Woman's Work

by David Lipscomb

(GOSPEL ADVOCATE, 1 December 1892)

    Bro. Lipscomb: Can you not tell us through the Advocate just what work you think, according to the Bible, woman may be permitted to do for the church as such? Once in a while you admit that there is work for women to do, but just what it is you never tell us. Of course we understand about home duties and raising children, and all that, of which I one of your strong minded women, certainly do my share. But what may we do for the church as such, besides?
    Fayetteville, Tenn., Nov. 18, 1892.

The question is by sister Holman, and, as asked, betrays one of the strongest, yet most common, widespread and most difficult to be uprooted, errors concerning church work, to wit, that it is all done in public and by public speaking.

There was very little set speaking and speeches in the days of Christ or the apostles. They talked to those they met—one or a hundred—concerning the things of the kingdom. A very small part of the work was done by public speaking. Whatever is done by a Christian under divine direction is church work.

“The church is the body of Christ; ye are members in particular.”

Christ dwells in the body and works through the members, as the soul dwells in the body and works through the hands, feet, eyes, ears, etc. What the hand does the body does; so, too, of all the members.

Paul (1 Tim. ii: 9), after telling the men what they should do, says: “In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair or gold or costly array. But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. But let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence; for Adam was first formed, then Eve, and Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression, notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.” Following both these negative and positive requirements is church work, because the work of Christ, and must be observed by women if they be faithful members of the church.

Chap. iii: 11: “Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.”

In chap. v: 10, Paul gives the works a widow must have done to entitle her to the support of the church: “Well reported of, for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work . . . I will that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.”

That is church work. The church has no more important work than bearing children and training them for service to God. Women must do that work.

He tells Titus to teach sound doctrine. That doctrine, as it refers to women, is, ii: 3: “The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things, that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”

That is church work—the old women to teach the young women good things, to be sober, to love their husbands, their children; to be discreet, chaste, good housekeepers, obedient to their husbands. A Chris- (There appears to be a sentence or two missing at this point --- where one column ends and the next begins) house well—when she properly loves her husband, her children. The word of God is blasphemed when a woman does not keep house well; when she fails to love and honor her husband; when she fails to love her children and guide the house.

Peter says: “Likewise, ye wives be in subjection to your own husbands; that if they obey not the word, they may also without the word be won by the conversation (behavior) of the wives while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.”

He gives the adornment they are to practice. All this is church work performed by women as members of that church, as members of the body of Christ. I am not quoting these passages because they admonish obedience to husbands, but all the passages on woman work contain this caution.

In these general admonitions that might be multiplied, it is stated that women must guide the house and relieve the afflicted. This imposes on her the necessity of teaching her children the way of the Lord, of visiting the sick, and in these ministrations it is her duty to teach the word of God. Then women are to engage in all the prayers of the church—she is not to lead in prayer.

Paul asks: “Is it comely that a woman pray unto God with her head uncovered?” showing plainly how she should appear before God when she prays; how she should approach God. It applies as much to her approach to God in the closet as in the public assembly. It has no bearing whatever on the question as to whether she should lead in prayer or not. Every Christian should bear a part in the public prayer, as well as the leader. There is no sense in any one bowing or making a pretense of prayer if only the leader prays.

In Rom. xvi: 1 he commends unto them: “Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.” This shows that she devoted herself to the service of the church. This service was in looking after the needy and sick of their own numbers, then of the world. The theory now is, that the public teachers should do this work. In the apostolic days it was said, “It is not meet that we should leave the word of God to serve tables.” Men who are teaching the word of God should not be hindered in this work to serve tables. Men were appointed to distribute to these families, but there is always work of looking after the sick and needy men, women and children, that women can do much better than men. Phoebe did this work. In doing this she taught the word of God to all who came into contact with her.

The next verse adds: “Greet Priscilla and Aquilla, my helpers in Christ Jesus.” One way they helped was when they found a young man, “mighty and eloquent in the scriptures,” knowing only a part of the counsel of God, “they took him unto them and expounded unto him the way of the Lord more perfectly.” Acts xvii: 26. Priscilla did this in taking him unto them and privately teaching him. They also helped Paul by giving him a home and employment when he needed it.

Paul says in Phil. iv: 3: “Help these women who labored with me in the gospel.” This shows women did work with Paul in spreading the gospel, and the record shows, I think, that his missionary company generally embraced a number of godly women who could reach their own sex and teach them the word of truth. Acts xxi: 8. They found daughters of Philip the evangelist, who were inspired, and prophesied; but all was done modestly and in private. Acts xvi: 13. Paul went out to where prayer was wont to be made, and spake to the women that resorted thither.

As I take it, this teaches that women met together by themselves and instructed each other and worshipped together. Paul teaches the same order in reference to women was continued under Christ that prevailed under the law. Other scriptures and examples might be found, but these suffice to show that women must teach their own children; must . . . (Sentence[s] missing) quiet ministrations, teach them the word of truth. She may teach men in private; she may teach her sisters, one by one, or together. The scriptures give full authority to the Christian women to teach those misguided women, who refuse to bear children. It can be more effectively done in private, by tender, personal admonition. She can teach her servants, employees and others about her house. She can teach her neighbors in private, the most effective teaching ever done. She can gather her neighbors children together, if they will come, and teach them. It is no violation of these restraints thrown around woman for her to take a class of children, or old persons, and quietly, in the Bible school, teach them. There is privacy in publicity. When all sing there is no publicity attached to one singing. When one sings alone, there is publicity. So, for a woman to teach a class in a meeting house, when all others are teaching around, is not publicity. It would be wrong for her to get up as the only teacher of all who attend. This would be inviting publicity.

There is no trouble in finding labor. The field is wide enough. It is large enough to satisfy all demands, save what President Loos calls “a prurient desire to assail Pauls teaching as narrow.”

I have known men, and women, too, who devoted their whole time to teaching the Bible from house to house that never made public speeches. They are successful laborers for God. There is ample room around Fayetteville for the full home talent and energies of all the sisters without once violating Pauls order, and their services are greatly needed there, as everywhere. There is not an ungodly home; there is not an ill-kept house, a badly cooked meal; there is not a discordant home, a family of children untrained in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; there is not a wayward girl threatened with ruin, or a boy that looks on the wine; there is not a negro hut nor a princely mansion where the people are not religious, that is not an inviting field pleading for missionary labor on the part of the faithful Christian woman, where all of her gentle ministrations, her “tender, tearful, heartfelt talks” may not be freely made to the salvation of men and women and the honor and glory of God. The magnitude of the field, the multiplicity of the openings at our own doors, that plead for her ministrations, are oppressive, and, without earnest trust in God, would be discouraging. The field at your doors, my dear sisters, is white for the harvest, but the laborers in this vineyard are few. Why is it?

      David Lipscomb

(e-text: JoAnne Toews)

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