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By Joe Rigney — 1 year ago
When you think of examples of biblical courage, who comes to mind? Perhaps Abram leading his 318 fighting men into battle to rescue his nephew Lot? Or perhaps young David and his sling facing off against Goliath? Or perhaps Peter and the apostles standing before the Sanhedrin and boldly promising to obey God and not men?
All of these would be good answers. But here’s another, courtesy of the apostle Peter himself: Sarah, the wife of Abraham. In his letter to the churches in Asia, Peter commends Sarah as a model for her spiritual daughters who “do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6). Sarah is a prime example of biblical courage and fearlessness, and exploring the expression and source of her courage can strengthen women of God today.
Her Well-Ordered Soul
What form did Sarah’s courage take? It began in what Peter calls “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4). This is not a personality trait (as though God prefers introverts to extroverts). There’s nothing inherently virtuous in being a shy wallflower. Instead, “a gentle and quiet spirit” refers to mental fortitude, emotional strength, and spiritual composure. This sort of woman has a well-ordered soul, one that is composed and content in her calling and station.
“‘A gentle and quiet spirit’ refers to mental fortitude, emotional strength, and spiritual composure.”
A quiet spirit is the opposite of a loud one. Consider Solomon’s warnings about the forbidden woman, the adulteress: “She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home” (Proverbs 7:11). The apostle Paul issues a similar warning about women who are “idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not” (1 Timothy 5:13). The opposite of such loud, discontented, wayward women is those who “marry, bear children, manage their households, and give the adversary no occasion for slander” (1 Timothy 5:14).
In sum, Sarah-like courage begins with a composed soul, with firmness and emotional fortitude to be self-controlled — not brash, harsh, loud, or meddling, but sober-minded and strong in the face of dangers and potential fears. We might consider Peter’s commendation in light of an earlier exhortation, where he urges all of his readers to roll up the sleeves of their minds, be sober-minded, and set their hope fully on the coming grace of Christ (1 Peter 1:13). Such is the posture of Sarah’s spiritual daughters.
Feminine Courage in Action
Though such courage starts with the hidden person of the heart, Peter is clear that it becomes visible and manifest. He says that the well-ordered soul is a beautiful adornment for a wife — a beauty that is expressed not in the ostentatious and decadent way of the world, but in Sarah-like submission to her husband.
This is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. (1 Peter 3:5–6)
Notice that submission involves both actions and words. Sarah obeyed Abraham, and she called him lord.
Modern people may chafe under such exhortations or roll their eyes. Our egalitarian culture has conditioned many to bristle at any talk of obedience (at least outside of very small children). The words submit and obey now carry infantilizing or patronizing connotations. For a wife — a grown woman — to obey her husband is to debase herself. For him to desire and expect such submission is boorishly arrogant and presumptuous. What a different world the Bible is.
When Equality Goes Awry
C.S. Lewis would undoubtedly say that our imaginations have been baptized by the democratic and egalitarian sentiments of our age, and this to our own harm. While recognizing the need for some measures of political equality, Lewis lamented and warned of the danger of an undue elevation of equality.
The man [or woman] who cannot conceive of a joyful and loyal obedience on the one hand, nor an unembarrassed and noble acceptance of that obedience on the other, the man who has never even wanted to kneel or bow, is a prosaic barbarian. (“Equality,” 9)
The submission of Sarah does not diminish her in the slightest. She obeys Father Abraham, the great patriarch, because she is Mother Sarah, the great matriarch. She calls him lord because she is his lady, his wife, his glory.
We ought to recognize the significance that Peter references Genesis 18:12: “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” What’s remarkable about Peter’s citation is how unremarkable the term is in the passage. The use of the honorific term lord is, in context, rather mundane. This is simply the way Sarah talks about her husband.
Two Questions for Christian Wives
In commending Sarah at this point, it’s not necessary that we bring back the use of the specific term lord. The particular term is a matter of custom and convention, differing across time and space. The more pressing issue is the heart, the orientation, the spirit from which the words come. And so, Christian wives would do well to ask themselves a couple of pointed questions.
How do you speak about your husband? Do you speak well of him to others? If someone’s perspective on your husband were based solely on your words, what impression would they have of him? In other words, is your speech marked by respect and admiration for him, or contempt and dishonor? What sort of heart does it reveal — a loud and discontented one, or a gentle and quiet one?
What’s more, how do you speak to your husband? Are his initiatives met with scoffing and scorn, or with eagerness and support? Do you take his words, efforts, and labors (even the weak ones) and seek to make them more fruitful, more abundant, more glorious? To use other language from Peter, is your conduct toward your husband respectful and pure (1 Peter 3:2)? Does it show proper holiness, regard, and esteem?
