The greeting sections of New Testament epistles fire my curiosity. We are given tantalizing morsels of information, hardly the full back-story. But if we look at these verses like archeologists searching for clues, we can discover a surprising amount of truth for our edification and encouragement. Take Romans 16, for example. You can’t read this passage without appreciating the vital role that women played in the ministry of the early church. Nine of the twenty-four greetings are to women, and their efforts are hardly peripheral or tangential. These women are at the nerve center of ministry in the local church, playing a vital role in its mission to preach the gospel. Four women are particularly interesting, for Paul greets them each in the same way:
“Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you” (v. 6)
“Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa” (v. 12)
“Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord” (v. 12)
Imagine it. You gather for the regular assembly of God’s people, and at the conclusion of this soaring theological letter, Paul greets ‘lil old you? I wonder what these women felt when they heard their names read aloud. Did they realize that they were going to be immortalized in Holy Scripture? Here, at least, are two lessons we can learn from what Paul does and doesn’t tell us about these four women.
Our Work Matters More Than We Think
Most of the time, our work for the Lord seems unimportant and insignificant. Especially when it seems to produce so little in the way of measurable success. We’re called on to organize an outreach event, but it’s poorly attended. We give hours to counseling a woman who decides she wants to be mentored by someone else. We make yet another meal for yet another new mom, but it’s just what everyone expects us to do. And so we measure our service the way that we measure everything else—by results, or by how fulfilled it makes us feel, or by the gratitude we receive. And frankly, it’s discouraging.
But Paul doesn’t commend these women for reaching certain numbers goals, or for their successful organization of the largest church event in local church history, or even for the warm fuzzy feeling of fulfillment they derive from their efforts. That’s not how Paul measures gospel success. Here, at the end of his soaring theological treatise, he commends four ordinary women for one thing: working hard. The verb here implies “strenuous exertion.” These women spent all their energy to further the gospel mission. We don’t know how much or little these women accomplished in the way of “measurable” earthly results, but we do know that they were wildly successful. They received one of the greatest honors in human history: to be commended, by name, in the eternal Word of God. Now that’s worth working hard for!
So if you’ve felt discouraged of late; if you’ve started to wonder if your work in the church is a grand waste of time and talent—take heart. Whether or not others recognize your efforts, God does. He called out these four women, and he calls you out today. Be encouraged and don’t give up. Keep working hard for the Lord. Or, as the author to the Hebrews encourages us: “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints as you still do” (6:10).
Our Work Matters Less than We Think
Often, it can seem like people only notice the women in the church who are gifted in public ways. The rest of us do our work quietly in the background, with little fanfare. But here in Romans 16, Paul not only draws attention to Phoebe and Prisca who were wealthy and influential but also to sisters Tryphaena and Tryphosa who were former slaves, freedwomen. In an ironical side-note, Tryphaena and Tryphosa’s names mean “Dainty and Delicate.” You have to wonder if Paul smiled to himself as he wrote: “Greet those strenuous workers in the Lord, Dainty and Delicate.” The point is: nothing in our background, no physical or spiritual weakness, no lack of experience or gifting hinders us from working hard in for the Lord. We are all eligible for the commendation these women received. “By the grace of God I am what I am,” said Paul in another one of his letters, “and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:10). May the same be said of us.
But all too often we get caught up in what “our role” is in the church, whether or not we have a title or a position or, as we like to call it, “a place to serve.” We get locked in petty rivalries with other women, comparing and obsessing about who gets recognized or utilized more. Paul’s greetings graciously redirect our gaze to the right reasons for ministry. Like Mary, we should work hard “for you”—our work is to be out of love for the people of God. And like the sisters and “beloved Persis” our work is to be “in the Lord”— for the glory of our Savior. These women did not strive for position or honor, but they served their hearts out for the greatest cause in human history: the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so should we. Let us follow their example and remember that the cause we are working for is far more important than the kind of work we do for that cause. Let us be willing, eager in fact, to labor strenuously in a lowly position in the church.
