Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review - No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God

No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God Aimee Byrd, P&R Publishing,  2016, 288 pages.

When it comes to women's discipleship, there is no shortage of ideas. Most people have an opinion about what it is, what should be taught, and even whether it is necessary or not. There is also no shortage of material that is marketed for this purpose. Some is good but much is not very good at all. What is the average Christian woman to do?

Thankfully, Aimee Byrd has tackled this often sensitive topic in her latest book, No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of GodIf you are looking for tips on how to do women's ministry "right," there is helpful and practical advice to be gleaned, but this book is much more than that.

Part One - Pinpointing a Real Problem
Right off the bat, Aimee points out the problem of error creeping into the church through the backdoor of women's books. This is nothing new. Satan deceived Eve. Paul warned Timothy of false teachers creeping into households and leading silly or little women astray. This does not imply that women are spiritually incompetent and should be shunted to the sidelines but rather that women are targeted because they play a vital role. Thus the work of God is hampered when half the church is ill-equipped and doctrinally weak. Theology is necessary and practical for every woman. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Part Two - Examining Our Context

In our individualistic culture, it is easy to get the idea that spiritual growth is for me, myself, and I, but what if the context is bigger than that? Aimee goes back to Genesis and unfolds the concept of the household of God. Adam and Eve were created to work together and fulfill God's mandate to keep the garden. Sin entered the world, but the mandate has not changed. Jesus commanded the disciples to preach the gospel and make disciples of all the nations. While we are members of individual households, we are part of the church universal and local. Thus for God's household to thrive and function well, every member needs to be equipped for the common mission of the whole.

Part Three - Working Toward a Solution
Drawing from Biblical examples, Aimee unpacks the idea of women being necessary allies to men in the household and mission of God. She clearly affirms male church officers, but this does not exclude sisters from admonishing, encouraging, and serving alongside brothers in the local church. We are in this together.

Part Four - Honing Our Skills
In the last section, Aimee provides guidance in how to be a better reader in general. She then gives criteria to help us discern the quality of our spiritual intake, which I previously shared here. We then have the chance to put these tools into practice with excerpts from popular books that are marketed for Christian women. There may be a few raised eyebrows at the selections, but we need to be wise in discerning truth from error even if it is a bestseller and written by a likable author. (I would personally consider bestseller status a caveat, not a recommendation.)

I've greatly benefited from Aimee's posts on the topic of women in the church, so I loved No Little Women. But what caused me to write "Amen!" all over the margins was her emphasis on the greater context of women's initiatives. I think we miss out when we believe the main source for discipleship falls outside of the the local church and apart from the ordinary means of grace. The preached Word isn't just a supplement to our spiritual nutrition but the main course. Spiritual take-out may be a treat every now and then, but God feeds His people Sunday after Sunday through faithful ministers. Throughout the book, Aimee specifically addresses pastors/elders to encourage them to take an active part in equipping the women in their congregations, which can only benefit the church in the long run. She also provides suggestions to pastors so they can better engage their female hearers and ways we can be better listeners. Also our growth in grace isn't just to fulfill our personal felt needs for spirituality. The gospel comes in and "reorients our lives now so that we live for the life to come." (pg. 194) Thus our lives have purpose in the bigger picture of the kingdom of God.

No Little Women is a great book for women and women's ministry leaders, but it's not just for us. If you are a pastor/elder or a brother who cares about the women in your church, please read this book. It provides very practical guidance but also sound biblical reasons why well-equipped women are necessary allies in the mission of God. Let's work together side by side toward that end.

I received a copy of this book from P&R Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Women in Scripture: Mary the mother of Jesus, Part I

