Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Probably some of the least remembered women in history come from the Patristic Age of the Church (2nd through 5th centuries). This is partly because so many records have been lost. But there is a wealth of information available now and more being discovered every year. Please look at the January 22, 2019 post on my introduction to “Women in the Patristic Age” and note a few of the many engaging books you can obtain now on this important and interesting topic. These books not only include the biographies of the women themselves, but many previously unpublished manuscripts that these women authored.

Some of these women were born poor, others renounced great wealth to follow in the steps of Christ. Martyrs, Mothers, Theologians, Writers, Queens, Empresses, Pilgrims, and Monastery founders are among them. The world would not be the same without the influence of these women. They showed great piety, fortitude, and courage.

We began this series on Patristic women in our last post, February 5, 2019 “Thecla – 1st Century Disciple and Missionary”. Thecla was a disciple of Christ and Paul and her life was to influence many men and women for the next few centuries.

This week we continue with the stories of women who gave their lives as martyrs rather than deny their Lord Jesus. There were many men and women who suffered persecution and death, but 2 whose stories have come down to us thanks to the preservation of early manuscripts are Blandina (martyred 177 AD) and Perpetua (martyred 203 AD – along with her servant Felicitas).

Blandina

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” (James 1:12)
At the end of the second century there were intense persecutions against Christians. The angry mobs grew to learn that they could expect the women to be as fierce in their determination to maintain their Christian testimony as the men. That is why we have as many accounts of women being thrown into the arena to face wild animals as men.
There were also political and social reasons for the arrest and torture of Christians. An unbeliever who wanted to cease a Christian’s property for example, could have the Christian arrested as an enemy of the state. Blandina lived during just such a time. The early church martyrs were purposefully tortured and killed in order to make a statement by the Roman government that worship of anyone else other than Caesar would not be tolerated.
We have heard many stories about the Christians being thrown to wild beasts in order to entertain the Roman populace. Often, Christians who were Roman citizens would have the easier execution of beheading. But the slaves who were Christians suffered horrible torture and gory death in the amphitheaters to amuse the Roman crowds.
Blandina (martyred in 177 AD) was a slave woman who had been taken into custody with her master who was a Christian. She was not in very good health and not expected to survive torture, but she seemed to get stronger and stronger the more the executioners beat and abused her. She would simply repeat, “I am a Christian,” over and over. This infuriated her torturers and they whipped her until they were tired out. Finally, they decided to take her to the amphitheater where other Christians were being beaten and burned. She was hung on a stake and put out for the wild beasts, but they did not touch her. And so,
“. . at length she was put in a net, and thrown to the wild bull; and when she had been sufficiently gored and wounded with the horns of the beast, and heeded nothing of all that chanced to her, for the great hope and consolation she had in Christ and heavenly things, was thus slain, insomuch that there was never woman put to death, that suffered so much as this woman did. Neither yet was their furious cruelty thus assuaged against the Christians.” The heathens invented crueler and more wicked things to do to the believers. The persecutors did not bury their bodies, but burned them and threw the ashes into the river thinking that they would be forgotten. “And this they did as if they had been able to have pulled God out of His seat, and to have hindered the regeneration of the saints, and taken from them the hope of the resurrection.” (John Foxe’s, The Acts and Monuments of the Church, page 42)
Others who watched her courageous death were blessed by her testimony and their own faith was bolstered. Even another woman, Biblias, who had renounced her faith, renewed her commitment to Christ and is listed among the roll of the martyrs.

Eusebius, writing several centuries later tells us of the results. Blandina, “by her continuous prayer gave great zeal to the combatants, while they looked on during the contest, and with their outward eyes saw in the form of their sister him who was crucified for them, to persuade those who believe on him that all who suffer for the glory of Christ have forever fellowship with the living God. And so she too was sacrificed, and the heathen themselves confessed that never before among them had a woman suffered so much and so long.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History)

And so, Blandina’s acts of courage affected many more people than herself. Our chief mainstay for the courage we have is faith in God and His promises. Her concern was Christ and Christ only. God used her martyrdom, and those of many other saints, to encourage and build His church.