It might be easy to skim the conclusion to the book of Romans, assuming that the important stuff got covered in the first fifteen chapters. But really, the book of Romans closes with a pressing question for each one of us: Are you working hard for the Lord? If Paul sent a letter to your church today, are you the kind of woman he would greet and thank? May we unhesitatingly seek the glory and honor these women were striving for, simply to be known as hard workers for the Lord.
When I prepare a message to speak (which I did this past month), I always create two documents. The one document is the message itself, and the other is the message “extras.” My “extras doc” is full of discarded sentences, points, quotes and ideas, and usually ends up much longer than the message itself.
One point from John 21—that ended up in extras because of time restraints—continues to affect me. It’s about failure.
We all know about the apostle Peter’s failure. While Jesus was enduring unimaginable torture leading up to his crucifixion, Peter, just a few yards away, was denying that he ever knew Jesus. Three times Peter denied his Lord. Then there is that vivid scene that Luke records (22:60-62): After Peter’s third denial, the rooster crowed, “and the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Can you imagine the agony, guilt, and shame that overwhelmed Peter when his eyes met his Lord’s? Peter “went out and wept bitterly.”
Fast forward to John 21. The resurrected Lord meets his disciples, including Peter, on the beach. They have been fishing all night, and they are tired, and in one of the most beautiful
scenes in Scripture, Jesus makes them breakfast. Then he turns to Peter.
Three times he asks Peter: “Do you love me?”—giving Peter the opportunity to make three public reaffirmations of his love and loyalty to the Lord, in place of his previous denials.
Three times he commissions Peter: “Feed my sheep.” Not only does he restore Peter, but he also commits his flock into Peter’s care.
Peter’s restoration and the renewal of his calling offer hope to all of us when we consider our grievous sins and failures. As John Stott put it, “No matter how desperate our failure, or how deep-seated our shame, he can forgive and renew us and then use us in his service. Failure is never final with God.”
Whether you live with regret because of a wife fail, a mom fail, or a friend fail. Whether you feel guilty because you compromised your gospel witness at school or work. Whether you feel shame because of sexual sin or because you had an abortion. Whatever sins and failures mark your past, remember: failure is never final with God.
First of all, if you have repented of your sins, you are forgiven. Completely forgiven! Even if the person you sinned against doesn’t forgive you, God does. Jesus Christ has taken the punishment for your sins. He received the wrath of God that you deserved. He suffered in your place. He took your guilt upon himself. You need not carry it around anymore! In fact, to do so is to deny the guilt-obliterating power of what Christ has accomplished for you.
Secondly, you are not finished yet. No matter what our past sins or failures, we are not useless or ruined for kingdom work. God not only forgives and renews us, but he also uses us for his good purposes. Jon Bloom writes: “Jesus is the great restorer of failures who repent…[He] specializes in transforming failures into rocks of strength for his church.” Peter is the prime example, but throughout church history up through this very day, God is still in the business of deploying forgiven sinners in kingdom work.
If failure is never final with God, then let it not be so with us. Let us repent. Let us ask God to restore us. Let us—a community of forgiven failures—devote our lives to serving our forgiving Savior.
It happens when we walk into a room. We compare. We mentally measure our beauty, status, talents, or situation against the other women present. If the numbers come out in our favor, we get a boost of confidence; if we come up short, we feel depressed and self-conscious. Comparison is a mood changer. But it’s also a sin from which we can and should get free.
This past Saturday, the women of our church gathered for worship, teaching, and fellowship. It was a sweet time. Mom shared her revised and updated message on “The Snare of Compare,” and we share it here with you now. This is my personal favorite of Mom’s messages, maybe because I need it so much! If you ever struggle with sinful comparison, this talk on John 21 will encourage you to keep your eyes on Christ. Enjoy!
I was reading along with my “Read the Bible in a Year” plan the other day and found myself in Genesis 16. (Please don’t do the math on this, cuz you will see how behind I already am.) It’s the Sarai and Hagar saga. And toward the end of the chapter, I came across these words by Hagar: “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13). The ESV footnote on this verse says, “Or ‘You are a God who sees me.’” In my quiet house, on that early morning, the Lord impressed these words on my heart, bringing fresh wonder and encouragement.
