Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
August 13, 2017
1 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, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
— Luke 8:1-3, ESV
Luke has been called by some commentators “the Gospel of women.” There are over twenty prominent women mentioned in the Gospel, most of whom are exclusive to Luke, some of whom we meet in this summary text (such short summary or excursive passages are also peculiar to Luke). These three verses and these three named woman give us a historical look at one of the most controversial subjects in the church today, namely women in ministry.
I will say at the outset that no movement of any kind, religious or otherwise, has done more to promote the equality of women than New Testament Christianity. It is ironic, therefore, that the modern church still has a lot to learn, even though two-thirds of her (yes, the word for “church” in Holy Scripture is a feminine noun) members are female. Women and men need to learn that women are just as valuable as men to the church and the cause of Christ, and it is the Head of the church, Jesus Christ, who established this equality.
The Ministry of Jesus
Women in ministry, and men for that matter, flow from the ministry of Jesus, which we see flowing faithfully in this transitional text. Here we find our Lord doing the three things He did virtually every day of His earthly ministry. Jesus pilgrimed, Jesus preached the gospel, and Jesus planted seeds so the visible expression of the kingdom of God, also known as the church, would grow. And, Christ trained His followers to do the same, both men and women.
Luke summarizes Jesus by saying, “He went on through cities and villages.” Born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, and based in Capernaum, Jesus was a man of many places. His ministry was mostly mobile, His possessions were few, and He viewed life on earth as an extremely brief visit. Ministry begins with such a world view.
If we become too attached to this present world, if we value possessions more than people, and if we lose sight of the infinite weight of eternity, we will not minister to people. Most ministry does not require a nomadic existence, nor extreme austerity. But it does require a sense of priority and urgency, like Jesus demonstrated. The time is short, so what will we do? What Jesus did, of course: preach the gospel, plant and grow churches.
“Proclaiming and bringing good news (the gospel)” is not just Jesus’ job. Nor is it the exclusive work of ordained pastors and commissioned missionaries. It is a privilege and responsibility for every member of the body of Christ. It requires no more training than simply being a follower of Christ. It does not necessarily entail the preparation and delivery of sermons, only a short testimony of your own experience of grace. It should be devoid of judgment and coercion, for only God knows the human heart and only God can convert a sinner into a saint. You only need a little “guts,” an internal organ which can be found in both men and women.
The object of all ministry is to bring people into “the kingdom of God.” In the Old Covenant, this would mean citizenship and participation in the nation of Israel. In the New Covenant brought about by Jesus’ ministry, it means membership and participation in a local church. We all should share in the maintaining and multiplying members for our assigned churches, whether we be men or women.
Gospel ministry is something we all, regardless of gender, should be involved in on a daily basis. Men and woman must show the compassion of Christ and communicate the gospel to family, friends, neighbors, and strangers. But is there any difference in the way men and women do ministry? Early on, there was.
The Mixed Men
Men are not named here, only numbered. The names of “the twelve” are well-known and can be found elsewhere. They truly are a mixed lot.
Some became famous, others remain obscure. Simon Peter became the first Pope for Roman Catholics, while Simon the less must have gone the Protestant way because he became much lesser known. The same difference can be stated for James (brother of John) and James the Less, and I doubt anyone is called less in Heaven. And, who knows whatever happened to the other Judas?
These men did some outstanding things and they did some horrible things. No woman probably ever preached like Peter preached, or wrote like John wrote, or gained as much missionary ground as Paul.
But, no woman ever betrayed the Lord, it was a man named Judas Iscariot. No woman ever denied knowing the Lord three times, as one Simon Peter. No women ever asked Jesus to rain down thunder and lighting on earth in order to kill an entire city, but James and the beloved John did exactly that. And no woman ever rounded up Christians to have them tortured and killed, like Saul of Tarsus before he became the Apostle Paul.
The early picture of men ministering in the church is quite mixed, while the specific stories of women, albeit fewer, are much more positive and constructive. Such characters and stories have often been overlooked in the male-dominated church, but Scripture screams out a few of their names here.
