What is our role as women in helping to protect the flock?

sheep

The Bible refers to “protecting the flock” in the sense of protecting those in the church from false teaching. There are also examples of leaders acting as shepherds, most notably Jesus Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10).

Paul addressed the elders in the church in Ephesus:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30 ESV)

Peter then writes to the Christians dispersed in Asia:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV)

It is clear that there is a Biblical mandate for church leaders to lead, care for, and protect the flock. Given the design that God has set up for male leadership throughout the Bible, is there a role for women in protecting the flock? Peter’s exhortation includes some guidance that applies just to leaders (“shepherd the flock”), but there is also guidance that could apply to anyone who has been charged with leadership, even a mom in leadership over her kids: “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” Clearly, all of us who trust Jesus as Savior can be a godly example to others. And Peter charges everyone to clothe themselves with humility toward one another (verse 5). These are steps that women can definitely take to protect the flock from false teaching — humbly act as an example for others of obedience to Jesus.

Paul’s letter to Titus gives more instructions for protecting the flock:

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 1:5–2:5 ESV)

Paul opens this passage with a description of the qualifications for elders in the church, followed by some of the roles of elders — giving instruction in sound doctrine and rebuking those who contradict the sound doctrine (verses 9-16). These false teachers will identify themselves by their works, which will not be displaying the fruits of the Spirit. It is interesting then that Paul moves directly into guidelines for older men and women. These passages are directly linked by verse 1 of chapter 2: “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” That is a repeat of verse 9 of chapter 1 (“give instruction in sound doctrine”). It seems then that the following instructions to older men and older women is tied to the idea of maintaining sound doctrine in the church. The older women are to “be reverent in behavior” and to “teach what is good.” The goal is to train younger women in essential characteristics such as love, self-control, purity, kindness, and submission — all under the banner of sound doctrine. Taken with our role from the 1 Peter passage, it sounds like we women are charged with being humble examples of the fruit of the Spirit and protectors of sound doctrine at least among the younger women and our children. This is a huge responsibility!

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For 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 3:1-6 ESV)

Our group spent some time studying this passage in 1 Peter. Peter is addressing wives in relation to their husbands, not necessarily men in general. However, there are some important guidelines here for women. Peter tells wives that even if their husbands are not obeying (“believing” in other translations) the word, the wives can win them over “without a word… when they see your respectful and pure conduct.” A woman’s beauty to God is not external, but comes from the heart in a gentle and quiet spirit. Holy women adorn themselves by submitting to their husbands. And holy women hope in God, not themselves or their husbands. That hope and trust in God produces a woman who does not fear the future (verse 6). Her submission to her husband comes out of obedience to God and is evidence of her trust in God. If a woman spends effort in trying to direct her husband, she may be getting in the way of what God is doing in him. The divine order of a wife submitting to her husband is patterned after Jesus’ submission to the Father:

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3 ESV)

Even within the Trinity — a divine concept of three-in-one that our human minds cannot fully appreciate, — there is divine order of relationship. God is Christ’s head, and at the same time, Jesus was equal with God Himself:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1 ESV).

Jesus being equal with God, yet in submission to the Father can be reflected in a wife being equal with her husband, yet in submission to him. As our culture blurs the lines between the roles of men and women, we dilute the power of both the male and female role. Men are robbed of the opportunity to lead and love like Christ and women are robbed of the courage and beauty that come from submission. If women become stronger in the Biblical roles we are called to, we are coming into alignment with the Savior who knows and loves us. This is when we can truly see God work and place our hope in Him.

A woman’s role definitely includes partnering with her husband to raise children that love the Lord, follow Him, and obey Him. Through this role, mothers have the hope of influencing the next generation. Even women who do not have children themselves can help train younger women to display the fruit of the Spirit (Titus 5). Teaching sons to love and protect women while teaching daughters to respect men as they lead can raise up a generation of believers filling the roles that God designed for them, reflecting the order that God designed. In addition, teaching our children to respect and honor older men and women and follow their godly example can also move the next generation toward godliness. Training our children in God’s Word, prayer, and helping to lead them into a life transformed by the gospel is huge. We can protect the flock by raising up a generation that has the truths of God’s Word written on their hearts before they ever leave our homes. God has given us women significant responsibility!

