In verses 6 and 12 Paul says that Mary has been laboring for the apostles, and that Persis has labored very much. This laboring is serving.
We have pointed out all the things related to the sisters in the practical church life: serving, laboring, and taking the lead for the church life.
If these matters are put into practice among us, right away we could see that our situation does not match the revelation in Romans 16. There is a shortage of the serving spirit among the sisters. If you would give me the freedom to speak a frank and honest word without offending you, I would have to point out this shortage. Among the sisters there is more talking than serving. There is no need for you to talk about doctrines, but there is a real need for you to serve people.
There are two different ways to talk with people regarding the truths or doctrines. One way is just to talk in a doctrinal way, but the other way is to serve people with certain truths because you realize that that one needs a particular truth for the growth in life. Such talk, even though it may seem to be talk about doctrines, is talk in a serving way, talk in the way of serving others according to their need in life. My talk with you should serve you something.
Many times the sisters would talk about certain doctrines, but in the eyes of the Lord their talk would actually be considered gossip because there was no serving in it. None of those talking needed those matters for their growth in life, so their talk became gossip. Paul did use this word in 1 Timothy 5:13, where he said, "They also learn to be idle, going around from house to house; and not only idle, but also gossips and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not." Busybodies are meddlers, interfering in the affairs of others. The things which should not be spoken may be good things, good doctrines, even very heavenly and spiritual, but there is no need for the talk about them.
If all the sisters would be so much burdened with the serving spirit, not one of them would have the time, the strength, the energy, the attention, or the heart to talk about anything that does not serve something of life to others. The sisters should be fully occupied with the serving spirit.
In a hospital the good nurses are not good talkers. All their time and their energy are fully occupied with serving. Only the idle ones like to talk. May the Lord train all of the sisters to be the proper church nurses.
If you sisters mean business to be serving ones in the church, first of all you have to learn not to talk, not to talk at all. Many of the sisters would consider gossip just as idle words, but would not include the vain talking of doctrine. But I would tell you strongly that the vain talk concerning doctrine is also gossip. Your talking should be the serving of something to others that they need for their growth in life. Because you realize that certain ones need this point, you serve it to them for their growth. If they do not need that point and yet you talk with them about it, your talk is also an idle talk. Whether or not your talk is idle talk is not determined by the subject of your talking, but by whether what you are talking about is needed by the other one. If it is not needed, whatever you say is an idle word. The Bible calls this kind of word an idle word (Matt. 12:36) because you are idle, you have nothing to do, you have no serving to occupy you. Therefore you have the energy, you have even the heart, and you have the time to speak those idle things.
Serving includes both the material things and the spiritual things. The sisters have to serve the younger ones the spiritual life. They have to serve all the dear ones the spiritual growth.
If the church is going to grow and to be built up, first of all the sisters have to learn not to talk. This is a big lesson. In other words, the sisters have to learn what to talk about, and what not to talk about. There are many good things that the sisters do not need to talk about. There is simply no need for talk about them.
In these days we have covered so much from Romans 8 that we have to walk according to the spirit. I am more than sure that so many talks among the saints are not according to the spirit. I don’t mean only the talking about shopping and weddings, but the idle talking about doctrine. Brothers and sisters alike all must learn to be restricted first not in our mind, but in our mouth. We should not think that to walk according to spirit only means to use our two feet. To walk according to the spirit means first to use our two lips. We have to learn to talk according to the spirit.
(Serving Sisters in the Church Life, Chapter 1, by Witness Lee)