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Archive for May, 2014

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, businesswomanLydia 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. For the last several months I have posted stories about the many women that Jesus interacted with (January – May, 2014). Jesus broke the traditional ways of dealing with women. In the Jewish culture of the first century, women were not allowed to participate in very many things. Jesus invited women to be His disciples. In the book of Acts we will see that the apostles understood this and included women in the ministry of the church.

Lydia’s story is told in the Bible in the book of Acts, chapter 16. We see at the beginning of our story that Paul had wanted to go to Asia to tell the good news of the Gospel, but the Holy Spirit had forbidden him. Paul then had a vision in the night of a man appealing to him to, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And so, Paul, with Luke Paul's journey to Europejoining him, went to Philippi. Here he would make his very first convert –a woman! Her name was Lydia.

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 thought there were only women there, Paul knew this was God’s will and he began to preach.

A woman named Lydia was listening. One of the most exciting things about our story is to see God’s sovereignty in how He brought Lydia to salvation. She was actually from Thyatira, which was located in that area in Asia where Paul originally wanted to go to preach. But now, here she was in Philippi on business. The irony is that, the Gospel has come to Macedonia, and the first European convert is an Asian woman! If Lydia had remained in Asia, she would not have heard the Gospel at this time. How remarkable and amazing God is in arranging things for our lives.

Lydia was a “seller of purple fabrics.” She was a businesswoman, and a very successful one at that. We are also told that she was a “worshiper of God.” Another irony in our story is that Lydia was not a Jewish woman. As we mentioned, Paul usually tried to go to the “Jew first” (Romans 1:16). In Philippi, he was seeking the prayer meeting of the Jews, but his first convert was a Gentile woman who was seeking God.

“The Lord opened her heart.” How gracious and wonderful God was to bring Paul into Lydia’s life so she could hear the Gospel and respond with faith in Jesus Christ. She had been worshiping God in the best way she knew how all of these years, and now God graciously brought the Gospel to her. She must have been very loved by God Who changed all of Paul’s plans to make sure that she could be the very first convert in Europe.

And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us . . . . . They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.”

Paul Teaches Lydia Acts 16:14Lydia and her household were baptized. Lydia’s new faith produced instant actions. This meeting was taking place next to a river, so she took advantage of it and was baptized and all of her family and servants with her.

“Come into my house and stay.” Lydia was so thankful for her salvation that she immediately responded with an offer of hospitality. We know since this verse says, “her house” that she was probably a widow. But she apparently decided to keep on running the family business by herself anyway. She must have been doing a good job, because she owned a large enough house to invite Paul and Luke and all of the other disciples who were with them to stay at her house.

And also, she must have been a very courageous woman. She was exposing herself to trouble. Later in this story we will see that Paul and Silas would be beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. 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 the epistle to the Philippians.)

Lydia is a remarkable example of a courageous woman. She was an exceptional woman who showed amazing courage, thankful for the work of God in her heart. 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 Lydia’s 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.

 

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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, Mary was probably a widow. She was also wise enough to run her own household. We know from Colossians 4:10 (where Paul sends greetings from other brethren, including “Barnabas’s cousin Mark”) that Barnabas was John Mark’s cousin. Therefore, Mary was this famous disciple’s aunt.

Luke tells us that many were gathered in Mary’s house in Jerusalem, so we know that it was a large house. Mary lg. Chr. home Jerusalemmust 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.

A few days after Pentecost, Peter and John healed a lame beggar at the temple. They said, “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” (Acts 3:6) Then Peter explained to the Jewish people who were watching this miracle that the One Whom they had put to death recently was none other than Jesus Christ, “the Prince of life, the One Whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:15). The bible tells us that thousands believed because of the miraculous healing of the lame man and Peter’s testimony.

The religious leaders had no answer to this miracle. They knew that too many people had witnessed the healing and they began to wonder what to do about it. They warned the apostles to stop, but the disciples continued to heal people and preach the Gospel and many thousands believed in Jesus.

The Jewish leaders became angry and impatient at this and began to persecute Christians with a vengeance. Many were tortured, imprisoned, and put to death.

One day, King Herod decided to please the Jewish leaders by arresting some Christians. He had James, the brother of the apostle John, put to death. The Jews were happy about this, so Herod proceeded to arrest Peter also. Herod put Peter in a prison with four squadrons of soldiers to watch over him, but an angel of the Lord helped Peter escape. (This exciting story is in Acts 12.)

When he escaped, Peter went to the home of someone whom he thought would shelter and protect him. He 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 Christians were gathered there praying, when Peter knocked on Mary’s door.

