WOMEN WHO MINISTERED TO – SERVED – JESUS

(August 20, 2021) Brian Bell shares an insightful meditation…

Dr Robert McQuillan’s recent article (What? Some Women Still not Permitted to Minister Today) in which he gave a wise, brief answer to this question, set me thinking about the many scriptural references in which women are mentioned in relation to what I would describe as ‘ministry.’

I feel that too often the word ‘ministry’ is considered only in a narrow context, for example, ‘the ministry of the word’ – that is the preached word of God or the readable Bible itself.

Actually the word ‘ministry’ is diakonia, which basically means to aid, serve. In church circles, we think of the deacons who assist, serve in various ways – I myself am a member of such a group in my own church.

In a scriptural context I believe every believer is in effect called to ‘minister’ not just a particular group … however the nature and place of ministry is as varied as the Lord’s people are with our different personalities, gifts and abilities.

Divine design
Scripture tells us God made Eve as ‘…a companion who would help…’ Adam (See Genesis 2:18ff…noting that ‘help’ is ezer, to aid, assist).

Clearly God has given specific attributes to both women and men which, while they may in some ways be different, are complementary in working together, assisting each other. To me this is clearly a ‘divine design’… not some random or evolutionary trait and not something to be ignored.

Note: Taken in context, diversity of attributes should not pose a threat to anyone in the kingdom of God, If it does, I respectfully suggest it may mean we need to examine our hearts. If we are feeling insecure or threatened by others, perhaps it is a sign of pride. Whether man or woman we should be thankful for all the Lord enables us to be and do, aware of the ‘holier than thou’ attitude.

So, in considering this divine design, in relation to women assisting in kingdom matters, let me share some scriptures.

Jesus’ attitude
Firstly, let’s note Jesus’ attitude towards anyone who would believe in him and want to serve him. Luke tells us about the occasion when the disciples – likely very well-meaning – came to Jesus and John told him how they had stopped someone using his name to cast out demons ‘…because he isn’t in our group..’(Luke 9:49NLT).I believe the disciples would have been very surprised at the response of the Lord Jesus: ‘Don’t stop him. Anyone who is not against you is for you’ (v50).

Then Jesus’ attitude in relation to the woman taken in adultery (John 8:5-11). Here’s an insight into the Lord’s heart for anyone who would follow him … caring, forgiving, encouraging, desiring the best for everyone, wanting us all to be involved not only in the new life he offers us with guaranteed salvation but assisting to witness about him and extend his kingdom.

This short meditation is based on Luke’s accounts in chapters 8:1-3 and 24:10 giving us some facts about women disciples who followed Jesus. In fact, irrespective of whether we are male or female, there are several thoughts to encourage and challenge all of us and I share them with great respect to those who may take a different view.

Let’s note four outstanding things about some women in scripture who followed Jesus… such a their –

1) Testimony
Luke 8:1b- 2 tells us on a ministry ‘tour’ Jesus ‘took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women he had healed and from whom he’d cast out evil spirits.’

The testimony of these women was that of a changed life.

Our individual experiences of life before we came to saving faith will differ, we may not bear testimony to a healing or casting out of evil spirits as Luke tells here, however, even if we may feel our weaknesses, failings, or shortcomings, if we know the Lord Jesus, then we know he has changed our lives.

2) Contribution
Verse 3b tells about several other very interesting women: ‘… and many others who were contributing from their own resources.’  

Although Luke does not record the specific nature of the contributions to which he makes reference, we can surmise it were practical contributions. These may have included food (perhaps cooking), possibly accommodation, washing and mending clothes, money… all very practical and necessary.

Thinking of my home church, if all the women involved in various aspects of ministry were not there I believe we could not function effectively. Here in Northern Ireland, many women have contributed in a practical way. Taking an example again from my church, we hold a Christmas dinner for ‘seniors’ and it is a team of ladies who have the role in preparing the meal, with help from men to serve tables.

Notice also verse 3b was a personal contribution and this is still a lesson for us today. As believers we should, as the Lord enables us, be seeking to make practical and personal contributions to the Lord’s work and kingdom witness.

This speaks to me about a supportive example. It does not suggest to me there was any kind of ‘power struggle’ going on, perhaps contrary to the attitude of some of the men.

3) Example
Verse 3c tells us what their contributions were achieving – ‘to support Jesus and his disciples.’

In our church structure today there are people who carry defined leadership roles – and this may include women – however every believer has a responsibility to lead by example. This doesn’t mean we act like robots, unable of contributing independent scriptural thought. We respect differences in personality and doctrine: however we must aim to be workers together because we are kingdom builders and that is not our own kingdom, or denominational kingdom.

4) Message
After an amazing encounter at Jesus’ tomb, discovering that his body wasn’t there, that he had risen, ‘they rushed back to tell his disciples – and everyone else what had happened’ (Luke 24:9-10).

It was the third day and the women went to the tomb taking spices they had prepared for the body of Jesus. Where were his male disciples? They were locked away because of fear and they were not celebrating the resurrection of their risen Saviour.

I believe it is significant that the ‘discovery’ and announcement of the Lord’s resurrection was first made known to the women who had ministered to Jesus – we read their names in verse 10 of chapter 24 – the same group as mentioned in chapter 8.

It was not reserved for the beloved disciple John or Peter who was to become a key leader in the first century church! It was the women who brought back an enlightening,  resurrection message! But when they did so, Luke tells us their announcement sounded like nonsense to the men and they didn’t believe them!

Verse 12 tells us that when Peter saw the empty tomb, he who should have known better went home again wondering what had happened. However, as I read and understand scripture, it was from this point on the ‘spiritual eyes’ of these early believers, women and men, were opened to the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ!

Our response
In Acts, Luke’s other book, in chapter 1 verse 14, he tells that the apostles were meeting together for prayer ‘along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women.’ I have no doubt it is the same group of women he speaks about in his gospel record.

On the day of Pentecost Luke tells us the believers were meeting together in one place and ‘everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit.’

I believe these women along with the other believers shared an empowering experience and without doubt, while our experience of the Holy Spirit may not be in such a supernatural manifestation – although it may – our work in the kingdom, whatever our role, however faithful and earnest must be done with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

It encourages and even challenges my heart to read about these women Luke reminds us of and I trust my life’s testimony, contribution, example and message will be such as tol encourage and challenge others as did theirs.

I could also mention how Paul in his closing chapter of Romans praises no less than 16 women who followed Jesus and contributed to the kingdom.

But I would simply challenge every Christian, both women and men, to fully follow Jesus, in whatever area of ‘ministry’ he calls us to. We have the testimony, the example, those early followers empowered with the Spirit, both women and men who worshipped their God and spread the good news that Jesus the Saviour is alive!
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Brian Bell is a diaconate member, Christ Church (Congregational) Abbots Cross, Northern Ireland, and a volunteer with Disabled Christians Fellowship Ireland. He describes himself as ‘grateful for the privilege and opportunity given me to serve my Lord.’
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