Were Women Part of Jesus’ Ministry Team? #53
Today’s Bible readings feature some high drama as Moses and Pharaoh have their first showdown in Exodus 5. If we are being fair, I think we have to give Pharaoh the win for round 1, but this struggle will go on for several rounds, so stay tuned. Job 22 features some comforting and wise words from Job’s awesome friends. Actually, no – that was sarcasm. Job’s dumb friend Eliphaz actually asks Job this gem of a question:
Isn’t your wickedness abundantJob 22:5
and aren’t your iniquities endless?
What a horrible question to ask somebody who is going through terrible tragedy, heartbreak and depression. Once again, #DontBeLikeJobsFriends! Finally, in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul opens up and talks about his role as a minister of the Gospel and an apostle. Our focus passage for today is Luke 8, and our big Bible question comes right out of the first few verses, so let’s read that chapter first, and then come back and discuss the women who took care of Jesus.
If you ask most church people the question, “who all traveled with Jesus?” I suspect the most common answer would be something that included Jesus and His 12 disciples, and pretty much nobody else. Interestingly, that doesn’t appear to be the correct answer to the question, at least not all of the time, because we find this fascinating paragraph leading off Luke 8:
Afterward he was traveling from one town and village to another, preaching and telling the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary, called Magdalene (seven demons had come out of her); 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward; Susanna; and many others who were supporting them from their possessions.Luke 8:1-3
By and large, the twelve disciples get all of the press (well, except for Jude/Thaddeus, Nathaniel, Simon the Zealot, the second James (James, son of Alpheus) and Philip the disciple) but Luke reveals to us something incredibly important: The practical and financial needs of Jesus and His twelve disciples were met by this large group of women that traveled with them. We don’t know for sure that these women were always with Jesus, but they obviously were for the long village to village stretch described by Luke here, and it is probably not a stretch to believe that they accompanied Jesus and the disciples on many missions.
I have been a pastor for a very long time, and I can tell you that the people who voluntarily give of their resources to meet the physical and financial needs of ministry are hugely important in the life of every ministry and every church. No, the Kingdom of God is NOT built on money, but there are many needs that need to be met, and the way that God has ordained those needs be met is through the sacrificial giving of the people of God, and (at least according to Luke) the primary financial support of the Jesus team was this group of ladies. I know of no other passage that indicates other people funded the ministry of Jesus, though I’m sure some did. What this means is that women were crucial to the first century ministry of Jesus and they are crucial to the twentieth century ministry of Jesus. Theologically, I am what’s known as a complementarian, which is a discussion we will be having in some upcoming passages of Scripture, but I will say this: any man or person who doesn’t realize the massive contribution and importance of women in the Body of Christ is a dull and silly person. In honor of such, I’d like to briefly highlight five important, but lesser-known women in the New Testament. I think it is fair to say that most of them are unsung heroes of the Word of God. Fortunately for all of you, I have not written a song about any of them, so they will remain unsung, at least by me, but I do want to point them out and recognize their contributions to the Great Commission and the mission of Jesus:
- Phoebe, Romans 16. Phoebe was a diakonos of the church in Cenchreae, and since that word can be translated as ‘minister,’ or ‘servant,’ or ‘deacon,’ there has been a long debate through the years over whether or not Phoebe was a deacon. We won’t enter that debate today – one day – but she is obviously remarkably important to the Body of Christ. She is the first one that Paul ‘shouts out’ at the end of Romans, and he orders the Roman church to assist her and take care of her. Paul also points out that Phoebe has supported many in the ministry, Paul included. My wife and I named our fifth child Phoebe in honor of this Phoebe. To my knowledge, Phoebe is the youngest listener to this podcast, and the most faithful Thompson listener, so a shout out to you, young Phoebe – daddy loves you very much!
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchreae. 2 So you should welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and assist her in whatever matter she may require your help. For indeed she has been a benefactor of many—and of me also.Romans 16:1-3
2. Chloe – 1 Corinthians 11. Speaking of women in the Bible that we named our daughter’s after, Chloe was a prominent figure in the early church, and also the name of our firstborn daughter. We don’t know much about Chloe in the Bible, but it appears from the passage below that she was very concerned about the issue of unity in the early church and alerted Paul to it – probably in the hopes that he would be used to help restore unity.
10 Now I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, that there be no divisions among you, and that you be united with the same understanding and the same conviction. 11 For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by members of Chloe’s household, that there is rivalry among you.1 Corinthians 11:10-11
3. Nympha, Colossians 4. We also don’t know much about Nympha, but she was obviously a Colosse home-owner, and she was prominent enough in the early church that a church-group actually met in her home!
5 Give my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her home.Colossians 4:5
4. Anna the prophetess, Luke 2. I suppose if I asked a group of biblical scholars who was chronologically the first person named as a prophet/prophetess in the New Testament, most would not get the correct answer, which is Anna. (Yes, Zechariah prophesied before Anna, but the Bible does not identify him as a prophet.) The most remarkable thing about Anna was not that she was a prophetess, however, the most remarkable thing is that she SERVED GOD AT THE TEMPLE IN JERUSALEM FOR 84 YEARS WITHOUT LEAVING. That is utterly incredible – what a mighty woman of God!
There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and was a widow for 84 years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. 38 At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.Luke 2:36-38
5. SO MANY MORE! How about Mary, mother of John Mark (probably a widow, the church met at her house to pray in Acts 16.) Lois and Eunice – Godly women who raised and discipled Timothy. Lydia – a wonderfully hospitable woman that was saved through the ministry of Paul, and immediately hosted his apostolic team in her house. Tryphena and Tryphosa – servants of the Gospel mentioned in Romans 16. Mary (a different Mary!) who worked very hard for the church at Rome (Romans 16:5). Damaris – one of the first converts to Christianity in Athens. Apphia – the only woman to have a book of the Bible co-written to her (the book of Philemon). Julia, Junia, Claudia and Nereus‘ sister – all saints mentioned by name by Paul in some of his letters. All of these women had crucial and important roles in the early church. Praise God for our dear sisters in the faith!
**I note here that this list doesn’t include more notable women of the New Testament like Mary of Bethany, Mary the mother of Jesus, Priscilla, and others who are more well known.
Allow me to close with the massive role that multiple women played in the discovery and announcement of the resurrection of Jesus. It should be noted and proclaimed that they were the FIRST witnesses of His resurrection!
55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed along and observed the tomb and how his body was placed. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes.And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. 24 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. 5 So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. 6 “He is not here, but he has risen!Remember how he spoke to you when he was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘It is necessary that the Son of Man be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” 8 And they remembered his words. 9 Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went away, amazed at what had happened.Luke 23:55-Luke 24:12