None of this is to say that either men are more important than women or that women are more important to men. We are all one in Christ and made in His image:

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28 ESV)

Scripture gives evidence that God has designed different, complementary roles for men and women. But in our role as women, is it possible for us to have a humble voice as part of a community of believers pursuing Jesus? One example in Scripture of a woman in the Old Testament being used by God to speak His word to His people is Deborah. She judged God’s people and spoke God’s timing for battle to Barak, the military leader of Israel (Judges 4-5). The results were a blessing: “the land had rest for forty years” (Judges 5:31). The book of Acts also commends certain women for their efforts at protecting the Word of God:

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. (Acts 17:10-12 ESV)

This passage commends the Bereans for examining the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul was teaching them was true. Note that “many of them” (the Bereans examining the Scriptures daily) included “a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.” Scriptures teach God’s design for male leadership, but that does not prohibit women from checking the teaching against Scripture themselves. What if this scene was repeated in today’s church and those that are searching the Scriptures daily find that the things being taught are not so? What if a woman sees, from her unique experience and gifting, unbiblical teaching or leadership that is not demonstrating the gospel in action? What should we do?

One answer is definitely to pray for leadership, as this is a pattern that is shown in the Bible:

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2-4 ESV)

However, as we have addressed in our last two studies on speaking the truth in love and receiving correction, there is a Biblical pattern set up for any member of the body to approach another in humility with questions to clarify an issue which seems to be in error. And there is a Biblical pattern for receiving this correction in humility, understanding that God uses all parts of the body and no member is indispensable.

The story of Esther is a great example in the Bible of a woman submitting to her husband, the king, yet still raising a crucial issue that needed to be addressed — an issue that would greatly impact the people of God.

Then Esther spoke again to the king. She fell at his feet and wept and pleaded with him to avert the evil plan of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews. When the king held out the golden scepter to Esther, Esther rose and stood before the king. And she said, “If it please the king, and if I have found favor in his sight, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I am pleasing in his eyes, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman the Agagite, the son of Hammedatha, which he wrote to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming to my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Behold, I have given Esther the house of Haman, and they have hanged him on the gallows, because he intended to lay hands on the Jews. But you may write as you please with regard to the Jews, in the name of the king, and seal it with the king’s ring, for an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked.” (Esther 8:3-8 ESV)

Women today who are confronted with errors in leadership, whether intentional or out of ignorance, would do well to follow Esther’s example. Esther came before her husband, the king, and “fell at his feet and wept and pleaded with him.” She began her request with, “If it please the king… and if the thing seems right before the king…” These actions and words show her humility, giving honor to his place in leadership over her. Note also her patience, waiting for the timing of the king: “when the king held out the golden scepter to Esther.” She then appealed to her own character: “if I have found favor in his sight… and I am pleasing in his eyes…” The assumption is that she has already proven her character to the king in their relationship. She then makes a short, direct request of the king: “let an order be written…” She finishes with her vulnerability: “For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming to my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” This seems to be the perfect model of bringing a mistake to the attention of leadership in a way that acknowledges the position of leadership and the submission of the one bringing the information. Esther has chosen to submit herself to the king.

How can a woman approach a man in church leadership who seems to be in error, according to God’s Word? We believe that a woman’s emphasis in this case should be to first evaluate that the matter of error is significant enough that it could be damaging to the flock. Next, she should be approaching the matter in love and humility. She should enter into the conversation with questions, seeking to understand the situation. And she should be prepared to be humbly corrected in the process if she is in error herself. All of these steps would be true of either a man or a woman. However, unique to a woman, she may find it helpful to enter into that conversation with leadership partnered with her husband or a spiritually mature man. It is our experience that some men in Christian leadership may be more receptive under these circumstances. This humble action of partnering her female perspective with male insight shows respect for the male leadership structure that God has established for His church.

There is no shortage in Scripture of examples of the tenderness and respect that Jesus showed to women. There were women that He commended for their faith (Matthew 9:20-22; Matthew 15:22-28). And there is at least one example in which Jesus turned a whole town upside-down through the testimony of a broken woman. Let’s close with that story (bold emphasis mine):

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:1-42 ESV)

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