Part 3 - Putting women in their place. (There are no subordinates in Christ)


Let us open up our Bibles at Romans 16:1- 13  


'I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.'Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.

Greet also the church that meets at their house.

Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.

Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.

Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my dear friend Stachys.

Greet Apelles, tested and approved in Christ.

Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.

Greet Herodion, my relative.

Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.

Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.

Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too.'


The purpose of this series is to demolish un-Biblical thinking, to get rid of un-Biblical stereo-types and to raise women to their proper place in Christ, where their gifts can be released, to reach true Biblical positioning and empowered by God as He Wills in this day and generation.  Historically there has been so much hypocrisy, so much prejudice and bigotry, and very little serious preaching and true exposition of scripture on this subject, and it is my heart's desire that every church has an atmosphere of mutual respect and equality on the issue of gender that TRULY REFLECTS the heart and the Will of God, and also is in line with Biblical truth - a church where both men and women are free .  Many churches even today have strong opinions on this issue and on a woman's place which I believe demeans and marginalises women in a way that dishonours the Word of God.  Stereo-typing a man and woman's role does not come from the garden of Eden, it comes from culture.  If you look back to the first message in Eden, there were no stereo-type roles for Adam and Eve before the Fall.  He wasn't told to be head over the woman, they were both equal, they both had equal dominion.  They did not even have different roles.  They were equal in their governing of the planet with God.  After the Fall, and then through various generations of culture, stereo-types came into place - whereby a man is told 'that's your role' a woman is told 'that's your role' and the woman's role has been an inferior role, and a man's role has been a superior role.

We need to understand that in Eden that was not the case - through the Fall it has been the case - but when time is over and eternity is ushered in, in Heaven there is not going to be any stereo-type roles for men and women.  There will be no marriage any more.  So those who keep arguing for a patriarchy, some hierarchical system, are actually arguing for something that has no true Biblical foundation.  


What is interesting, is that Jesus did not conform to the stereo-types, e.g. only women picked up children and put them on their knees, but Jesus did it too.  Only women cooked meals, but Jesus did it, he cooked a meal for his disciples.  Only women and slaves washed feet, but Jesus did it, and you need to understand that Jesus was no less masculine because He did that.  There are those who are strong in their opinions 'that is what a woman should do!' but we have to challenge that thinking.  'Who says so?'.  That attitude robs BOTH PARTIES.


A quote from the great Baptist preacher, Professor and Sociologist Tony Campolo "In my own case, there is much that traditional gender-role prescriptions denied me, for instance, what Society defined for me as a social role cut me off from my kids, I now watch my son change nappies for his children and play with them in ways that in my generation were reserved for mothers. I watch him share in the raising of his kids, in ways that were not expected of fathers in my generation.  My son's emotional involvement with his children, is something I never enjoyed.  All of which is to say, that the old system not only oppressed women, it also oppressed men, it denied us the opportunities to experience the kind of intimacy and emotional gratification that can come from those roles and activities that until recently seemed to be reserved only for women".   He felt robbed of blessing.


When we get free on this gender issue, both men and women are released. That is true also in the church.  Many churches where there is a Senior Ministry role or position assume it must be filled by a man.  As a result of that policy, sometimes a man fulfils the role because he is male but does it without the gifting that the role requires, so the man is under the pressure of trying to do something he is not gifted for, whilst a woman who may be really gifted in that area and could do a far better job than the man, isn't allowed to, simply because of her gender.  There are also many churches that will only ever have male deacons, male elders and male oversights. (Often times the men pour out what their wives told them to say in the meeting!)  So this kind of hypocrisy goes on in churches everywhere, where the true teaching of scripture is not recognised.  Another thing that is nonsensical and a terrible picture of duplicity, is where there are churches that will not allow a woman into the pulpit, to lead praise and worship, to serve in any capacity that is up-front or Ministerial, but they will use women in teaching the children in Sunday School!  So the attitude that women can't teach, yet to use them to teach kids in Sunday School is hypocrisy and duplicity!  So what is the difference between teaching adults and children?  According to Jesus who said 'But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.' Matthew 18:6  it is a big deal!  If people are true to the Word of God and have this prejudice towards women in ministry, they should make sure the MEN teach the children in Sunday School, in order to be consistent in their opinions!!