Mary the Mother of Jesus
   It's always a delight to study this wonderful woman who is the earthly mother of our Savior. The Angel Gabriel greeted her this way ”Greetings O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Mary would be in sore need of that comfort in the days and years to come in her life of service to God as she raised and trained Jesus.
  It’s always sad to me when I consider the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has deified Mary and proclaimed her to be sinless from conception, a co-redeemer with Jesus, and other heretical ideas that I won’t waste words on here, because what’s true about her is so much more fascinating than the untruths made up by a false religious system.
   Doubly sad is the fact that as this heretical teaching about her from the RC Church grew the Protestants largely ignored her-the first is sinful heresy and the second is harmful, because it is harmful to ignore one of the richest character studies in the entire Bible. Mary is the epitome of everything a godly woman should desire to be. She is chaste–humble-submissive-full of faith-and brave beyond what words can convey. This godly woman’s life stands out as a one of a kind never to be repeated story and it behooves us as Christian women to know her life and know it well.
  Here are some facts about Mary that you may or may not know. This young woman was chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be the mother of God’s Messiah-the One who would save his people from their sins. Highly favored indeed! She was probably in her teens when the Angel made his announcement because in that culture with the life expectancy so short women married early. Mary was betrothed to Joseph and in spite of all the efforts by scholars to understand him-we really know very little because the Bible, after stating that he was a righteous man, gives us very little other information. We do know that he was from the royal line of David through Solomon. Mary was from the royal line of David through David’s son Nathan. Make no mistake-when Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem during his ministry-he should have had on royal robes-He was the true King of Israel. Pilate had it right when he said “behold your King”.  Scholars have always said that women were discouraged in that day from studying God’s word-but you could never prove that by Mary because as I have studied her life over the years it has become clear that she studied and memorized the Hebrew scriptures. I wonder if she may have had Hannah’s song memorized. It looks as though she delighted in the story of Hannah and Samuel because so much of her own song of praise is strikingly similar to Hannah’s(see 1 Samuel 2:1-10).
   In those days when you were betrothed it was a binding covenant-so much so that in order to break the betrothal a divorce had to be sought. The betrothal lasted for about a year while the groom prepared a home for his bride. Mary was betrothed to Joseph when the Angel came and made his announcement. As was Jewish custom in Israel the marriage was not consummated until the wedding ceremony. Mary was a virgin and the scripture leaves no doubt of the fact. that Joseph had no relations with her until after the birth of Jesus(Matt. 1:18-25). Scripture is also clear that she had a normal marital relationship with her husband which produced other children after the birth of Jesus(Matt. 13:55-56; Mk. 6:3).
  I want us to think about her encounter with the Angel in Luke 1:26-38 when he announced what was about to happen to her. She was greatly troubled. Of course she was. She questioned him. Of course she did. How could this be? She was a virgin and to her this thing was impossible. But in the end when Gabriel had finished telling her what was going to happen she simply said this “Behold I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word”. The stunning simplicity of her humble words and obedience to God’s will is a powerful inspiration to me. I would have had 500 more questions I wanted answered and a certificate of authenticity from God that the angel was who he said he was. I think sometimes we read biblical accounts like this and fail to think deeply of the faith, humility and unquestioned submission displayed by people like Mary. The young woman had no idea of the full meaning of the words of Gabriel found in Luke 1 verses 30 through 37, but she did know God and she trusted him fully as is shown in her response in vs. 38 and her song of praise. 
   In Luke 1:39-55 we are treated to the account of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. After the angel told Mary that Elizabeth had conceived, miraculously in her old age, that’s exactly who Mary wanted to talk to. I think that visit probably encouraged Mary to joyously press on in the days and months to come. All that the angel had spoken to her was here confirmed by an older, wise and godly woman. The encouragement that could should and ought to happen between women of God is a gift to be freely given and joyously received and it was that day. I love how Elizabeth commends Mary’s faith in God in vs. 45. I am now at that age in my life when I need to spend my days encouraging young women in the faith-it’s what older women are called to do-and it’s so necessary! We are blessed to see two women called by God to a very special task building each other up. We are allowed a glimpse of real camaraderie and soul refreshing in this passage. Mary needed this as did Elizabeth.  
Ladies, may we ever cherish and follow God in humble obedience in this very same way that Mary did. We will not always understand the mysteries of God’s dealings with us as we live lives of faithful obedience. We can ponder and treasure the deep things of God in our hearts as Mary did. We may never know all the whys-but the Who is all we need at the end of the day.
  Because there is so much more to examine in the life of Mary we will have a second part to this post. Thanks to Diane for approving that.


About the Author: Vicki Lynch. Is a wife, mother, homemaker, women’s Bible study teacher and amateur theology student. She has been married to Bill for over 46 years. Their lives were forever changed in 1999 when they tragically lost their only child in an auto accident. He was a young adult and unmarried. Vicki says” It was a make or break time for my faith…but our faithful God brought us through.”

