Women’s Sphere and Service
Arthur G. Clarke
To gather the mind of God on this subject it is necessary first to consider woman’s origin.
CREATION ORDER. Gen. 1. 27, 28; 2. 18-25. In His eternal counsels God ever had before Him the glory of His beloved Son. This included the provision of a consort wholly suited by grace to be for ever in joyful fellowship with Him as the Christ, a suited vehicle for the display of divine wisdom in time (Eph. 3. 10, 11), and divine grace in eternity (Eph. 2. 7). God’s order in creation must be viewed in light of this planned union of Christ and the Church (Eph. 3. 3-11; Col. 1. 26, 27). In relation to God the woman was “created,” Gen. 1. 27; in relation to man she was” made” (lit. builded) from his side, Gen. 2. 22. Verse 20 has profound significance when considered in its context. God took evident delight in His creature-man’s exercise of divinely-bestowed wisdom in naming beast and bird, but there was a deeper purpose in the act. It was demonstrated to Adam that his being was of an entirely different order and that among all the other creatures there was no true counterpart “answering” to him. The words “was not found” imply an unsuccessful quest. It seems clear that the Creator in consultation with Adam showed him that a suited consort could come only from his own body. The man’s willing response as a free agent was to offer himself for the operation necessary to produce his bride. This not only adds force to verses 23, 24, but answers more closely to the wonderful antitype of Christ and the Church, Eph. 5. 25-32. It is evident that the Creator never intended woman to be in the place of independence. Her position, however, is not one of inferiority but of a unique dignity as representing the Church’s relationship to Christ, a position to be worthily sustained according to divine arrangement, Prov. 31. 10-31. Without the woman man is incomplete and the divine purposes for him frustrated, 1 Cor. 11. 3; study context to verse 12.
The Fall did not alter the relative position between the man and the woman, but the effects upon the latter are stated in Gen. 3. 16 ; (a) suffering in childbirth, and (b) subjection to husband.
Headship had been vested in the man before, but now the subjection of the woman was a matter of command rather than of her spontaneous attitude. Modern teaching and practice have largely overturned God’s order resulting in much of the confusion seen in present-day society, 1 Cor. 11. 3.
Matrimony is according to divine arrangement, Gen. 2. 24, endorsed by our Lord, Matt. 19. 3-6; Jn. 2. 1, 2; cf. Heb. 13. 4; cf. the implied rebuke against forbidding it, 1 Tim. 4. 3. Divorce was never intended by God, and modem practice in regard to this is another cause of the sad state into which society has drifted in these last days. Scripture teaching on the subject will be found, Matt. 5. 31, 32; 19. 7-12; Mk. 10. 2-12; Lk. 16. 18; Rom. 7. 1-3; 1 Cor. 7, etc. In periods of special distress, such as open persecution of the Church, it may be expedient to refrain from, or postpone, marriage for a time in order to lessen the dangers and difficulties, 1 Cor. 7. 26-31. Then there are cases where servants of the Lord will suffer less distraction by remaining free from family ties (e.g. pioneer missionary work in unexplored territory), 1 Cor. 7. 32-35 with Matt. 19. 12. Paul himself was probably such an one, 1 Cor. 9. 5 with 7, 8. Marriage has definite commitments, and the N.T. by precept and example instructs in the respective duties of husband and wife, 1 Cor. 7; Eph. 5. 22-33; Col. 3. 18, 19; 1 Pet. 3. 1-7. In proper subjection to her husband, the Christian woman should be an example to the world, not an imitator of the world.
The Home is woman’s own special sphere. 1 Tim. 5. 14 speaks of her as being the “house-ruler” (not husband-ruler). Her aim is to make the house into a home, and this can only be done where love is. She is to be “husband-lover” and “children-lover”(lit Gk.), discreet, chaste, good (i.e. beautiful in character) and a home-worker, Tit. 2. 4, 5. Income is mostly the husband’s earning but much of the responsibility for expenditure is the wife’s, who has to decide between necessities and luxuries, with conveniences in the middle place ! The training of the children, especially in earlier years, lies chiefly with the mother. This is a privilege of the highest order and a solemn duty not to be neglected. Lack of well-ordered homes is one of the factors responsible for the incidence of juvenile delinquency today.
