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Posts Tagged ‘Women in Acts’

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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On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. (Acts 21:8,9).

In the last few weeks we have noticed that Luke the evangelist includes the stories of many women in his Gospel and in the book of Acts. In this story Luke makes a special mention of women, even though at first glance it seems so unnecessary to the story. But Luke has wider purposes in all of his narratives. He packs a lot of truth in each one.

In this part of the book of Acts, Paul is on his way to Jerusalem. Paul has taken the Gospel to many cities and preached many times about Jesus and salvation to both Jew and Gentile. He hopes to go to Rome some day.

Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He told the disciples that they would take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). The remotest part of the known earth at that time was Rome. Paul would eventually get there. God would take him to Rome in an unexpected way. Paul would be arrested and tried unfairly. He would ask as a Roman citizen to present his case to Caesar. The Roman officials would send him to Rome as he requested. You can read all about this in the last 10 chapters of the book of Acts.

On the way to Jerusalem, a prophet named Agabus told Paul that he would be arrested and he begged Paul not to go there. Paul and AgabusAgabus gave his prophesy at the home of Philip the evangelist. Luke tells us that Philip had four virgin daughters who were living with him who also prophesied. We are not told exactly what they prophesied, or even if they also cautioned Paul about going to Jerusalem. We only know that Luke thought it was important to mention them.

Let’s give a little background to the story. Philip is said to have been “one of the seven”. This means that he was one of the original deacons that we read about in Acts 6. At that time there was a problem in the new young church. The Gentile widows were not given the same amount of care as the Jewish widows and some were complaining. The leaders of the church came up with a solution – men of good reputation, wise, and honest would be chosen to take care of the widows. These men were the first deacons, and Philip was one of them. We know then that he was a good disciple and must have had some leadership ability to have been chosen for such a responsibility.

Philip was also given credit for helping to start the evangelistic effort in Samaria. As Philip spoke to the citizens of Samaria many came to believe and “there was much rejoicing in that city” (Acts 8:8).

As usual in Luke’s writings, though we are not told much, we can infer a lot. Luke has a way of really telling so much more if we read all of the Gospels and Acts. Other examples of women that Luke has included in his writings are Anna, another prophetess, and Mary the mother of John Mark. If you read the stories about these women, posted on this blog, you will see what I mean. Careful study reveals much information. You must also pay attention to every word that Luke uses; each word is a description of a large portrait.

So there are some things we can deduce about Philip’s daughters thanks to Dr. Luke’s careful research and gifted writing.

If you had read Acts 2:17 for example, you would have learned that Peter told his Jewish hearers that a prophesy in Joel had just been fulfilled at Pentecost:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. (Joel 2:28,29)

When you read the passage about Philip’s daughters you will recall that Peter said this, and will see that Luke is assuring you that indeed it came to pass that “daughters shall prophecy”.

An interesting fact to note is that these women are already second-generation Christians. Their father was a devout, well-known disciple and he must have been a godly father too. These girls desired to worship and serve God as their father did.
Why did Luke make a point to mention that these girls were virgins? There is much speculation, but perhaps Luke wanted to show that God might call women to other tasks besides the traditional ones of marriage and motherhood. We do not know that these young women didn’t get married later. On the other hand, like Paul and other male disciples, they might have chosen to remain single in order to devote their lives to serving God.

New Testament WomenWe don’t know how many children Philip had, but these four daughters were following the Lord using the gifts that the Holy Spirit had given them.

What kind of prophesies were the daughters giving?

In its most basic meaning prophecy is giving the Word of God. In the Old Testament times, the prophets heard from God and delivered the message to the Israelites and sometimes to the nations around Israel. These prophecies were not only God’s current teachings but they also contained predictions about the future. The prophets reminded the Israelites that there were blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience.

In the transition time for the new Church that we read about in the book of Acts, there are some predictions, such as the one by Agabus who warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Many of the references about prophecy are to prophecies that have been fulfilled. For example, all through Luke’s Gospel we read that the coming of Jesus was in fulfillment of God’s promises to save His people. The apostles and other writers spent much time showing how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies.

Prophecy today is still seen as “giving the Word of God”. However, we have the Word of God in the Bible. We don’t need any more special audible revelation from God. Today’s prophets are those who can take the Word of God and teach it clearly to others. In a way they can also “predict”. By that I mean that they can certainly still tell God’s people, as did the prophets of old, that there are blessings for obeying God and there will be big trouble if they don’t.

Philip’s daughters were at the very least encouraging the Church with their wisdom from God’s Word. These women were examples given to us by Luke that there were some changes in the new religion known as “the way”. Christian disciples will be made up of men and women. Women will be allowed to do many things that they were denied in Judaism. When the Holy Spirit came He gave gifts, including prophesy, to men and women. The Gospel will transform lives – religiously and socially. Women will no longer be second-class citizens. They will do their part in the life of the Church.

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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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