This post originally appeared on October 7, 2013 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Identity: Knowing Who We Are in Christ

The professional women sitting next to our dinner table last week gloried in their roles as nurses as they traded recent stories of pain and recovery from the hospital down the street. Yet I wondered whether they realized that nursing is merely their vocation, not the core of their identity. Likewise, my niece and her closest friends encourage one another as they share the challenges of homeschooling in their common vocations as young moms. But do they understand how fleeting this season of life will seem in a matter of a few years when their raucous, chaotic living rooms morph into much quieter empty nests?
Another young woman, whom I have discipled in the past, regularly introduces herself as “an addict” to close acquaintances, even though she has not taken a mood-altering substance in nearly four years. She understands that in her weakness she is still susceptible to temptation. So for her, retaining the “addict” moniker helps to keep her humble and realistic about the remaining potential to slip up. However, I still wonder whether she fully understands that her temptation does not define who she is as a person in relationship to others and who she is becoming as a Christian believer.

Far too often, we think of ourselves mainly in terms of what we do or how we feel about ourselves and our relationship to our temporal circumstances. Becoming aware of our position and identity in Christ uplifts us by pointing us to tremendously empowering truths and confronts us with some sobering facts.

James gives an example of this paradox when he exhorts the poor and lowly person to “boast in his exaltation”, while simultaneously telling the prosperous person to glory “in his humiliation” (1:9-10). Remember, in context, James is discussing temptation, desire, and sin. It is no mere coincidence that James drops this gem right in between his teaching about trials and temptations. Self-skewing illusions of personal grandiosity and personal loathing will taint our view of who we are before God, making us susceptible to wiles of the evil one. We must look to Christ to see ourselves rightly.

Creation and Fall

Typically, as reformed women, we are keenly aware of the danger of emphasizing worldly wealth and position, recognizing it as potential idolatry. Few of us knowingly dare to set ourselves up as empresses and cosmic judges, out from under the scrutiny of our Holy God and Creator. Before congratulating ourselves, let us be careful, lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:12).

The subtle lie that the serpent used to entice the woman before the fall remains a temptation about which we ought to be vigilant: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5a).  The distortion of the Creator/creature distinction is at the heart of much sin and most heresy. “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

The poor and downtrodden, on the other hand, perhaps more acutely understand and experience the insipid nature of the fall. Regularly reminded of the effects of remaining sin in the world and in themselves, the lowly and oppressed often struggle to grasp the inherent dignity of human beings, created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).  Rather, the tendency of those of us who are poor in spirit can be to view our identities based on what we perceive we lack, rather than what we inhere.  

God created both the woman and her husband to have dominion over every living thing – except for God and one another. God said, “Let them to have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing than creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26).  

The irony, of course, is that a mysterious “beast of the field”, that crafty serpent, “more crafty” than the other beasts, deceived and interrogated Eve as though he held dominion over her. The serpent's questioning of Eve took precedence over God's goodness and her calling. The serpent deceived the woman into denying her calling as image-bearer of God and to falsely perceive a lack in God’s good creation. This false perception was the deception that led her to disobey the Creator’s command.

Similarly, we also fall prey to the deception of sin and temptation when we imagine ourselves as mere brute beasts, defined by “natural” desires that we imagine God gave us. In reality, deception and distortion of the imago Dei sneakily lies underneath the fig leaves of our self-made identities, because we define ourselves by that which we imagine God has failed to provide. Whether we base our identity on spiritual poverty, such as a sinful temptation toward substances or relationships, or define our identity by actual poverty or lack of privilege, we have forsaken our Divine calling as image bearers.  

Redeemed Identities

Our loving Creator, who rightly despises sin and rebellion, rescued fallen sinners from this evil, for His ultimate glory, in the Person of Jesus Christ. The Lord, our God, came to renew and restore His people to right relationship with Himself. Whether we lean toward the prideful and prosperous, who eschew the creature/Creator distinction, or toward the lowly and poor of spirit, who diminish the goodness of the image of God, if we are in Christ Jesus, we are being made new. As new creations in Christ, our story does not end when our redemption begins.

When God saves us, He enables us to walk in union with Christ. We are not yet what we will be, but we are no longer what we once were. By the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to live out our callings as image bearers again, as new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 517). James tells us:

 "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (Ja. 1:16-18).

John Calvin wrote in his commentary on this passage that “It is no common nobility into which God extols his own children… justly are they said to be excellent as firstfruits, when God's image is renewed in them.”

When the Truth of who God is emerges to reorient our hearts and minds, we will begin to see ourselves rightly. No longer will we desire the path of the prideful, prosperous fool, setting ourselves up as mini-empresses who usurp the Creator. No longer will we see ourselves as spiritually impoverished beasts, enslaved to the sin nature and the world system.  For we died to sin and are now alive to Christ (Rom. 6:17, Eph. 2:4-5). We are righteous with the righteousness of Christ alone, the perfect Son of God (Rom. 4:5).  Let us praise Him!
Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Women in Scripture: Euodia and Synteche

 Euodia and Syntyche
An Open Letter to Euodia and Syntyche

"I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
To the beloved sisters in Christ at Philippi, 

Greetings in the Lord. I pray my letter finds you both in good health and I trust your souls to prosper, even as you have been taking pains to seek the Lord during this difficult season. May God be pleased and His Name be hallowed among us and among all the saints throughout the world. 

