[Jesus] went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance (Luke 8:1-3).
[As Jesus was being led to Gologotha] there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him (Luke 23:27).
[Paul and Silas] came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few (Act 17:1-4).
Have you ever read those passages and wondered who these women were? How did they “minister” to Jesus? Were they friendly? Outgoing? Quiet? Did they have children? Who were they? Helpful, supporting, ministering women were a vital part of Christ’s earthly ministry. They also were instrumental in the growth of the early church.
Women are important, but not in the way that the modern feminist movement would have us believe. Think of your own church. How many women roll up their sleeves to take care of many mundane tasks like doing the dishes after a fellowship or watching the kids in the playground? Women are seen in Scripture as helpful, supportive, diligent, humble, and strong. What do we learn about these New Testament women?
Jesus’ Ministry Helpers
Apparently these “certain women” who were with Jesus had believed that He was the Christ of God, and they diligently ministered to Him and supported Him as He performed the will of the Father.
Mary & Martha of Bethany appear three times in the New Testament. We see them hosting Jesus and the disciples in their home by providing food (Luke 10:38-42). It seems that as they do this, they are able to listen and be a part of Jesus’ teaching, and of course we women learn the all-important lesson of not worrying so much about the details as we do them. Focusing on Christ’s teaching is what is most important. We ladies relate to Martha and her diligence and giving spirit, and she apparently learns her lesson when she reveals her own deep understanding of Christ’s ministry when their brother, Lazarus, dies (John 11). These ladies were not merely useful minions of our Lord, they were His good friends who were willing to give of their time and resources to further the gospel.
There was Joanna and Susanna and the many others of Luke 8:3, who gave of their own resources to help Jesus and his disciples along the way. Sometimes I think we forget that during Jesus’ three-year ministry, He and the disciples had to eat and find places to stay. These accommodations don’t come out of the blue. These particular women may not have been able to offer their homes like Mary & Martha could, but they did whatever else they could as they followed Him.
The famous Mary Magdalene was of course the woman who had the demons cast out of her. She was apparently with Jesus constantly after her conversion. She was one of the women who were with Jesus often in Luke 8, and she was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection, a bonus blessing for her faithful devotion to the Lord. She was one of the three Marys who were at the crucifixion watching from afar off (Mark 15:40) to see where they might lay his body. The other two Marys were sisters, Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Mary, the wife of Cleopas (John 19:25). It seems like these ladies had already thought ahead about the details that would need to be done to Jesus’ body and were waiting to step into their role as soon as it was appropriate. Perhaps it was these same women or others who were with the disciples and Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the upper room after Jesus ascension (Acts 1:14). There they were again, participating and praying “with one accord”, anticipating the Lord’s next direction for them, and they were among the first to receive the Holy Spirit on that day of Pentecost, something new to this Age of Grace that would become common to all believers.
After Jesus’ ascension, the work of building the New Testament Church fell to the apostles who planted churches throughout the world and then handed off the ministry of the gospel to faithful men, pastors and deacons (2 Timothy 2:2). Along their way, we see women also serving in important and supportive roles. In Philippi, it was the women who were meeting by the river studying the Scriptures, and who were ready to receive the gospel from Paul. Lydia was an influential woman there “whose heart the Lord opened; that she might attend unto the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14-15). She “constrained” Paul to stay with her in her house. Do you know women who insisted that you accept their hospitality? It makes it easy to accept, doesn’t it? She may have been a more outgoing person in that regard.
Priscilla is always mentioned alongside her husband, Aquilla. They were a dynamic duo! Her knowledge of the Scriptures and ability to teach alongside her husband is what stands out in the New Testament. They met the apostle Paul when he came to Corinth and were his helpers, co-laborers, and travel companions (Acts 18:1-3; Acts 18:18-19) . They persuaded and taught Apollos more fully in the faith (Acts 18:24-26). Priscilla was always with her husband. We never see her in Scripture without him, and that speaks to her loyalty to her husband and also the Lord whom they served side-by-side.
Of course, at the end of the epistles, it was common to mention and greet many fellow-laborers. One such woman was Phoebe, the commendable sister-servant in the church at Cenchrea who delivered the epistle to Rome for Paul (Romans 16:1). Do you know anyone who does a lot of delivering of blessings? I do! There were also those women who labored with [Paul] in the gospel (Philippians 4:3) whom the church was to support as they apparently had a more active role in the ministry.
In a roundabout way we could say that Lois and Eunice played their part in support of the ministry by raising a godly young man, Timothy. This mother & daughter team used their sphere of influence on this young man to shape his character into a traveling companion and fellow-laborer with Paul. He later became the pastor in the church at Ephesus and the recipient of two pastoral epistles.The chief women of Acts 17:1-4 were in Thessalonica, and “not a few” of them! This was not just a large group of women. The term “chief women” means they were “the first” women. They were women of first rank! These women were prominent in the community who were openly friendly to Paul as he was “opening” and “alleging” that Jesus had to suffer and die for our sins. Even though their community was not open to the gospel, these chief women found out what it was like to be in the minority.
These were perilous and exciting times for the early church. It should come as no surprise to us that many steadfast and strong women were a part of that great work of God. The apostles and the first pastors held them in high regard and appreciated their contributions.
What about us?
How do we in these last days of the Church measure up to these chief women? Though the men (the apostles and pastors and missionaries, and Jesus himself) clearly were the movers and shakers of this New Testament Church, it is apparent that the women were indispensable to the work. Their notice and care of small things and anticipating the needs as they arose was a tremendous help. It’s not that the men are incapable of detail work or mundane tasks. It’s just that in God’s order of the church, the men are in oversight roles, and most of us are blissfully unaware of how much time that actually takes. For the pastor to have a spiritually profitable conversation with one person, he must be available to take that unplanned time. Those conversations can be a few minutes or hours long, and they are infinitely more important than shopping for kitchen supplies or emptying trash cans.
May I make a personal observation at this point? As a woman going about this detail work, a servant’s heart is essential and that means we need to keep the main thing the main thing. I have found that it can be easy to make plans and decisions, even begin to recruit helpers, and then come up with better, and more efficient ideas, etc. Conflicts can easily arise here if the pastor and church leadership are not in the loop. It’s really important to follow the proper organization channels along the way in order to protect the church family. Church leadership has a perspective that not all of us are aware of and that can help us avoid hurt feelings and even errors. We may begin to lose sight of the main purpose of any activity in the church. We are not to merely pull off a Christmas play or plan a new activity. In our New Testament churches, women or men, leaders or followers, planners or workers, all accomplish the God-given task of edifying the body of Christ.
We must understand that God is glorified in the most mundane of tasks. It is because those kinds of tasks can ultimately be used by God to bring souls to Him that we do it so willingly. And as we are faithful in few things, God promises to make us ruler over much (Matthew 25:23). In as much as we women can pitch in to minister in the small things, we are enabling the leadership of the church to focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word.
God bless the women who minister! Without women like Lois & Eunice, there would not have been a Timothy. Without the women who opened their homes to the apostolic churches, the rapid spread of the gospel might not have been what it was. Before their salvation, the chief women thought they were so important in social status, but after their conversion they were elevated to an essential role in the body of Christ.
We will never know how valuable is a woman’s touch until eternity. Let us work for treasures of gold, silver, and precious stones, not merely wood, hay, and clean dishes (1 Cor. 3:12). Our treasure is not just in earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7), but it’s in Christ working through us to bring souls to Him.