Adornment. The Fall brought a change from the primeval condition, Gen. 2. 25. The attempt of the guilty pair to cover their shame proved a failure, Gen. 3. 7, 8. God in grace provided for their recognized need by the blood-shedding of a substitutionary victim, 3. 21, a foreshadowing of the redemptive work of Christ. Clothing is striking evidence of sin in the human race. Animals have no such self-consciousness. The Mosaic law enjoined a distinction between the attire of men and of women, Deut. 22. 5, and the words in the latter part of the verse imply that it is an abiding principle. Christian women are instructed to wear apparel that is “seemly (lit. orderly) with modesty and discretion.” Neither immodest dress nor slovenly attire commends the gospel. There is to be no ostentation or extravagance—she is to be approved by good deeds not by gay dress, by consistent works not by costly wrappings, 1 Tim. 2. 9, 10. God looks upon the heart not on the outward appearance, 1 Sam. 16. 7. This should encourage sisters who do not possess beauty of features and form. A meek and quiet spirit is precious in God’s sight and therefore should be highly esteemed by Christians. Men of the world may be attracted by the artificial styles of fashion, but these are “corruptible” and soon to pass away, 1 Pet. 3. 3, 4; 1 Jn. 2. 15-17; Rom. 12. 2. This does not rule out certain adjustments necessary for health and comfort in various climates, but conspicuousness is to be avoided whether in new fashions or old. As to “beauty aids” the only woman in Scripture mentioned as using them is Jezebel, an unenviable character surely for Christian sisters to follow, 2 Kings 9. 30; cf. the prophets’ scathing denunciation, Jer. 4. 30; Ezek. 23. 40. As to the hair, this was designed by God, to mark the distinction between the sexes, 1 Cor. 11. 14, 15. Long hair is woman’s glory, therefore such practices as bobbing, shingling and cropping in concession to passing fashion is not well-pleasing to the Lord, 1 Cor. 10. 31. Trimming for health reasons may be advisable on occasion, provided this is done with a clear conscience before God and is not offered in excuse. Woman is to be truly feminine, not masculine. Both nature and revelation reprehend a woman with shorn head, 1 Cor. 11. 6, 15. Many modern fashions and practices are really in revolt against the Creator’s prescribed arrangement.
REDEMPTION ORDER. In this there is no distinction of sex, Gal. 3. 28. All believers are alike in Christ Jesus—in Christ a new creation, 2 Cor. 5. 17. All are partakers of the heavenly calling, Heb. 3. 1, and all equally share the privileges of the Christian priesthood, 1 Pet. 2. 5, 9; see Lesson 6. This standing before God, however, must not be confounded with the present church order.
CHURCH ORDER is to maintain a testimony before angels (1 Cor. 11. 10; Eph. 3. 10, 11) and before men, 1 Cor. 14. 23-25. In the assembly the creation order still holds, 1 Cor. 14. 34, 35; 1 Tim. 2. 11, 12, the reasons being stated, (a) man’s priority in his creation by God, cf. 1 Cor. 11. 2, 8, 9. (b) woman’s frailty in her deception by Satan, 13, 14. Leadership is vested in the brethren in all assembly gatherings and among mixed audiences. This refers to both teaching and audible praying, 1 Tim. 2. 8, 12; “the men (lit. males) ... in every place.” A gracious promise follows in verse 15. There would appear to be no restriction placed upon sisters speaking and praying in gatherings for women or children, provided only that the injunction as to head-covering be observed in accordance with 1 Cor. 11. 2-16. Many women have natural ability for speaking, but neither this nor modern practice in certain “churches” warrants disobedience to the Word of God, however plausible the arguments. Apparent blessing upon such efforts is no safe guide, Matt. 7. 21-23; 2 Cor. 5. 9. We need ever to be on guard against the “spirit of the age,” Eph. 2. 2. Satan is always working to subvert the divine order, but his defeat is assured and his doom imminent.
MINISTRY. Christian women have a wide sphere of ministry in activities for which they are particularly suited. As a member of the Body of Christ, the Church, each has her function to perform for the edification of the whole, 1 Cor. 12. 7, 12 ff. Most wives and mothers will find their time chiefly occupied with home-duties. A well-ordered Christian household is a most powerful testimony for God in any neighbourhood. Experienced missionaries in pagan lands can testify to this fact. Elderly women, widows and unmarried sisters may have more opportunity to engage in outside work such as a Sunday School class, visitation of the sick and sorrowing, tract distribution, helping the singing in open-air testimony, women’s gatherings and personal work among neighbours. Elderly sisters are enjoined to teach the younger, Tit. 2. 3, 4; and we have an example of a sister in the home sharing in the enlightenment of a brother not so well instructed, Acts 18. 26. Especially if they are wives of elders, they may be able to render valuable assistance in undertaking investigations among womenfolk on behalf of the assembly, and perform other service, provided always they possess the necessary qualifications, which are, “grave, not slanderers (lit. diaboloi, i.e. not allowing themselves to become the tool of the devil—the slanderer—diabolos), temperate (abstinent and circumspect), and faithful in all things (i.e. in carrying out any assigned duties),” cf. Tit. 2. 3. In the showing of hospitality to servants of God, to other visiting saints and to lonely Christians, especially young believers from ungodly homes, the wife obviously has the greater share, 1 Tim. 3. 2; 5. 10; Tit. 1.8; Rom. 12. 13; Heb. 13. 2; 1 Pet. 4. 9; example, Acts 16. 15, 40. Christian doctors, nurses and school-teachers have an exceptional field to witness and to work for the Lord. Examples of other forms of service are found, Matt. 27. 55; Mk. 12. 41-44; 15. 41; Lk. 8. 3; Rom. 16. 1; Acts 9. 36-39. In practice Christian women have often proved most generous givers. The Scriptures afford many examples of women who displayed strong faith and tendered devoted service to God. Among God’s list of “honourable mentions” in Heb. 11 we find named and unnamed women. Many a dear sister in Christ, little noticed in the world, will surely meet in a coming day the approving word of the Lord, “She hath done what she could,” Mk. 14. 8.