Romans 16:1, Proverb 31
10 Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. 11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good and not evil All the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, And willingly works with her hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships, She brings her food from afar. 15 She also rises while it is yet night, And provides food for her household, And a portion for her maidservants. 16 She considers a field and buys it; From her profits she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, And strengthens her arms. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is good, And her lamp does not go out by night. 19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hand holds the spindle. 20 She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid of snow for her household, For all her household is clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes tapestry for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies sashes for the merchants. 25 Strength and honor are her clothing; She shall rejoice in time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, And on her tongue is the law of kindness. 27 She watches over the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her: 29 "Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all." 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. 31 Give her of the fruit of her hands, And let her own works praise her in the gates.
When I was growing up, we watched family sitcoms like “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Leave it to Beaver,” or “Father Knows Best.” When my kids were growing up it was “The Brady Bunch” and “The Cosbys.” Gender roles were pretty clear, and parents were pretty much in charge of the home. Now a host of family sitcoms turns the family on its head with shows like “The Simpsons, modern Family, Blackish, Family Guy, etc. it seems like the world has gone crazy.
It is a confusing and difficult time for the family. I can’t tell you how glad I am that my children are grown and out on their own. I would not want to be a kid again for anything. I did not have to deal with 1/10 of what kids today encounter. Neither would I want to be a parent today with all the pressures and cultural baggage that families are facing. I tremendously respect and appreciate those of you who are living out the Christian life in your homes on a daily basis.
I especially would not want to face the pressure of being a woman in today’s world. The supermodels starve themselves in order to get into their clothes. The movie stars with their own professional makeup artists make you feel like you have no value unless your looks are perfect. The professional business women make you feel like a nobody if you decide to work at home. Those who balance career and home, and volunteer for everything make you feel like giving up. And there are always those who remind you of where you fall short.
But the Bible is full of words of encouragement which show how God values women. The world may put you down, but God lifts you up. The world may expect the impossible, but God comes to you with grace and a heart that accepts you for who you are. You are important to God in many ways.
I want to talk specifically about three of those ways today. A woman has a special place in the heart of God and his plan for the world.
1-The first thing that I want to emphasize today is that: A woman’s place is in the home. Now don’t go crazy on me here, it’s not what you think, because actually, a man’s place is in the home as well — each of our places is in the home. The home is where we are nurtured, loved and encouraged. That doesn’t mean that a woman’s only place is in the home, but, as with men, it should be her best place. Women are so much better at this nurturing thing than we men are. Home should be where men and women find their meaning, because this is the place of our most important and abiding relationships. God is all about relationships. Having a relationship with God is what it means to be a Christian. Having a relationship with other people is what it means to be fully human.
It is in the home where we learn to live with other people in important ways. We learn to forgive other people when they are wrong. We learn to extend grace when they are difficult. We learn not to set unrealistic expectations on others. We learn that love is more than a feeling; it is a deep and abiding commitment that overcomes feelings. It is the Agape love spoken of in the bible. It is an act of the will. A woman’s place is in the home, because she is to be the recipient of these divine gifts expressed through human agents — namely her family. She is shown appreciation. She is told of her value to her husband, children and the home.
I know that I cannot imagine what I would be like if it were not for my wife helping me to see the importance of responding in different ways. Every year I appreciate her more. Every year I realize I should have listened to her more. Her place is in our home. She works outside the home part-time, but she is at her best when she is at home. And because she is there, I am at my best at home.
Home is where the ministry is. We minister to each other. We minister to our children, even though they are grown we try to encourage them in the Christian faith by word and example. Those who believe that only what happens outside the home is important have missed God’s greatest calling as we, both men and women, minister to the people in our homes. We bind their emotional wounds. We lift their spirits. We allow people to be themselves. We show kindness when they have been beaten up by the world. We give smiles and hugs. We listen and try to understand. A woman’s place is many places, but her place is most importantly in the home.