Perpetua and Felicitas

Another martyr whose testimony bolstered the faith of many was Perpetua. Perpetua and her slave, Felicitas were martyred on March 7, 203 AD. Perpetua was born in 181 and was only 22 when she faced a wild cow in the Roman arena. She had a small son that she was still nursing. Felicity was 8 months pregnant when they were arrested. There were 5 Christians arrested together. Felicitas was concerned that she would be set aside until her baby was born. The Romans did not kill pregnant women. She wanted to face martyrdom with the others. She prayed to God about it, and several days before their execution her baby daughter was born. A Christian woman adopted the baby.

Their story has been well documented. Perpetua’s account of the story is considered to be the earliest of the writings of Christian women. The anniversary of their deaths is included in the Roman Church calendar. St. Augustine preached sermons about her. The early church believed the historical fact of her martyrdom and Christians have esteemed her very highly for centuries.

Perpetua’s mother and brothers were Christians as well. Her father however, was a pagan. He kept on trying to persuade her to deny her faith. First he ordered her, then he pleaded with her. She remained firm.

Perpetua’s prison diary had been preserved. Here is an excerpt from it:

The day of their victory dawned, and with joyful countenances they marched from the prison to the arena as though on their way to heaven. If there was any trembling it was from joy, not fear. Perpetua followed with a quick step as a true spouse of Christ, the darling of God, her brightly flashing eyes quelling the gaze of the crowd. Felicitas too, joyful because she had safely survived childbirth and was now able to participate in the contest with the wild animals, passed from one shedding of blood to another; from midwife to gladiator, about to be purified after child-birth by a second baptism. . . . For the young women the devil had readied a mad cow, an animal not usually used at these games, but selected so that the women’s sex would be matched with that of the animal. After being stripped and enmeshed in nets, the women were led into the arena. How horrified the people were as they saw that one was a young girl and the other, her breasts dripping with milk, had just recently given birth to a child. Consequently both were recalled and dressed in loosely fitting gowns. Perpetua was tossed first and fell on her back. She sat up, and being more concerned with her sense of modesty than with her pain, covered her thighs with her gown which had been torn down one side. Then finding her hair-clip, which had fallen out, she pinned back her loose hair, thinking it not proper for a martyr to suffer with disheveled hair; it might seem that she was mourning in her hour of triumph. Then she stood up. Noticing that Felicitas was badly bruised, she went to her, reaching out her hands and helping her to her feet. . . . And when the crowd demanded that the prisoners be brought out into the open so that they might feast their eyes on death by the sword, they voluntarily arose and moved where the crowd wanted them. Before doing so they kissed each other so that their martyrdom would be completely perfected by the rite of the kiss of peace. The others, without making any movement or sound, were killed by the sword. . . . but Perpetua, in order to feel some of the pain, groaning as she was struck between the ribs, took the gladiator’s trembling hand and guided it to her throat. Perhaps it was that so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not have been slain had she herself not willed it.

The martyrs were buried at Carthage. Today a magnificent basilica is erected over their tomb.

The early martyrs still inspire Christians today. It is hard for us to fully realize what they were up against. We have not suffered as they did. One thing to remember is that they believed they were suffering for Christ and went to their deaths joyfully. Yet because they earned the martyr’s crown Christian’s today are encouraged to hold to the faith.

 

 

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. …. Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. … Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. … but this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; … But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint up on you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord. …. so then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better. (I Corinthians 7:8-40)

We cannot begin our series on women in the Patristic Era without talking about Thecla. Thecla is remembered as one of the female companions of the apostle Paul. While there is some debate swirling around Thecla, most historians agree that Thecla was a real person. In an apocryphal book called Acts of Paul and Thecla, which appeared around 180 A.D., the story is told of how Thecla was converted after hearing Paul preach and went on to be his disciple. She wanted nothing more after that but to learn about Christ and take the gospel to the lost.

Thecla was living in Iconium at the time. She was engaged to be married, but she broke the engagement off and took a vow to remain a virgin after hearing Paul preach. It is understood from reading the Acts of Paul and Theclathat Paul was perhaps preaching about marriage, and more specifically about the married state in the end times. Paul believed with all the other Christians that Jesus could come back any time. Reading the verses quoted above, we see that Paul was not necessarily speaking against marriage, only encouraging those who weren’t married to stay that way since “the time has been shortened” (verse 29).

