The following message is taken from the Book: Sisters' MessagesMessage One: The Crucial Role and Decisive Nature of the Sisters' Function
These five messages cover the normal and healthy function of the sisters in the church life. The role of the sisters in the Lord's work is a very extensive topic in the Bible. For the Lord to gain His testimony, the function of the sisters is a great matter. In this first message we will look at the crucial role and the decisive nature of the sisters' function. We must realize that the healthiness of the church life is largely dependent upon the healthiness of the sisters. When the function of the sisters is healthy, then the Lord's testimony will be strong.
The Function of the Sisters in the Church Life: Loving the Lord and Serving Him
Now as they went, He entered into a certain village, and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her home. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet and was listening to His word. But Martha was being drawn about with much serving, and she came up to Him and said, Lord, does it not matter to You that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to do her part with me. But the Lord answered and said to her, Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; but there is need of one thing, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. - Luke 10:38-42
Then Jesus, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Therefore they made Him a supper there; and Martha served, but Lazarus was one of the ones reclining at table with Him. Then Mary took a pound of ointment, of very valuable pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. - John 12:1-3
First we need to define the function of the sisters according to the Bible. In the New Testament, the normal church life is typified by the family in Bethany. This family is a prototype, a pattern, of the church life. In this family there was one brother, Lazarus. His life was a testimony of resurrection. Then there were two sisters, Mary and Martha. Mary expressed a pure love for the Lord with an absolute consecration, and Martha diligently served the Lord. For the church life to be healthy, these three elements are necessary. We need the element of Lazarus, which is the testimony of resurrection. We need the element of Mary, which is the pure love for the Lord in consecration. And we need the element of Martha, which is the diligence in serving the Lord. When these three elements are present, then the church life will be healthy and prevailing.
The picture of this family in Bethany shows us how critical the sisters are in the church life. In this prototype of the church, there are two sisters, but only one brother. This shows that in the church life the function of the sisters is even more needed than the function of the brothers. Why is the function of the sisters so important and so necessary? Because it is by the function of the sisters that the church can have the testimony of resurrection. In the house at Bethany, Lazarus's testimony of resurrection was dependent upon Mary's pure love for Christ and Martha's diligent serving. If a sister's spiritual understanding is enlightened she will worship the Lord that she is a sister, because without the function of the sisters the church cannot have the testimony of resurrection. This very testimony of resurrection comes from the healthy love and serving of the sisters.
The first element of the church life that rests on the sisters is loving the Lord. The sisters should love the Lord with a pure love in consecration. This seems so simple and unnoticeable, but it is essential to the church life. When a sister's love for the Lord becomes her daily experience, eventually it causes her to pour out everything she is upon the Lord. This is to be like Mary. Sisters, your love towards Christ provides the sweetness of the church life. Without a fervent love being exercised by the sisters in the church life, the church will be lacking in its testimony. Of course, the brothers should also love the Lord, but that is not their main function. The Bible says that the brothers' function is to bear the testimony of resurrection, and that this is the result of the sisters' function. Sisters, how do you support the functioning of the brothers? By possessing a pure and single love for the Lord, which issues in a genuine consecration to Him.
A sister's love for the Lord should also cause her to serve Him diligently and practically. When a pure love for the Lord is lacking, the practical serving by the sisters becomes theoretical. If the sisters only have the outward performance in their serving life, without the inward reality of loving the Lord, then there will be no demonstrating of the power of resurrection. But when, in the church life, there is both the pure love for the Lord and the diligent serving of the Lord by the sisters, then the brothers will have the way to bear the testimony of resurrection.
The Function of the Sisters Causing the Church to Become Prevailing
Sisters, when you properly exercise to love and serve the Lord, the church will become prevailing and even fruitful. You do not need to put so much pressure on yourselves by thinking that you need to fulfill some sort of high requirement. There is no high requirement. You are not required to be so "spiritual." Instead, you should bear the burden of the Lord's testimony by simply loving the Lord and serving Him. If you learn to love and serve the Lord in a hidden way, the church will become prevailing.
