In the 1983 movie musical Yentl, Barbara Streisand portrays a Jewish girl in Poland whose father helped her study the teachings of the Bible in secret. In that culture it was considered unnecessary—even unlawful—for a woman to study Scripture. She hungered after biblical understanding so much she disguised herself as a boy in order to continue her studies.
Some look at a couple of verses in the New Testament about a woman’s place in the worship service and wonder if she is incapable of understanding things on the same level as a man. Ladies, if you think that, then not only are you misinformed about what God reveals about your spiritual capacity—you could be in grave danger spiritually.
Women: Do you wonder, if your lot in life is “simply” (often not so simple) to feed the family, bear children and maintain the home, why you need to apply yourself spiritually? Does God put you, simply because of your gender, at an intellectual or even spiritual disadvantage?
A Matter of Organization
First, let’s see the biblical admonitions about the woman’s place in the Church government: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church …. Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:33-35, 40).
The Greek word for the phrase “under obedience” is hupotasso, a military term meaning, according to Strong’s Concordance, “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” In a non-military use, it is “a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.”
These verses do not reflect on a woman’s intellectual or spiritual capacity. The context is things being done orderly in the Church—that women are not to be preaching in the Church. This is simply how God decided that our spiritual warfare must be organized.
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:11-12). Again, she is not to teach in the Church, but she is to learn!
The truth is, women have just as much need to develop spiritually as men do. As verses 9 and 10 of this chapter illustrate, their spiritual understanding and godly character are the most significant part of what makes them beautiful.
1 Peter 3:3-5 describe a woman’s spirituality as her “immortal beauty” (Moffatt translation).
Solomon wrote: “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion [understanding, reason]” (Proverbs 11:22).
Herbert W. Armstrong, writing about his dating experiences in his Autobiography, related: “If a girl was unable to carry on her part of … an ‘intellectual’ conversation, or was lacking in any mental depth and brilliancy, she didn’t interest me enough for another date” (Volume 1). About one girl—the one he later married—he wrote, “I observed quickly that although she was alert and active-minded, hers was not one of those flighty surface minds, active but shallow. She was able to discuss serious and deep things intelligently.”
What Mr. Armstrong saw in Loma Dillon is part of what God wants in His women. He doesn’t want airheads; He wants women to develop their minds, because it is His Spirit that combines with the human spirit that enables us to understand spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:10-11; Romans 8:16). A shallow physical intellect, therefore, limits the extent to which God’s Spirit can deepen a person’s understanding. The Church certainly does not frown on a woman educating herself. At Herbert W. Armstrong College we strive to have an equal number of both genders.
Jesus, Mary and Busy Homemaker
A story in Luke 10:38-42 demonstrates Jesus Christ’s approach to this subject: “[A] certain woman named Martha received [Jesus] into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Who had more vision? Whom did Christ commend? Who was doing what was “needful”? Was it the one doing all the physical housework—or the one taking time away from that to really get to know Christ? Being a hard worker, completing physical tasks, is necessary. But, as we’ll see, there’s a vision behind those physical tasks—cooking meals, changing diapers, whatever it may be. Like Martha, we could be “cumbered” by the physical and neglect the spiritual because of it!
In 1 Samuel 1, one woman altered the course of history because of her understanding. God prohibited Hannah from bearing children until she learned the vision behind it (request our free book The God Family Vision). Once she learned this, she conceived and bore Samuel. After his birth, Hannah began to prophesy! You can find that in 1 Samuel 2:1-10.
“She probably understood God’s family plan more deeply than the most righteous women of God in the Bible,” Gerald Flurry writes in The God Family Vision.
Does God want women to understand deep spiritual things? In 1 Samuel 2:5, Hannah is canonized as saying, “the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble.” A woman can have many children—she can be “accomplished” at all those feminine things—and still something can be missing. Women must understand the family vision behind it all!
