Women and the Local Church

At the TGC Women’s Conference, 9Marks hosted a panel on Women and the Local Church. The panel sought to biblically define church and describe what a healthy church looks like. Then they answered questions from the audience about how women who are faithful members in their local church can work to build up the body of Christ.

Listen here and rejoice in the church, God’s gift to us:

Women and the Local Church

God Is Good

Excerpt from the recently released The Good Portion-God: The Doctrine of God for Every Woman by Rebecca Stark:

One of my favorite autumn activities is picking the wild cranberries that grow on the mossy forest floor surrounding my home. Last fall they were so plentiful that I didn’t need to harvest beyond the small strip of woods right across the street from my house. When the snow finally came, I had three large mixing bowls full of cranberries waiting to be turned into jam or juice, or frozen whole to use in muffins throughout the winter. Even so, I left plenty of berries on the bushes for the birds and bears.

Where I live in northern Canada, the wild bounty God provides includes cranberries (or lingonberries), caribou, moose, bison and more. In Minnesota where I grew up, He gives wild blueberries, chokecherries, juneberries, wild rice, and venison. From His goodness, God provides all of these native foods for His creatures to eat.

Even if you live where there isn’t much wild food to hunt or gather, God provides the food you eat. Do you grow some of your own food? The vegetables and fruits you grow are His good gifts to you. If you buy your food in a local market or supermarket, God is using farmers, truckers, grocers, and others to supply food for you to eat.

No matter where we live, or how we gather it, we all receive our food from God’s goodness. From God’s goodness, He gives us wonderful gifts—food, homes, families, and more. But even greater than these is His gift of His Son. From His goodness, God gave His own Son for our salvation.

God Gives

The Lord is good to all … (Ps. 145:9)

The Father, Son, and Spirit exist in an eternal relationship of sharing and love,[1] and from the overflow of this eternal goodness, God gives good gifts to His creatures. The psalmist David described the goodness of God in Psalm 145:

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. (Ps. 145:9, 15–16)

Our good God generously provides everything His creatures need.

The eighteenth-century English Baptist pastor John Gill described God’s goodness as ‘an inexhaustible fountain’: overflowing forever even though He is continually sharing His goodness with the living things He has made.[2] In John Gill’s time, city fountains didn’t recirculate their water like the fountains we have now. Instead, they drew water from a reservoir or natural springs, and provided this clean water for all the people who lived around them. God’s inexhaustible fountain of goodness is this kind of fountain—one that constantly provides us with fresh goodness. But with His fountain, there is no danger the reservoir will run dry or the springs will dry up. He has an eternal unlimited supply of fresh goodness. 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 summer salads. Vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats, both wild and cultivated—every different kind is a good gift from our good God.

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, colors, 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 people give gifts to us, underneath their gifts is the goodness of God. He gave them enough to share (1 Cor. 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’ (Matt. 5:44–45). Even God’s enemies receive good gifts from Him.

This doesn’t mean, however, that He distributes His gifts equally to everyone. As long as He gives no one less than they deserve, God can give more to some than others and still be perfectly just and good. He can do what He chooses with all that belongs to Him, and we have no right to complain or be envious of the gifts He gives to others (Matt. 20:13–15).

But we aren’t always satisfied with what we receive from Him, are we? I sometimes envy retired couples who drive their motor homes through my town each summer. I was in my forties when my husband passed away, so I will never be able to take retirement road trips with him. Given the opportunity, we probably wouldn’t have traveled much during our retirement years anyway, but knowing this doesn’t keep me from coveting this gift God has given to others but not me. What gifts do you long for? A bigger and better house? A more challenging job? A more attentive husband? Whatever they are, when we envy the gifts God has given to others, we’re rejecting His goodness, first, by begrudging His generosity to others, and second, by undervaluing the gifts He has generously given to us.

The first step to being satisfied with the gifts God has given us is to acknowledge them. We tend to take His generosity for granted because He is constantly providing for us from His abundance. We may commute to work, for instance, without considering that it is only because our good God is protecting us that we arrive safely. Or we may take a daily shower without acknowledging that God is the one who keeps the water pipes and the water heater working. But neither safe travels nor warm showers are automatic. They are both good gifts from God, gifts that some women won’t receive today. When we remember His kindnesses to us—His big gifts and His small ones—and receive them with thanksgiving, we will be more content with what we have and less envious of His gifts to others.

From His goodness, God provides for the earthly needs of all His creatures, but for those who belong to Him, His 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 every believer more like Christ (Rom. 8:28–29). Can you see why the apostle Paul reminds his readers to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18)? Our generous God uses everything, even the hard things, to remake His people in His image.

