Before ascending to heaven, Jesus Christ gave His Church important instructions on what it should be doing until He returns. We find these instructions in Matthew 28:18–20 and Mark 16:15, which state that the Church is to go into all the world preaching the Gospel to everyone and making disciples of all nations, teaching them everything Christ taught. This is referred to as the Great Commission. What role is there for women in such a vast, important, and noble mission? More than you might think.
When we search the Scriptures, we find that God has used women throughout history to further His plans. Miriam was a prophetess who was counted as one of Israel’s leaders during the Exodus under Moses and Aaron (Exodus 15:20; Micah 6:4). Deborah judged Israel during a time when they were conquered, and God used her leadership to free the nation (Judges 4:4; 5:7). We see Ruth, an industrious woman of good character, whom God chose as a progenitor of David and of Jesus, though she was a Moabitess and not an Israelite. There was Esther, who saved the Jews from annihilation. These were all exceptional women whom God used for His purposes in those exceptional times. How does the average woman, like you and me, fit into the picture? What can we do as women to further God’s purpose, the Great Commission, at this time?
Women and the Early Work
To see this a little more clearly, let’s examine the ministry of Jesus Christ with respect to women. When you consider the cultural norms during Jesus’ physical, human lifetime, His approach to women may have been considered radical. Men and women did not interact as they do today. In fact, women were considered of less value than men, although they fared better in Jewish society when compared to Gentiles. Nevertheless, Jesus counted women as His disciples, and they were allowed to learn alongside the men. We see this in Mary’s decision to learn from Christ rather than prepare a meal (Luke 10:38–42). Women were among those who followed Jesus on His evangelical tours throughout Galilee (Mark 15:40–41). Women supported the Work by serving Christ and others. They no doubt took care of many details, such as food sourcing and meal preparation, which allowed Christ and the Apostles to preach the Gospel without being concerned about such things. Women such as Joanna and Susanna provided financial support for preaching the Gospel message (Luke 8:1–3). Women—ordinary women like you and me—were clearly involved and hands-on in Christ’s ministry, the Work of that time.
After Christ’s death and resurrection, the New Testament Church was founded, and we again find women in key roles. During a crucial time after James was killed and Peter was imprisoned, it was Mary the mother of John Mark who offered her home as a place for the Church to worship and offer prayers for Peter’s release (Acts 12:1–5, 11–12). Mary showed a lot of courage and jeopardized her life by supporting the Work and allowing the fledgling Church to meet in her home during a time of great persecution. Aquila and his wife Priscilla were fellow workers with Paul as he evangelized the city of Antioch. It was Aquila and Priscilla who taught the fiery preacher Apollos the complete Gospel message (Acts 18:24–26). Priscilla had to be an apt student of the Scriptures in order to help her husband instruct others in this way of life. Women, too, were imprisoned and suffered martyrdom in advancing the cause of the Great Commission (Acts 8:2–3; Hebrews 11:35–38). Plainly, women have played important roles from the earliest days of the Church of God.
Women and the Next Generation
While they had an active role in furthering the Gospel, we do not see women as preachers and ministers in God’s Church historically or today. Why is this? The reason is simple. God’s word states that women should not speak at worship services (1 Corinthians 14:34). The context of 1 Corinthians 14 shows Paul giving the Corinthian brethren instructions on how to conduct worship services. There had been much confusion during services, and apparently women had been involved in the disorder. God has ordained that men be the heads of their families, leading and guiding them. Allowing some women to exercise dominion over men in formal teaching roles would undermine the authority in the home and cause more confusion. God is not the author of confusion. God is wise, He knows what is best, and it is best that women not teach in worship services.
This does not mean that women do not teach. We teach our children, the next generation of Christians, God’s way of life. Teaching the next generation is an important part of the Great Commission, and women have a major role in this effort. Older women are encouraged to teach the younger women how to be good homemakers (Titus 2:3–5). We also teach when we give a reason for the hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:15). But most importantly, we teach by example, showing ourselves to be godly women so that others will be turned to God and His ways (Matthew 5:16).
Women and Crucial Support
Since women are not called to be ministers or preachers, how can we play an active part in the Great Commission, the Work of today? Ministers and others in high-profile jobs are the voices and the faces of the Work, but they cannot perform their duties without the support of the rest of us. Each of us has been called to be a part of the Family of God, and we have been conscripted to work in the “family business.” Not everyone can be the mouth, the eyes, or the hands, but everyone has an important part to play (1 Corinthians 12:14–22).
We can pray without ceasing for the Work, as Anna did (Luke 2:36–37). We know that our prayers will make a difference because we are told that the prayers of a righteous man or woman avail much (James 5:16)! We can support the Work with our resources, as Susanna and Joanna did. We can set a powerful example of being courageous and steadfast, just like Mary the mother of John Mark. Like Priscilla, we can learn the Scriptures so that we are able to teach them to our children and others when appropriate. We can use hospitality to further the Gospel and promote unity, as Lydia did (Acts 16:13–15). Like all the holy women who have gone before us, we can be examples that others will want to follow, and through our examples, lead people to Christ. There is much that women can and should do to be an active part of the Great Commission.
God has given men and women the opportunity to be a part of His Kingdom. He has also given men and women the privilege of having a part in announcing to the world the good news of His coming Kingdom. God, in His infinite wisdom, has given women primarily support roles in doing the Work. Support roles may not be the glamorous jobs, but they are absolutely necessary. Serving in those roles is the perfect tool to teach us servant leadership, which is a skill we must have to fulfill our positions as kings and priests in the Kingdom of God. God has used women in the past, and He continues to use women to fulfill His purposes. Women have important roles in completing the Great Commission—so let us be about our Father’s business and get it done!