I write to you both, Euodia and Syntyche, as your names and faces have come to mind repeatedly, oftentimes late in the night. I believe God’s purpose has been for that of prayer on your behalf. Over the past few months, I’ve spent many fitful nights weeping over things I’ve hardly understood. I only know the burden has been great, and the urgency relentless. Countless times I have wrestled until my entire body ached while holding you both before the Lord in prayer. Most days, when I was not occupied looking after the widows in our midst and other certain needs among the brethren; I’ve gone about as though a part of me were missing, as if to be left standing without eyes or limb. The sense of loss has been diminishing. And my longing for you in the Lord is equal to my affection for the Lord Himself. 

As you know, it has been some time since our beloved Paul wrote to the church at Philippi. You recall his pleadings — that you settle your differences in the Lord — and how he had called on me to come alongside to help you. Now, after much concerted prayer, I believe time has come to assist you further. Through this open letter, I’m compelled to share with you and the church at Philippi what has been my observation and that which burns continuously in my heart. 

You are both true servants of God. Your love for the Scriptures is without question. You are like the noble Bereans, and I commend you for holding fast to sound doctrine. Your faithful service to the ministry and your loving care for the flock here at Philippi has been evident to all. By God’s grace, you have both worked untiringly to advance the gospel. Whether by keeping prayerful watch or diligent study, or by washing the feet of the saints or cooking meals for the infirm, you have proven yourselves in these things, thinking nothing of yourselves. The entire province has heard of your good works, and it’s been clear to all that your greatest privilege has been to serve God with an undying love. These things have been a great example to me and the rest of the family of God. We remain indebted to you for your zeal and gracious service. 

But now, as I have waited upon the Lord, I must unburden my heart and speak of difficult things I fear may pain you to hear. But I trust the mighty God within you to convince you against any petulance. 

Thus, here is what I have observed: You’ve allowed troubled waters to run dry under the bridge. Although you have seemingly forgiven one another, having formally reconciled, and that in the presence of the elders, I’ve noticed you no longer come together in prayer like you did in times past. The friendly banter and warm smiles exchanged at mealtimes have all but stopped. You have somehow become polite, to the point of coldness, even avoiding one other before and after the meeting! What is more, you have become selective with whom you speak. There is, I daresay, a stale air within your circles of fellowship. The proof of such has borne out, as I am pained over the two sisters who have recently come to us from Troas. They were reluctant to say at first, but a few days ago they told me of how they have not been well received, as no one has offered to disciple them. They are feeling bruised and disheartened, and are making plans to visit the church at Ephesus soon. 

Disagreements are inevitable. The Lord Jesus said offenses would come. I well understand how tensions can easily mount when there is no singular vision on a matter. But disputes are such that they prove our discipleship: are we serving God or are we still trying to please ourselves? How many occasions are there to see things differently than our brother or sister? Innumerable! When provisions are limited or when guests are hungry and tables have not yet been set, Greeks do it one way, Jews another. Like-mindedness is a holy challenge to which we mortal creatures must aim. Granted, it would be much simpler to be a Stoic, but that is not our goal, to stand apart and self-sufficient. Ours is a higher calling. His blood was shed for each member of the Body of Christ that we be one, even as Christ and the Father are one. 

Now, I say this in all humility, while you may have done everything right outwardly, we know from the scrolls that God looks on the inward parts. If I am to serve you honestly, I must make my appeal to you forthrightly. Be reconciled to one another in truth, from the heart. 

You have been amply supplied with instruction to know what you ought to do when disputable matters arise. Even you yourselves have said, “Is food more important than Christ and our brother for whom Christ died? I implore you, my dear sisters, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to one another. Cast away your silent stones. Remember Jesus. When the saints are assembled, come together again; lay down your pride, your will, and your heart. As you kneel before the throne of God, raise your hands in declaration of the cross of Christ, forsake your own way and surrender your spirit to Him once more. 

As for the elders, deacons, and all the saints at Philippi, we shall continue to pray, asking God to heal the delicate rift in His precious body. May the Lord bind your hearts once more unto full restoration. And may righteousness, joy, and peace be found again in the house of God.