Bravery Before Warriors
Looking to Sarah as a model of submission, obedience, and respectful conduct and speech doesn’t entail that a wife join her husband in disobedience, or passively accept his negligence and folly.
“This sort of woman has a well-ordered soul, one that is composed and content in her calling and station.”
Just consider Abigail, a true daughter of Sarah if ever there were one. She recognized the ingratitude and idiocy of her foolish husband Nabal and immediately took action to save her household (1 Samuel 25:14–35). But she did so like Sarah, not like Abraham. Abraham showed courage by assembling 318 fighting men and leading them into battle. Abigail showed courage by assembling gifts and food and offering them to David with respect, honor, and gratitude while appealing to God.
In other words, Abigail, in seeking to rectify her husband’s sinful error and folly, showed the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. Her soul was in submission to God, content in his kindness, and ready to speak and act with appropriate submission and obedience. And God blessed her.
Deepest Source of Courage
Sarah-like courage begins with a well-composed soul, the hidden person of the heart, and then expresses itself in respectful words and obedient conduct. But underneath the hidden person of the heart is something even more fundamental, which we dare not miss. The fundamental marks of women like Sarah are holiness and hope. “This is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves.” Sarah hoped in God. He was her refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. He upheld and strengthened her in the face of dangers, and this holy hope composed her soul and quieted her heart.
Submission, obedience, and respectful speech adorned this hope. Maintaining this hope was undoubtedly difficult. It’s frightening to follow a fallible man, especially when God calls him to leave country and kindred and journey to a far country. Maintaining such hope requires real mental and emotional effort. But God was gracious, and Sarah hoped in God and did not fear anything that was frightening.
May her daughters today do so as well.
By John Piper — 2 years ago
John Piper is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Providence.
By T. Kim — 2 years ago
After I had my first child, and all the more after I had my second, I wondered if I would be done with ministry until my kids grew up. I wondered how I could possibly fit another task on my to-do list when I could not even find the time to eat properly unless my husband was home.
Then I read about Ann Judson, who gave her life in the early 1800s to reach the people of Burma. Over the course of three pregnancies, often with a baby strapped to her back, she engaged in gospel ministry, translation work, and the discipling of new believers. Even as a young mother, ministry was nonnegotiable, because her Savior gave her a charge to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
She was no superwoman; she was a jar of clay like the rest of us. But because she loved Christ, his commands were not burdensome, and everything in her life kneeled to his priorities. Disciple-making may have looked different in her different seasons of motherhood, but the demands of motherhood could not hinder her from obeying Christ.
Rather than limiting disciple-making to specific times or spaces, we might find freedom, especially as mothers, to view disciple-making as intentional, Bible-saturated relationships with the people right in front of us, wherever we are. Disciple-making is not bound to any particular place or program; it is bound to relationship. It is “the covenant lifestyle of redeemed women” (Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, 128) as they teach and model life in Christ (Titus 2:3–5).
Make Disciples of Family
In obedience to Christ’s Great Commission, we can begin by seeking to make disciples of those closest to us: our families. We may have unbelieving parents or siblings, or perhaps an unbelieving husband — or they may be believing, but we can continue to love and encourage them to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. Even if everyone else in the family confesses faith in Christ, however, our children are not born believing, and left to themselves, they do not seek God (Romans 3:10–11).
“Our children will be discipled by us, either in the Lord or according to our choice idols.”
Since we wield significant influence as mothers, our children will be discipled by us, either in Christ or according to our choice idols. We will disciple them toward Jesus, “the fountain of living waters,” or toward false gods, “broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). God has entrusted us with each of our children, whether biological or foster or adopted, whether one or many, that we might make disciples, bringing them up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). We teach them diligently in the normal, even mundane, rhythms of life (Deuteronomy 6:7), and we also show them what it looks like to follow Jesus in all of life, including our repentance.
Disciple-making does not end when our children or families believe in Jesus. As long as we both live, or until Jesus returns, we pray and labor for their growth and perseverance to the end.
Make Disciples of Church Family
Every believing mother is part of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). Motherhood does not amputate us from his body, only to be reattached after the children are no longer taking naps or have graduated into adulthood. As mothers, we are still part of the body and contribute to its growth and health as we do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11–16).