According to this type of the family at Bethany, loving the Lord and serving the Lord are mainly the function of the sisters. If you were to take away Mary's portion, there would be no fragrance of satisfaction for Jesus. If you were to take away Martha's portion, there would be no enjoyment and rest for Jesus. This is why the sisters should be very thankful to the Lord. Sisters, you should pray, "Lord, we are thankful. We are not those who are appointed to give messages. We are not so outwardly manifested, we are not holding conferences, and we are not taking the lead. But the healthiness of the church life depends on us. Because we are learning to love You and serve You, the church can have the testimony of resurrection. The church can become prevailing because of our function." Once you have this realization you will be so happy that the Lord made you a sister. On one hand your portion is hidden. It is not necessarily known or manifested. But if you just love the Lord and serve Him faithfully, then the church will become prevailing.
The Sisters Providing the Foundation for the Lord's Work
At this scene in Bethany, Lazarus did not do so much. He had been raised from the dead by the Lord's command, and afterwards he was eating with Jesus at the table. There was no "doing" on Lazarus' part. Through loving and serving the Lord the two sisters did everything that was necessary for Lazarus to bear the testimony of resurrection. This shows that the foundation of the Lord's work is with the sisters. As an example, it was a sister, M.E. Barber, who helped Brother Nee the most. Her raising up of Brother Nee became the foundation for the Lord's recovery in this age. The Lord may have said, "There are so many brothers running around, doing this and that. Let me just use one sister to raise up My servant." In the same way, it was a sister who got Brother Lee saved. The Lord may have said, "There are so many men out there preaching and evangelizing. Let me just use one sister to get my servant saved." The principle we see here is that the sisters provide the foundation for a healthy, prevailing testimony. Sisters, all you need to do is just simply love the Lord with a pure heart and serve the Lord with diligence. If you learn these two things, then the church will be uplifted and will have the testimony of resurrection.
The Crucial Role of the Sisters as Seen in the New Testament
The Lord's work is intimately related to the sisters. We can see from the New Testament that whenever the Lord desired to meet a certain need according to His purpose, the role of the sisters was crucial. Many times in the New Testament the sisters' function was essential to bring in a blessing or meet a particular need. We see this firstly in the Gospels. During the Lord's earthly ministry it was the sisters who cared for His financial need, along with that of His disciples (Luke 8:3; Mark 15:41). Then when Mary poured out her alabaster flask of ointment on the Lord, He said, "Wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done shall also be told as a memorial of her" (Matt. 26:13). The Lord did not say such a thing about any brother, but He said that whenever the gospel was preached, this sister would be remembered.
Then at the time of His crucifixion it was the sisters who stood with Him the most firmly in His suffering. Among the brothers, including His own disciples, only John was there at the cross. But the sisters were there standing by Him (John 19:25). And after His resurrection, the Lord first appeared to a sister, Mary the Magdalene (John 20:14-17). He did not firstly appear to any brothers, but instead to a sister who loved Him. Where were the brothers? On one hand the brothers did so much. They heard all the words from the Lord's mouth, they saw Him transfigured, and they were sent out by Him. But at the end of the four Gospels, where were they? Yet the sisters were there. Those who satisfied Jesus, those who comforted Jesus, those who met His financial need, those who stood with Him at the cross and saw Him immediately after His resurrection, they were all sisters. These examples show us how crucial the sisters were to the Lord when He was on the earth.
The crucial role of the sisters in the Lord's work continued after the Lord resurrected and ascended. For example, there were many sisters who were praying with the disciples immediately after the Lord's ascension (Acts 1:14). This prayer eventually brought in the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). As another example, later in the book of Acts, King Herod had Peter put into prison. When Peter was released from the prison by an angel, "he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, who was surnamed Mark, where there was a considerable number assembled together and praying" (Acts 12:12). Peter did not go to the home of a brother, but to the home of a sister where the church was praying for him (Acts 12:5). Then in the book of Romans, Paul greeted the sister Prisca (Priscilla) and her husband Aquila, naming her first (Rom. 16:3). Paul's greeting to the saints was a spiritual one. He greeted Priscilla before Aquila because he knew that a spiritual burden was being generated by this sister. Because of her loving and serving the Lord, Priscilla caused her husband's serving to become effective. From these examples in the New Testament we can see that the sisters were intimately involved with the Lord's work.
