On Tuesday I had the opportunity to conclude a study of women in the Bible that the ladies of my church have been in this year. Below is an adaptation of my "talk":
Imagebearers. In Genesis 1:26-27 we read, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.' So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Think about it: As women we are created in the image of God.
When we think of imagebearers in the Scriptures, descriptions immediately come to mind. Eve: hopeful. Sarah: faithful. Ester: courageous. Mary: obedient. The Samaritan woman: transformed. When the Word says we "bear" the image of God, it means we carry or possess it, but bear also means "exhibit." If we bear the image of God, we exhibit or show this somehow. How? In our character.
Let's take a closer look at the women from the Bible that I mentioned to examine their character more fully. In Genesis, we first meet Woman - that is her name. Early in her story we see that she disobeys God and, as a result, hides in shame. But God doesn't leave her there. Woman is restored and given a new name - Eve: mother of all living. We see God's faithfulness in Eve's story and in redeeming her character.
Later in Genesis we find Sarah exercising great faith as she follows her husband, Abram, into a new land, and believes God's promise to them of a son. We also discover her humanity as she experiences fear and disbelief and takes matters into her own hands. The result brings her misery and jealousy, but once again, we see that God is faithful. He fulfills his promise to Sarah and gives her a son when she is 90 years old. In her waiting, Sarah is transformed into a woman of abundant faith.
When we study Ester, we see how a women's beauty goes far deeper than her appearance - to her heart. When she offers herself courageously, selflessly, and lovingly on behalf of others, she can change the world. Ester risks it all, and as a result saves her people. Her beauty of character comes from knowing that God is sufficient for her every need.
In the New Testament we meet a young, poor, unaccomplished, and unknown young woman named Mary. To God, none of that matters. He is looking for someone who loves him, and Mary is devout, obedient, and humble. In a life-changing moment, we see her put her faith in God and accept the unexpected. Scripture shows us that Mary responds - not with fear or self-doubt or hesitancy - by worshipping God, by showing her gratitude, and by acknowledging his holiness, power, and love.
In John 4, we encounter a woman very different than Mary. The Samaritan woman is drawing water in the heat of the day, alone at the well, disgraced and ashamed. Yet, her life changes when a Jewish man asks her for a drink and a conversation ensues. In that moment, God is working in her heart, drawing her to Christ, and revealing truth. In fact, she is the first person that Jesus reveals his true identity to - He is the Messiah! We see an enthusiastic, determined woman leave the well to eagerly tell all about Jesus. Her life is changed, but more importantly, her heart is changed.
Why does the Bible share the stories of these exceptional women? It can't be because they are exceptions - no, they are examples for us as fellow imagebearers. We will all, like Eve, make tragic choices and run from God. We will all, like Sarah, have times of fear and disbelief. We will all, like Ester, face circumstances that demand courage and include risk. We will all, like Mary, experience the unexpected. And we will all, like the Samaritan woman, feel alone and ashamed.
The question isn't how we are like these women - that is clear. The question is how we will respond, for through our response we move toward God or away from Him.
Scripture provides insight into how we can cultivate a Christ-like character that will rule our responses. In Ephesians Paul writes, "You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything - and I do mean everything - connected wtih that old way of life has to go. It is rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life - a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you." (Eph. 4:17-21)
In 2 Peter we are encouraged, "Don't lose a minute in building on what you've been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus." (2 Pet. 2:5)
John MacArthur writes in his book Twelve Extraordinary Women: "The women of the Bible were ordinary, common, and in some cases shockingly low-caste women ... in each instance, what made them extraordinary was a memorable, life-changing encounter with the God of the universe ... He refined them like silver. He redeemed them through the work of an extraordinary Savior - his own divine Son - and confirmed them to His image ... they stand as reminders of both our fallenness and our potential ... They point us to Christ.
These imagebearers encountered God, experienced Christ, and the fruit of their faith was Christ-like character. Have you had such an encounter? Have you experienced Christ? If so, then what is your response? If you are moving toward God, then consider the beautiful promise of 2 Corinthians 3:18, for it is true for you: "We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."