Thecla was also moved by Paul’s words that those who remained virgins were committed to Christ first and may be “holy both in body and spirit” but those who were married had to be concerned about their husbands first. This concept is important to remember in order to understand why Thecla disobeyed her mother and broke her engagement to Thamyris, a prominent man from an important and powerful family. Thecla actually angered her mother, Theocleia when she turned down a marriage that would have given her a comfortable and influential life. Neither her mother nor her fiancé could understand why Thecla would live such a life of many sacrifices for the sake of an unknown god. Thecla wasn’t concerned; she set out to be Paul’s disciple.

According to the Acts of Paul and Thecla, Thecla traveled with Paul in Galatia assisting him in the preaching of the gospel. When Paul and Thecla went to preach in Antioch of Pisidia she met a new obstacle. Alexander, a local official fell in love with her. When Thecla rebuffed him, he responded in anger. He managed to get her punished by having her thrown in a Roman arena to face the beasts. Amazingly, the beasts did not harm her while she merely stood and prayed.

In the meantime, Thecla had befriended a woman named Tryphaena who rescued her after her ordeal with the beasts. Tryphaena was a relative of the emperor, so when she asked for Thecla’s release, the governor was unwilling to refuse her. Alexander capitulated and dropped his charges. Thecla went home with Tryphaena and converted her to Christ. Thecla remained with Tryphaena for eight days preaching until most of Tryphaena’s household was converted.

The story ends with Thecla going back to Iconium to visit the house of Onesiphorus where she first heard Paul preach. In addition to that, she made a reconciliation with her mother. Thecla then continued to travel, preaching and teaching until she died in Seleucia.

How much of Thecla’s story is legendary? Certainly she must have been a real person. Just because we have lost so many early writings and manuscripts does not mean that she did not live. Too many people honored her in the early church for her to have been a figment of somebody’s imagination. Her miraculous escape from the beasts in the Roman arena is questioned by some, but let us not forget that Paul miraculously escaped death while on the island of Malta when he was bitten by a poisonous viper (Acts 28:1-6). God did perform miracles for His servants. We will just have to wait until we get to Heaven to hear the whole story.

What is undoubtedly factual though is that by the end of the 2nd century it was noticed that some women were following Thecla’s example. One early church father, Tertullian, commented on it. Though the Acts of Paul and Theclawould not be included in the canon of Bible as we have it today, it was widely read by Christians in the 2nd through 4th centuries. For the first several centuries traveling prophets and preachers, men and women, could expect the hospitality of Christians as they entered cities just as Paul and Thecla did while traveling.

Thecla would also become an example for future generations of men and women who would take vows of chastity. Thecla’s story must not be overlooked because we will see in the coming weeks as we look at the lives of other women in the Patristic era, that men and women honored Thecla by reading the Acts of Paul and Theclaand taking it seriously and making pilgrimages to her shrine.

We don’t have so many itinerant preachers in our day. Most missionaries find a place to live. It is difficult for some to imagine the lives of those who gave up marriage and “normal” lives just to take the gospel to the lost. But even now, there are thousands of single women and men who still follow in Paul’s and Thecla’s footsteps to serve Christ. As we explore the stories of women in the Patristic Age, we will encounter many who dedicated their lives serve Christ and others.

 

 

For the last few months, we have been looking at the stories of women in the Bible from both the Old and New Testaments. We were working in chronological order – Eve (Genesis) to Junias (Romans). In the first century, Paul’s female companions helped to spread the gospel in response to Christ’s command in the Great Commission to carry the good news to the ends of the earth. They did this in spite of the persecution that had already begun against Christians during the first century and continued for several more centuries.

 

Let’s continue now with women in history as we turn to the second century. Let’s face it. History is really boring. All those names and dates and places we can’t find on a map. And what do all those ancient people have to do with me anyway?

 

For starters, pretty much all of the historical women who are featured on this blog, mylordkatie.wordpress.com, are in Heaven enjoying the presence of the Lord. We will get to speak to them and find out more about their lives when we get there. The stories of their lives give us a better view of the world and history and we are able to see how and why God called these women into His kingdom. At the time these women were living they probably never thought that someday people would be studying about them in history books. They just worshipped and served God with their lives as faithfully as they could.