And as those who are being remade in His image, God’s people should reflect His goodness. Since He is good even to His enemies, we are called to be good to our enemies, too. And who are our enemies? When Jesus commanded His followers to love their enemies, He 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 (Matt. 5:43–48), was an enemy. Every one of us has plenty of enemies to be generous to! 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 His disciple, you are called to not retaliate, but to do good instead. If you take her a few 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 kindly the co- worker who purposefully undermined you, 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’ command to be like ‘your Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 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’ (Gal. 6:10). Yes, we should give to people in our neighborhoods and people across the world, 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.

[1] Reeves, Michael, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic 2012), 47.

[2] Gill, John, ‘A Body of Doctrinal Divinity’ Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/gill/doctrinal.ii.xvi.html

 

A Queen, a Bride and a Cook

The priest pleaded with the young woman to renounce her faith and embrace the Roman Catholic Church. Only sixteen years of age, Lady Jane Grey had been the Protestant Queen of England for nine short days. Her cousin, the staunch Catholic Queen Mary, would pardon her life if only she would recant. Instead, Jane resolutely walked to the scaffold and publicly declared:

“I pray you all, good Christian people, to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman. I do look to be saved by no other means, but only by the mercy of God, in the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ.” (Faith Cook, Lady Jane Grey: Nine Day Queen of England, Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2004 p. 198.)

Jane Grey’s confidence lay in the sure hope of the resurrection for those who trust in Christ alone.

Ann Hasseltine struggled to make her decision. She loved Adoniram and was even drawn by the excitement of exploring foreign lands. But was she willing to give up all the comforts of home for the dangers of the unknown? Could she endure leaving loved ones never to meet them again in this life? Adoniram Judson was headed to India in 1811 and had asked Ann to join him as his wife. Never before had any woman left America to become a missionary to unreached people. Ann’s contemplation of Jesus made the decision for her. In her diary she wrote:

“When I get near to God, and discern the excellence of the character of the Lord Jesus, and especially his power and willingness to save, I feel desirous, that the whole world should become acquainted with this Saviour. I am not only willing to spend my days among the heathen, in attempting to enlighten and save them, but I find much pleasure in the prospect. Yes, I am quite willing to give up temporal comforts, and live a life of hardship and trial, if it be the will of God.” (Sharon James, My Heart in His Hands, Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1998 p. 38.)

Ann went with Adoniram. They did live a life of hardship, but together they saw “heathen” saved.

Mary King stirred her pot as she contemplated Sunday’s sermon. “Cook” was a faithful, godly woman who not only prepared hearty meals for the boys at Newmarket School, but also served up “good strong Calvinistic doctrine” to fifteen year-old Charles Spurgeon, who credited her with teaching him his theology:

“Many a time we have gone over the covenant of grace together, and talked of the personal election of the saints, their union to Christ, their final perseverance, and what vital godliness meant; and I do believe that I learnt more from her than I should have learned from any six doctors of divinity of the sort we have nowadays.” (C.H. Spurgeon, Autobiography: Volume 1 The Early Years, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1962 p. 39.)

Cook dished out spiritual food as well as meat and potatoes, and Charles Spurgeon never forgot what she taught him.

A queen, a bride and a cook: they were all steeped in Christian doctrine —biblical teaching about God. These women didn’t just endure theology. They relished the truths of the Christian faith. Doctrine affected their lives and overflowed to impact others.

As women in the modern world we lead busy lives. We may juggle the responsibilities of work and school and home. We wake up in the morning to dirty laundry and an inbox full of email. We go to bed at night after washing dishes, chasing deadlines and rocking babies to sleep. Sometimes life is overwhelming and sometimes it is just mundane. The God who sent His Son into the world to rescue sinners gives meaning to both the overwhelming and the mundane. He created us to enjoy knowing Him, and it is in knowing Him that we find both meaning and joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” This is why Jesus commended Mary “who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39). In the midst of a busy household, Mary was enjoying doctrine — Jesus’ teaching about Himself and His Father. She chose the “the good portion” and couldn’t tear herself away.

How do you feel about doctrine? Do you dwell on the gospel, meditate on the excellencies of Christ and discuss the doctrines of grace? Do you relish the truths of the Christian faith? The Good Portion Series of books on doctrine, written by and for women, will fuel your enjoyment of God by encouraging a greater knowledge of Him. It is our hope that biblical doctrine will not only increase your head-knowledge but will be driven down into your heart, bearing fruit in your life and overflowing into the lives of others.

Adapted from The Good Portion Series Preface