God sees me. Little me, sitting on my couch, already behind on my Bible reading plan, desperately in need of His grace to tackle another day.
And God sees you. Whether you are in a season of plenty or of want, He sees you. He sees your exhaustion as you face another day training your strong-willed two-year-old. He sees your longing for the husband that seems unlikely to ever appear. He sees your tears for the teenager that is wandering far from home. He sees your overwhelmed heart as homework and exams seem like they will never end. He sees your discouragement as you wrestle with the sin that so easily entangles.
God saw Hagar. She wasn’t the great Abraham or Sarah (although He saw them too). But God gave this encouragement specifically to Hagar, the lowly and despised servant. He saw her in her desperate plight and He “looked after her.”
Here are the words Charles Spurgeon spoke to his congregation about this passage:
“Mark, God sees you—selecting any one out of this congregation—he sees you, he sees you as much as if there were nobody else in the world for him to look at. If I have as many people as there are here to look at, of course my attention must be divided; but the infinite mind of God is able to grasp a million objects at once, and yet to set itself, as much upon one, as if there were nothing else but that one; so that you, to-night, are looked at by God as much as if throughout space there were not another creature but yourself. Can you conceive that?”
God sees you today, right now, as if there were not one else but you. Inconceivable!
So cast your cares on this great “God of seeing” and rest in the knowledge that the God who “looked after” Hagar is “looking after” you.
We’re a little late to the party, but we’d like to nominate a book for “2016 Best Book of the Year”: Eve in Exile and the Restoration of Femininity by Rebekah Merkle. Eve in Exile is winsome, witty, and conversational; it is also a grand and inspiring call for women to reject the selfish pursuits of feminism and give their lives away to serve family and home for the sake of Christ. We’ve all four read it (and Dad too!), and we believe is is an important and timely book for the church today.
When I was a teenager, my mother could tell I was being drawn by the siren call of feminism, so she tied me to the mast of truth by taking my sister and me through Elisabeth Elliot’s Let Me Be A Woman. That book helped expose the empty promises of feminist ideology and gave me a biblical vision of femininity to follow as a young woman. Then, when I was pregnant with my first son, Jack, I had the privilege to assist my mom in writing her book Feminine Appeal, which—along with Scripture and my mom’s example, has been my daily guide these last fourteen years of motherhood. Now, in the trenches of motherhood, with two teenagers by the end of this year (yikes!), here comes Eve in Exile giving me fresh encouragement, correction, and creative ideas for how I can serve my family and Christ’s kingdom as a woman.
“The cultural chaos in which we are currently living has caused many to despair, and others to simply shrug and accept the postmodern crazy,” observes Rebekah. “But I want to argue that we are in the perfect moment to rethink this whole subject. Because our culture has kicked everything over, since nothing is left but rubble, we actually have the remarkable privilege of being able to think through each line before redrawing it. We can check each boundary against the Scriptures before setting it back in its place. What a blessing! What an opportunity!”
How did we get here? Rebekah’s fly-over of feminism is the best I’ve read, tracing key factors and offering a biblical diagnosis. Where do we go from here—especially considering the mess we’re in now? In the second half of the book, Rebekah takes us back to Scripture to trace God’s design for us as women to subdue, fill, help, and glorify. Rebekah gets practical without being prescriptive, helping us to consider how we may apply Scripture to our lives and situation, whether single or married. If you have felt discouraged and confused, wondering how you can serve Christ faithfully in a culture that is hostile to the gospel and all of its ethical implications, this book will breathe new life into your godly desires and spark your feminine creativity.
We’re so excited about this book, we’ve created a course for women here at our church using Eve in Exile and Feminine Appeal. Our hope is to encourage every woman with a biblical vision of femininity: “Feminine glory is fruitful. It produces. It builds. It creates. And it does so in ways that are profound and staggering and surprising and beautiful and frequently messy and hilarious and ridiculous….As we build, as we glorify, as we try to imitate God in our fruitfulness, we should make sure that our vision for what that will look like is shaped by what God himself has shown us.”