 

Probably some of the least remembered women in history come from the Patristic Age of the Church (2nd through 5th centuries). This is partly because so many records have been lost. But there is a wealth of information available now and more being discovered every year. These documents not only include the biographies of the women themselves, but many previously unpublished manuscripts that these women authored are coming to light.

 

Unfortunately, the women’s stories have sometimes been overlooked deliberately by Church historians because they do not think that the women’s stories are important. Thankfully, that problem is being remedied. At the end of this introductory post, I will list several books that you can read to find out more about the many hundreds of women who served Christ during the Patristic era. You will see evidence that God has always called and gifted women to serve Him in remarkable ways.

 

The Patristic Age covers roughly from the second through fifth centuries. Over the next few weeks stories of women like Thecla, Blandina, Perpetua, Pulcheria, Paula, Melania and Melania the Younger (both grandmother and granddaughter!), Monica, Egeria, Amma Sarah and many, many more will be told.

 

Some of these women were born poor, others renounced great wealth to follow in the steps of Christ. Martyrs, Mothers, Theologians, Writers, Queens, Empresses, Pilgrims, and Monastery founders are among them. The world would not be the same without the influence of these women. They showed great piety, fortitude, and courage.

 

It’s time to recount the inspiring stories of these women.

 

Further Reading:

 

– The following four books contain the stories of women throughout the centuries. Dr. Curtis’s book is organized by category – Leaders, Homemakers, Martyrs, Intellectuals, Queens, Handicapped, “Firsts”, and Mothers. The other 3 books tell the stories in chronological order.

 

Curtis, A. Kenneth and Graves, Daniel, editors. Great Women in Christian History: 37 Women Who Changed Their World (Camp Hill, PA: Wing Spread Publishers, 2004).

 

Deen, Edith. Great Women of the Christian Faith: Inspiring Biographies of Outstanding Women through Nineteen Centuries of Christianity(Chappaqua, NY: 1959).

 

Kavanagh, Julia.Women of Christianity, Exemplary for Acts of Piety and Charity(New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company, 1869). (My copy is a facsimile.)

 

Tucker, Ruth A. and Liefeld, Walter. Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present(Grand Rapids, MI: 1987).

 

–  The next three books contain much information about the history of the Patristic era. What was it like to live in the 2nd through 5th centuries? For example, life for Christians changed a great deal after Constantine declared Christianity a legal religion in the early 4th century. Persecution ended and many Christians were able to travel, participate in government, and receive education. This included women who had many freedoms that they did not have before.

 

Cohick, Lynn H. and Hughes, Amy Brown. Christian Women in the Patristic World: Their Influence, Authority, and Legacy in the Second through Fifth Centuries (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017).

 

Cooper, Kate. Band of Angels: The Forgotten World of Early Christian Women(New York, NY: The Overlook Press, 2013).

 

Oden, Amy, editor. Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought(Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1994).

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year to everyone!

Have you made some New Year’s resolutions? How did you do on last year’s resolutions?

It’s a lot of fun talking with our friends about all of our good intentions for the coming new year. We laugh about the resolutions that did not last long in 2018. I am wondering if some of my resolutions were either too specific or too general. No wonder we get discouraged.

As my husband and I sat at the breakfast table last Tuesday morning, January 1, we talked about making resolutions for the new year. It’s really good to take time out to evaluate our lives. Even if our good intentions only last a month or two, at least we tried.

Maybe we ought to switch to “New Quarter” resolutions, or even “New Monthly” resolutions. If we didn’t accomplish our goals, we can just make adjustments and keep on going. The point is to not give up at the end of January when we throw in the towel and put off thinking about our decisions and goals until the next new year.

So, I told my husband that I would like to lose 15 pounds, but I will not beat myself up if I don’t. I had the same goal last year. I lost the 15 pounds, but I gained them back over Christmas!! I will try again. He would like to spend more time reading books. We agreed that we will review at the beginning of each month and see how we are doing.

But what about our more serious resolutions for this year? What should those be?