Your loyal brother, 

End Note: The name “Syzygus”- Gk. syzygos means “true yokefellow” (ESV footnote). Not all Bible commentators agree as to who is the “true companion” to whom Paul refers in his letter. It is not made clear. Some say Syzygus could be the proper name of a certain individual, while others suggest Epaphroditus. 

About the Author: Elizabeth DeBarros makes her home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northern Virginia with her husband of 24 years, their two sons, and beloved cat, Adagio. She cares deeply for people, words, theology, Darjeeling, and likes taking long walks in any kind of weather. She can be found at Finding the Motherlode sharing her thoughts, observations, poems, and the occasional firebrand.

Note: This post originally appeared on September 30, 2013.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

An Inexaustible Fountain of Goodness

The LORD is good to all, 
 and his mercy is over all that he has made.
The eyes of all look to you,
 and you give them their food in due season.
You open your hand; 
 you satisfy the desire of every living thing. 
(Psalm 145:9, 15-16)
The eighteenth century English Baptist pastor John Gill described God’s goodness as “an inexhaustible fountain” overflowing forever even as he continually shares his goodness with the living things he has made. In John Gill’s time, city fountains didn’t recirculate their water like the fountains we have now. They drew their water from a reservoir or some natural springs, and provided it to the people who lived around them. Fountains were a source fresh, clean water for drinking and washing. God’s inexhaustible fountain of goodness is this kind of fountain—one that constantly provides us with fresh goodness. But with his fountain of goodness, there is no danger the reservoir will run dry or the springs will dry up. He has an infinite, eternal supply of fresh goodness. There is no limit to his kindness and no end to his generosity, but his goodness flows from him forever in a never-ending stream.

From the abundance of his generosity, God grows mushrooms to feed squirrels and saplings to feed deer. He provides earthworms for robins and mice for foxes. The greens I grow in my garden come from his goodness, too. He could have created only one kind of salad green, or none at all, but instead, he created crispy romaine, buttery spinach, chewy kale, spicy arugula, and red leaf lettuce for extra visual punch, each variety increasing my pleasure as I eat my salads. Vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats—every different kind is a good gift from our good God.

Sustaining Us and Giving Us Joy

God directs everything in the universe, so every benefit we receive—every “good gift”—comes from him (James 1:17). Beyond our food, homes, and families, he gives us jobs, friends, vacations, sunshine, music, colours, and even the air we breathe. Everything that sustains us and everything that gives us joy—all are God’s gifts to us. Even when other people give to us, underneath their gifts is the goodness of God. He gave them enough to share (1 Corinthians 4:7) and the desire to share with us.

God is generous to everyone, even those who don’t acknowledge him or his gifts. “[H]e is kind to the ungrateful and evil,” Jesus said (Luke 6:35). “[H]e makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). Even God’s enemies receive good gifts from him.

But for those who belong to him, God's generosity continues throughout eternity. Even in this life, every single circumstance is a good gift working an eternal purpose. All things, including life’s trials, are part of God’s benevolent plan to make believers more like Christ (Romans 8:28-29). Can you see why the apostle Paul reminds his readers to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)? Our generous God uses everything, even the hard things, to remake his people in his image.

Reflecting His Goodness

And as those who are being remade in his image, God’s people should reflect his goodness. Since he is good to all, even his enemies, we are called to do good to our enemies, too. And who are our enemies? When he commanded his followers to love their enemies, Jesus included a wide range of people in this category. According to Jesus, anyone who didn’t love them, anyone who wasn’t a brother to them, along with anyone who was actively persecuting them (Matthew 5:43-48), was an enemy. The grumpy neighbor who doesn’t like your family because she prefers silence to the sound of children playing in your backyard is, according to Jesus, your enemy. As a follower of him, you are called to not retaliate, but do good for her instead. If you take her fresh muffins, you are fulfilling his command to love your enemies. You are providing for someone who doesn’t love you or your children, just as God provides for those who don’t love him or his children. Likewise, when you treat your difficult co-worker kindly, you are imitating God’s kindness to both the just and the unjust. And if you pray for someone who is hostile to you because of your Christian faith, you are also reflecting God’s generosity to his enemies. You are following Jesus’s command to be like “your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:45).

But just as God is especially generous to those who belong to him, his people should be especially “good to… those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10). Yes, we should give to people in our neighbourhoods and across the world because our God gives to everyone, but the priority for our generosity should be our fellow-believers. Even as we donate to needy children world-wide, our first duty is to make sure the needs of the children in our own churches are met.

