However, this does not mean they took care of all of the affairs in the home. It is the mother who takes care of and nurtures everyone in the household. This includes her own husband. In that sense, women have a special role in making sure that the home is conducive to the work of the gospel. How? They offer their homes as centers of hospitality and make use of their household to operate as working hubs of the gospel.
The early church uses their homes, not to replace weekly formal gatherings every Lord’s Day, but to supplement the expanding work of the gospel to a specific place. The 2nd letter of John was addressed to a woman engaged in such work. This was clearly revealed to us in the greetings of the apostle. We read in the first two verses, “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever”. It is a very short letter and you can read it in minutes. However, I want us to focus on verses 8-11 where it reads, “Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” The household of this “elect” lady and her children were being used as a center for gospel work. They were offering hospitality to visiting teachers and preachers. The apostle John warned her to discern properly those people who will enter her house. She needs to know if they were preaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ. She was only to allow those who are truly preaching Christ to receive the blessings of her hospitality.
We can conclude that in this sense, women played an active role not only in the nurture of the church but also in its missions. They were part in the expanding work of the gospel. They offered their homes and dedicated their lives to the ministry of taking the gospel to the rest of the world.
How can we then see this applied in our own church? Well, our church began when a group of people opened their homes for the work of the gospel to take root. There may come a time when the church will forget its own roots but this simple act offering our household as an operating center of the gospel was the beginning of the ministry of the Word of God in this place. It all began in the home so we should always remember the ministry of the church does not revolve in its public gatherings but also in the private space of a family household. Yes, men should be able to take the lead in allowing and deciding such work should be done in their household. However, it will always be the women who will take part in making sure the work is warmly supported by their care and love.
I remember our church plans for a trip or a retreat or conference that will take place outside the church. I feel safe when women will volunteer to get involved in the planning of the details of every logistics. I can be assured that everyone will be properly taken cared of. I see this also reflected every Lord’s Day gathering whenever we have our lunch. Women play a major role in making sure everyone is served with food and no one is left out. Such environment and ambiance are conducive for gospel work. It helps build good relationships and makes the place a safe place to be in.
But let me extend this a little bit further. I would like us to see that we need to always go back to our homes as centers for gospel work. We cannot forget that the work of the church always follows the pattern of gathering and scattering. Our public gatherings remind us of the gospel and every Lord’s Day, we are encouraged by hearing Christ and him crucified. However, the work of the church always goes outside its walls. Soon we may very well have our own church building but I pray that we should never abandon the work that goes into the homes or in the private lives of our members wherever they are. In our bulletin, we’ve been praying for someone to open their home to become a center for gospel work. Our Saturdays have been opened for this purpose. May God open opportunities for us to become instrumental in the expanding work of the gospel.
Before we end the second point, I would like to address those women who are directly involved and related to men who are office-bearers or will be future office-bearers in the church. Please allow your men to become leaders of the church by supporting them to be one. As women who are called to the ministry of nurturing young and women in the church, you have a big impact in their lives and your influence have a great contribution in making sure they will be useful in the ministry of the church. At the same time, any husband who aspires to be an overseer will definitely struggle to be one when he sees how his work will impact his own wife and children. As what Pastor Robert Fisher said, a godly man is a compliment by a godly woman. Both are essential but their roles are different. And part of the role of wives is to support his husband as he performs his duty in the church. Without the approval and support of his wife, a man who was given into ministry will eventually fail. As you pastor, I beseech you, honor husband by supporting them in his ministry work.
To become a positive role model of biblical womanhood
And lastly, women are called to be a role model of biblical womanhood. Pastor Robert Fisher mentioned at the beginning of his lecture that it is hard to be serious Christian in our day but it is doubly hard to become a serious Christian woman in our society today. Given the social pressures to conform to the mindset of this world, Christian women are called to be faithful in fulfilling her God-given roles in the church.
Like what we’ve established at the beginning of our study, women played a big role in the ministry of the church. I did not notice this fact before so I would like us to personally read from Roman 16 and see how women took a significant space in Paul’s personal greetings in the end. There are 10 out of 28 women who were personally mentioned by Paul.
In verse 1-2, Paul commended Phoebe as a worthy servant. In verse 3, he greeted Priscilla, together with Aquilla, who risked their own lives for him. Next, in verse 6 there was Mary. Her name is obviously female. Andronicus and Junias, from verse 7, may have been women. If so then they also received high esteem from the apostles. And in verse 12, we can discern the names of Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis are feminine. Paul commended them for “toiling” in the Lord. Then in verse 13, there was Rufus who was obviously a woman in this context because she was referred to as a mother. Lastly, I would add in the list the sister of Nereus who was mentioned in verse 15. It was an impressive list of women who were actively involved in the ministry of the apostle Paul. Their names being mentioned was deemed necessary by the Holy Spirit to be included in the inspired Word of God.
Women, against the prejudice of their own society, offered their lives in service for the church. They did not allow any imposed handicap of their own culture to stop them from contributing to the gospel work. They were positive role models of biblical womanhood in the world.
What does this mean for us now in church? Well, let me say that our church encourages our women to play an active role in the missions of the church not only in their homes but also to the rest of the world. Women, with modern roles in the society, has been given by God’s common grace to influence our society and they are called to use their place in the society as a platform to portray biblical womanhood. Being good examples of godly living, women are called to be role models of Christian wisdom, compassion, and zeal. They are encouraged to learn the deep things of God, to nurture people of the faith, and to be useful in the expanding work of the gospel not only in their homes but also to the rest of the world. The world needs women who will be the salt and light of the world and living under the authority of God in his Word, Christian women are called to become witnesses of its truth and apply it in their own lives.
ZCRC(Imus), women are called to actively participate in the ministry of mercy and hospitality in the church. Under the office of the deacons, women are to care for and to serve those who are in need in the church. At the same time, women are to use their home as centers for expanding the gospel to their neighbors and to the rest of the world. Lastly, women are called to be a positive role model of biblical womanhood. In this way, they will be a biblical portrait of a godly woman. Let us heed the call of Scripture and embrace our God-given roles in the ministry. May Lord continue to bless his people. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.