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Posts Tagged ‘women disciples’

In the Gospel of Luke we see that Jesus’ coming changed the way that women were viewed in the community of faith. In his book of Acts, Luke shows that Jesus’ disciples continued to include women in their ministry.

Luke spends quite a bit of time talking about women. In the last few weeks I have posted stories about Mary the mother of John Mark, Lydia, Priscilla, Tabitha, Sapphira, and the prophesying daughters of Philip the evangelist. The lives of these women cover the gamut of church service – hospitality, church hosting, teaching, serving, and prophesying.

There are a number of other females in the book of Acts. We can learn something from all of their stories. We have already seen that Luke can tell us much in only a few sentences. There are so many wonderful stories that we will divide them into two parts – Part 1 this week and Part 2 next week.

This week let’s especially note that women were coming into the kingdom of God just as the men were. This is a significant break from Judaism where women were not allowed to minister as the men were. In our day it is hugely different from other religions such as Islam and Hinduism.

Women come into the Kingdom of God with the men:

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

And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number. (Acts 5:15).

But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. (Acts 8:12)

But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. (Acts 8:3)

When our days there were ended, we left and started on our journey, while they all, with wives and children, escorted us until were were out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another. (Acts 21:5).

We see from these verses that women were accepted immediately as disciples. They gathered and prayed with the men before the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost.

Whenever Peter or one of the other apostles would preach, large numbers of Jews would respond. All came to be baptized and all were included in the number of the church. Church membership is based solely on faith in Christ. The number of those who followed Christ was increasing rapidly and it worried the Jewish authorities.

Saul began to arrest them. So we find that not only were men and women allowed to worship and serve together, they got to suffer or die together. “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of he 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). All through history we will see as many women martyred for the faith as men.

Of course Saul would be converted and take the name of Paul. He spread the Gospel that he once hated to his fellow Jews and to Gentiles for many years. When he took his final journey to Jerusalem men and women gathered to bid him farewell. This new community of believers looked radically different from the old Jewish faith.

A servant-girl and a slave girl:

When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. (Acts 12:13-16).

Rhoda1Here again Luke takes time to tell the story of a seemingly insignificant person. Rhoda was a girl, and a servant girl at that. Why is she important? Rhoda was a new believer and she was apparently included in the household prayer time.

Rhoda was the servant of Mary, mother of John Mark. (You can read more about Mary in my May 14, 2014 posting). Mary hosted the young church’s prayer meeting at her home. Though Rhoda was her servant, Mary allowed her to be involved in the life of the Christian community.

Rhoda also displayed a good characteristic that we can emulate. Rhoda was persistent. Though the adults in the room doubted her, she kept insisting. She knew that their beloved leader, Peter was at the door. The only reason she left him standing there was because she was so overjoyed that she couldn’t help running and telling the others.

All believers are on an equal footing when it comes to praying and worshiping Jesus. Rhoda was no exception just because of her youth, gender, or economic status.

It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment. (Acts 16:16-18).

This young girl was not only a slave, but she was demon possessed. We are not told how the demon got control of herPhilippian slave girl life, only that unscrupulous men realized that they could make a profit off of her and used her to divine the future for them.

Something about this story is rather mysterious to us. The demon in her was apparently telling the truth. We are used to the fact that Satan is a liar and cannot be trusted. In this story the demon is proclaiming the truth about Paul’s mission. Why? It is most likely that the demons were mocking Paul or at the very least just trying to irritate him. Perhaps their noisy shouts kept people around Paul from hearing the Gospel. In any event, after a few days of this annoyance, Paul cast the demon out of the girl.

We don’t know what happened to her after this. We do know that her owners ignored her and went after Paul and Silas. They dragged Paul and Silas to the authorities because they were angry that they would be losing money now that their slave could no longer tell fortunes for them.

This story is important. We had many stories of Jesus casting demons out of women – Mary Magdalene for instance. Now the apostles would continue in Jesus’ footsteps freeing men and women and girls from the dark bondage and oppression of the evil one.

Mothers who raised their children well:

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:1)

Lois and Eunice  IntroThere are a number of women who are mentioned incidentally. This does not mean that they are not important. Luke takes time to mention the women who were involved in the lives of the apostles and leaders of the church. He could so easily have left them out, but he didn’t. His friend Paul would give credit to women in his ministry as well.

Luke and Paul must have known Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s grandmother and mother.

Luke tells us about Timothy’s family including the fact that his father was a Greek. Later Paul will remind Timothy that the gift of faith came to him “which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and our mother Eunice,” (II Timothy 1:5). The testimony of these godly women was so tremendous that it inspired many.

Another mother of course was Mary the mother of John Mark. She has been mentioned several times as a woman who showed hospitality and willingness to open her home to the new believers. Her son, John Mark was also well known to Luke and Paul.

But the son of Paul’s sister heard of their ambush, and he came and entered the barracks and told Paul. (Acts 23:16).

Another woman briefly mentioned by Luke is Paul’s sister. We do not know her name, but Luke made sure we knew that she was involved in helping Paul to escape the plot against him. Luke did not need to mention her; he could have simply said “Paul’s nephew”. But here again, we see that Luke takes the opportunity to show how involved women were in the new church.

