By Tim Sullivan


The apostle Paul was one of the great champions of the ministry of women in the Church. Ironically this same man is reviled by many feminists (both male and female) for what they consider to be his sexist and condescending statements made about women. An example often cited is found in Paul's first letter to Timothy.

1 Timothy 2:11-12:
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

It is easy to isolate one or two verses from the Bible and use them as evidence that the Bible cannot be the testimony of a loving God. But in order to be properly represented, the Scriptures must be considered as a whole and not in isolated parts. If the Bible had nothing more to say about women than what we read in these two verses, we might have reason to believe Paul (and by extension God, since Paul was expressing the will of God) was a male chauvinist. But this instruction to Timothy about women is not his only word on the subject.

To say that Paul held a bias against women is simply wrong. Hundreds of years before anyone began speaking out for equality amongst the sexes, he wrote the following:

Galatians 3:28:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul's coworkers in the ministry included men and women. People being who they are, Paul had to defend himself against ugly accusation even though his conduct towards the women was beyond reproach.

1 Corinthians 9:5:
Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?

Paul's conduct towards the women in his company was tempered by the fact that he considered them his sisters. I know something about sisters. I am the fourth of five children born to Howard and Namiko Sullivan, and my parents' only son. Growing up with four sisters had a lifelong effect on my attitude towards women. I hate them all. (Ha ha. Just kidding!) I am very proud of my sisters and I love them very much. Being my sisters' brother is an important part of who I am.

Because of my life experience I find it very easy to have a brother-sister relationship even with women who are not my blood relations. I can be "like a brother" to an unmarried girl or a married woman. It is love without romance, the assurance of enduring support. With the added dimension of spirituality, I enjoy the best kind of brother-sister relationship, in Christ. Throughout my time as a Christian and especially as a part of Workers Together With Him, I have been greatly helped by my Christian sisters (a list that includes my wife Nelly and daughter Jessica), and I am very grateful for them.

In his day, Paul was very appreciative of the female coworkers in the ministry.

Philippians 4:3:
And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.

Paul said these women laboured in the gospel. Anyone with a clue about what women experience in childbirth does not speak of labor in a trifling manner. Jesus used an analogy of a mother's pains in childbirth to exemplify the sorrows of life that often must be endured to reach its joys.

John 16:20-21:
Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.
21 A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world.

In almost any congregation you will see far more women than men who are willing to do the real labor that is required to further the gospel. I am not saying this to garner favor with the women or infer that they are more perfect than the men. But without the contribution of women, most Christian households would be backslid and most churches empty.

In that same passage from 1 Timothy 2, Paul reminds us that Adam, not Eve, was responsible for mankind's fall from grace. "And Adam was not deceived," he writes," but the woman being deceived was in the transgression" (1 Tim. 2:14; see also Rom. 5:12). To this thought Paul adds an interesting conclusion.

1 Timothy 2:15:
Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

I do not know the complete meaning of this verse, but I am sure it points to motherhood as the ultimate expression of womanhood. This is not to say that a woman with child is better than a woman without a child, no more than a married woman is better than an unmarried woman. There are compelling Biblical arguments that an unmarried woman is most free to serve the Lord.

1 Corinthians 7:34:
There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

Of course, a woman does not have to be a mother to possess maternal love. Each of us knows a childless woman who is the personification of the caring and protective love that is the essence of maternal love. Sadly, we also know mothers who are lacking in this attribute. Still, there is something about maternal love that makes it perhaps the highest form of human love.

Recently we celebrated Mother's Day here in the United States, and this got me thinking about some of the remarkable mothers we read about in the Bible. The list begins, of course, with Eve, the "mother of all living."

Genesis 3:20:
And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.

Eve represents woman as the source of human life. Mankind is called "he which is born of a woman" (see Job 14:1, 15:14, and 25:4). No person except Adam and Eve was ever born without a mother. Even Jesus had a human mother.

Sarah, the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac, was a "mother of nations."

Genesis 17:16:
And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.

Rachel and Leah, the two wives of Jacob, are called they that "did build the house of Israel."

Ruth 4:11:
And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem:

Because Galatians 4:26 speaks of Jerusalem as "the mother of us all," even we Gentiles who were grafted into the natural branch of Israel have reason to celebrate Rachel and Leah's great part in the Bible story.

Anyone who thinks God is diametrically opposed to women in leadership positions shows their ignorance of Deborah, one of the judges of Israel.

Judges 4:4-5:
And Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth, she judged Israel at that time.
5 And she dwelt under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in mount Ephraim: and the children of Israel came up to her for judgment.

Paul condemned women who "usurp authority over the man." To usurp is to take what is not rightfully yours. Deborah did not overthrow the authority of her husband Lapidoth or the military commander Barak. She was appointed by God to judge Israel. Perhaps it was godly pride as much as humility that the title she ascribed for herself was not "judge" or "prophetess" but "a mother in Israel."

Judges 5:7:
The inhabitants of the villages ceased, they ceased in Israel, until that I Deborah arose, that I arose a mother in Israel.

Anyone who thinks that God forbids women to teach has forgotten about Bath-sheba, the wife of David, who is honored in the 31st Proverb ("Lemuel" was Solomon).

Proverbs 31:1:
The words of king Lemuel, the prophecy that his mother taught him.

Similarly, Paul commended both the mother and grandmother of Timothy for the righteous instruction they gave their son/grandson.

2 Timothy 1:5:
When I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.

In any discourse on mothers in the Bible, one cannot fail to mention Mary, the mother of Jesus. No other woman will ever know the challenge, joy or pain she experienced, as foretold by the prophet Simeon.

Luke 2:34-35:
And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against;
35 (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

Could Sarah have offered her son Isaac in sacrifice to God as readily as did her husband Abraham? Somehow I don't think so, yet this is what was required of Mary. A sword through her soul, indeed.

A true mother is more than a nurturer. Like a mother bear, she is a fierce protector over her children.

Proverbs 17:12:
Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly.

1 Kings 3:23-27 tells the story of two harlots who stood before King Solomon both claiming to be the mother of the living child.

1 Kings 3:23-27:
Then said the king, The one saith, This is my son that liveth, and thy son is the dead: and the other saith, Nay; but thy son is the dead, and my son is the living.
24 And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king.
25 And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other.
26 Then spake the woman whose the living child was unto the king, for her bowels yearned upon her son, and she said, O my lord, give her the living child, and in no wise slay it. But the other said, Let it be neither mine nor thine, but divide it.
27 Then the king answered and said, Give her the living child, and in no wise slay it: she is the mother thereof.

Whatever else this woman's failings, Solomon knew a true mother when he saw one. "She is the mother," he said. How did he know? She was the one willing to sacrifice her happiness for the sake of the child. She would not forsake her baby.

Yes, her situation was far from ideal. Ideal parents are found only in storybooks. Still, the people you least expect to abandon you are your own parents. But even if that were to happen, God wants you to know that he himself is faithful to sustain you.

Psalm 27:10:
When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.

Hebrews 13:5:
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

In that way, our God is not only our heavenly Father, he is also our heavenly mother.

Isaiah 66:13::
As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem.

This is the heart of God as expressed by his Son Jesus to his wayward children.

Matthew 23:37:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

On behalf of Workers Together With Him ministry, I want to thank all you beautiful mothers, wives, sisters and daughters who make such a vital contribution to our lives, and are such an important part of the furtherance of the Gospel of Christ. We fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons thank you and praise you for your service to God and to us.



From the June 2009 issue of The Vine & Branches