On May 14th, 2023 (Mother's Day), the women of Forward City Church gathered for an exclusive time of encouragement together. These are notes from the message that was shared.
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. — Ephesians 4:11-14 (NLT)
Lies creeping in
We live in a uniquely fantastic time for women. In some ways, women have never been treated better. They were certainly not treated better in ancient times when the Bible was written, and even within some church circles, overdue changes are just now being made to protect women from being treated poorly. This is also a dark and dangerous time for women.
We know from scripture and history that satan tries to twist all good graces from God for his own destructive intentions. As injustice against women draws greater attention, truly good intentions are being perverted into pits for God’s children too fall into. I believe this is why Paul was clear on the importance of pursuing faith beyond initial belief, but to maturity — "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves" (Ephesians 4:14).
Here are two examples of lies creeping in, specifically targeted at women:
Lie #1: Women have more authority than God
One of the most blatant but crafty perversions unhinging Christians from the kindness of God’s design is this — that women have more authority than God.
God wants us to stand in the gap for the marginalized, and stand up for women to be treated with dignity, and treated with equal worth to men. Those are freedom-fights He commands us into, but this does not mean women should always be granted the freedom to do what they believe or feel is right. That’s not true of anyone, and as believers and sisters in Christ, we must encourage one another to remember that we are frankly too sinful and human to be the authority on wrong and right.
THIS IS EXACTLY THE STORY OF SIN IN THE GARDEN (Genesis 3) — Even when things were already perfect, the serpent tricks Eve into believing that God is a liar. He tells her the tree isn’t bad news like God said, and Eve decides that she can be the authority on what is going to bless or harm her. She rebells against God and destroys the perfect peacefulness of the garden of Eden.
God cares for each of us immensely, and because of that, He reminds us through His word that our thoughts and feelings (though real and significant) are not always true. God invites us to speak “our truth” to Him, and to one another, but urges us to have the wisdom and humility to understand that our feelings and thoughts can be deceptive, and far from His perfect truth. We must remember that His perfect truth (not ours) gives us peace that trumps our circumstances.
Even if we wouldn't say "women have more authority than God", that is exactly what we say with our actions when we compromise what God says is right and good for His creation to satisfy what women (or men) feel is good and right for them.
Note the Freedom of God's authority: We live in a world where we can read a newspaper, and come away with a heavy burden of things we should do. We should exercise more, spend more time with our families, eat less processed food, read our Bibles more, grow our own produce, etc. None of these are bad things, but we have limits. When we acknowledge that God alone knows best, we get to ask God "what would You have me do today?", rather than yield to the pressures we put on ourselves. The "shoulds" we put on ourselves will always leave us feeling inadequate. In God we don't necessarily find ease, but we find grace and compassion, and calls to obedience that are kind to our souls.
Lie #2: We must become our "best selves"
This again is a perversion of something beautiful. The Bible describes what some people call “edification”, which is just a fancy word for what our church calls “moving forward in Christ” or “conforming to Christ’s likeness”. God is 100% about us becoming the best versions of ourselves. That’s why He continually promises a very real time (soon and very soon) where we will be perfect in Heaven. He knows our longings. However, here on earth, edification often looks like us being in circumstances where we will not naturally be the best versions of ourselves.
you’re a mom, and you have one kid who is pushing everyone’s buttons
your relationship with your extended family is strained because everyone has different opinions on public health measures
you’re married, and your spouse and you are not seeing eye to eye
your friends are making really unwise and unfair choices
Life is full of moments where we will not be "the best version of ourselves". When we talk about this being a dark and dangerous time for women, think of this — it is more of a modern phenomenon for so many people to leave, cancel or quit things because “they’re not their best selves”. And while God doesn’t forbid us to make changes that may help our wounds heal faster or make obedience easier, sometimes He absolutely calls His kids to stay in truly difficult situations, so He can flex His might and grow our character.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. — James 1:2-4
Note the Freedom of God's Grace: When we suffer the consequences of our weaknesses (like saying unkind things, being grumpy, binge watching Netflix, or indulging in things we shouldn't) God promises that His grace is sufficient for our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). We acknowledge our mistakes, but even more, we acknowledge that God is making a way to redeem them. Trusting God's kindness towards us when we do wrong allows us to leave our guilt and fear behind, and move forward.
To be clear, if you have experienced a traumatic break in some relationship, or if you are struggling with an addiction of any sort, and there are people in your life who influence you negatively, God might be calling you to cut certain ties. It may be wise to stay away from specific people or situations that trigger pain. However, these kinds of situations are for us to bring before the Lord.
If you are a wife, and your husband and you want different things, leaving will not make you your best self. You will have left one hardship behind, and there will be others. Cutting out a family member, having a surgery to make yourself look better, or having nicer things may make you feel happier, but that is not the same as being your best self or pursuing God’s will for your life. That needs to be our real concern and question — God, what would You have me do? More and more, Christians, and maybe even specifically women, are more preoccupied with doing what they think they need to do, than what God is calling them to. We can all fall into this trap.
Why is pursuing maturity significant?
As believers, it should not be a crazy thought that we totally give ourselves over to the idea that Christ is everything, and that our hearts should deeply desire Him. However, in a world where Amazon ships everything, and there’s a drug for every pain, and a restaurant for every craving, it is so easy to stop loving Jesus first and foremost.
Paul writes about some people formerly within the Church like this:
For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body… — Philippians 3:18-21
I think God had Paul write that last part about Heaven because He knows how badly we want the things that we want, and how much we want to be the best versions of ourselves. I also think Paul describes us as “awaiting Heaven” because we’re impatient for these things. Because of this, God reminds us all throughout scripture that His perfect kingdom is coming, and He urges us to remain faithful.
To end, please consider this familiar story. After Adam and Eve leave the Garden of Eden in disgrace, they have two sons named Cain and Abel. Cain doesn’t really care for God so much, and Abel does, so Cain’s sacrifices to God aren’t accepted, but Abels are.
The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.” Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground.” — Genesis 4:6-10
It’s easy to think we aren’t Cain, but this warning — sin is crouching at the door — is for us. Like Cain, when we reject God and let sin in, we are in prime form to kill, destroy, and ruin (maybe not killing a literal brother, but destroying covenants, relationships, legacies, etc.).
Isn’t it true that even when we don’t want to sin, we sometimes do? If we aren’t resolved to be faithful to God, we will be unfaithful, and it will cost us the benefits and blessings of maturity, which is what one major thing our gathering together as the Church is about.
We don't just want to be friends at the same local church. Our prayer is that we’d be sisters (and brothers) in Christ, faithful to maturing in Christ, and to one another’s maturity.