Mr. Flurry writes, “Remember, Hannah is talking about dedicating her son to God’s plan. Samuel ended up anointing David to sit on that throne and become God’s anointed. She must have understood that prophecy quite well. … Hannah knew her horn would be exalted. And it was indeed: She gave birth to this prophet” (ibid).
Hannah’s prophecy continues to be fulfilled today. David’s throne still exists, and we look toward the resurrection when we, as God’s firstfruits, will step into the role of the Bride of Christ and spiritual mother to multiple millions in the World Tomorrow. If our ladies understand the vision behind their “physical” duties and don’t let those duties become more important than their spiritual development, it will put them at a greater advantage spiritually—not hold them back.
“If you have a son, can you look into his eyes and begin to educate him about the resurrection and the God Family vision? Can you really help him see why he is alive? Can you see as Hannah saw?” Mr. Flurry asks. “Hannah was some wife. She was desperately unhappy for a while; but it was because of that unhappiness that God could teach her this deep spiritual lesson” (ibid).
That’s right! Women can—and must—learn deep, spiritual lessons! Then they must be able to educate their children about those lessons.
Equal Spiritual Potential
1 Peter 3:7 states that men and women are “heirs together of the grace of life”—they have the same spiritual potential! When spirit, we will all look like God (1 John 3:1-2). Former men and women will be kings, priests, sons of God, Bride of Christ, and Mother of countless God beings.
Peter says we must “be ready always to give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15). Women—not just men—should know the Scriptures well enough to give an answer. They are future teachers as well.
Armstrong College is based on this understanding. Men and women take mostly the same courses—the only ones that differ have to do with speaking (based on the principle stated by the Apostle Paul)—and while the male students take advanced courses on speaking, the young ladies learn about homemaking and nutrition. But they all have to learn the same doctrines and memorize much of the Scriptures. They all participate in the work-study program and perform tasks that require a developed intellect and spiritual understanding.
A Strong Spiritual Influence
“The aged women likewise, that they be … teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women …” (Titus 2:3-4). What is it that these older women are to teach? Verses 3 to 5 outline that they should teach the younger women to be sober, or wise; to love their husband and their children; to be discreet, or of sound mind, and to have self-control. They are to teach the younger women to be chaste, obedient (also hupotasso in the Greek, as in 1 Corinthians 14) to their husbands. Why? That “the word of God be not blasphemed.” Women need to know the Word of God so they don’t blaspheme it!
Mr. Armstrong always reminded us that it was his wife, Loma, who was the instrument God used to call him and start the Philadelphia era of God’s Church. Many young women on all three of the Ambassador College campuses in the 1950s and ’60s looked to her as a guidance counselor. As Mr. Armstrong wrote in the May 1967 Plain Truth, “She, herself, marveled at the wisdom that just came spontaneously from God as she counseled with these many girls about their many problems.” God inspired her with wisdom through His Spirit! Her intellect, now combined with God’s mind, was serving a tremendous function in the Work!
God also intended for women to have a tremendous spiritual impact on men. Surely even male students and Church members were instructed by Mrs. Armstrong’s example and words. The same would be true of the late Barbara Flurry and her impact on the women and men of the Church today.
This is, after all, a fundamental reason why God created women: to help men build spiritual character. Proverbs 12:4 says, “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband ….” 1 Peter 3:1-2 show that a wife can have a significant impact on an unconverted husband by her actions.
Consider God’s initial purpose in creating woman: “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an helpmeet for him” (Genesis 2:18). Concerning this scripture, the Ten Commandments booklet published under Mr. Armstrong comments: “So the first and primary purpose of marriage is to make man and woman complete. Each is incomplete without the other. Man alone was not able to fulfill the purpose for which God created him—was not able to learn the lessons of character which God intended—and so God created the woman as a ‘help’ to the man.”
Through Hannah, God reared a prophet. Mary birthed and raised the Word of God in the flesh. Could these responsibilities have been given to spiritually reckless women? Women who couldn’t think deeply about God’s Word? Women who didn’t know how to mentally stimulate a child?