Rhoda answers doorPeter knew right where to go after his escape from prison. It was a truly miraculous escape. Not only was he well guarded at that prison, but he also got by two different guard stations and finally outside an iron gate. An angel led him for a while along a street and then departed from him. Peter was left alone but he knew that he could go to the home of Mary for help and protection. How happy the amazed believers were when God answered their prayer by restoring their beloved leader to them.

Mary was a truly devoted follower of Jesus who raised such a faithful son as John Mark. Imagine what it must have been like for Mark to able to participate in the blessings and fellowship that was occurring at his mother’s house. He was a young man at the time of our story, but he continued steadfast in faith and was used as a fellow worker in the Gospel along with his cousin Barnabas, the apostle Paul, and even Peter. He eventually wrote the Gospel that is called after his name. Much of this can be attributed to the faith-filled influence of his extraordinary mother, Mary.

Mary is a wonderful example of courage for us. She must have known about the defection of all of the disciples when Jesus was arrested. They feared a very real danger. She knew of the persecution going on all around her. But, she 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.

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 we are called with faithfulness and courage.

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These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers. (Acts 1:14)

In the Gospels we see that Jesus’ disciples were often surprised at how He dealt with women. Their reaction during the time that Jesus was talking to a woman at a well in Samaria is a good example. John tells us that they were “amazed”. (See John 4:4-45) By the time that Jesus’ ministry on earth was finished, the apostles had learned to accept the fact that women were called to be disciples of the Lord also.

Women had followed Jesus even to the cross while the men had fled. Women were the first to witness the resurrection. These special events were enough to convince Peter and the other disciples that women were part of the mission of the church.

pentecostThat is why that on the day of Pentecost there were many women present. Jesus’ mother, Mary, was the most prominent and that is why she is mentioned in our Scripture verse. But as we will see as we look at the stories in the book of Acts there will be many more women who will play a significant role in the life of the church.

Society at this time was strongly patriarchal. We already noted that Jesus did not try and change the patriarchal culture. (See last week’s post – May 6, 2014.) Jesus would show how women were to be treated by example. It was up to His disciples to follow that example. Gradually as more people became Christian, the culture would change. To see the eventual effect of this you only have to compare a Christian culture to a Moslem culture. While Christians are not perfect, they treat women a great deal better than Moslem’s do.

In the first century the Jews were governed by the Roman Empire. Women of wealth in this culture had a surprising 1st century womanamount of freedom. We will read about how some of these wealthy women participated in the kingdom work in the book of Acts.

It may surprise some to know that there were even women who held public office. In Macedonia, where Paul would take the Gospel, women were in all respects equal to men. They worked at many jobs that would only be held by men in the primarily Jewish culture, including trades, building, commanding armies, and ruling. In the upper classes women could get a divorce as well as a man, though marriages were still contracted by families for political or social reasons. Women could inherit property and control it however they wished.

Though women had these freedoms, the entire culture was basically patriarchal. This is similar to the United States today. We have many freedoms here for women, but it’s still basically “a man’s world”. In families, the husband/father is still the head of the household. This is possible in a Christian culture because there is respect for women. Society does not have to be oppressive or abusive just because it is patriarchal.

We saw that women began to respond to the Gospel by serving Jesus in many ways. While Jesus was on earth many women followers provided food, money, and shelter for Jesus and the disciples. They were also witnesses and evangelists. The woman at the well in Samaria, for example, left her water pot and ran to town to tell everyone about Jesus. As a result, many Samaritans came to hear Jesus and were converted.

During Pentecost all of the believers that were in Jerusalem were gathered and filled with the Holy Spirit. The women as well as the men began life as the church of Christ. Throughout the book of Acts we will see the many new ministry opportunities open to women. Women will participate in all the activities of the church.

Women will not only share in ministry, but women will get to be equally persecuted. Saul (whose name would be changed to Paul after his conversion), “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1,2). Note that men and women got an equal opportunity to go to prison for their faith.

Luke, the author of the book of Acts, makes a conscience effort to show how the status of women would be greater in the church than in their previous position in Jewish culture. There are twenty-three women or groups of women mentioned in the book of Acts. All except a couple of these are positive accounts. By that I mean that most of these stories are about women who responded to the Gospel with faith in Jesus and entered the kingdom of God.

They are first of all, Mary the mother of Jesus, and disciples, widows, professional women, other prominent women, and relatives of other disciples. We will see that they all joined in with the task of the mission of the church in various ways.

All of these women are an example for us today. They were not so very different from us. They provided hospitality to missionaries and opened their homes up for church meetings. They served in their communities by taking care of widows and the poor. Some used their spiritual gifts in the church. Philip had four daughters who prophesied. Priscilla worked with her husband to teach others about Jesus.