And whenever we give to others—to our fellow believers, to the community around us, or to people far away—we are simply giving from what we have already received from God. Any praise we receive for our generosity should be redirected to him, who gives to us so we can give to others. All the glory for both the gifts we receive and the gifts we give is rightfully his.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Women in Scripture: Priscilla

“Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well.” - Romans 16:3-4

    Prisca (also known by the diminutive name Priscilla) and her husband Aquila were special to the Apostle Paul. Tentmakers who had been forced to leave Rome when the Jews were exiled by Claudius, the couple first met Paul in Corinth. They took him into their home and allowed him to work alongside them in their trade while he proclaimed the gospel there (see Acts 18:1-3). After remaining with them for 18 months, Paul departed for Syria and took the couple with him (vv. 11, 18). He later left them in Ephesus to establish the church there (v. 19).  In his letter to the Romans, Paul doesn’t elaborate on how Priscilla and Aquila “risked their necks” for him, but it may have been during his stay in Ephesus (see Acts 19:23-41; 1 Cor. 15:32; 2 Cor. 1:8-11).
    The mentions of the couple in Scripture are brief, but one verse in Acts 18 tells us much about them. Hearing Apollos preaching in the synagogue in Ephesus, the couple realized that he did not have a complete understanding of the gospel, so “they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (v. 26). There is much we can glean from this verse, regarding both women’s roles in the church and the best way to handle conflict.

   First, after realizing Apollos was in error, they went to him privately. The didn’t berate or accuse him publicly, but took him aside to explain (Gk. “ektithemi”: explain, elaborate, expound) his error. Acts 18:26 “provides positive support for the idea that men and women can explain God’s Word to each other in private and informal settings (such as personal conversation or a small group Bible study) without violating the prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12 against women teaching an assembled group of men.” (ESV Study Bible, p. 2125) 

   How is this so? In  Acts (Reformed Expository Commentary), author Derek Thomas explains that Ephesians 5:22,24 requires a woman to be subject to her own husband, but not to every man. 

“Priscilla could teach Apollos, and she did this within the confines of her own home and not in public. Even so, she must do it without crushing the role that Aquila must play in this instruction, even if he was less able than she was.” (p. 533)     
Given the fact that Acts 18:26 tells us both Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside, we can conclude that Priscilla had her husband’s blessing to be part of this interaction with Apollos.
 Acts 18:26 not only sets a precedence of women instructing men privately (as long as their husbands are present and approving), the verse also gives us a biblical example of how handle conflict. My pastor is preaching through the Book of Acts and he used this verse to bring out some points of consideration when differences arise among believers.
   First, is it a disagreement or a matter of miscommunication? Priscilla and Aquila knew that Apollos had limited knowledge, even though he “had been instructed in the way of the Lord.“ (v. 25) They didn’t want to discourage him, but they understood that he was miscommunicating the gospel. Thomas says, “[T]his is an example of what a godly couple can do for a young man who shows promise of future usefulness...Their generous hospitality and encouragement ensured that the church was better served.” (pp. 532, 533)
   Second, is this necessary for salvation? Apollos was a genuine believer who had the Spirit (v. 25). As believers, we will likely find ourselves in arguments over matters that are necessary for salvation. In those times, we must stand firm and speak the truth in love. (see Ephesians 4:10-16)
   Third, do believers have a history of disagreement on this? There are non-salvific matters some believers will never agree upon (e.g. the millennium, election, alcohol). In these situations, we must ask ourselves if continual debate is beneficial to those involved and those witnessing it. 
  Fourth, have I prayed about my position and searched the Scriptures? In other words, have I merely assumed my position because it’s what I’ve been taught, or someone I respect holds the same belief?
    Fifth, have I sought the counsel of others? Priscilla and Aquila had spent quite a bit of time under the Apostle Paul’s tutelage. They knew their theology was correct.
And last, have I counted the cost if I adopt the alternative position? Will changing my position make me a better Christian or will my theology suffer? We don’t know for certain, but we can assume that Apollos was affected by his encounter with Priscilla and Aquila. His ministry thrived. Verses 27 -28 tell us that “...he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”
 In one of my favorite lines from Anne of Avonlea, Mr. Harrison describes Rachel Lynde, “She can put a whole sermon, text, comment, and application, into six words, and throw it at you like a brick.”  Christian women may be tempted to do that more often than we care to admit when we run into someone who disagrees with us. Priscilla gives us a Scriptural example of how to behave otherwise.