Discipling one another toward Christlikeness happens not only when the church gathers. We teach one another to observe all that Christ commanded (Matthew 28:20) even when the church scatters, in our eating or drinking or whatever we are doing (1 Corinthians 10:31). For some of us, inviting others into our everyday lives may be one of the hardest challenges of disciple-making. Making disciples on Saturday morning from eight to ten at the local cafe is pretty safe territory; inviting others into the unstructured parts of our lives, especially in our homes, can feel intimidating. But God is able to open our hearts in vulnerability and availability.
For mothers with younger or special-needs children, the thought of another relationship to juggle might feel overwhelming, but you can start really small. Invite another woman over regularly to spend time with you and your children. Let Scripture applied to daily life be your “curriculum.” Talk together as you fold the laundry. Pray together and fellowship over meals, even if your kids are smearing food into their hair. Share life so deeply that you can say, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things” (Philippians 4:9).
When my first two children were both under three years old, I benefited from the regular company of a younger church sister. She helped me laugh at the fact that it was more surprising when our home was picked up and clean than when “kid stuff” carpeted the floor. She blessed my boys with her fresh energy and Lego engineering skills. And when the kids went down for the night, we studied the book of Hebrews and prayed together. She came to be discipled and counseled, but I walked away discipled and counseled too. Her friendship was a lifeline in that season of motherhood, and God used our relationship to make disciples of us both.
Make Disciples of Neighbors
Where mothers are prone to seek only “their own interests,” or the interests of their own homes and families, Christ gives us a better alternative: to seek the interests of him (Philippians 2:21) and others (Philippians 2:4), including others outside the home. Put another way, he calls us to love God and neighbor (Luke 10:27).
“And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus does not answer with a zip code or the names of people we would naturally like to keep close. Instead, he answers with a parable of a man who “fell among robbers” (Luke 10:30). This man shared the road with a priest and a Levite who both saw his half-dead form, but they valued their own interests over his life (Luke 10:31–32). Were it not for the mercy of a passing Samaritan, he could have died (Luke 10:33–37).
As mothers, we share the road, so to speak, with many different people in our community. We might see a neighbor while we run out to grab the mail, a store cashier might start a conversation with us, electricians or plumbers might pass through our homes, we might meet other caretakers at the park, or we might share a cubicle with a coworker. We can deliberately weave neighbor relationships into everyday life, or like the Samaritan, we can hit pause to show Christlike mercy. If we have young children, we can invite others to walk with us, run errands with us, or accompany us wherever we are going. Whether we have one minute to give or twenty, we can welcome our neighbor’s presence not as an interruption but as an opportunity.
Disciple-making happens at the intersection of love for God and neighbor. Mothers, our neighbors’ proximity to us is no mistake, as God is the one who has determined “allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him” (Acts 17:26–27). How do we know that the neighbor in our path has not been placed there to find God through us?
Make Disciples of Strangers
We are not limited to the relationships right in front of us; we can look to make disciples beyond our natural realm too, among people who are currently strangers to us. Some mothers might begin looking beyond even while the children are young. God might call some of us to foster and adopt. He might call some of us to go beyond the natural bounds of culture and language to an unreached people. He might call some of us to enter into the world of the prisoner, the refugee, or the recovering addict, that we might make disciples of them as well.
Some of us might seek out the elderly in our community to come alongside one or a few in friendship. Some of us might open our homes to international students. Even mothers with young children can break routine and transplant dinner to someone else’s table or nap their young children in someone else’s home as they read Scripture together. We can pray by name for those being reached and discipled by others, and our husbands and church families can also help us carve out focused time for ministry outside our normal routines. Every mother is different, so we cannot compare schedules, capacities, or individual callings, but all of us can ask God where else we might pursue relationships with gospel intentionality.
“Mothers, we have but a vapor of a life. The trials of motherhood are fleeting, but the souls around us are eternal.”
If self-love rules us, then disciple-making will find no room in our priorities, no matter how many ideas we are given. But if the love of Christ controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14), we will love even those toward whom we have no natural obligation or affinity, and we will make ourselves servants to all to win more to Christ (1 Corinthians 9:19). We will pray, “Lord Jesus, there is nothing I want more in my life than what you bled to obtain.”
Moms Who Make Disciples
Our children will grow up quickly, and eventually, the day-to-day demands of motherhood will ebb. But Christ’s charge to make disciples remains unchanged. Today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Today is the day to exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13).
Ann Judson poured out her life to make disciples because she was convinced that “this life is only temporary, a preparation for eternity” (My Heart in His Hands: Ann Judson of Burma, 203). Mothers, we have but a vapor of a life. The trials of motherhood are fleeting, but the souls around us are eternal.