This excerpt is taken from Word-Filled Women’s Ministry: Loving and Serving the Church (Crossway and TGC), edited by Gloria Furman and Kathleen Nielson, which officially releases today. Starting in September, TGC’s Women’s Initiatives will begin a blog series addressing your specific questions related to ministry among women through the local church. We have a team of women eager to respond to a select number of questions. Please send all questions on the subject of women’s ministry to our new coordinator for women’s initiatives, Mallie Taylor (mallie.taylor [@] thegospelcoalition.org).
Doesn’t it sometimes seem like we spend a lot of the days in our lives focused on some day in the future? When we were little, perhaps we counted down the days to our next birthday. When we were in school, we looked forward to that last day of school. Some have had a wedding date or a baby due date set out in the future, and we have counted down the days.
But I suppose there are also days set out before us that we dread—the day the divorce is final, the day scheduled for the operation, the day we have to say goodbye.
There is a day spoken of throughout Scripture—a day of divine intervention in human history called “the day of the Lord,” or sometimes simply “the day” or “that day.” It is described by the prophets as a day of dancing, enjoyment, gladness, satisfaction, reward, healing, cleansing, and belonging. It sounds like a day to long for. And it is. But this is not all the Bible tells us about that day.
It also tells us that the day of the Lord will be a day of humiliation, destruction, retribution, distress, anguish, and ruin. When we read these descriptions, it doesn’t exactly seem like a day to gladly anticipate but, rather, a day to dread.
So which is it? Will the day of the Lord—the day that Christ returns—be a day of mourning or a day of joy? Will it be a day of destruction or a day of restoration? Will it be a day of incredible loss or a day of indescribable gain?
The reality is that it will be both. For those who have feared the Lord by believing his gospel and are joined to Christ by faith, the day when he will intervene in human history, it is worth waking up every day wondering if this will be the day. But for those who have rejected God’s offer of mercy and ignored God’s gracious invitation into the safety of his fold, it is a day worth waking up every morning thinking about with a sense of sickening fear.
Ministry for That Day
It is because this day is surely coming that ministry among women today really matters. In fact, ministry among women will matter forever because women are facing forever.
Perhaps we lose sight of that at times. It is easy for ministry among women to be mostly about the here and now—the realities that we can see with our eyes, the things we see as our most significant needs and challenges. We can tend to come to the Bible and take women to the Bible seeking to discover the answers to what we see as our most urgent questions but often looking primarily for comfort in temporal troubles. We can spend so much time focused on coping strategies and improvement plans for this life that we simply squeeze out both hopeful and sober consideration of the life to come—the forever that will begin on that day the Bible points us toward again and again—the day that will mark the beginning of forever joy and rest in the presence of God or forever misery away from his presence.
Clearly the ultimate goal of God’s work in the world, the ultimate end of the history of God’s redemptive purposes in the world, is what will have only begun on the day we read about as the culmination of human history—the day of the Lord—that day when finally the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14). The greatest tragedy of life would be to face that day unprepared.
Perhaps this sets before us the highest aim of ministry among women: to prepare women for that great and terrible day. Surely if we prepare women to do good work in the world and to have good relationships and to be good wives and moms but don’t prepare them for that day, then we have ultimately failed. Will not all of our sound theology and creative communications and interesting events and well-attended gatherings be in vain if our ministry among women does not result in being surrounded by the women God has placed in our lives now, when we stand before him on that day?
Readiness for That Day
Sadly, many ministries that spend any time teaching about the day of the Lord tend to spend most of that time focused on trying to connect biblical prophecies to modern-day events and nations and people, as if what is most important about that day is knowing whether it will come about in our lifetime. Evidently this focus is nothing new. In Matthew 24 we read that in the week before Jesus was crucified, the disciples came to him privately, asking, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt. 24:3).
Jesus’s primary response was that no one except his Father knows when this day will be. Rather than focus on the timing of that day, Jesus seemed much more interested in the disciples’ readiness for it. Through several illustrations and parables, Jesus helped his disciples understand what readiness for that day looks like and the end result of that readiness, as well as what is ahead for those who live as if that day is not coming and instead live only for today.
I imagine that if a group of women from our time gathered around Jesus and asked him when he is going to return, he would say the same thing to them that he said to his disciples.
That Day Is Drawing Near
My friends, the day is drawing near. That’s why ministry among women today will matter forever, because women are facing forever. Each one of us will be
- forever swept away or forever secure in his presence;
- forever consigned to untold agony or forever blessed with fruitful work;
- forever shut out from the Bridegroom’s presence or forever shar ing his feast;
- forever cast into the outer darkness or forever enveloped in the Master’s joy;
- forever cursed in eternal fire or forever blessed with eternal life.
The work of ministry among women will matter forever because “in the Lord [our] labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). Paul’s prayer for the Philippians connects our labors of this day to the certain hope of the day of Christ’s coming:
It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9–11)