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Archive for November, 2018

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. (I Corinthians 12:4-6).

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 gifted teacher that Paul commends to the Church – Priscilla. This week we will study about the life of an early deacon – Phoebe. These women used the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit gave them for the benefit of the church.

 Phoebe

We read about Phoebe in Romans 16:1,2:

 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

 

These words were addressed to the church at Rome by the apostle Paul. Perhaps it was Phoebe who carried this epistle to the Christians in Rome. We know that Paul entrusted his epistles to others when he could not deliver them himself. For example, Tychicus delivered Paul’s letters to Ephesus and Colossae (Ephesians 6:21,22; Colossians 4:7-9).

Paul chose his co-worker Phoebe to deliver this letter and he had confidence in her. He asked the Roman Christians to treat her with respect when she arrived with his epistle. This was because Phoebe had been a faithful helper both to her church and to Paul himself. The Roman Christians were asked to show her kindness and give her any aid that she required.

There has been much controversy over the position that Phoebe held at her church in Cenchrea. Depending on which version of the Bible you have, the word diakonoshas been translated as “servant” or “minister” or “deacon” (the most accurate translation).

In the New Testament Church the term “deacon” became synonymous with selfless service to God for others. For example, in Acts 6:3,4, we see that seven men are called to “serve tables” so that the apostles can be free to pray and preach the Gospel. This same word is used by Paul to describe Phoebe and many of his other co-workers. Many women served in the early church in this way.

Phoebe was probably a wealthy businesswoman. She was from Cenchrea, the eastern harbor of Corinth. This was a major passage for trade along the shores of the Mediterranean. Perhaps Paul met Phoebe on his second missionary journey to Syria when he went through this port.

Paul wrote his letter to the Romans during his third journey. He was in Corinth when he wrote
this letter. How he learned that Phoebe was going on a journey to Rome is not explained to us. We only know that he heard that she was going and that he knew that this trustworthy sister had independent means and could travel. Paul sent her with the letter and it included his commendation.

Travelers often took letters of commendation with them when they traveled. This gave them protection. It also certified that the person carrying the letter was indeed a legitimate envoy for the person who was sending the important message. Since Phoebe had been Paul’s helper, he could vouch for her. The Roman Christians could trust her as a faithful and dedicated servant of the Lord.

We don’t know as much about Phoebe as we would like. We don’t know if she had been married, or widowed, or was always a single woman. We do know that her service for the Lord in her church was so outstanding that Paul entrusted her with an extraordinary task and commended her to others. What high words of praise!

In our day, many churches have turned diakonia into an office only available to men. The men meet once a month and decide how to distribute the donations. They let the women do the actual serving. The women are glad to be faithful servants without any title.

The deacon is supposed to be a servant. The original deacons waited on tables. Today the people in the church who actually serve are mostly women. The ones who take meals to the sick and visit the lonely are women. Many churches will not recognize these women by giving them an office. But do women really want an office? Most women serve because they love Jesus.

“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’’” (Mark 9:35)

Those who want to be honored in the church should be known for their service, not for the office they hold.

Phoebe was just one of many men and women who served faithfully in her church at Cenchrea. As time went on, women took their place among the men as servants in the early church.

Women had more freedom to serve in leadership positions while the church was growing. In contrast to the modern hierarchical belief that women were never allowed to be in leadership positions is the fact that women were ordained as deacons in the early church. When Origen wrote about Phoebe in Paul’s letter to the Romans he understood her to be officially ordained for the ministry of the church. Later John Chrysostom also wrote that women should not be hindered because of their sex since in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female. During the fourth century, the Apostolic Constitution still recognized female deacons but women began to be gradually pushed out. When the clergy began to impose itself between God and the community, it became a male-only privilege. The term ‘deaconess’, a diminutive of deacon, was retained to refer to women doing menial tasks, but women were stripped of the clerical office.

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 position.

The most important thing about Phoebe was that she was a faithful servant – so faithful and trustworthy in fact that the apostle Paul commended her. God has given us her example of faithfulness for all eternity in His Word. Phoebe did her work for the glory of God.

 

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