“Can you stay late again tonight to help me work out one last kink in the budget?” Pastor Keith gently urged Sarah from the doorway of her office.
Sarah glanced at her watch, then back at Keith. His big blue eyes won again.
“Sure, I’ll come to your office as soon as I make a quick call home.” Her heart began to race a little. She had worked for other pastors before, but never had one of them appreciated her as much as Keith did. She really felt special around him.
“Great!” he beamed as he gave her a wink and big smile. By the time Sarah had cleared her desk, made the call and joined him, all the other staff members had gone home. As she entered his office, he jumped up and offered her a chair beside his desk.
“You’re an incredible woman, Sarah. You’re the best administrator this church has ever had. Besides that, you bring me more joy than you can imagine!” Keith exclaimed. After that last comment, his face clouded and he added, just above a whisper, “I wish I could say that about my wife.” That she could mean so much to Keith touched Sarah deeply. How she longed to save him from the heartache he was experiencing in his marriage...
As more and more women find themselves serving in the ministry alongside men — whether in the pulpit, on the conference circuit, in counseling, in business offices or on the mission field — maintaining sexual purity will be the greatest area of testing for many of us.
Whose fault is sexual sin in the ministry? As I searched my own rearing in the church to find some answers to my questions, I remembered the book my mother gave me when I was a teenager. It explained the “facts of life” and set guidelines for propriety in dating. The overriding impression I was left with was that sexual purity was up to me; the man could not be held responsible because his sex drive was too strong. Therefore, I must be the one to draw the line. I must wear conservative clothing so as not to provoke him, and I must say “no” to his advances because he cannot.
Even as a naïve 14-year-old, something about this didn’t seem right. Such a philosophy seemed to debase both of us. As the responsibility was put upon me and the man was excused, I felt defeated before I began.
Jesus sets the record straight
The Pharisees — our religious forefathers — did much to influence what the church unwittingly believes, as reflected in the book I read as a teenager. While the religious Jews accommodated men’s abdication of self-control by allowing multiple wives and the ability to divorce at will, women were reduced to the image of temptress — the man’s downfall. These men established a power base domestically and religiously upon the assertion that Eve was to blame for the fall — the same excuse Adam made to God for his own lack of self-control and disobedience in the garden. Therefore, religious Jews kept women in seclusion, uneducated and subservient on the premise that this would reduce sin among the men.
Jesus hit the issue head on. He set Jewish men back on their heels by telling them that even to lust — to play games of sexual con- quest in their minds — was as dangerous as committing the act and it must stop. Whether in their minds or through their actions, lust would destroy intimacy with God and violate the object of the lust. This was a call to self-control, sexual responsibility and commitment to God and women that the men had not had to deal with before.
Jesus was also very pointed when he spoke, however forgivingly, to the woman caught in adultery. He said that she must not continue sinning — that the seductive patterns of her life must be stopped. She too had to learn self-control and sexual responsibility if she were to follow him and avoid spiritual death.
Paul calls for accountability
The apostle Paul also knew the patterns of the world and the enemy, and he had his hands full dealing with all kinds of Christians! He offered guidance to both men and women on this subject of shared responsibility for matters of the heart. After centuries of being able to have several wives and divorce at will, men were given a new edict by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1- 5: If a man wanted to be an elder in the Christian church, he must be sexually responsible and have only one wife. Although polygamy had been generally out-lawed in the Roman Empire by this time, Christian men were neither to have more than one wife at one time nor follow the cultural norm of getting around the law by having mistresses on the side.
Regarding the women newly converted from the cult of Diana — a group of women accustomed to leading by seduction and prostitution — Paul gave warning not to allow them positions of authority. It was to prevent them from dominating or controlling men through the use of their femininity, as they had been used to doing.
Paul also told the Ephesian women in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 to pay attention to the way they presented themselves in appearance. They were to understand that the good deeds that came out of their hearts were what made them truly beautiful, not all the finery they could wear. They were to be modest — not drawing attention to their sexuality — and take responsibility to reflect the new life within them.
The message from Jesus and from Paul was that men and women were responsible to get real and do something about their sinful pasts, weaknesses and selfish patterns of behavior toward each other. Then they could minister in his name.
Hearts and minds must change
There is no amount of governmental legislation that will restore women’s value, teach men to be responsible and bring sanity back to our culture inside and outside the church. Only the repentance of men for devaluing women rather than honoring them as equally made in God’s image, and women’s repentance for looking to men’s love to save them or give them viability, will get the healing process started.
As more women are being called by God and qualified to minister in the body of Christ alongside men, both sexes must get their acts together. Their hearts — and minds — must be changed.
Men, rather than dreading proximity because of having the world’s mindset of helplessness in the presence of an attractive women, need to surround themselves with simple accountability and sensible boundaries, while receiving counsel for any difficulties in their own marriages or personal lives.
Women must forgive men for past wounds and repent of all judgments previously made against them, or they will defile those to whom they minister. If women are judgmental toward men, they will not only encourage the disdain of men in other women, but also prejudice against women will actually increase in the body of Christ.
With God’s help and one another’s prayers, we can all learn how to minister together in mutual respect. If we see others and ourselves as Jesus does — as precious children for whom he gave his life — we will make sure we are held accountable to protect and cherish each other.
This article is based on chapter 11 of Strong’s book: Instruments for His Glory: Releasing Women to Minister in Harmony with God and Man. The book is available through CBE’s bookstore.