Luke 10: 38-42
John 20: 1, 11-12, 17-18
Acts 16: 13-15
Romans 16: 1-2
Just a simple word, dear brethren, as to the sisterhood. I was impressed on Saturday at the address relating to Martha, and I thought about the great value of the sisterhood. At one time amongst brethren sisters did not come to all the meetings. There were certain meetings at which only brothers were present, but through God’s ordering and teaching of the saints, we now have sisters present at all occasions. How valuable that is. I just thought I would cite these four, two Marys, Lydia and Phoebe. There are many that we could speak of, but I was just thinking what a fine locality it would be to have the two Marys and Lydia and Phoebe in your gathering. The Mary of Luke 10 represents a spiritual person. In John 11 she was a woman of influence. It is a great benefit to have spiritual sisters amongst us, as well as spiritual brothers - that is divine order, God, Christ, man, woman - but then in the sisterhood, having sisters who are committed, there is something very precious. One of the things that is said in the passage about Lydia was that there was a "custom for prayer to be". Now, dear brethren, there was a custom when I was brought up and that was to be at the meetings. Very simply in our family, my father encouraged us to be at the meetings with the brethren. I know it is not always easy now in the times that we are living in. In past days sometimes persons were on shifts, but they made a point of being present with the brethren. I think there is something special about being together; some of us are retired and have no excuses for not being at the meeting. But, what is first in my life?
I am thinking about these sisters and the lovely features that marked them. What a lovely person Mary was. She “was listening to his word”. I thought about that. She was a listener. Mary in John 20 was a lover, and the woman Lydia, “whose heart the Lord opened to attend to the things spoken by Paul”, she was one who attended to things, and things can slip if they are not attended to. I know that in my own life. I have let things lapse, and I suppose we have all known that. In chapter 16 of Romans, Phoebe was a helper. You say, ’That is not a very exalted service’, but I think in her case it was. I think she helped the brethren, and that is something we can all do. I remember our brother Archie Thompson saying that, even about opening a meeting. He said, ’You do not need gift to open a meeting. It is a simple matter to stand up and ask the Lord to bring in help’. But anyhow, in thinking of these sisters, I would trust that we learn to value the sisterhood amongst us.
So the first one I have read about is Mary. It says about Martha that she had a sister called Mary, “who also, having sat down at the feet of Jesus was listening to his word”. That is the same Mary who brought the pound of pure nard in John 12. She had acquired substance. Do you know what affects atmosphere amongst us, dear brethren? It is not being terribly intelligent and intellectual in the meetings, and quoting reams of scriptures; it is what you bring in yourself that affects the atmosphere. I say that because sometimes we quote ever so many scriptures even in our prayers, and it just confuses persons. It is wise to be simple and it is wise to be brief, and Mary chose this part to sit at the Lord’s feet and listen to His word. I think persons who listen to the word are persons who acquire substance. I know that involves experience. But she listened to His word – it is not just hearing it: listening means that there is something within me that is attuned to what the Lord is saying. Martha had a whole series of distractions. I have always found that if you are in a company where there are many sisters, there is often a lot of talking. Have you noticed that? I find you just have to listen because I cannot follow when there are several people talking over each other. I am speaking very simply here. It is wise to be like Mary, and sit at His feet and listen to His word. Even when you are reading, you need quietness just to sit down, and maybe read over a hymn, and know and prove what the Lord’s presence is,
Yet sure, if in Thy presence
My soul still constant were,
Mine eye would, more familiar,
Its brighter glories bear.
As sitting at the feet of Jesus there is much to be learned, and much to be experienced. And so I thought if we just saw that in Mary, sitting and listening to His word.
Then you come to Mary of Magdala. What a history that woman had! We have been reading about Rahab, the kind of woman she was, and here was this Mary of Magdala out of whom had been cast seven demons but she was a lover of the Lord Jesus and when the test came she was there in early morn at the tomb. It was still dark. You say, ’Oh, there is too much against me and hindering me; there are all sorts of things’, but she was a lover, and I think you can overcome any difficulty if you love the Lord Jesus Christ, and she did. At early morn while it was still dark, she came to the tomb, and then it says where we read, "Having said these things she turned backward and beholds Jesus standing there". The Lord takes note of those who love Him. Maybe the brethren do not see it, but the Lord knows if even in the depths of your being you love Him, and what you do is for Him, and she was here because she wanted to be in the last place where the Lord’s body had been. I know we may suggest that she was not too intelligent, but her affection led her to where the Lord had been laid in the tomb, and here He is, He reveals Himself to her and speaks to her, “Woman, why dost thou weep?” He takes account of tears. The brethren perhaps are passing through remarkable times of suffering. It pays to sit down sometimes and think about what some of the beloved brethren are passing through. It is quite a thing in your body if you are told you have cancer or some incurable illness so that you might not have long to live; it makes you think differently. When you are in the bloom of life you want to enjoy everything, have good holidays, and enjoy life to the full. While I am not saying there is anything exactly wrong with that, it is the natural desire of the human heart, but then when we are drawn up with the realities of the brevity of human life we begin to change the way we think. So this woman wanted to be near the Lord and she gets a wonderful message to convey to the beloved brethren, to these disciples. I think that was because she was a lover.
Now, I want to speak simply of Lydia, a seller of purple. I suppose she must have been a business woman in the city, but she worshipped God and she heard: “whose heart the Lord opened”. She had to do with the Lord, like Mary, and she must have been before the Lord, and He had opened her heart “to attend to the things spoken by Paul”. How much there is in the ministry. I am ashamed to say that there is much ministry I have not read that would affect my life, and arouse me as to matters I need to attend to. There is so much teaching available. It says of this woman that she attended to the things. I think that is important, dear brethren. I take that word to my own heart, the need sometimes to attend to things. I speak simply. I would like to leave that point though; “where it was the custom for prayer to be, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had assembled”. It is a good thing to have customs. You always get up in the morning, you always have your breakfast and all the things you do during the day, but this is a finer thing. It was “the custom for prayer to be”. What a valuable meeting the prayer meeting is, as we have constantly been reminded; I am not saying new things in drawing attention to the value of the prayer meeting, the power meeting. If there are matters burdening us or are difficult, or there is sickness or illness, or help needed, the prayer meeting provides the greatest opportunity and resource to secure divine help. The best thing to do is speak to God about matters and bring them before Him. He has the power to meet our needs according to His will; so it was “the custom for prayer to be”.
I just speak of Phoebe, “Phoebe, our sister, who is minister of the assembly which is in Cenchrea”; then he goes on, “that ye may receive her in the Lord worthily of saints, and that ye may assist her in whatever matter she has need of you; for she”, emphatic, “also has been a helper of many, and of myself”. Think of the beloved apostle saying that. I do not know what she had done for him; maybe there is a record somewhere of what she did for him, but he learned to appreciate what this sister did for him. Maybe we should value the sisters more. Maybe they do more for us then we realise. We saw our aged local sister this afternoon and one of the things she does is she prays for all the brethren. How valuable that is, dear sisters, the prayers of the saints. I know sometimes in the meeting you maybe wish you could speak, but women are silent in the assembly, but there is a certain help that they can bring in. As I said, like Mary they can affect atmosphere. I almost was going to read of Abigail, because one of the things it says of her was that she "was of good understanding", 1 Sam 25: 3. She had a judgement of a situation and she was able to speak to David and save him from doing something that might have caused a lot of harm. So the sisters are valuable.
That is all I seek to leave with us, dear brethren, how valuable the sisters are. May we be encouraged for His Name’s sake.
22nd June 2010