As soon as my girls are old enough, you can bet I am going to take them through Let Me Be A Woman, Feminine Appeal, andEve in Exile. Thank you, Rebekah, for carrying on a godly legacy of women writers and for giving me a gift that I can give to my girls.
I had just set the speed (not very fast) and the incline (not very high) on the treadmill at the Y and put my earbuds in to watch TV for the next twenty-four minutes (not very long), when the first segment of the news program I turned on to watch was introduced this way: “Sixty-nine percent of all divorces are initiated by women; that’s because women want to be in charge.”
This particular segment introduced the author of a new book that apparently was garnering some attention. I don’t recall the title of the book (my comprehension is severely impaired when I’m trying to keep pace with a moving treadmill!), and I only got a vague sense that the author seemed to be suggesting that it is destructive to a marriage when the wife tries to be in charge of her husband. However, the woman conducting the interview seemed so incensed by the author’s position that she barely let the author answer a question before she would interrupt with her own argumentative opinions. In fact, by the end of the interview, I was more aware of the position of the interviewer than that of the author.
While I never got to hear what the author actually meant by “women want to be in charge” and I don’t know if her divorce statistics are accurate, I do know that women wanting to control their husbands is not a new phenomenon. In fact, the origin of this desire goes all the way back to the beginning of time. One of the consequences of the Fall for women, it says in Genesis 3:16, is that their “desire shall be for [their] husband[s].” The form and context of the word desire actually have a negative connotation—an urge to manipulate, control, or have mastery over. So you see, every wife struggles with the desire to control her husband. I know I certainly do! Only by the transforming grace of God can we battle this sinful desire in our hearts.
All this got me thinking about how little our culture understands about the nobility and dignity of God’s commands to men and women in marriage. While it’s true that he calls wives to submit to their own husbands (not all men!) as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22), he also calls husbands to love their wives sacrificially as Christ loves the church. Tall orders, both! Notice that God never commands a husband to make his wife submit, nor the wife to make her husband love her sacrificially. These are commands each is to obey, as to the Lord.
What God commands, he enables; and what he commands he also blesses. The Bible doesn’t just say submit to your husband, period. Respect your husband, period. Love your husband and children, period.
Submitting to our husband makes us beautiful (1 Pet. 3:5).
Our submission displays the beauty of how the church submits to Christ (Eph. 5:22-24).
Respectful and pure conduct of a wife can win unbelieving husbands to the Lord (1 Pet. 3:1-2).
Loving our husband and children adorns the gospel (Tit. 2:4, 10).
Practicing the virtues of Proverbs 31 wins us praise (Pr. 31:28-31).
And given that marriage and motherhood entail a whole lot of serving, we will become great (Matt. 20:26).
When we strive and strain to control our husband, we will never get what we want. But Scripture promises that by God’s grace we can actually achieve greatness, win praise, and become beautiful through submission and sacrifice. Blessings, indeed!
It’s February in Louisville, and we haven’t seen the sun for more than ten minutes all winter. The air is wet and cold, the kids are sniffly, and it’s the time of year when you just feel blah. So what do you do with these feelings? How do you escape the blanket of depression that settles over many of us this time of year? Wait until spring? Binge on Netflix? Go shopping?
Getting rid of the winter doldrums is the subject of a lot of conversation this time of year. Some suggest you can buy a happy lamp or maybe exercise more. You may have seen the buzz about what the Danish call “hygee”—their secret to happiness despite almost year round winter. But as Christians, we have a secret of our own. We don’t just have a better way to handle the winter blues; we don’t just apply a more “spiritual” solution to the problem. We know why God gave us feelings in the first place. And because we know why we have emotions, we know what do with them.
Emotions are from God. That much is clear. He is the one who created us with the capacity to feel happy and sad, fearful and hopeful. God gave us emotions so that we might know him more fully. And so that we might experience and respond to the world that he created. Now sin got in and created a mess of things. It damaged the world we live in and our emotional response to everything that happens around us. Thus, on the minor end of things, we have the winter blues.