Sisters, if you see how essential you are to the Lord and His work, you will worship the Lord that He made you a sister in the church life. Do not look down at yourselves. Don't just think, "Who am I? I'm just a sister who must submit to my husband." Yes, you do need to submit to your husband, just as your husband needs to submit himself to the Lord. But this should not be your focus. Your focus should be on loving the Lord and serving Him. The normal and healthy function of the sisters is crucial to God's purpose. Just as it was in the New Testament, your role is essential to the Lord's work.
A Sister's Unhealthiness Can Hinder the Lord's Work: The Negative Example of Miriam
We have seen positive examples in the Bible of the sisters' functioning, but there is also a negative side. Sisters can become the source of problems. The clearest example is that of Miriam, Moses' sister. Miriam was someone who was greatly used by the Lord. When Moses was sent down the river by his mother to protect his life, Miriam followed at a distance on the river bank. When Moses was found by Pharaoh's daughter, Miriam made sure that their mother became his nurse (Exo. 2:1-9). Then later, after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, she took the lead among all of the women to praise the Lord with tambourines and dance (Exo. 15:20-21). She was a very good sister who was much used by the Lord. However, she became a great problem to the Lord and to His people. She took the lead to rebel against Moses after he married a Cushite woman. Aaron also rebelled, but it is implied that she took the lead because she is named first. The two of them asked, "Has Jehovah indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not also spoken through us?" (Num. 12:1-3). Her rebellion caused her to become leprous, as white as snow (v. 10). Not only that, but she caused the whole move of the Lord's people to stop for seven days, until she was purified (v. 15).
By this one example, we should realize that the sisters have the ability to greatly hinder the Lord's work and to stop the progress of the church. When a sister is not going on with the Lord and becomes unhealthy, she may easily influence her family and the saints around her in a negative way. From our experience we have learned that when a few brothers are unhealthy, the church can usually still go on. But when just a few sisters are unhealthy, the church will often have to wait for them to recover. The unhealthiness of the sisters can hinder the progress of the church more than the unhealthiness of the brothers. Brothers can cause a lot of problems, but they do not usually stop the church from going on. But when there are several sisters in the church who are unhealthy, there may be no way for the church to go on until they are healthy again. If there are just a few sisters in the church who are exercising in an unhealthy way, then it is almost impossible to have a prevailing church life.
Further Examples of Sisters Becoming the Source of Problems
There are several more examples in the Bible of women who became the source of major problems to God's people. It was Eve, the first woman, who brought all of mankind into trouble. "And Adam was not deceived; but the woman, having been quite deceived, has fallen into transgression" (1 Tim. 2:14). Eve brought the whole human race into its fallen condition. Then after Eve, there was Sarah. Sarah suggested to Abraham that he should have a child by her maidservant, Hagar. Abraham listened to Sarah, went in unto Hagar, and Hagar conceived (Gen. 16:1-4). Hagar brought forth a son, Ishmael (v. 15), and the descendants of Ishmael have been a frustration to Israel ever since. Where did sin come from? From Eve's being deceived. Where did Ishmael come from? From Sarah's suggestion. These two mistakes, from Eve and from Sarah, are not small mistakes. The whole human race has been affected by them. Eve's mistake caused all of the inward problems, because through her transgression sin entered into mankind. Sarah's mistake caused the greatest outward problem to God's people. Even today, the situation between the Jews and the Arabs in the Middle East continues to be the most serious political problem in the world.
Another example of a sister who caused problems was Rebekah, the wife of Isaac. Rebekah spoiled her favorite son Jacob due to her lack of spiritual understanding. Even though she knew God's selection and purpose concerning her children, she did so many improper things for Jacob to receive Isaac's blessing (Gen. 27:5-29). She deceived her own husband and maneuvered her whole household. Rebekah truly loved Jacob, and Jacob also loved his mother. But eventually because of her maneuvering Jacob was forced to leave his home (Gen. 27:42 - 28:5). Jacob never saw Rebekah again, because she died before he came back from his uncle. This is one of the saddest stories in the Bible.