About the Author:  Melissa Jackson is a working mother, living a quiet and simple life in rural Virginia with her husband and teenage daughter.  She enjoys reading, writing, coffee, and chocolate. She is passionate about the Word of God, her family, and discipling teenage girls. She blogs at One Quiet Life.
 This post originally appeared on September 27, 2013

Monday, March 6, 2017

Women in Scripture: Hannah

Servant of our Sovereign God

   The story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 and 2 has been a comfort and hope through the ages.  A cursory reading may lead one to believe that the account is merely about a woman’s longing, praying and the ultimate blessing of the birth of her baby.  A deeper look, though, reveals that there’s more to the story.
   During this time in Israel, about 1050 B.C., “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).   Israel as a whole had forsaken God.  They forgot their deliverance from Egypt and turned to the worship of idols.  God was about to raise up a righteous leader for his people, one who would point toward the promised Savior.  As God often does, he chose a humble, insignificant woman through whom he would bring it to pass.
    Hannah was the wife of Elkanah, a man from a priestly family of the tribe of Levi.  Two circumstances caused great sorrow for Hannah: her childlessness and Peninnah (1:2).  It’s probable that Elkanah’s polygamy was due to Hannah’s inability to bear children.  Offspring were important for economic survival as well as for lineage and carrying on the family name, so he took Peninnah as his wife and she bore his children.

   In obedience to the law Elkanah journeyed with his family to the tabernacle in Shiloh for annual sacrifice and worship.  It was during the post-sacrificial meal that the relationship of the two rivals (1:6) reached a level of sheer misery.  Elkanah provided food for Peninnah and her children, but to Hannah he gave a “double portion.”  Peninnah had his children; Hannah had his heart.  Envious of the favor Hannah received, Peninnah retaliated and undoubtedly flaunted her own fruitfulness in front of Hannah.  Her unbecoming behavior struck angry discord in what should have been a worshipful, joyful occasion.  Year after year, it was so unbearable that Hannah could only weep, unable even to eat.  Elkanah attempted to comfort her, his words revealing the depth of relationship between them.
   Notice, though, the real comfort and hope for Hannah in this fact: “the Lord had closed her womb.”  Her barrenness wasn’t random; there was purpose in it because the Lord had done it! 
Our personal trials are never just about us.
“There are many reasons why God brings trials into the lives of his people, often to stimulate our faith, but in the case of the mother of so important a figure as Samuel, the point has to do not with Hannah but with Israel. The Lord closed Hannah’s womb to remind Israel that he had also caused the people to be spiritually barren because of their idolatry and unbelief.” (1)
 If we have true faith and trust in God, our longings and disappointments will lead us to an understanding that God’s purpose for our lives is far greater and wider than we can see.   Our myopic view of life distorts the reality of what he is doing, but when we go to God and the Scriptures to find the help we need, he meets us there.

  After the family finished their meal, the deeply distressed Hannah rose and went alone to pour out her heart to the Lord (1:10-11).  Eli the priest noted the absence of sound as her lips moved as she prayed and wept, erroneously concluding that she was drunk.  Convinced by Hannah of his error (1:15-16), he bade her go in peace and spoke encouraging words to her (1:17).  She was then able to eat and was no longer sad.  They returned to their home, “And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord” (1:20).
   Hannah stayed at home with Samuel until he was weaned, about three years old.  Then keeping her vow (which was confirmed by Elkanah), she and Samuel went with Elkanah to Shiloh, bringing their sacrificial offerings with them.  When the sacrifice was complete, they brought Samuel to Eli the priest.

   How was Hannah able to leave her longed-for son at the tabernacle, knowing that he would be under the care of Eli who had not raised his own sons in the fear of the Lord?   It wasn’t because she trusted Eli; it was because she trusted God.  Her barrenness and grief caused her to turn to God in desperate dependency.  Her faith and trust in him brought her to the point of being able to relinquish her child to God for his service.  She didn’t know what God was going to do through Samuel, but as she burst into her prayer/song in 1 Samuel 2, it’s evident that her joy overflowed because God is holy, he is sovereign and his ultimate work is the salvation of his people.   She rejoiced to participate in whatever he was doing to bring it about.  Each year as she went with Elkanah to offer the sacrifice, she brought a little robe she had made for Samuel and gave it to him; and she left him there, where he “grew in the presence of the Lord” (2.21).   The Lord further blessed Elkanah and Hannah with three more sons and two daughters.
   God’s purposes are far greater than our own.  Some women long for a child but remain barren their whole lives.  Some give birth, but their child dies or is disabled.  Some long for marriage, but a proposal never comes.  Unfaithfulness, disease—suffering comes in endless ways.  What does the story of Hannah say to us in those instances?