Women in the New Testament were living in exciting times. They were limited in what they could do under the old Jewish laws. The pagan religion also kept them in bondage. Now with their new freedom in Christ they could participate in all of the life of the new community. They would be included in worship services and could pray, sing, prophecy, and serve along with the men.

Jesus died for His whole church – His single body in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated in Greek is called Dorcas); this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity which she continually did. (Acts 9:36)

In the last few weeks we have been looking at the stories of early women disciples as presented by Luke in the book of Acts. In the new era brought about by the Lord Jesus, women will be included in ministry. Of all of the women whose stories are given by Luke, only Tabitha is officially mentioned as a “disciple”. Of course, all of those who follow Jesus are disciples, but Tabitha is given special designation. Luke honors her and there are many reasons why.

As we have seen when looking at the lives of the other women in Luke’s Gospel and in the book of Acts, Luke only uses a few sentences about Tabitha, yet he still tells us much.

First of all, Tabitha exemplified all that was most praiseworthy in a follower of Jesus. She was truly unselfish and spent her time meeting the needs of others. We are not sure if she was a widow or just unmarried, but there is no mention of a husband. We are not sure of her financial circumstances either. But it does not matter; Tabitha wasted no time sitting around feeling sorry for herself. Luke tells us that she continually did deeds of kindness and charity.

Tabitha lived in Joppa, an important port town on the coast of the Mediterranean about 35 miles northwest of joppa mapJerusalem. The new Christian faith was spreading at this time throughout Judea. At the time of our story, the apostle Peter was ministering in the nearby town of Lydda.

Like many port towns, Joppa had its poor and destitute. Perhaps Tabitha could see them wandering the streets looking for charity. Maybe she noticed abandoned widows walking along in rags. She was moved with pity and a desire to do something about it. Being very talented with a needle, she knew that this was a way that she could serve.

We can compare Tabitha to the godly wife in Proverbs 31:10-31. Tabitha must have had all of the strength and organizing capabilities of her counterpart. Both sought to do good works. Both were excellent with needlework and spent many hours making garments for others. Both had seemingly endless energy for showing love to others.

It is interesting that Luke gives this disciple a double name – Tabitha and Dorcas. Recall that a few chapters earlier in Acts, Luke tells the story of how the Greek widows felt that they were not receiving equal treatment with the Hebrew widows (Acts 6). The new young Church found a way to deal with the problem that made everyone happy by establishing the system of deacons who saw that all of the widows were taken care of. Perhaps Luke was accentuating the fact that Tabitha was such a generous and kind woman that she made garments for Hebrew and Greek widows and thus was one of the first in the new Church to take seriously Christ’s command to take the Gospel to the Gentiles. Tabitha’s big heart would not let her refuse anyone help. Certainly Dorcas/Tabitha was beloved by all.

Tabitha took God’s command to care for the poor seriously. “Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor” (Zechariah 7:10). God had continually asked the Israelites to look after widows, orphans, and aliens. (See also Ezekiel 22:7 and Deuteronomy 24:17, 20, 21.) When Jesus came, He ministered to the marginalized constantly – the poor, the widows, and the outcasts. Tabitha as one of Jesus’ disciples followed His example in ministering to those in need especially the forsaken.

Tabitha expressed her genuine love for the poor by making garments for them with her own hands. We can easily envision her pouring her love into every stitch and praying for each recipient. Many people began to depend on her and it is no wonder that they must have been devastated when she became ill and died.

And it happened at that time that she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her body, they laid it in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples having heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him, imploring him “Do not delay in coming to us.” So Peter arose and went with them. When he arrived, they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them. But Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body, he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up; and calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. It became known all over Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. (Acts 9:37-42)

Dorcas and PeterTabitha’s love and kindness were so great that the many widows that she cared for were at her home crying when she died. They honored her by carefully washing her body and laying her in an upper room in preparation for burial. When Peter arrived they wanted him to know what a wonderful woman Dorcas was. He was so moved by their love that he prayed to God for her restoration. Peter must have sensed that God would do a miracle, because after he prayed he said in a positive way, with no doubts, “Tabitha, arise.”

After he called her, Tabitha opened her eyes. She saw Peter and then she sat up. This miracle reminds us of several times that Jesus raised people from the dead – the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. Jesus sent the mourners out of the room at Jairus’ house. Peter did the same at Dorcas’ house. In all cases the raised person sat up and was given to their loved ones. These restorations were not only for the dead persons – the miracles were also to bless those who had loved the victims and missed them – such as the poor widow of Nain. And the miracles were for those who were standing around witnessing the event because many came to believe on the Lord Jesus after this miracle.

The widows’ sadness turned to joy when Dorcas was restored to them. This woman who had given so much to others was now given life back. Doubtless, Tabitha continued to sew and serve the widows and the poor. I can’t imagine this energetic, loving woman doing anything else! Tabitha is a testimony to us of unselfish love and gratitude.
So many churches have followed her example. Women for several centuries have started sewing circles called “Dorcas Societies” to provide clothes for the poor. As an aside, the first group was established at Douglas Isle of Man on December 1, 1834. This service began as an act of thanksgiving to God after they had been spared from a plague of cholera.

And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. (Titus 3:8)

 

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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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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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