In this past year of studying emotions and feelings, we’ve learned one thing for sure: emotions are complicated. You can’t always figure out where your feelings come from or why they shift all of a sudden, or why they won’t leave at all. Maybe it is the winter weather. Or it could be my hormones. Or am I’m finally going crazy over here? Tracing the varied sources of every emotion is a fruitless endeavor. We may never know. But we can always know where emotions are supposed to take us. Our feelings should always move us back to God.
So what do we do when winter weather seems to drag our feelings down? James says it as clear as anyone: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise” (5:13). In other words, whatever you feel, move to God. If you feel sad, pray to God. If you feel happy, sing to God. Don’t hesitate, don’t put it off, don’t wallow in your yucky feelings. Move to God! Feelings—high and low—should drive and propel us to God’s Word, to prayer, and to church. Our confusing, unpleasant emotions should cause us to cry out to God for grace.
And so, a blue winter mood can actually be a glorious opportunity. A chance to turn to God. You see, our depressed feelings reflect the reality that this world cannot satisfy our restless hearts. The winter doldrumsremind us that we were created for something more. Our joyless days reveal that we may have been seeking our joy in something other than God. Often, it’s not until we feel the coldness of our hearts that we become aware of our need for the warmth of God’s grace.
But if we move to God, the winter blues can be transformed into a season of grace. Our frigid hearts can blaze brightly with the fire of love for Christ, once again. When we cry out to God, he revives our feelings of love for Christ which have grown cold. We must not let a depressed mood drive us deeper into listless self-pity and self-absorption. We shouldn’t let the winter blues pull us into an online coma or a tv show binge. Rather, our depressed emotions should be a marvelous motivator. A catalyst to drive us to God.
Winter won’t last forever. One day soon the hot summer sun will shine and we’ll probably (to our shame!) be complaining about the infernal heat. But even more certain is what will happen to the emotions of those who believe in Jesus Christ. One day, all of our feelings will coalesce and culminate in pure joy and love for God. We will know ecstatic raptures of his presence. And we don’t have to wait. We can warm our hearts in the glow of the gospel of Jesus Christ today. As the old hymn puts it, “I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of his face.”
How do you feel? There are, no doubt, as many shades and shadows of emotions, as there are women reading these words. But no matter what you are feeling, you can know one thing for certain: your feelings are intended to move you to God. Look to him in your restless despair. Praise him in your happiness. Thank God that through Jesus Christ you can come to him, no matter what you feel today. You can have a foretaste of the joy of heaven, even in “bleak midwinter.”
To all of you who sent encouraging messages about us restarting girltalk, thank you! We have been so blessed to hear from you, and we’re excited to get started again. This blog really is a conversation; we enjoy receiving and responding to your questions and comments. Needless to say, book writing doesn’t provide the same kind of interaction, and we’ve missed you.
But we’ve also watched with dismay, along with all of you, at many of the cultural changes taking place in our world today. Hostility to the gospel has increased and intensified. The definition of marriage as a sacred union between a man and a woman has been upended. The fabric of the family has been ripped to shreds. The most basic understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman created in the image of God has been chucked out the window. Most disturbing of all, we see some of these grievous trends making inroads into the church.
Teaching biblical womanhood in this day and age can sometimes feel like talking to the wind. So what’s the use? The four of us have talked about this together. And then this is the conversation we’ve been having around my house lately.
Me: “I might as well give up encouraging women in biblical womanhood. It’s a losing battle.”
My husband: “You can’t give up. You’ve got to do your ‘measly bit.’” (Something I once said, that he now likes to quote back to me.)
It’s not that I’m tired of talking about biblical womanhood. It’s not that I no longer think it’s important. But honestly, I have wondered at times: is it worth it? All around us the situation seems to be getting worse, not better.