2-The second point I would like to emphasize is: A woman’s place is in the world. Proverbs 31 describes and praises a woman who is truly a worldly woman. She has her own business and takes her place in the marketplace. She is dealing in real estate. She is helping those in need and providing for the needs of her family through her trading. The Bible ends this section describing her activity by saying, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” (Proverbs 31:30-31). You would have to have lived in the time which this was written to appreciate how radical this elevated view of womanhood is. The surrounding cultures did not give women a place of dignity and honor, as the Hebrews did.
The whole point of the story of Adam and Eve is that man by himself was inadequate in this world. He needed someone — not just someone to do his work and meet his needs, but a full partner without whom life would not be nearly so rich.
3-Well, the third thing it is important for us to recognize is that: A woman’s place is in the church. We all know that the church could not exist without the women who do so much of the work of the church. And they do this in spite of the fact that they have often been kept out of the positions of leadership. In many churches women are not permitted to preach. Some denominations do not even allow them to hold leadership positions of any kind. Some of this has come about because of Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2:12). But we must remember that Paul was starting churches in the middle of pagan cultures which looked on women as little more than property. A woman was the property of a man and could be discarded at will in these godless societies. For a woman to be in a place of authority or preach would have hurt any chance for the church to reach out effectively in that culture. But while these guidelines were culturally appropriate, women gained an increasing role in the life of the church as Christianity influenced the culture.
But remember that it was women who faithfully stayed by Jesus in his darkest hour after all the men had fled. They were the last ones at the cross and the first ones at the tomb. They were the first to tell the world about Christ’s resurrection. It was a woman named Anna who first preached to the world about the infant Jesus being the Messiah. A large group of women were in the Upper Room when the Holy Spirit fell on the believers. It was a woman named Lydia who was the first gentile convert during Paul’s missionary journey to the European continent. Women made up an important part of the leadership of the early church including the church’s prophets, teachers and ministers.
In the Old Testament Hebrew culture, Miriam served alongside her brother Moses in leading Israel. Deborah became a judge, or Prime Minister, of the nation. And the woman Huldah was a prophet.
In the New Testament era, Phillip had four daughters who were prophets — they spoke the Word of God. Priscilla was a co-laborer with her husband as they preached and taught in the early church. The church met in the homes identified by the names of women, indicating she was the leader or preacher of that church. In Romans 16:1 it is interesting that Phoebe is described as a “deaconess” or “servant” in many translations. The word in the original Greek is diakonos. When that word is used in context with a man it is most always translated “minister.” But in order not to offend those who believe that women should not be ministers, and suffer the loss of sales, the publishing companies chose the word deaconess instead. But there is no reason to believe she was not exactly what the Word of God says she was — a minister in the same sense as men were ministers.
I was struck again this year as I read through the book of Acts and realized again what an important place women had in the ministry of the church. As the disciples gathered in the Upper Room to pray, it says, “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14). The people of Jerusalem had gathered around because the followers of Jesus, both men and women, come out from that prayer meeting speaking in the native tongues of the foreigners in Jerusalem, preaching the message of Christ on that first Pentecost. Some thought they were drunk, because they couldn’t understand what they were saying, but Peter explained that they were full of the Holy Spirit. Listen again as he quotes the Old Testament in that sermon: “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy’” (Acts 2:16-18).
Paul said “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). In the kingdom of God there is no distinction between male and female, black or white, poor or rich, educated or unschooled, beautiful or ordinary — we are all the children of God. It is our relationship with him that gives our life its value, and that alone.
We all have a role to play and a life to live out. Sometimes the roles God calls us to are directed by our gender and sometimes they are not. One thing is for sure, whatever way in which we choose to serve, it has eternal value in the eyes of God.
So whether you are a woman who is teaching the eschatological values of the kingdom to the occupants of your home, teaching your child life lessons like how to tie their shoes, or doing it in the church or in the world, the hand of God is on your life. As the Scripture says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). Thank God for the women of this world and especially this church who faithfully do his will.
First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday May 12, 2019)
Russell Long, Elder