What’s a woman’s role in the church? (Pause a few seconds.) Oh boy, now we’ve done it. The can of worms is open. 😉 No doubt, this is a serious issue. It’s a very emotional topic to talk about too.
Before diving right in, let’s build some common ground. First, this group of human beings known as women, they may have some similar characteristics to each other, especially in contrast to the other gender. But, there is also a whole lot of variety within this group too. Because of this, we must be careful to not see all women as the same person when figuring out “a woman’s role.” God has granted a diversity of gifts to each separate believing woman. Secondly, men ought not feel like they are not a part of this conversation since this is something all believers are a part of, just as we’ll see. And thirdly, this isn’t some man explaining this. What we will speak of comes from God’s own Word.
Our lesson takes us back to the period of the judges. This was after Israel had taken possession of the Promised Land, but before they were ruled by kings. It was quite a tumultuous period in Israel’s life. There was a civil war, there were times of believing in God, followed by unbelief, followed by struggle, followed by deliverance, for God would raise up a judge to save, and then the cycle started over. It was actually very similar to our own life of faith. Doubt followed by trust followed by doubt followed by trust and so on.
The judge our lesson focuses in on is Deborah. Her backstory is pretty straightforward. She was both a prophetess and the one God had chosen to lead Israel at the time. She was also married to a man named Lappidoth. She judged during one of those unbelieving periods where God had sent enemies into Israel so that they may once again call on him for help. The situation was not pretty. People could not travel by the common roads out of fear, but were forced to take the backroads that they might remain safe.
Spiritually speaking, the men of Israel had adopted the philosophy of “make love, not war.” They had had their conquests, it was time to reap the rewards of their labors, although their country was very much under attack. Finally, though, the people had come to their senses and began to call out to the Lord for help.
With that, God had his prophetess, Deborah, call on Barak, a man who would lead Israel to safety by destroying their enemies. Deborah faithfully relayed the Lord’s message to Barak, who like most of the men of Israel shrunk away from his duty as head. He told Deborah, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” Only after he relinquished his responsibility as head did Deborah step forward. She then said, “Certainly I will go with you. But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.”
With that, an army of 10,000 Israelites was gathered, only from two of twelve tribes, however. They followed God’s battle plan by setting up camp on the high ground of Mount Tabor. With that, the trap was set. To their enemies, to Jabin, king of Canaan, and Sisera, commander of Jabin’s troops, this must have seemed like a prize too sweet to pass up. They were armed to the teeth with iron chariots, a tool which would have made quick work of the small force of Israelites. However, they did not take into consideration Israel’s God. The God who had control over the elements. Little did Sisera know that the dribbling brook of the Kishon River, where they were stationed, would soon become a raging waterway, slick with mud. And with that, God opened the heavens and the rains came, nullifying any advantage Sisera may have thought he had. And so, Barak and his men cut down every last one of their enemies…that is, except for Sisera himself.
As the tides turned, Sisera hopped down off his chariot, and began to make a mad dash on foot towards the safety of his own king. Along the way he came across a woman by the name of Jael. Hearing her voice must have been music to his ears. Why? Well, because her husband had sworn an allegiance to Sisera’s king, even though as a Kenite he owed his allegiance to Israel and their God. Thinking he was now safe, he was welcomed by Jael who offered him milk and a blanket. Tired as he was from war and retreat, he fell asleep, thinking she would stand watch for enemies. However, Jael had other things in mind. Obeying God rather than men, namely even her husband, she quietly grabbed a tent peg and hammer. Shen then drove the peg all the way through his temple into the ground beneath him. And there he died. With that, Jael saved Israel.
So, with that, let’s revisit our question? What’s a woman’s role in the church? The short answer, well, it depends. Part of it depends on how the men are doing. In the case of the Israelites, not well. They refused to love their wives as Christ would eventually love the church. They would not lay down their lives in war to protect them. Even when one of them, Barak, was called specifically by God, he placed an ultimatum before God and in part rejected the headship role God had given him. And then there was Heber the Kenite who led his family, Jael, away from God. Men of Good Shepherd, how are you doing? Are you forcing the hands of your wives, or the women in the congregation, because you have lazily and dispassionately refused to do your God-given responsibilities? And women, how are you doing? Have you been a strong servant and/or leader like Deborah or Jael, or have you been a usurper, emasculating your husband or the men of the congregation?
These are real questions. They are emotion-inducing questions. And they have to be talked about. Perhaps there is shame as we do so. Perhaps anger. But one thing needs to made clear. Both the men and women here need to revisit our roles because we are sinners.
But, we must also see the epitome of these roles in action. For that, we must turn to Christ. Not just so that we might compare and see how we have failed to measure up. But, so that we might see our substitute who has done it perfectly in our place. As the husband of the Church, he willingly laid down his life for his bride. Seeing she was in danger, he gave everything he had for her. And, in respect to the Father, he willingly obeyed him, not because he was lesser than the Father, but because this was his role and responsibility. He dutifully served by placing himself last. In both roles, he placed others first. And now, that perfection has become yours through faith.
This is the role of a man and the role of a woman. Everyone, regardless of gender is called to serve. How that role is carried out, though, that once again depends on the situation. It depends on the guidelines God has given in our calls. It depends on the gifts God has granted to us as individuals. Because everything then starts with him, as we see each other carrying out their service, men should not be enraged by strong female leaders like Jael or Deborah. We should be inspired by them, and thank God that we have these sisters like them who compliment us and who at times more than make up for our failings. Women ought to thank God for men who are willing to serve as heads in the family and the congregation. And when they fail, not to tear them down, but to build them up so that they can faithfully serve anew.
This is a partnership we have entered into as part of this church. In our own roles as men and women, and in our own roles as individuals, we exist to hallow God’s name, to shine light upon his greatness. We do this not as slaves who are forced to, nor as the walking dead simply going through the motions, but as ones who have been convinced of his love and of his perfection which is now attributed to us through faith.
To put it as simply as possible, the most basic role of a woman in the church is to serve. Not because she is a woman. But because she is a Christian, someone who follows after Christ, the ultimate servant. Amen.