Another DOWNRIGHT HYPOCRISY is the fact that churches and men will send women to the mission field to the most dangerous places on earth, whilst the men will stay in the comfort of safe pastorates. It is absolutely SHAMEFUL!


So these last 3 teachings are just a background of women in the church.  I shall be looking at the 'preponderance' of Scripture, which means -  Surpassing influence.  In other words, when you come to a verse in the Bible that may not agree with the other scriptures, you CANNOT just take that one verse and make a doctrine for all time out of it, which many over the years have done.  This is how CULTS start.  So then, we have to look at the 'surpassing influence' of the rest of the Bible.  e.g. On the issue of slavery, Ephesians 6:5 says 'Slaves, obey your earthly masters, with respect and fear', so from that verse it could be implied that the Bible supports slavery.  Some Christians justified slavery for generations on the basis of verses like that.  There are other Christians, however, who fought against slavery and through their influence abolished slavery, thank the Lord, but they also did it on the basis of the preponderance of scripture, so although that one verse could be a verse to justify slavery, they looked at the whole of scripture and said 'NO'.  So that verse had to be interpreted in the whole light of the 'preponderance' of scripture.  The same thing is true on the woman issue, there are people who quote glibly, especially 2 verses, one from the book of Corinthians and one from the book of Timothy  (women should keep silent in the church and women shouldn't teach) - so they make a doctrine out of that. They ignore the whole preponderance of scripture on these issues, which gives a totally different story! So you cannot get rid of the preponderance for one line.  You have to bring the one line into the preponderance. (So the next teaching in Part (4) is called 'A Black and White Issue' which will address this.)  God uses women for His Glory in ways in the Bible that are often prevented by people in churches today.  God never breaks His own rules.  So then we have to learn how to interpret the Bible and in the next part (4) I shall be teaching clear principles on how we interpret Scripture.


1.  Let's put women in their place in the Old Testament - Contrary to what is often thought, the Old Testament honours women, and nowhere does the OT teach their inferiority, and nowhere does the OT teach the culpability of women, particularly in regard to the Fall.  Even in the 10 Commandments, God gives woman equality, it says 'Honour your Father and Mother' - a mother was to be obeyed equally with the Father - there was no inferiority there.  Let's look at a few of the key women in the OT.  We often refer to Abraham the father of all who believe, we talk about Abraham as that patriarch of old, from which all believers come.  We know that God changed his name from Abram to Abraham. What we often fail to teach is that God did exactly the same with Sarah.  It was Sarai, and God says 'no longer call her Sarai, her name will be Sarah, I will bless her' Genesis 17:15.  So she will be the Mother of Nations, Kings of people will come from HER.  God put an 'H' in both their names.  Also in Hebrews 11, she is also in the hall of fame of faith.  God actually uses women in leadership, in authority and in bringing the Word of God in the Old Testament to show you that God put women in their right place, which was service in His Will.  Who can miss the powerful influence of Miriam?  If I was to ask you who led the children of Israel, you would probably say Moses or Joshua.  You would be partly right and partly wrong. Those 2-3 million people had a leadership team of 3 and 33% was a woman.  A third of the leadership of the nation of Israel was female.  Micah 6:4 'I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam', so God sent a woman to . lead.  As well as a leader, she is also called a prophetess, who brought the Word of God.  Exodus 15:20.  She was also the first worship leader in that Nation's history.  Numbers 12:15 when she had leprosy because of a judgement by God upon her, the Nation would not even move until SHE was restored.  To judge her for doing something wrong, if you remember Aaron did something wrong with a golden calf as well!!  I also recall that Moses did not get into the Promised Land. (People are so selective when they want to be when it comes to interpreting the Word of God!)  She was a great leader!  In her place, not some rank raving mad feminist, just a woman raised by God to do a job in His Will.  