Then it hit me. Rather than bemoan the awful that is happening all around, I must remember the glorious that has already happened: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Tit. 2:11). The grace of God has already appeared in the person of Jesus Christ! He has already died on the cross and risen from the dead for our sins. The glorious has already happened! And it is still happening. The grace of God that has appeared is still at work today: he is drawing men and women to himself, and he is “training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Tit. 2:12).
He has given us a mandate: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
He has given us his presence: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
And he has given us a solemn charge: “Older women…are to teach what is good, and so train the young women” (Tit. 2:3-4).
So why is it worth it to keep teaching biblical womanhood?
...that the word of God may not be reviled (v. 5),
...that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us (v. 8),
...that in everything we may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (v. 10).
It’s not like our mandate comes with a conditional clause. Give it a go, but if things get really bad, then you can stand down. Retreat is not an option. Too much is at stake. After all, it’s for the sake of the gospel that we must live and teach “what is good.” Things may be getting worse, it’s true. But we must be faithful to obey and leave the results to God.
I recently read this passage from Eve in Exileby Rebekah Merkle and found myself saying out loud: “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“We have an awful lot of us Christian women in this country, and the road of feminine obedience is wide open. Not only that, we’ve stayed off of it for so long it is now completely unguarded. I believe that if we women decided, as a group, to take that road, we would knock a serious dent in the side of our culture’s rebellion. But the truth is, a movement of women doing this wouldn’t be terribly exciting or sexy. It wouldn’t involve marches or protests or petitions or lobbying or t-shirts or fun runs. It would involve a lot of women manning their own separate battle stations in their own lives, in their own families, in the day-to-day grind. It would involve disciplining ourselves in the small, seemingly inconsequential areas of our lives—what we admire, what we try to get good at, what we strive for, what we prioritize, what we love. It would involve faithfulness, obedience, and sacrifice. It wouldn’t seem like much. But one thing we know is that God loves to use the seemingly trivial things to accomplish staggering results. We may each feel like an insignificant little drop of water, and it may seem like the direction we take in our day-to-day lives doesn’t make any difference to anyone. But when all the drops of water move the same way, what is more powerful and unstoppable than a wave?”
This is why we decided to keep writing here at girltalk. To challenge ourselves and encourage you to “faithfulness, obedience, and sacrifice” so that we may adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ. It may not seem like much, but we are going to do our measly bit.
After almost a year hiatus—which sounds a whole lot more restful than it was—we’re excited to re-start the conversation here at girltalk. We never meant to stop, actually. What we thought was going to be a short break to finish up our book on feelings turned into nine months of intense rewrites. But we’re wrapping up final edits now (phew!) and looking forward to a good long chat with you again.
The unplanned pause gave us a chance to consider—with the glut of online content these days, should we continue writing on this spot? We don’t have special talent or creativity, but we do have the same desire to encourage women in their every day lives as when we started writing girltalk over ten years ago. Besides, the four of us still talk all the time, and we missed having you in the conversation. So here, once again, you’ll find the same simple thoughts from one mom and three daughters as we encourage each other to faithfully follow the Savior. If it serves you in some small way, we’ll be thrilled.
One new thing we’re starting is a monthly (or so) newsletter which includes all the content from the previous few weeks, along with a more personal update, stray thoughts and quotes we didn’t include in our weekly writing, books we’re reading, funny stuff we’ve run across, and maybe (if it’s really good) what we’re cooking. So, if you don’t want to miss out on what’s happening here at girltalk, you can sign up using the link on our sidebar and you’ll hear from us by the end of each month.
For now, it’s good to be back. Thanks to all of you who asked. Hope you enjoy the new content!
coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 121:7-8, ESV)
“To be kept from all evil does not imply a cushioned life, but a well-armed one. The psalm ends with a pledge which could hardly be stronger or more sweeping.
going out and your coming in is not only a way of saying ‘everything’; it draws attention to one’s ventures and enterprises and the home which remains one’s base; to pilgrimage and return; to the dawn and sunset of one’s days. But the last line takes good care of this journey. It would be hard to decide which half of it is the more encouraging: the fact that it starts from now, or that it runs on, not to the end of time but to time without end; like God Himself who is my portion for ever.” ~Derek Kidner