As discussion about women in the church lingers online and in the minds of congregants, I wonder if some sisters today feel that their churches debate their proper callings more than they delight in them as one of God’s best gifts. The conversations about what women can and cannot do in the context of the church are poignant in this particular moment. Can they preach, teach, or lead a co-ed Bible study? These conversations matter because the Scriptures speak to them. Yet the church’s public discourse about women, when healthy, is marked most of all by celebrations of women as faithful saints.
Women across continents and denominations report their local-church participation often leaves them feeling overlooked and undervalued. What a sad reality that our mothers and daughters often feel that Christ’s very own bride holds them at arm’s length, even if unintentionally.
We are right to aim for theological precision in all matters, including the callings of men and women in the church. But we would also do well to ask, Does the way we talk about women reflect the way the Scriptures celebrate them?
Recall man’s first words in Scripture. After God created the world and everything in it, the narrative sings with the rhythm, “And God saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). But then suddenly, God declares, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). And so, God makes the woman — the helper fit for the man. And as a father would usher the bride to her expectant husband, so God “brought [the woman] to the man” (Genesis 2:22).
“Remarkably, the first words a woman heard from a man announced the joy he took in her being.”
What follows are the first recorded sentences from human lips in Scripture. Upon seeing the woman, Adam explodes with delight: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23). Remarkably, the first words a woman heard from a man announced the joy he took in her being.
At that moment, the woman hadn’t yet done anything except exist by the power of God. Yet her very existence leads Adam to rejoice. Without any further instruction, he understands that the woman is an extraordinary gift to him. He had known life in God’s world apart from her, and, once with her, he immediately loves her and knows how essential she is to God’s mandate that humans should take dominion and multiply (Genesis 1:28).
Without Eve, Adam cannot fulfill God’s calling. Without the woman, the story stops. In the very good beginning, God puts his wisdom on magnificent display in her creation. And as the story of the world progresses, God puts front and center the essential part women will play in his redemptive plan.
Book of Heroines
The Scriptures brim with narratives that underscore the essential and exalted place women hold in God’s economy. From Rebekah, whose Abraham-like faith compelled her to leave her home for a place and people she did not know (Genesis 24), to Ruth the Moabite widow, whose conversion to Yahweh led her to become part of the Messianic line, the Bible’s story cannot be told apart from the lives of faithful women.
In the ancient world, women were far more vulnerable than today, in part because they did not enjoy the same legal rights as men. Yet in that very context, Scripture celebrates women by repeatedly placing them in the stream of God’s redemptive plan, where their fidelity to God often throws into relief the disobedience of fallen men. We know many of their names: Sarah, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Esther, Elizabeth, and Priscilla. Four women even appear in Christ’s genealogy, including Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary (Matthew 1:5–16).
“The Bible’s story cannot be told apart from the lives of faithful women.”
Yet there are many others whose names are known only to God: women who received back their dead by resurrection (Hebrews 11:35); the widow of Zarepath, whose son was raised (1 Kings 17:17–24); the industrious godly woman extolled in Proverbs 31; the widow who offered everything (Mark 12:41–44); the sinful woman whose lavish care for Jesus in washing his feet with tears exposed the hypocrisy of the religious elite (Luke 7:36–50); and the Canaanite woman whose faith was answered with her daughter’s healing (Matthew 15:21–28).
Great Commission Women
Unbridled faith in God marks all of these accounts, and continues to encourage believers today. You can’t read your Bible without discerning the honored role God assigns women at every point in his story. Just as God gave Adam a mandate to multiply on the earth, so God gave the church a mission to multiply disciples. And so, just as Adam marveled at God’s creation of the woman, so the Bible teaches us to glorify God for the incredible gift of women who are in Christ.
Our sisters have been wonderfully indispensable to the church’s work of bearing witness to Christ and making disciples. God used Priscilla to sharpen and instruct the preacher Apollos in the way of God (Acts 18:24–26). Apart from the fervent prayers and godly life of Monica, the church may not enjoy the treasures of her son, Augustine.
Who can know how much eternal fruit the sacrificial labors of Lottie Moon and Gladys Aylward bore through their long ministries in China? Or through Amy Carmichael’s lifelong ministry in India?
Of course, we don’t just praise the Christian sisters whom we know by name. There are countless names we have not yet heard whom we will honor in the age to come. They are steadfast mothers and wives who pray down heaven while giving themselves to their family from dawn to dusk and even through the darkest nights. They are single women who joyfully content themselves in God while the world constantly tempts them to believe their faith is folly. My own experience living overseas testifies to the truth that far more young unmarried women cross oceans and borders for the sake of the gospel than men.
Honoring the Women Among Us
In the church, as in the garden, it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In a day in which popular culture has muddled the lines between men and women, Christian men today have an opportunity to give fresh evidence for how much we admire women and value womanhood. Created in God’s wisdom and by his power, the church’s mothers and daughters are not second-class citizens in the church.
God presented the first woman to the first man as a gift, and he continues giving women as blessings to his church today. And just as the woman knew the man’s joy in her immediately, so too it would be fitting for Christian women to regularly hear how much of an asset they are to the church, both locally and globally. Adam could not multiply and take dominion without the woman (Genesis 1:28). And without Christian women, we the church will not be able to fulfill our mission to bear witness and make disciples (Matthew 28:18–20). The whole of the Scriptures and church history bear witness to this fact.
Every day, women advance the mission of the church by demonstrating the matchless worth of Christ. We cannot afford to overlook these sisters in Christ — neither the God of history nor God-in-the-flesh overlooks them.