Then there was Deborah, she is mentioned as a prophetess, a Judge and as a MILITARY LEADER.  In Judges 4:4 it says that she was leading Israel at that time, Deborah was an incredible leader who joined with a General called Barak, in defeating the Canaanite army and it was through Deborah who brought God's Word, God's instruction to THOUSANDS of army soldiers to go to battle, and it was because of HER courage, and HER submission to God that a great victory was brought about, and through it the Nation got peace for 40 years. Read Judges Chapters 4 & 5, it is amazing! In fact, when she brought the Word to Barak about the strategy to battle, he wouldn't even go unless SHE came with him!  DON'T PUT WOMEN DOWN AND SAY WOMEN CAN'T BE GREATLY USED BY GOD!  By the way, and this is the men's answer to that passage 'Well, God used her because there were no men available' - that is the argument all the time.  THAT STATEMENT IS AN INSULT TO GOD!  This is what the BIBLE says in Proverbs 8: 'By me kings reign and Rulers make laws that are just, by me Princes govern and all nobles who rule on earth'  So in other words, God says that leaders are positioned by Him, and to say that somehow God had to break His own Will, and break his own Word by using a woman because he couldn't find a man is insulting! God can raise up WHO He wants, WHEN He wants, for WHAT He wants!  If He chooses to use a woman, then He is FREE to do that and HE KNOWS WHAT IS BEST.  By the way, Deborah was also inspired by God (Judges 5) to actually speak words that have become sacred text in Holy Scripture.  


Huldah was also a recognised prophetess, when the priest went to find a prophet for the Word and Will of God, even though Jeremiah and Zephaniah were prophesying at that time, the leaders went to a WOMAN.  (2 Kings 22:12-20) Huldah was a prophetess who brought the Word of God, and as a result of that there was a great REVIVAL under Josiah.  


Proverbs 31 (one of the most cherished teachings in the Bible) was given to King Lemuel by his mother.  A teaching by a woman is given in the Word of God.  More than a thousand verses of scripture have come from the lips of women.  God can inspire a woman to speak the Word of God, yet some people won't even let women teach the Word of God!  God has the power to produce the Word of God, Paul taught Timothy that ALL scripture was given by God for TEACHING! So if God can inspire women to write scripture, I am sure He can inspire women to teach it.


Isaiah described his wife as a prophetess, Esther was a woman whose courage SAVED A NATION.  She risked her own life, God could easily have positioned a deliverer to be male if He chose to but He didn't - He chose a woman!  There are many more - Abigail and many more key names in the OT, but with just the few I have mentioned, it is clear that God used women to lead, to bring authority, to bring the Word of God, and there is no mention anywhere in the OT that women leadership is wrong. The reason why there is less of them doing it more than men is simple, it was because they were stereo-typed into doing domestic roles, and the only people that could actually have the freedom to do it were usually upper-class people who could delegate their domestic responsibilities to other people.


2. Let's put women in their place in the first century - the first 100 years A.D.(New Testament) -

When you enter the New Testament, you are left in no doubt as to God's pleasure in positioning women for His purpose. The first expression of faith in the NT comes from a woman Mary, 'Be it unto me, according to your Word'.  Luke 1:38.   When the baby Jesus was taken into the temple, it was a prophetess Anna who actually, at a defining moment in human history, announces to the world the arrival of the Messiah - A PROPHETESS (woman).  We saw in Part 2 how the first witnesses of the resurrection were women.  For a real illustration for the inclusion of women into the HOLY SPIRIT church, look at the day of Pentecost.  Up until the day of Pentecost, Holy Oil had never been put on a woman's head.  But in the upper room (including women) they were ALL filled with the same baptism of power, they all received the same drenching, the same soaking, the same burning, and they ALL spoke in tongues and they ALL declared the wonders of God (women included). When Peter got up and preached, He quoted from Joel (ALL FLESH, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN AND THEY WILL PROPHESY - and to speak or share is by divine inspiration).  If God says, Men and Women will speak and prophesy by divine inspiration, then it CANNOT be right that women must remain silent.  SO WE HAVE TO INTERPRET THAT IN THE PREPONDERANCE OF SCRIPTURE.


In Acts 21, Phillip's 4 daughters prophesied, so they were not silent.  There were also women teachers in the early church who were accepted, endorsed and affirmed.  Priscilla and Aquilla were a husband and wife team, leather workers, and they are mentioned 7 times in the NT, and 5 of the times they are mentioned it is HER name first. All Bible commentators say that it makes it very clear that she had the prime role in that relationship in Ministry.  They say that as it was so in defiance of proper usage of how people spoke about couples, men and women.  (As we use Mr. & Mrs., it would be completely out of character to put Mrs. & Mr. - to do that would be to make a point.)  When the Bible talks about Priscilla and Aquilla it is making a point that she had the lead role in ministry.  The fact that she had the lead role DOES NOT make her husband Aquilla any less of a man.


