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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. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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