Though men were assigned the role of preaching in the Church and aiding the character development of the members in this manner, the woman was created to aid directly the spiritual character of the man. What’s more, as Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 2, “she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety” (verse 15). Though not preaching, she is bearing children, and—like Hannah—has the responsibility to teach them to continue in faith, love and holiness. She is contributing to their character development. That is a God-ordained role!
“She is the God-created helper to her husband, and this most definitely includes his children. A woman can only achieve the true happiness God intended for her by embracing her God-ordained role as wife, mother and homemaker” (Philadelphia Trumpet, November 2004).
And though the modern woman might bristle at those words “wife, mother and homemaker,” thinking them menial and unimportant, God designed that role to be one of the most spiritually influential positions a human being could be in. “Look at what Hannah saw …. She knew she had the greatest career God had to offer” (The God Family Vision).
Look at the influence two women had on Timothy. In a letter to the young evangelist, Paul remembered “the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Timothy had sincere, unmitigated faithbecause of the impact of these women(no men are mentioned). Lois and Eunice also greatly impacted his understanding of God’s Word (see 2 Timothy 3:15).
Women in God’s Church don’t “preach,” but they have the capacity and spiritual wherewithal to contribute to the preaching that their husbands, sons or grandsons do as organized by God’s government.
A woman, as God created her, is an asset, a help, a co-worker, a companion, and an intellectual giant if she realizes her God-given role and develops those abilities.
Spiritually Valiant Women
In Proverbs 31 we can see the influence that Bathsheba had on her son Solomon: “The words of king Lemuel [Solomon], the prophecy that his mother taught him” (Proverbs 31:1). This passage canonizes the words of a woman—words of instruction to be heeded by all women and men.
This instruction prompts Solomon to ask in verse 10, “Who can find a virtuous woman?” The word virtuous here is chayil in Hebrew. In the Old Testament, that word is translated into English as “army” 56 times, “man of valour” 37 times, “host” 29 times, “forces” 14 times, “valiant” 13 times and “strength” 12 times. Who can find a woman like this? She’s like a spiritual army adorned with spiritual wealth.
Her role involves physical labor, as the passage brings out, and she’s not afraid or ashamed of it (Proverbs 31:13). She employs a staff (verses 14-15). She’s skilled in conducting business (verse 16). The June 1972 Plain Truth stated, “She can, if necessary, do quite well in the business world. But she applies her talent and ability to the home sphere first!”
The woman should be mentally able to do many of the things the man does, but she typically doesn’t unless he isn’t there to fulfill that role. Deborah judged a nation and led men to battle! Her song is canonized in Judges 5. Mr. Armstrong often said he always looked for a woman who could “wear the pants,” but didn’t.
A spiritually valiant woman has wisdom (Proverbs 31:26). Verse 30 in the Moffatt translation reads, “Charms may wane and beauty wither, keep your praise for a wife with brains.” God needs spiritually valiant women, adorned with spiritual jewels—good works, humility, wisdom and strength of mind!
In addition to developing other feminine traits, a female’s development of her mind must be at the top of the list. However, beware that Satan likes to use that intellect whenever women are doing “mindless” tasks—to broadcast thoughts like, My mind is too sophisticated for this. A woman must understand what it means to be feminine and whyher role is what it is to truly thrive in it.
What if women like Hannah, Mary, Deborah, Eunice, Lois and Bathsheba had this attitude: Oh well, I’m “just” a wife—“just” a mother. I don’t need to know these deep spiritual things. I’ll just bear children, knit blankets, and I won’t worry about how strong my mind is or how strong my spiritual life is.
These women changed the course of history because they were spiritual and intellectual giants. Some of their instructions, prayers and even prophecies are in print. They moved the greatest men of the Bible, and their spiritual beauty will be immortalized forever!