(Karen Lowe is a lady and a senior leader of a church in Wales, and in her book about the Welsh Revival, she actually says in it that over the years her husband has been criticized for standing back and releasing her to the main leadership role in the church, she says he has been criticized and held back and even his manhood has been questioned because he has supported his wife in reaching her full destiny according to the gifts God has given her.)


Yet the New Testament had no difficulty with it at all, it is accepted - Priscilla was the greater teacher.  Both of them taught, and she taught Apollos, who was a Bible teacher himself (Acts 18:26) , but he needed some help in his teaching and doctrine, so Priscilla and Aquilla taught him. A fourth century church father wrote this 'Priscilla was a teacher of Apollos, a teacher at the church in Corinth after Paul left'.  Priscilla helped establish churches in Corinth, Ephesus and Rome.  There is acknowledgement, it is simple and accepted. Her full name was Prisca (not sure on the spelling of that), but Paul knew her as a more intimate name of Priscilla (a more personal name).   They even led the church in their home, but she was the key leader.  


In Romans 16:7 'Greet Andronicus and Junias' .  In the Greek, the 's' is not there, the word is 'Junia' and the word 'Junia' is female.  The reason why it has an 's' there is that translators have really battled with the fact that this person is an Apostle.  So they have created a masculine name for her.  If you go back, all the historical evidence shows that there is no account of this name 'Junias' ever existing.The Greek speaks clearly that this person is a female. In all probability this is also a husband and wife team.  She is an Apostle - the highest office in the NT church. Many people have a real problem, if they are not into women being released into Ministry with this phrase 'Junia - an Apostle'.  Also in Romans 16:1 you have Phoebe mentioned, a servant (the Greek for that word is 'diakonos' and actually means 'deacon', but again translators have put 'servant').  The Word 'deaconess' didn't get invented until 300 years later.  She is actually there with a male gender term deacon 'diakonos'.  Paul described her as a very impressive leader, she was the one entrusted by Paul to take this letter to the Romans.  In those days if anyone delivered a letter, they also had the job of explaining the letter to the people that received it.  Can you imagine explaining the book of Romans?  That was Phoebe's task.  When Paul says he 'commends' Phoebe, it means in the Greek 'I stand with'. Paul had great cofidence in her, to entrust her with the Romans and to explaint the letter.  He calls upon the Romans to receive her and treat her as a leader.  The Bible states that she has been a great 'help' to many people.  That is such a weak word in the English.  The Greek word there and the only time it isever used in the Old Testament is 'Prostatis' it is a VERY STRONG WORD.  It is actually a word that Josephus - writing about Caesar - said 'Caesar was the 'prostatis' of the Universe' meaning Governor or Ruler.  This word is always used as one who has authority over.  It is only ever used once in the NT and it is used for Phoebe. So there is no question that women have authority in the church and Paul underscores it. Someone acting with authority, it is used of Kings, Rulers, Governments, etc.

Other women are mentioned here, look at verse 12, these women who work hard in the Lord.  Verse 6 talks of Mary who worked very hard for you.  It was normal life for women to be accepted as working in Ministry in the church.  The church at Philippi had 2 key women in key leadership positions, Paul refers to them as 'fellow labourers' with him.  (Philippians 4:2) Euodias and Syntyche.  The fact that they are named shows their seniority in the church in Philippi. 

So who does Paul commend for teaching Timothy the scriptures?  His mother and grandmother.  His father was a Greek so he wouldn't have known the OT scriptures, so Paul commends that these women taught Timothy the scriptures.  So then how can Paul commend women here to teach and then state women should not teach?  Preponderance of scripture must be taken into account.

Chloe was a leader (1 Corin 1:11) in one of the house churches in Corinth.  It was from that housegroup that news came to Paul of quarrels.  So Paul writes a response from Chloe's house which brings that first epistle to the Corinthians.


F.F. Bruce (Professor of Theology Manchester University) says that Paul named 39 people as colleagues in the ministry, 29 were men and 10 were women.  Paul makes no distinction between men and women among his fellow workers, both men and women alike received praise for the collaberation with him in the Gospel Ministry without any suggestion that there is a subtle distinction between one or the other in respect of status or function.