This principle is also true in the New Testament. According to Acts, the first problem in the church life was caused by the sisters. This was when the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because "their widows were being overlooked in the daily dispensing" (Acts 6:1). This complaining distracted the apostles from their prayer and labor, thus hindering the church. Later in the New Testament, in the book of Philippians, we see that two sisters were the source of another problem. The whole book of Philippians is very joyful. It is possibly the most joyful and encouraging book in the entire Bible, until you come to the problem in chapter four. What was the problem? Two sisters, Euodias and Syntyche, could not be one (Phil. 4:2). They were co-workers with Paul, they were mature and effective, yet they were not able to get along with one another. This caused Paul to have a deep concern for the whole situation.
The Sisters are the Decisive Factor in the Church Life
After seeing all of these negative examples, sisters, you should not be discouraged. Remember, who was it who took care of the Lord's need when He was on the earth? It was the sisters. Who did Jesus say would be remembered whenever the gospel was preached? A sister. Who stood with Jesus at His crucifixion? The sisters. Who did He first appear to in resurrection? A sister. Whose house did Peter go to after he was released from prison? A sister's. The sisters are crucial to the Lord's work. It is largely because of the sisters that the Lord's need can be met and the church can be blessed.
At the crucial times in the church life many positive things have been produced by the function of the sisters. Because of the sisters, the Lord can raise something up. On the other hand, once the Lord raises something up, who can cause the most damage and frustration? Again, it is the sisters. When the sisters are healthy, something prevailing can be produced. Then once something prevailing is produced, it is often the sisters that become a frustration. Furthermore, once the Lord's work is frustrated and hindered, it is the sisters who can cause it to become prevailing again. This shows that the sisters are the decisive factor in the church life. They can bring the church into life, and they can bring the church into death. They can cause the church to go on, and they can cause the church to come to a standstill. From all of the previous examples in the Bible we can see the crucial role and decisive nature of the sisters' function.
Sisters, you are the decisive factor in determining the condition of the church life. This means that you have to respect yourselves. Often sisters have no respect to themselves. They feel that being a sister is so unfortunate, and they would rather be brothers. Sisters, do not look down on yourselves. You are too crucial to the church life. Whether or not the Lord can have His way with us, and whether or not the church can have the testimony of resurrection, all depends on you. You may think that if the brothers cannot give good messages, or cannot take the lead well, that is when the church cannot go on. But inwardly speaking, in a hidden way, the church life will be more affected if the sisters are not healthy. The function of the sisters is crucial to the church. When the sisters are healthy, the church life will be prevailing. The church life depends upon the sisters' functioning, which is their pure love for the Lord and their diligent serving life. When the function of the sisters is so healthy, then the church life will be prevailing and the Lord will be able to carry out His desire among us.
Resisting Today's Trend and Being Burdened for the Church
There is a trend on the earth today for both the husband and the wife in a family to work. This is not necessarily wrong. Due to the higher standard of living, women often need to work. There may be a specific need for the wife to support the family along with her husband. However, we should still be careful of this trend. A sister should never try to find fulfillment by seeking a career in the world because she thinks that she does not have any useful function in the church life. If too many sisters work, especially in the way of seeking worldly riches or position, then the church life will be nearly finished. Sisters, your function in the church life is too crucial. If too many sisters are occupied with a job during the day, then the church will suffer and become frustrated. There will not be a sufficient foundation or life supply for the church to have the testimony of resurrection. Again, it is not wrong for the sisters to work, especially if there is a financial need. But we should also not agree with the trend of the world, because this trend can greatly damage the church life. Sisters, if there is no particular need, try not to go to work. Rather, be burdened for the church. Be burdened to love the Lord and to serve Him with simplicity in the church life. If there are many sisters that are like this, then the church will become prevailing.
We must remember that the sisters are the decisive factor in the church life. When the function of the sisters is healthy, then the church life will be healthy. In a certain sense, the sisters are more important than the brothers, because when the sisters love the Lord, the brothers will also love the Lord. When the sisters are so positive, then the brothers will be positive. When the sisters' function is healthy, then the brothers will bear the testimony of resurrection. This is also true in the family life. When a wife is loving and serving the Lord, then it is easy for her husband to bear a prevailing testimony. So it is good for the sisters to pray, "Lord, thank You for making me a sister. Thank You that I am so crucial to You in the church life. Because of my healthy function, the church can be rich and prevailing. Lord, I just want to love You and to serve You in the church life!"