 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

When we celebrated Christmas we celebrated the birth of Jesus. Jesus came not only to die for our sins but to give us new life. Our lives can now be spent for God’s glory. We can now serve Christ with joyful hearts. We can follow in Jesus’ footsteps leading lives that look like His. I would like to do a better job of that this year but how did I do last year?

Our goal is to become more like Christ. Can I honestly say that during 2018 I became more like Christ?

How did I do in my spiritual life?

– Did I take time to study the Word of God in order to be able to “present (my)self approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15)?

Thanks to Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection we are able to grow spiritually.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)

All Christians are given the gifts of the Spirit “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:12)

– Did I grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”? (2 Peter 3:18) How much time did I spend getting to know God better?

– Did I take the apostle Peter’s advice on how to be more spiritually mature? Peter encourages the saints to INCREASE in the following progression of character traits of the spiritually mature.

“Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in our knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in in your perseverance godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

– Was I grateful, gracious, and thankful? “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

What did I do when I failed or was discouraged?

– Did I remember that we “have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you and example for you to follow in His steps”? (1 Peter 2:21)

– Did I get up and try again when I came up short of my goal? Paul encourages believers to keep on persevering. “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. … I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 3:12, 14) knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” (Colossians 3:24).

Don’t’ be discouraged. Make resolutions. Seek God’s help to fulfill your plans.

I hope that by the end of 2018 I had become more like Christ than at the end of 2017. And my prayer is that when the end of 2019 gets here I can look back and say that my New Year’s resolution – my resolution to be more like Christ – will have been accomplished.

The apostle Paul tells us that we should be, “a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”  (2 Corinthians 2:15) Will I be a fragrance to others this year?

To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen!

 

Angels From the Realms of Glory

 

It  is a wonderful season of the year! There is excitement in the air as people prepare for family gatherings. This children’s excitement is very infectious! All of the wonder and anticipation that we see in their eyes makes this a very special time.  It is also a time when we hear more about peace on earth and good will toward men.

We all love the Christmas carols! It almost seems a shame that we only sing some of them at this time of the year. One beautiful hymn that expresses so well the meaning of Christmas is “Angels From the Realms of Glory”.  The composer James Montgomery gave us a beloved hymn to sing every year that pictures so well the birth of Jesus as told in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.

James Montgomery, the son of a Moravian minister was born at Irvine, Ayrshire, November 4, 1771. In 1776 his family moved to the county of Antrim. Two years later he was sent to the Fulneck Seminary in Yorkshire. When he left there he went to work at a retail shop. He composed poems but was unable to get them published. At the age of 23, James took over a newspaper, the Sheffield Registerand changed the name to Sheffield Iris where he continued as editor for thirty-one years. During this time he was able to publish his poems. He gave lectures on poetry at the Royal Institution in London. Mr. Montgomery was also a strong advocate of the Foreign Missions and Bible Society in many parts of England. He lived peacefully to the old age of 82 and died in his sleep. After his death in 1854 he was honored with a public funeral. A statue was erected in his memory and a stained glass window was made in his honor at the parish church. A Wesleyan chapel was also named in his honor. (Recall that Charles Wesley was also a composer of Christian music including another famous Christmas hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” – see my post on December 21, 2016).

Henry T. Smart composed the tune for “Angels From the Realms of Glory” in 1866. It was originally written as the tune called “Regent Square”. It was first published in a Presbyterian hymnal for the Regent Square Church.

 

At Christmas we remember that Jesus was born in a stable. We can picture Mary and Joseph there. The shepherds came. The angels gathered in the skies singing praise to God! What beautiful pictures of love, peace, and joy.

 

We can read about the birth of Christ in Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels. The verses in the hymn “Angels From the Realms of Glory” proclaim the story in an awe-inspiring and majestic song!

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. (Luke 2:13-14)

1 Angels from the realms of glory,
wing your flight through all the earth;
heralds of creation’s story
now proclaim Messiah’s birth!
Come and worship
Christ, the new-born king;
come and worship,
worship Christ the new-born king.

