Alexander R. Hay

To the women of our congregations to whose faithful ministry so much is owed.


What then is the difference between the spiritual ministry of a woman and that of a man? Scripture makes it clear that there is a difference and that it based entirely upon the different qualities with which God has endowed the two. There enters into it no thought of disqualification due to inferiority of any kind.

The evidence in Scripture is always consistent in the matter. In the New Testament there is no change in principle. The fact is that it is based on natural grounds – upon the same principles that govern the difference between their ministries in the home: upon the special abilities and responsibilities which God has given to each for a joint life of service.

It should be remembered that this difference is not divisive but complementary ; it does not establish superiority or inferiority but assigns different responsibilities in a cooperative work in which responsibility and accomplishment are shared. In the Church as well as in the home this is so.

In the Old Testament we find that the responsibility and functions of authoritative spiritual service in the Tabernacle, the Temple and the Synagogue, were given to men. But women shared in the ministry of preaching. There were prophetesses as well as prophets, who were inspired to give God’s message to both men and women. God used women as well as men as specially chosen messengers to give his message to both men and women – even to the nation.

In the New Testament Church, the same order prevails. Ministry which entails the exercise of spiritual authority is the responsibility of men.  Women are not apostles, elders, deacons or evangelists (in the New Testament sense – 2 Tim. 4:5). Phoebe is sometimes spoken of as a deaconess of the Church, but that is a mistake. The term “diaconos” (servant) was used in two senses. There was a special order of “diaconos” (deacons). But the term was used also in a general sense of all believers who performed any spiritual service. It is in this general sense that it is used of Phoebe: “I commend to you Phoebe, our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, that you may receive her in the Lord, in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.”

This Christian woman was a servant of the Church in that, for one thing, she was performing a very womanly ministry, “helping” the Lord’s servants, as Paul evidently had reason to remember with gratitude. Without doubt this would not be her only ministry in spiritual things. She would certainly be exercising the gifts of the Spirit for testimony, but it is the material service that is noted.

The “widows” referred to in 1 Tim. 5:3-16, did not belong to a special order, but received relief from the church funds. Having the time to do so, they occupied themselves in the work of the Lord.

While a woman does not exercise such authoritative spiritual ministry as that of an elder, it does not follow that there is no sphere in which she may exercise authority. In the home the mother must take a position of authority over her children; but she does so under the authority of her husband and supported by him. Actually, as we have noted, that enhances her authority towards her children, making her an example as well as an authority. The man has qualities that fit him for one type of authority, the woman has qualities fitting her for another. Differences in character and emotional make-up contribute to make these differences. The two types of authority are complementary. Both are necessary in the home and the two together, working in cooperation, provide the perfect control for the developing character of the children.

In the Church the same principle rules. There are spheres in which the exercise of womanly authority is essential but it must be under the authority and support of the elders. In certain work in institutions, such as orphanages and schools, there are spheres of authority for which a woman’s gifts are specially adapted. There are many notable examples of this where God’s call has been unquestionable, the work of the Holy Spirit gloriously evident and God’s blessing given in abundant measure.

But how often have women sought to undertake positions of authority in the Church, in business, or industry, for which a woman’s special qualities do not adapt her, positions that should be the responsibility of men. It places a strain upon her emotional nature that it is not equipped to bear, causing tensions in herself and others that do not work for happiness. In an effort to undertake the burden she strives to imitate a man’s qualities, perhaps doing damage to her own womanly character. And how often it is other women, working under her, who suffer.

How the Heart Can Hinder

There is another source of limitation in a woman’s ministry – though not of hers alone. Love in fallen man has self in its heart. This manifests itself in many ways, some crude, some deceivingly attractive, some even wearing a cloak of piety. A missionary couple had labored for many years in an Eastern land. They had preached the Gospel and established a congregation in the midst of heathenism. But the church was dependent upon them and, as the years passed, became dissatisfied. The two old missionaries kept their hands firmly upon the lives of the converts. They loved them, but not with a true and wise love. It was a love that kept them to themselves and kept them from their Lord. The missionary’s wife took the place of the mother of them all. No girl could think of becoming engaged to be married without first consulting her and getting her consent. Frustration and rebellion were finally the result – and spiritual deadness. The missionaries, old now, could not understand this attitude. They thought it was unspiritual and ungrateful and were saddened. Another missionary, commenting on the situation, said truly, “And there is no hope for that congregation until these two dear old missionaries die!” How subtle is the human heart! The mother instinct is a glorious one, implanted by God, but it can become selfish. Then it is unseeing and unwise.

Sympathy is regarded as a truly womanly trait, and so it is. But it also can have self in its heart. Then it is blind, excusing evil, compromising and permitting that which is wrong. It is not the sympathy of the Christ. It cannot be owned of him or used by him.

A woman’s gifts for home-making are God-given and a blessing to man. But self can rule them. They can become so important to the single lady Christian worker for instance, that her time is well-nigh absorbed in housework, sewing, social visiting, letter writing, and the work of her Lord to which He called her takes second place.

Since man’s fall, self-love is in the heart. It hides under all sorts of garbs, it has unnumbered reasons and excuses, but it is the basic principle that rules fallen man. We must ever be aware of it, on guard against it. The only remedy is to be filled with Christ. But for that it necessary, as He said, to “deny self, take up the Cross, and die… daily.”