For congregations to thrive and Christ’s mission among us to flourish, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has entered a season of discovering where God would focus our work together. Take CBF’s online survey about your church and your personal ministry aspirations before Feb. 2.
This devotional is part of a series in January that tells stories of “Bold Faith” written by CBF field personnel and members of a team composed of clergy and laity from across the Fellowship who are leading of process of prayerful discovery that will result in a faithful response. Find out more about this process called Toward Bold Faithfulness.
By Chris Ellis
How do you make decisions? More specifically, how do you make decisions about faith?Are you one of those folks who follows your gut instinct to take the lead and just knows what to do? Or, do you sit down and methodically weigh the pros and cons of everything, thinking about every possibility? Are your feelings the primary driver of your decisions?
How we make decisions is important, but maybe how we have been spiritually formed over time is more important when making significant decisions. Biblical examples of this are numerous, but one we might overlook is the examples of Shiphrah and Puah in Exodus 1.
To be fair, the text doesn’t give us many details into Shiphrah and Puah. Did they attend Sunday school and place cutouts of Abraham on a flannel board, listening to the lessons of his life? Did they go forward one Friday night to recommit themselves to God? Did they raise money for missionaries who were far away?
What the text does say outweighs what it doesn’t. It says these two women “feared God.” One does not automatically fear God and place the well-being of others in front of oneself. One has to be inculcated and formed by a community for this. That holy fear of God put them squarely in a confrontation with a king and a system that viewed some as more important than others; in a system that valued production more than life; in a system that was designed to oppress and exploit.
The text tells us that the king was afraid. He and those who were before him had forgotten Joseph. They were formed not with a fear of God, or an understanding of who the Hebrews were, but in the ways of an oppressive system—which valued wealth more than life. His decisions arose out of this malformation.
So, when the king comes and demands something of these two Hebrew midwives that their formation would not allow, they practiced a bold faithfulness and subverted the system. “No, Your Highness, the Hebrew women don’t need our help; they’re strong and give birth before we get there!”
Who do these women think they are, lying to the king and subverting his authority?
There’s no doubt that Shiphrah and Puah knew what would happen if the truth of their deeds made it back to those in power. There’s rarely any doubt what happens when you subvert a mad king and a corrupt system. You are silenced, vanquished and forgotten. Surely, these women lost sleep. Surely, they were worried. They could have easily acquiesced to the king’s demand and spared themselves any repercussions. Yet, knowing that death was right there, just waiting for permission to act, they were faithful to their formation and to their God. You might say they chose to fear God and love their neighbor.
God sees their faithfulness and is “kind to the midwives.” But don’t let the fortuitous ending lull you into lessening the impact of the bold faithfulness of these women. Being faithful doesn’t always end in a blessing. Sometimes it requires everything of you. Sometimes you end up on the wrong side of a mad king and an exploitative system. Sometimes you end up on a cross.
Are you being formed in such a way that when the moment for bold faithfulness is called for, you can be like these two Hebrew midwives? Is your church or community actively forming others to be modern-day Shiphrahs and Puahs? I hope so; because mad kings and exploitative systems are not something that occur just in the days of the Bible.
Chris Ellis serves as the the minister of administration, mission and outreach at Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, on as part of the Toward Bold Faithfulness Discovery Team. You can make an impact with your bold faith alongside Chris by taking CBF’s online survey at www.cbf.net/survey.