In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “do not be afraid; for behold I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

2 Shepherds in the fields abiding,
watching by your flocks at night,
God with us is now residing:
see, there shines the infant light!
Come and worship
Christ, the new-born king;
come and worship,
worship Christ the new-born king.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have
come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way.(Matthew 2:1-12)

 3 Wise men, leave your contemplations!
brighter visions shine afar;
seek in him the hope of nations,
you have seen his rising star:
Come and worship
Christ, the new-born king;
come and worship,
worship Christ the new-born king.

In the last verse we are given a picture of the glorious future for Christ and all those who love Him.

4 Though an infant now we view him,
He will share his Father’s throne,
gather all the nations to him;
every knee shall then bow down:
Come and worship
Christ, the new-born king;
come and worship,
worship Christ the new-born king.

God bless you all this Christmas! In all of the hustle and bustle take time out to remember that the best gift of all is the Lord Jesus Christ. May the true meaning of Christmas remain in your hearts forever.

 

 

 

 

A Note About the Holy Spirit and Women:

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost on the whole church, men and women. Peter makes it clear when he quotes from the prophet Joel that men and women will prophesy or speak the word of God.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17,18)

 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).

Every believer no matter their ethnic background, economic condition, or gender has the privilege of serving in God’s kingdom. The Holy Spirit has distributed gifts, or abilities, on all believers for the building up of Christ’s church. These gifts are not for personal aggrandizement but for service. In the last few months we have witnessed this truth in God’s Word through the stories of women that God called and gifted for service.

In our last lesson we looked at the lives of some women who were House Church Leaders – Mary, the mother of John Mark, Lydia, and Nympha and Chloe. In this next and last lesson in our series, we will continue with some of Paul’s helpers – Junia, Euodia, Syntyche, and several other lesser known women – Mary of Rome, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Rufus’ mother, Julia, and Nereus’ sister.

 

Paul’s Helpers in Romans 16.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.  Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.  (Romans 16:1-16)

 

In the sixteenth chapter of the book of Romans there are nine women listed – Phoebe, Prisca (Priscilla), Mary, Junias, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Rufus’ mother, Julia, and Nereus’ sister.

This passage, written by the apostle Paul, indicates that there were women involved in many facets of ministry in the early Church. The letter to the Roman Christians was written around 57 AD. Though Paul doesn’t give exact details of all of the women’s service, we know from the terms that he uses about them that he was receiving substantial assistance from them. The women were of help to Paul in practical ways and it seems that women were also instrumental in spreading the Gospel. When did Paul meet these women? He visited the churches many times. At each church Paul would have met the men and women who worked hard for their fellow believers and for the Lord.

We know the most about Priscilla because there are many references to her and her husband Aquila in the book of Acts. We know a few things about Phoebe – for instance that she was from Cenchrea. We know that Paul had been in Cenchrea before this with Priscilla and Aquila. Perhaps that is when he first met Phoebe. We do not know very much about the other women named in Romans, but it is important that Paul did not want to leave them out when he was asking the Roman believers to give them credit for their work.

There are still some things that strike us about the mention of these women in Paul’s epistle. Remember this is only 57 AD. Jesus left the earth only about twenty years before this. The Holy Spirit came to be the Helper only about twenty years before this as well. Yet, look at how large some of the churches are. Notice that they are already made up of Jews and Gentiles. Notice that the Christians have been treating each other as brothers and sisters – family – in Christ. The believers learned quickly what life in the New Covenant was to be like. This community of believers is so different from the Jewish or pagan groups.

Even more striking might be that the apostle Paul does not hesitate to call all of these men and women “brethren” or “co-workers”. Paul was humble and led those under his care the way Christ would have. Christ said that those who would be greatest should be the least. He admonished the disciples to have a servant’s heart and not be like the Jewish rulers who lorded their leadership over the people.

We do not know what types of leadership responsibilities or how far the authority of the female co-workers of Paul went. The main goal of everyone was to spread the Gospel. Every day they encountered people who were dying in their sins. Every day they used whatever gifts the Holy Spirit had given them to take the Gospel to the lost, work in their local churches, and give aid to the poor and destitute like Christ did. There is no “male or female” in privilege of being a Christian (Galatians 3:28). All are called to serve.

There must have been many, many women who served in the Church, but Paul mentions a few specially in Romans 16.