   In the moment of our despair, we must keep at the forefront of our minds that all of God’s works have always been about the salvation of his people.  We can be certain that whatever our circumstance, it’s necessary for what he’s doing in our life and/or someone else’s life.  When through the Scriptures and prayer we are increasingly made aware of the magnitude of our sin and how dependent we are on God to deliver us, the more gladly we bow our longings to his will.  When we learn to embrace God’s sovereign works we can at that point rejoice in our suffering.  If we rejoice only in getting what we want, we miss the point of what God is doing in his greater plan of salvation history and our own part in it.

“Hannah came and poured out her soul before God, and he quieted her mind, and took away her sadness. This seems to have been from refreshing discoveries which God made of himself to her, to enable her quietly to submit to his will, and trust in his mercy.  Do not conclude that the particular thing for which you prayed will certainly be given in answer to your prayers.   Yet, God may and doubtless does testify of his acceptance of our prayers, and this we may confidently rest in his providence and in his merciful ordering and disposing with respect to the thing we have asked for.  God manifests his acceptance of our prayers by dong for us that which is agreeable to our needs and our supplications.” (2)
(1) Richard D. Phillips, 1 Samuel Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2012) 8

(2) Jonathan Edwards, quoted in Richard Rushing, ed., Voices from the Past, Puritan Devotional Readings (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009) 133 

About the Author: Rosemary lives in Cedarburg, WI and has been wife and ministry partner to Harry for forty-four years. They have two adult sons and a daughter who awaits them in heaven. A homebody at heart, Rosemary enjoys nothing better than good conversation, a good book, and a good cup of coffee.
This post originally appeared on September 25, 2013 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

God is much greater than her experience of him

"It is no good telling the bereaved mother that Christ still loves and cares for her if she has only been taught to think of Christ in terms of how he works on her own feelings and in her own experiences. She needs to be able to see that God is much greater than her experience of him; she needs to know that, whatever her current feelings of anguish and despair, God is trustworthy and loving; and she needs to know that assurance is not necessarily about emotional highs but about knowing that God is faithful even though the whole world appears to be falling apart around her. Such will only be possible if the theological environment in which she lives and worships teaches her to understand Christ above all in terms of his historical work of redemption for the people of God; and that will only come about when the emphasis in preaching focuses not on ourselves but on the Christ of the Bible. Setting Christ above all in the context of biblical history rather than our own experience will promote a truly high understanding of Christ as Redeemer, and one that will ultimately be of more use than the Christ of Emotional Therapy...1"

She needs to be able to see that God is much greater than her experience of him...

This passage by Carl Trueman hits close to home. I was not a bereaved mother but a heartbroken wife wondering where God was when my husband walked out the door. I would never have owned it at the time, but God was pretty much the God of my experience. My degree of assurance was tied to my emotional state, even though I wasn't outwardly a very emotional person. When I read the Word, every passage was taken allegorically such that the Bible was mainly about God talking to me about me rather than revealing Himself. I also combed it looking for passages that I would take out of context for any shred of hope that my marriage would be saved.

But the kindest thing that God did in the midst of my suffering was to turn my gaze away from my circumstances to Himself. This breakthrough in my understanding (via doctrine) and the desire to learn more (theology) were the means that brought me out of despair. I began to see that God was trustworthy, not because He gave me a happy ending, but because He is who He says He is in His Word. 

Through the following years and the week-by-week preaching of my pastor, I've learned and am still learning about a God who is far greater than when I was only using the narrow and fallible lens of my experience. He is Triune - one God in three persons. He is immutable, infinite, impassible, simple, faithful, righteous, and love, to name some of His attributes. He moved through history setting the stage for the exact moment when God the Son came down from heaven for us and for our salvation. He is still moving through time and ordering every event until the consummation of His kingdom. Yes there is fierce opposition, but Christ has won! His people are secure no matter what may befall them in this life, and we can look forward to the coming day when every tear will be wiped away and all things will be made right and new.

For those who believe that theology is dry and impractical. I respectfully disagree. Sound exegetical and expository preaching and solid books pulled back the curtain to reveal a God whose will is never thwarted, whose promises are rock solid, and who keeps His own to the very end. Even though my trust may falter at times, I wouldn't want to cast my all on anyone less.

1. Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow by Carl Trueman, Christian Focus Publications, 2011, pp. 122-123.

A rewrite of a post on my personal blog from June 12, 2012.