Why would Luke take time to tell all of these stories if he did not want us to see that the way for women to serve in the kingdom of God alongside men was now open in this new era? Though women live in a patriarchal society, they are no longer second-class citizens. All are members of the priesthood of believers.

While our corporate responsibility is to serve others and to take part in the mission of the church, spreading the Gospel throughout the whole world, Christ also came to give us individually new life in Him. In this new life we are free from sin and free from guilt. As we live in the joy of our new freedom, we give up our own selfish ways and serve others in our families and neighborhoods. In this way we imitate the kingdom women whose stories we will be reading about in the next few weeks.

“If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be freeindeed” (John 8:36).

Act as freemen, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as servants of God”  (1 Pet. 2:16).

 

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I have seen the Lord!

 So said Mary Magdalene to the disciples after she ran to tell them about the empty tomb. It was resurrection day andmary-and-jesus-at-the-tomb Jesus had appeared to Mary. She was the first of all of His followers to see Him. Later that evening Jesus would appear to a gathering of the disciples who would also rejoice that He was alive.

Jesus would present “Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). Jesus would then tell His followers, men and women, to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. They would be empowered to go and preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Over the last few weeks we have shared the stories of women who interacted with the Lord. All of these women could exclaim with Mary Magdalene, I have seen the Lord!” Unfortunately, in many pulpits in America, the stories of women are neglected. These last four months I have tried to show that Jesus not only interacted with many women, but that He also modeled the way that society should treat women.

Jesus did not try to change the culture by preaching about gender issues. Jesus simply modeled the way as He went about treating women like equal human beings. He shocked His disciples on many occasions, but He expected them to learn from Him. He expected them to see that in His kingdom women as well as men were to serve. He did not hand out specific job descriptions; He meant for women to follow Him in whatever way they were called. For most women this would still mean being a good wife and mother. Other women were single or widowed and Jesus affirmed them in their callings as well.

Not only did Jesus treat women with respect and kindness, He made no differentiation as to social class.

– Some women were really poor – Mary His own mother, and Mary the mother of James.

– Other women were very wealthy – Joanna, the wife of Chuza who was a steward in King Herod’s household, Susanna, and Jairus’ daughter.

– Some women had relative freedom and responsibility – such as Martha and Mary of Bethany, who were landowners.

– Others were castoffs due to illness or demon possession – such as the hemorrhaging woman, the woman bent double, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna.

– Some women were prominent – Joanna, and Jairus’ wife.

– Other women were considered lowly because they were prostitutes – The Samaritan woman, the “sinful” woman, and an unnamed anointing woman.

– Many women were widowed – Mary, the mother of Jesus, Anna, the widow of Nain, and the widow with the two mites.

One thing all of these women had in common was that they had sadness or troubles in their lives. Even one as wealthy as Joanna had been demon possessed and needed Jesus’ help. Jesus saved all of these women not only spiritually, but also physically and socially. Women who were sick were considered unclean and were social outcasts. Single women were not given the same respect as married women. Impoverished widows were neglected and were in danger of starvation and illness. Prostitutes were socially unacceptable anywhere.

When Jesus met the needs of these women He gave them new life – physically, socially, and spiritually.

Jesus also restored these women to the position they had before the fall. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve went about working in the garden as equal stewards. There was no conflict between men and women until sin entered the world. Then the temptation to be selfish would affect all people. That is the essence of sin – I want my own way, especially if it means I can boss you around. Jesus changed all of this when He taught that we are to think of others before ourselves. Now, as we love and serve Jesus we will love and serve others. We can live the way we were meant to when God created us.

Neither Jesus nor Paul nor any other New Testament writer directly attacked the patriarchal structure of the society in their day. On the other hand, they did not deny the differences between men and women as some liberal feminists do in our day.

What Jesus did was to show that in His kingdom men and women would be, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you Jesus and the Sam. womanout of darkness into His marvelous light;” (I Peter 2:9). Women would be part of this newly formed priesthood. When Jesus allowed Mary of Bethany to learn at His feet instead of sending her to the kitchen to help Martha, He was telling us that women should learn from Him. Women need to also be ready to share the good news of the Gospel with everyone. Yes, women need to follow their callings and commitments in marriage and motherhood, but they should make it a priority to study God’s Word and be, “readyto make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” (I Peter 3:15).

My sisters, let us keep a biblical view of womanhood. This means that we must study how Jesus treated women and how women responded. My prayer is that more preachers would also take time to read, especially Luke’s Gospel and the book of Acts, and examine their own presuppositions concerning what work that women would be allowed to do in the Church. I pray that they would not be fearful of extremes, but would seek Biblical answers. I pray that men would be more like Jesus as they allow women to follow their callings.

What Jesus inaugurated, the Church would extend. In the next few postings, we will look at women in the early church.

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