“Mary, who labored for us” was one such woman (Rom. 16:6). It is interesting that Mary is the only one with a Jewish name. What was her labor for the Lord? We are not told specifically but it is believed by scholars that she was an evangelist. How wonderful that as a Jewess she is worshipping with so many Gentile Christians in Rome. This is more evidence of how early the love of Christ for all the nations began to be felt.

Some scholars also believe that Persis was a female. If so, she was also an evangelist and these women used their influence and means to make the Gospel known.

One woman in the book of Romans is referred to as “apostle” – that is Junias, the wife of Andronicus. This term is the most hotly debated in the Church today. The apostle Paul refers to Junias as an “apostle”. This is a high honor for a man or a woman. Why did Paul refer to Junias as “outstanding among the apostles?” (Rom. 16:7).

Andronicus and Junias were a married couple and are described as Paul’s kinsmen and fellow prisoners. Paul also said that they were “in Christ before me” (Romans 16:7) . This may indicate that Junias and Andronicus had become Christians some years before Paul did. Apparently at one time the couple was arrested at the same time as Paul and were in prison with him. Junias’ faithfulness to Christ was demonstrated in her willingness to suffer imprisonment and possible execution for her witness. Paul commends this but even more, he indicates her role in church planting along with her husband.

Why does Paul call Junias an apostle? Perhaps Paul was using the term “apostle” in a general way as a “missionary”.  When Paul lists the gifts of the Holy Spirit in I Corinthians 12 and Ephesian 4, apostles are listed among them. Since the point Paul makes is that the Spirit gives many gifts as He wishes to all believers, apostleship is given as a gift to many believers. This includes men and women. Apostleship as a gift ranks highly in God’s church. Perhaps this is because those who have this gift are doing the very important work of taking the Gospel to the lost. They are missionaries. The most important thing is that Junias was faithful to her calling. Paul makes it very clear that Junias was “outstanding among the apostles”. Whatever this means, Junias spread the Gospel, Jesus became known as Savior to many, and God was greatly glorified through her ministry.  We will meet many in Heaven who will point to Junias as their witness for Christ. We should be encouraged by her example and strive to win others for Christ with the zeal of Junias.

All of these godly women used their personal gifts, financial means, and influence to serve the Lord with gladness because they had experienced the joy of salvation. Paul commends them for their dedication and service. These words should be an encouragement to all Christian women today as they labor in whatever calling they received from the Lord.

As we have seen in the Gospels and the book of Acts, men and women were to work side by side in the new community of faith. Jesus started it. The apostles continued it. Paul assures us that men and women would be equal partners in the kingdom. All have the responsibility to take the Gospel to sinners. All are to do these things in the name of the Lord, not in their own names. True servants are like Jesus –they are concerned about God and others, not their rank or position. May God bless His Church as they seek to follow Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Note About the Holy Spirit and Women:

The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost on the whole church, men and women. Peter makes it clear when he quotes from the prophet Joel that men and women will prophesy or speak the word of God.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:17,18)

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).

Every believer no matter their ethnic background, economic condition, or gender has the privilege of serving in God’s kingdom.

One Lord, one body of Christ, one message. All of the members of the body work together to take the Gospel of reconciliation and peace to the world. There are a number of places where the gifts of the Spirit are listed (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; Ephesians 4:11-13; and 1 Peter 4:11) but in no place does God tell us that any of the gifts are for men only. All of the gifts or graces were given to every believer.

 

In our last lesson we looked at the life of a deacon that Paul commends to the Church – Phoebe. This week we will learn about the lives of some women who were leaders of the early house churches – Mary, the mother of John Mark, Lydia, Nympha, and Chloe.

 

 Mary, Mother of John Mark

And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. (Acts 12:12)

There are six famous Mary’s in the New Testament. Four of them, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary of Magdala, Mary of Bethany, and Mary the mother of James and John, are named in the Gospels. There are stories of these women and many others who followed and served Jesus while He was on earth in previous postings (spread out from January through May, 2014). Two other Mary’s are mentioned in the book of Acts – Mary, the mother of John Mark, and Mary of Rome.

Mary the mother of John Mark is one of those remarkable women in the New Testament who are mentioned only once. But just as in the story of Anna the prophetess, Luke gives us enough details in this one verse to know and understand much about this courageous woman.

