While doing research at a theological library, a graduate student sat next to an older man she thought was a pastor. He was cordial and devout, and he initiated a conversation in which his interests in history were apparent. As they chatted, he asked a number of penetrating questions. He was quick to recommend helpful books and his interest in her work was encouraging. When she finally asked him about his life, she learned that he was the highest ranking historian in all of Britain. In fact, he holds an endowed chair at Cambridge University that dates back to Henry VIII. Despite their differences culturally and in terms of eloquence and learning, he respected her passion for history as reason to engage her as a colleague and affirm her calling. He assumed that God had brought them together to encourage one another. He treated her as an equal, and his professional welcome was not only a model of Christian pedagogy and ministry. It also reminded her of the humility and inclusivity that builds productive ministry teams.
Defying human expectations, God’s power is evident in people we might consider ordinary. Consider the stuttering Moses, the elderly Sara, the young Virgin Mary, the impetuous Peter, or the slaves Andronicus and Junia. Even Jesus surprised many in Nazareth, for they considered him a mere carpenter’s son. These and other biblical leaders were not impressive by human standards. Yet, God seems to delight in confounding human prejudice by accomplishing more than we might “ask or imagine” possible through individuals whom the world counts as nothing. For many churches and denominations, women are often regarded as superfluous and sometimes disdained as leaders. Consider how Paul dealt with presumption in the church at Corinth.
Chloe—the house church leader—alerted Paul to the divisions in the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:11ff). Factions in Corinth were based on whether people followed Paul, Apollos, or Cephas. Paul reminded the Corinthians that it was cross-centered preaching that changes lives, not clever words or eloquent teachers. Though Jews demanded signs and Greeks desired wisdom, Paul placed his hope in Christ’s accomplishments at Calvary (1 Cor. 1:22ff). For egalitarians, there is something particularly helpful in this message.
In a city with a philosopher on every corner, Paul asks the church at Corinth three questions: Where are the wise? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Note the irony in these questions since the Corinthian church was comprised of slaves, the uneducated, and the poor. Yet, they too were wise if, as Paul suggests, they preached Christ crucified. For though teachers of the law and philosophers were educated males, Paul suggests that it is not the training, gender, or eloquence of the messenger that matters. What counts is power through the Spirit. Paul admits that even his preaching did not involve wise or persuasive words but “…a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).
Paul welcomes his own humiliation—his lack of persuasiveness or eloquence. He also recognizes the limitations of his readers. He writes:
… think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are… (1 Cor. 1:26-28).
Muscular Christianity (of brain, tongue, tribe, nation, class, or gender) too easily relies upon human pride and ability rather than God’s Spirit. Yet, the “weakness of God is stronger than human strength” (1 Cor. 1:25b). The question is not “Are the messengers impressive?” but ”Are they holy, and do they preach Christ crucified?”
There are countless women who are called and gifted by God, and they have been preaching Christ crucified since the empty tomb. God has infused their ministries with his Spirit of power. He has made them instruments of revival, not because they are impressive, well-educated, or the leaders the world expected. Rather they were and are faithful! They delight not in themselves, but in the cross. God was honored to work through their weaknesses. Not one word in Scripture holds them back from proclaiming Jesus and him crucified.