3. Putting women in their place in church history - If you research Church History and the role of women in the last 2000 years, women have played significant roles, but they have not been reported as well as the roles that men have fulfilled.  Not only that, where women have fulfilled a significant role, often it has been fighting the prejudice of men at the same time.  So women have been a constant target of the enemy to keep them back from full release into the work of God.  As 2/3rds of people around the world in the church are women, it is no surprise they are the attack of the enemy. If the devil can hold them from being used as they were in the Bible, he has sidelined and marginalised 2/3rds of the body of Christ.  That is why this is a very serious topic indeed.  If you look at one of the early church manuals which was written between the first and third century after Christ, there is nothing in that manual as a restriction against women, there is no demeaning or controversy over women, but later on after the first 3 centuries, demeaning references are made to their gender, and things slid downhill fast after that.  Historical evidence verifies the ministry of women was prevalent in the first centuries and it wasn't until the council of Laodicea in 363AD that women were stopped from being elders. Also the same Council banned the Eucharist or breaking of bread from people's own homes. We went down, down, down until the middle ages which were called 'The Dark Ages' for a thousand years from 500 to 1500 to the 'Reformation'.  It was in those first few centuries, three or four hundred years after Christ, that the 'wheels' came off the church, clergy became professional, leity became marginalised, women became marginalised and banned from leadership (for 1000 years).  Even after the Reformation, they struggled with the release of women.  In Celtic Christianity in the early centuries in Britain, there were a number of key women leaders.  It was only when the King of Northumbria made a decision to put the church under the Catholic church that women again were hit and became bound up.  The Catholic Church who don't allow women to minister, admits that over half their missionaries are women.  Strange hypocrisy again.  When the Reformation came, non-conformist denominations were birthed in England in the 1615's.  The English Baptist church started to use women to preach the Word of God, the Quakers, through the founder George Fox strongly defended women's ministry.  Methodism also released women in Ministry.  In fact, Wesley at first was absolutely against women in ministry, but he changed his conviction.  His mother preached to 200 women every week in prayer meetings she led.  His father was a vicar.  Wesley said this 'Since God uses women in the conversion of sinners, who am I that I should withstand God'.  He sponsored and encouraged women in ministry.  Charles Finney in  the 19th Century invited women to preach and to pray and to speak in public.  He was the first Protestant leader to train women in theology.  In 1853 one of his students, became the first ordained woman in America.  The Salvation Army used women powerfully, in fact Kathryn Booth was a far better preacher than William Booth.  People used to ask him if they could hear his wife Kathryn preach. He released his wife, and the Salvation Army released women.  One of his well known phrases 'Some of my best men are women'.  There are many, many other outstanding women throughout history, Joan of Arc, Kathryn the Great, Kathryn Khulman, Mother Theresa, people in church who have been greatly used by God.  By the beginning of the 20th Century there were 40 Evangelical Missionary Societies all lead by women.  Women missionaries were the first to translate the Bible into hundreds of language groups, mainly in the most difficult areas of the world.  One writer quoted this 'The more difficult and dangerous the work, the higher the ratio of women to men'!!! Astonishing!  Twice as many women as men went as missionaries into China.  Today in China 80% of all the house churches are lead by women. Gladys Ailwood was turned down by every missionary society so this little woman went to China ON HER OWN and boy did she write history!  


The largest church in our world today (three quarters of a million people) Yonggi Cho's church. Lauren Cunningham (founder of Youth with a Mission) was visiting him one day.  His mother-in-Law was a great Bible preacher but he said he couldn't use her because women could not teach in Korea.  She said 'Put her in your pulpit'.  Lauren Cunningham suggested that her own mother go to preach in his church, as she had been a great influence on Yonggi Cho.  It was agreed she go.  She preached in his church, and after that Yonggi released his own mother-in-law to preach in his church.  That was the beginning of the release of thousands of women that Yonggi Cho released, and now he has over 1,000 full time Senior Pastors, and tens of thousands of other pastors, and many of them are women. When people ask Yonggi Cho what is the secret of his church he tells them 'Release your women', but they just don't hear him.


So women should be in the same place men should be, and that is free to serve in any area according to their gifting, we have to come to a simple place in the body of Christ, where it is not gender that determines destiny, it is gifting.  Simple as that.   Once we come to that point which is what the Bible supports, we will unshackle 2/3rds of the Body of Christ.

I close with a quote from Florence Nightingale whose first call on her life was to be a missionary.  " I offered the church my hands, my head and my heart, but the church wouldn't have me".  How many times over the years has this happened?  May God help us all.