Since this house is referred to as her house, and not her husband’s, she was probably a widow. She was also wise enough to run her own household. Luke tells us that many were gathered in Mary’s house in Jerusalem, so we know that it was a large house. Mary must have been wealthy and well known to the disciples. They used her home as an early house church. Here the believers could also gather to pray or use Mary’s home as a refuge when the persecutions began, which happened quite soon.

Herod put Peter in prison. After his remarkable escape which you can read about in Acts 12, Peter went to the home of Mary, the mother of his friend John Mark. Mary must have been a very courageous woman. She was aware of the persecution of the Christians, and had no doubt heard about the martyrdom of James. She knew that she risked arrest and imprisonment for helping the followers of Christ. In spite of possible grave danger to herself, she opened her home as a place for believers to meet and encourage one another.

The believers were praying there when Peter came. They knew it was a miracle. Mary trusted God to take care of her as she served Him by aiding the believers in the early church. She knew what was the right thing to do and she bravely faced whatever might come her way to follow the Lord.

 

Lydia, First convert in Europe


A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening: and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” (Acts 16:14)

Lydia fills a remarkable place in the history of the expansion of the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus told His followers to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world. In the Old Testament, God had been mostly dealing with His Jewish children. But now, God wants His story of love and salvation to go to everyone, even Gentiles. God’s dealing with Lydia is just one story that illustrates God’s plan for the ages.

Another thing that changed with the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit was that now women would be involved in the work of ministry as well as men.

When Paul and Luke arrived in Philippi they went to the synagogue first as was Paul’s usual practice. But in God’s providence, there wasn’t one in Philippi.  They stayed there for some days, and on the Sabbath they went outside of the city to a riverside looking for people at a place of prayer that they were told would be there. God led Paul, Luke and the others to speak to the women who were gathered by the riverside. Even though there were only women there, Paul knew this was God’s will and he began to preach.

A woman named Lydia was listening. God “opened her heart” and she became a believer. Lydia and her whole household were baptized. She was so grateful for her salvation that she immediately opened her home in hospitality to Paul and the disciples traveling with him. Like Mary the mother of John Mark, Lydia was a very courageous woman. She took the risk of opening her home to the disciples willingly. Even while Paul and Silas were in prison, she continued to use her home for the place of meeting for the new little church where all of the new believers met for fellowship and prayer.

That is where Paul and Silas went when they left the prison. By this time, many others were coming to Christ. The first church in Europe started in Lydia’s home. In a few years, Paul would write an epistle to these Christians who continued to do well in love and service to God. (See Paul’s epistle to the Philippians.)

Lydia is a remarkable example of a gifted, generous woman. As women we can all be encouraged by her graciousness, hospitality, sacrificial love for the brethren, servant attitude, and especially her love for her Savior Jesus Christ. We can be thankful that her story is included for us in the New Testament. It is further evidence of the new place for women in service in the Kingdom of God.

 

Nympha and Chloe

Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house. (Col. 4:15)

For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. (I Cor. 1:11)

Nympha and Chloe were house church leaders. In the early church, female church leaders exercised the same authority as male leaders. They had the same social standing and were granted the same respect and honor. They were in charge of all that went on in their homes including the worship services. There is no mention in Acts or in the writings of the early church historians that the women were subordinated to men who were present in their homes. These women were probably better educated and it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that they could read the Scriptures as they became converts to Christianity. They would be in a better position to teach the gospel than anyone who was less educated, including men.

But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work (I Thess. 5:12-13).

When Paul was giving these instructions to the Thessalonian Christians, he was referring to their church leaders which at that time were house church leaders, including women like Mary, Lydia, Priscilla, Nympha, and Chloe. Later Paul began to refer to the house church leaders as episkopoi which means overseers/bishops. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1.1). We know that Lydia was in charge of her house church and so Lydia was among the first overseers/bishops of the early church.

At Pentecost all believers were filled with the Spirit. This included women and they began to serve in the Kingdom of God along with the men doing whatever they were called to do. This is still true today – women can follow the example given us by the women in the Bible to serve however they are called with faithfulness and courage.