Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea.
In reading through this great list of names I was quite struck with how many women there are, starting with Phoebe. In her case, the NIV gives a footnote that “servant” could be translated “deaconess,” but the Japanese just uses the term for deacon, which isn’t gender-specific. So much for all the arguments about women in ministry! As my grandfather W. O. Carver always insisted, Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 11, and particularly the infamous “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent,” (1 Timothy 2:12) are taken out of context. As my grandfather explained, there were societal customs that dictated all sorts of things, such as the whole matter of meat that had been sacrificed to idols, that aren’t to be normative for the Church through the ages. Many people have been hurt, and even churches torn apart, by men who didn’t want to share the limelight. Societal norms need to be respected to a degree, but are never to take precedence over the Holy Spirit. God’s kingdom operates in many ways, with a virtually infinite variety of roles, but everything is under and in submission to God Himself, which makes differences insignificant by comparison. Problems arise from pride, both in men and women, and we’ve got to remember that that’s what got Lucifer thrown out of heaven.
I have seen people of both genders who had no business teaching, whatever they thought of themselves, and I have been greatly blessed by the spiritual insights of both women and men. My mother was distressed when the mission board demoted her to “missionary wife” after she married my father, when she had actually applied to be a missionary before he had. I feel that distress was quite understandable, but at the same time my mother’s internal turmoil was her own issue, to the degree that she didn’t release the issue to God. In the secular world, the “Women’s Liberation Movement” started with some reasonable and even noble goals, but it was quickly hijacked by the devil, and easily so because there was so much pride involved. I am to treat all people with honor and respect, recognizing that God can use anyone, and seeking to encourage each person in their individual gifting and calling.
Father, thank You for this reminder. There are many difficult things, not to mention unknowns, about this whole issue. Help me look to You constantly and hear You clearly and obediently, so that Your plans for everyone may be fulfilled, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!