In Nik Ripkin’s book The Insanity of God, he tells the story of Aisha, a 24-year-old Christian widow and convert from Islam. She was so outgoing in her witness to Christ in the hostile environment of her Islamic town that the authorities arrested her and put her in the dark, unfinished cellar of the police station.
At the point when she felt she could take no more and was about to scream, instead, to her surprise, out of her mouth came a heart-song of praise to Christ. As she sang, she could tell the movement upstairs ceased. They were listening.
That night the police chief came down and said he was taking her home on one condition: You must come to my house in three days. Then he said,
I don’t understand. You are not afraid of anything. My wife and daughters and all the women in my family are afraid of everything. But you are not afraid of anything. . . . I want you to come to my house so you can tell everyone why you are not afraid. And I want you to sing that song.
When I read that, I thought: Surely that is the kind of thing the apostle Peter had in mind when he wrote these words:
This is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening. (1 Peter 3:5–6)
This kind of fearless witness to Christ is a glorious part of “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet [or serene] spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). I am eager to know this spirit myself and to see it flourish with peculiar grace in the lives of Christian women.
Fifteen Challenges for Christian Women
Some years ago, when I was pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, the women of our church asked if I would be the speaker at a half-day gathering. They wanted me to lay out a vision of womanhood and give them a challenge from the Scriptures. So I did that. It’s found in What’s the Difference? Manhood and Womanhood Defined According to the Bible (pages 71–82). I did not know that story of Aisha at the time, but if I had known it, I would have read it to them. I would have said, “In all fifteen of the challenges that follow, this is the spirit I am praying for you.”
Here is a summary of those challenges that are as relevant today as when I first gave them:
That all of your life — in whatever calling — be devoted to the glory of God.
That the promises of Christ be trusted so fully that fearless peace and joy and strength fill your soul to overflowing.
That this fullness of God overflow in daily acts of love so that people might see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in heaven.
That you be women of the Book, who love and study and obey the Bible in every area of its teaching. That meditation on biblical truth be the source of your hope and faith. And that you continue to grow in understanding through all the chapters of your life, never thinking that study and growth are only for others.
That you be women of prayer, so that the Word of God would open to you, that the power of faith and holiness would descend upon you, and that your spiritual influence would increase at home, and at church, and in the world.
That you be women who have a deep grasp of the sovereign grace of God undergirding all these spiritual processes, that you be deep thinkers about the doctrines of grace, and even deeper lovers and believers of these glorious realities.
That you be totally committed to ministry, whatever your specific role, that you not waste your time on period dramas, or food shows, or glamor magazines, or aimless hobbies, any more than men should waste theirs away on excessive sports or aimless dawdling in the garage. That you redeem the time for Christ and his kingdom, because there is no one else with your particular contribution in all the world.
That, if you are single, you exploit your singleness to the full in devotion to Christ, and not be paralyzed by the desire to be married.
That, if you are married, you creatively and intelligently and sincerely support the leadership of your husband as deeply as obedience to Christ requires, but no more than it allows. That you encourage him in his God-appointed role as head. That you influence him spiritually, primarily through your fearless tranquility and holiness and prayer.
That, if you have children, you accept responsibility with your husband (or alone if necessary) to raise up children who hope in the triumph of God, sharing with him the teaching and discipline of the children, and giving to the children that special nurturing touch and care that you are uniquely fitted to give.
That you not assume that secular employment is a greater challenge or a better use of your life than the countless opportunities of service and witness in the home, the neighborhood, the community, the church, and the world. That you not only pose the question: Career vs. full-time mom? But that you ask, just as seriously: Full-time career vs. freedom for ministry? That you ask: Which would be greater for the kingdom, to be the employee of someone telling you what to do to make his business prosper, or to be God’s free agent dreaming your own dream about how your time and your home and your creativity could make God’s business prosper? And that you make your choices not on the basis of secular trends or up-to-date lifestyle expectations, but on the basis of what will strengthen the family and advance the cause of Christ.
That you step back and (with your husband, if you are married) plan the various forms of your life’s ministry in chapters. Chapters are divided by various factors: age, strength, singleness, marriage, employment choices, children at home, children in college, grandchildren, post-employment, etc. No chapter has all the joys. Finite life is a series of tradeoffs. Finding God’s will and living for the glory of Christ to the full in every chapter is what makes it a success, not whether it reads like somebody else’s chapter or whether it has what a later chapter will have.
That you develop a wartime mentality and lifestyle. That you never forget that life is short, that billions of people hang in the balance of heaven and hell every day, that the love of money is spiritual suicide, that the goals of upward mobility (nicer clothes, cars, houses, vacations, food, hobbies) are a poor and dangerous substitute for the goals of living for Christ with all your might and maximizing your joy in ministry for people’s needs.
That in all your relationships with men you seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in applying the biblical vision of manhood and womanhood. That you develop a style and demeanor that does justice to the unique role God has given to men to feel responsible for gracious leadership in relation to women — a leadership which involves elements of protection and care and initiative. That you think creatively and with cultural sensitivity (just as he must do) in shaping the manner and setting the tone of your interaction with men.
That you see biblical guidelines for what is appropriate and inappropriate for men and women in relation to each other, not as arbitrary constraints on freedom, but as wise and gracious prescriptions for how to discover the true freedom of God’s ideal of complementarity. That you not measure your potential by the few roles withheld, but by the countless roles offered.
Specific Roles to Prayerfully Consider
Think and pray over this small sampling of what God may be calling you to do:
- The awesome significance of motherhood
- Complementing a man’s life as his wife
- Ministries to the handicapped:
- hearing impaired
- mentally disabled
- Ministries to the sick:
- hospice care — cancer, AIDS, etc.
- community health
- Ministries to the estranged:
- emotionally impaired
- recovering alcoholics
- recovering drug users
- escapees from sex trafficking
- abused children and women
- runaways and other at-risk children
- Prison ministries:
- women’s prisons!
- families of prisoners
- rehabilitation to society
- Ministries to youth:
- open houses and recreation
- outings and trips
- academic assistance
- Sports ministries:
- neighborhood teams
- church teams
- Therapeutic counseling:
- Audio-visual ministries:
- Writing ministries:
- curriculum development
- institutional communications
- journalistic skills for publications
- Teaching ministries:
- Sunday school: children, youth, students, women
- grade school
- high school
- Music ministries:
- Evangelistic ministries:
- personal witnessing
- Campus Outreach
- home Bible studies
- outreach to children
- visitation teams
- Radio and TV ministries:
- technical assistance
- Theater and drama ministries:
- Social ministries:
- Pastoral care assistance:
- newcomer welcoming and assistance
- food and clothing and transportation
- Prayer ministries:
- mobilizing for major concerts of prayer
- helping with small groups of prayer
- coordinating prayer chains
- promoting prayer days and weeks and vigils
- Missions: All of the above across cultures.
- Support ministries: Countless jobs that undergird other ministries.
I realize this list is incomplete and reflects my own culture and limitations. The point is simply to make clear that our vision for manhood and womanhood aims to liberate and empower for ministry in a pattern of biblical obedience. The ninth affirmation of the Danvers Statement (a statement on biblical manhood and womanhood that I helped write) is perhaps the crucial final thing to say:
With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world.