The Marvelous Women
Mary Magdalene has gotten a lot of bad press over the years. She was not the sinful woman of the previous passage. She was not Jesus’ love interest or wife. She was not involved in any scandal we know of, saved being possessed by seven demons (which is not necessarily a sin in and of itself).
All we know is that Jesus ministered to her, then she became a minister. He passed by her home town of Magdala, preached the gospel to her, exorcized her demons, and added her to His church. After this, Mary became a minister of the gospel, alongside the men, alongside “many other (women),” including Joanna and Suzanna.
The latter two we know little about. Joanna was the wife of a prominent man in King Herod’s administration, which means the gospel had reached low and high. She appears once more in the Gospels, once again alongside Mary Magdalene and other women, as the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Suzanna is only found here, in Luke’s woman-loving Gospel, but once is enough to make her a significant minister of the gospel. All three may have been well off, for they “provided” (literally deaconed) for the early church.
Note also that in the original language, a feminine pronoun is used to describe the “many others” mentioned who were ministering the gospel along with Jesus. The specific number of women is not mentioned, but I would estimate there had to be at least two dozen of them, which would make their membership makeup much like the church today, a majority of women.
The Message for Today
While women still make up the majority of church members today, they fill an infinitesimally small percentage of leadership roles. We must admit that main cause is male chauvinism. It is a sin as old as the Scriptures. But thanks in large part to New Testament Christianity, our generation is the first in history to see this discrimination erased, almost everywhere except the church. So what are the men and women of the church of today supposed to do?
First of all, we must be ministry oriented. In other words, every member of the church is a minister of the gospel, male or female. Though I have focused on gender in this sermon, the text is really not about gender, but ministry. Every person who has been touched by the ministry of Jesus should minister Jesus to others. Whatever your role in society or church, use your equal-opportunity, God-given position to stake a claim for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, let us all share Christ one-on-one, in small groups, or with large audiences, as God gives us the opportunity. Ministry brings members into the church.
Then, when it comes to church membership and leadership, we must let Scripture lead and culture follow. I must warn you, however, this approach cuts both ways. Scripture is supreme over culture, but Scripture cannot be correctly interpreted and applied without understanding culture. Let me give an Old Testament and New Testament example, then close with a way forward for today.
In the Old Testament era, men ruled over women in Israel. However, equality burst out at times with women leaders (like Miriam), women judges (like Deborah), and women preachers (like Huldah). Misogyny was a rampant as polygamy and equally as sinful. God tolerated both as an acknowledged part of the culture, but never condoned either one. Many interpreters do believe women’s subservience to men was part of the Edenic curse (ref. Genesis 3:16), but this curse is lifted by Christ (ref. Galatians 3:28).
In the New Testament, including Luke’s woman-loving Gospel, we find Jesus commissioning twelve males (to parallel with the twelve tribes of Israel) but also including “many other” females in His ministry. When Christ’s work on earth is done, it is women who first preach the full gospel (death and resurrection). Of course, first century culture was just as patriarchal as Old Testament times, so only men learned languages, received educations, and filled leadership roles. But like in olden days, equality occasionally shined through women preachers (the resurrection witnesses, the promise of Pentecost, Philip’s daughters, etc.), deacons (Phoebe in Romans 16:1, also note the many other women in that chapter), and other prominent pillars of the early church (Dorcas, Priscilla, Lois and Eunice, etc.).
Admittedly, Paul’s epistles contain some gender-specific language regarding women having their heads covered and mouths closed in church. But could not such commands be culturally conditioned? I don’t see many women wearing hats in the church today and I love to hear them sing, pray, and even speak. The two greatest preachers I have ever heard in my life have recently gone on to be with the Lord, and they are male and female: Haddon Robinson and Elizabeth Elliot.
Liberal and conservative churches now ordain women to every post available in the church. I do not think the liberal basis for doing so is right and I do not think the conservative egalitarian position is wrong. At the end of the day, it is a matter for the local church to decide, then of all the members, male and female, should promote unity with the policy, be it complimentarian or egalitarian.
And remember, the main thing Jesus wants is for women and men to minister to others by delivering the gospel and doing good works. For ministry, you do not have to be ordained. For ministry, it does not matter if you are a woman or a man.
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