The Strength of the Church: Women Who Love the Lord
1. Some years ago a poet, offering a meaningful observation about the human condition, put down these lines:
They talk about a woman’s sphere
As though it had a limit.
There’s not a place in earth or heaven
There’s not a task to mankind given,
There’s not a blessing or a woe,
There’s not a whispered yes or no,
There’s not a life, or death, or birth,
That has a feather’s weight of worth
Without a woman in it!
(Quoted by Mac Layton, How to Build a Great Church, 187)
2. It certainly is true that our own families–and the Lord’s–owe so much to “the countless influences of godly grandmothers, mothers, wives, and other ladies who have enriched our world and the church beyond any ability to calculate.” (Edwin S. Jones, ETSOP Newsletter)
3. Just how indebted the cause of Christ is to devoted women may be observed from the writings of Luke in the New Testament.
1. Where the women are found
a. Unselfishly, even sacrificially, providing for practical needs–the things that have to be done if anything else is going to happen, Luke 8:1-3
i. Mary was from Magdala, a town near Capernaum. The Lord had cast seven demons out of her (Mk. 16:9), but there is no hint in scripture or out of the moral evil some now associate with her, or of any romantic involvement with Jesus.
ii. Joanna is also mentioned in 24:10. Her husband Chuza was the household manager of Herod Antipas, the moral weakling who had John the Baptist beheaded.
iii. Susanna is mentioned by name only here, but she may well have been included in some other scenes where the presence of many women is noted.
iv. Each of them must have been people of some financial wealth.
v. What they did involved both cost and work, but it was so practical, and they were willing to do it.
b. Present and attentive through the most difficult experiences, Luke 23:49
i. These women had followed Jesus all the way from Galilee, still ministering to him (Matt. 27:55).
ii. The group included Mary Magdalene, another Mary who was the mother of James the younger and Joses (and possibly the wife of Clopas, Jn. 19:25), and Salome (Mk. 15:40). Salome appears to have been the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matt. 27:56) and the sister of the Lord’s mother (Jn. 19:25).
iii. Many other women are said to have been there, watching with him through the darkest hours of history.
c. Following and caring in the saddest moments, Luke 23:55-56
i. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary sat opposite the tomb and observed every detail (Matt. 27:61; Mk. 15:47).
ii. They appear to have recognized that there had not been time for proper preparation to be made for the burial, and already intended to complete the task themselves.
iii. Their loyalty and concern guaranteed that they would not be mistaken about which tomb it was when they returned to it.
iv. They waited until the Sabbath was over at sunset, after which time they could purchase and prepare the materials they needed.
v. As soon as it began to dawn on the first day of the week, they were ready.
d. Doing during the most perplexing times and wondering at the most joyful events, Luke 24:1-6
i. Mark mentions Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Salome as having been involved in this (16:1). Matthew focus on Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (28:1), and John turns his attention just to Mary Magdalene, perhaps because of how deeply she grieved over her Teacher (Jn. 20:16).
ii. On the way, their conversation was mostly over how they would move the stone so they could get in to see to their task (Mk. 16:3).
iii. Upon their arrival at the site, however, their questions turned to perplexity: the stone had been rolled away but they did not find the body!
iv. Perplexity gave way to fright when two men in dazzling apparel stood by them with a question of their own: why were they seeking the living among the dead?
v. And they had the privilege of being first to hear the most astonishing announcement ever made: he has risen and this is just what he said would happen!
e. Carrying meaning and hope into the very real circumstances, Luke 24:8-11
i. This means they were first to ever get to relay the news of the resurrection of their Lord.
ii. At least five women were involved in bearing witness to these things (v. 10).
iii. It was a risk for heaven to make such an astonishing claim in this way.
iv. First, the words of these women seemed like nonsense to the disciples themselves (v. 11).
v. But second, women were not taken to be credible witnesses in legal matters. They were more than the two or three witnesses, but they were not the witnesses who would have been chosen if this were a made-up story.
2. Why the women make us think
a. As we read on into the account of the establishment and development of the church, we find the gospel going to places where the strength of the women was noteworthy.
i. Acts 16:13–“...a place of prayer...to the women who had come together.”
ii. Acts 17:4–“...and not a few of the leading women.”
iii. Acts 17:12–“...with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.”
b. When we think about it, we realize that it is into these very regions that guidance is sent women who were to become the strength of the church.
i. In the assembled church, the women were not to be seeking a speaking role so as the lead the meeting (1 Cor. 14:33b-34).
ii. In the organized church, overseers were to be the husband of one wife, rather than the wives themselves (1 Tim. 3:2).
iii. As we read of the service of several great women in Acts and the epistles, we find their activities conforming to these two guidelines.
iv. When we reflect on that, we realize that the spirit that would lead to that kind of service would have to be so much like that of the women who were such a blessing in the ministry of Jesus.
v. Something Everett Ferguson wrote seems appropriate: “In reflecting cultural norms of the past the church through history has sometimes not only failed to put women to work fully but has even allowed their repression. Under the pressure of different cultural norms in the present, the church should not abandon scriptural standards concerning male and female roles.” (Women in the Church, 10)
3. What we must learn from the women around Jesus
a. There is only one godly character, whether we are men or women, and these women had it.
i. Gratitude was on display, especially in the actions of a woman like Mary of Magdala, a woman whose life had been made so different by the Lord.
ii. Their following him from Galilee to Jerusalem, their watching at the cross and at the tomb, their trip to the tomb–all these were expressions of great faithfulness, loving compassion, and loyal courage.
iii. These women had all the hallmarks of Christian character. These were persons of faith!
b. There is but one work for God, whatever role we may have in it, and these women did it.
i. They were co-workers with the Son of God in behalf of the good news of the kingdom.
ii. They engaged in ministry: practical support in support of his work, loving devotion to him as a person, and obediently and faithfully passing along his word.
iii. They were heirs of the spirit of Mary when she poured the flask of expensive ointment over the head and feet of Jesus: they did what they could (Mk. 14:8).
c. There is just one standard of honor among the Lord’s people, male or female, and these women most certainly met it.
i. Greatness is not in amount of attention received, nor in authority wielded, nor in positions assigned; greatness, in the Christian system, is service (Lk. 22:27), and these women were a model of it.
ii. They were generous, practical, and constant in following the example of Jesus.
iii. It is still godly women serving the Lord who are most to be honored (Prov. 31:30).
1. Can you see why we say that women who love the Lord are the strength of the church?
2. Mac Layton told about the evening he went to the church building to baptize a young mother into Christ. When he got there, several friends were sitting with the young father, who was already a Christian, and their five-year-old little boy. As he took the mother down into the water, the little boy became concerned, then agitated. Finally, as brother Layton was preparing to baptize her, the little fellow cried out, “Will she still be my mommy after she’s baptized?” One of the church’s elders was there. He moved over by the boy and told him, “Oh, yes, son, she will still by your mommy. She’ll be the best mommy any little boy could ever have!” (How to Build a Great Church, 199)
3. Acts 16:14-15 tells of a time that must have been something like that.