“Every woman has a story AND every woman’s story matters to God.”
The history of the Christian church is complicated and filled with intrigue, mystery, and especially miracles. The book of Acts, written by the evangelist Luke, outlines the development and growth of the Church, as he presents to his audience, repeatedly, the holy manifestation of “signs and wonders.” The movement of the Holy Spirit, in the formation of the early church, referred to by Luke as “The Way,” is crystal clear about God’s miraculous expressions to humanity through the power and inspiration of God’s resurrected son, Jesus, the Christ.
The “signs and wonders” of the early Church, as outlined in the book of Acts are many: the ascension of Jesus, the Pentecost moment, the transformation of Peter to the gifted Apostle whose shadow heals the sick, the conversion of Saul to the great architect of the Christian church [Paul], and the formation of the early house churches of the infant Christian era, just to name a few. Yes, Acts reads like a fast paced movie, with the great figures of the New Testament performing miracle after miracle, by the unction of the Holy Spirit.
The signs and wonders of Acts are so magnificent and so other worldly, that if not careful, we will read past some of the most pivotal movements of the early church. Similar to a character actor in a great movie, who does the heavy lifting of acting; but, does not get the proper screen credit; this is the case for many of the women of the early Christian church. These women, crucial to the birth and the formation of the house churches, which became the foundation of Christianity, are primarily found in the shadows of the book of Acts. Their stories are there; but, often their names are missing. Their contributions are there; but, only described in one verse or two. Their impact is profound and undeniable; but, often obscured by the “big” names of the Apostles and their male companions: Peter, Paul, Timothy, Barnabas, Silas, Stephen, and so on.
As the student of Acts moves from chapter to chapter, Luke outlines for the reader, how the early house churches were formed. The Apostle Paul, figures highly, as the architect of many early Christian communities, especially those with Greek origins.
One of Paul’s most beloved church communities was the church at Philippi. He writes to this community with unbridled emotion and affection: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” [Philippians 1: 3-5] Such affection from Paul to the church of Philippi, is indicative of his great admiration and love for this special congregation. Yet, a little known and certainly overlooked fact is this: The church of Philippi, one of Paul’s most beloved congregations, was founded by women!
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor…………..(Acts 16: 11-14)………………………..
“We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the Sabbath day, we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who were gathered there.”
HISTORICAL CONTEXT – HOW DID WE NOT KNOW??????????????
It is imperative to note, as we consider the formation of the very early Christian church, we are looking into a primarily Jewish construct. The early Christian communities were still very Jewish in their outward religious beliefs and expressions, and were primarily led by Jewish leaders, like Paul and Peter. Justo Gonzalez writes in “The Story of Christianity” (“The earliest Christians did not consider themselves followers of a new religion. All of their lives they had been Jews; and they still were.”- pg. 20)
The church of Philippi was no different. This community started with Jewish women who were celebrating and worshipping a Jewish Messiah, Jesus.
From the book, “Women in Scripture” – “Other commentators argue that the women gathered outside the gate for privacy; or that, in communities with insufficient numbers of men, the Jewish women were allowed to gather there in the absence of a synagogue; or that the term proseuche meant “synagogue” at Philippi and that the women’s presence there reflected their high social standing in Macedonia: they were allowed to gather as Jews despite the absence of men.” (Carol Meyers, pg. 463)
Yet, these were no ordinary women! This was a different tribe! This was a congregation of Jewish women who were worshipping in a new and different manner – THE WAY of Jesus! Perhaps, the reason why these women could not obtain a quorum of Jewish men (10 or more) to form a synagogue, was because of how and who they were worshipping. Theirs was a brand new way of expressing Jewishness. Luke’s reference to the Sabbath [“On the Sabbath day”] is a definitive context clue that these Philippian women were Jewish, yet converted to “THE WAY” that later became “Christianity.”
This passage of scripture is phenomenal in several ways. First, it shows us the tenacity and the radical nature of these ancient women, who despite obstacles, were determined to worship their Messiah, Jesus. Second, it teaches us about the social nature of women, who decided, they could and would form a fellowship WITHOUT the involvement or leadership of men. Third, and perhaps most important, it teaches us about the early formation of the Christian church: The formation of the Church, in great part, were WOMEN using their financial resources, WOMEN using their spiritual energies, WOMEN embracing their zeal for Jesus, and WOMEN showing their love for God to let NOTHING stop them from following the Lord, and forming faith community, in the process.
Women, like those gathered at the river, to worship as followers of Jesus. These were the same women who opened their homes, forming the first house churches of Christianity, such as the congregation at Philippi.
As mentioned in chapter 16 of Acts, Lydia is one of these women. Lydia, is mentioned as being a worshipper of God, and listening to Paul and his entourage teach. Her impressive resume overshadows the gathering of women at the river, who engaged Paul, Silas, and Timothy in the celebration of Jesus, beyond the city gate. Her name is mentioned [theirs are not] and the reader discovers, she is a dealer of purple cloth. Lydia offers shelter to Paul and his companions, opening up her home, and becoming the first European convert of the new Christian era.
Lydia’s faithful and charitable acts were a reflection and response of the congregation of women who worshipped and celebrated Jesus at the river, outside of the city gate. Lydia, may have been a first time attendant of this congregation of women, or perhaps she was a frequent visitor. We simply do not know, as the text does not share enough information about this circumstance. What we do know is this: Lydia, and many women like her, who were women of means and leaders in their homes, supported and undergirded the early Christian church. Without their financial support and their devotion to the faith; the male leaders of the Church, would have not been able to plant the number of church congregations found in New Testament scripture.
In the community at Philippi, Paul and his traveling companions, discover a Sabbath gathering composed of exclusively women. While the text is extremely brief in its details of this community of female celebrants, it leads us to imagine there may have been other communities of women worshipping Jesus, in the very same way. Here are women who used their own unique, feminine voice, their own vision, their own faith understanding, and their own leadership style, to follow Jesus; free from the male-dominated dictates of the religious experience.
Talk about “signs and wonders!” Here’s one we can add to the list: A tribe of women who boldly demonstrated their love of Jesus, despite obstacles and impediments that threatened to get in their way. These women, and their passionate and powerful determination to celebrate their Christ, embody the words which Paul writes to the Philippian church in Philippians 4:13: “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me.”
Imagine that the blessed words of Paul throughout the letter to the Philippians, and the epistle’s great import to the church of Jesus Christ, originated with Paul’s Sabbath meeting of women at the river. Again and again, God is speaking through holy Scripture, to show humanity, women’s invaluable contributions to the faith. What a fellowship! What a joy divine, as the women of God, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, press onward to follow the path of Jesus, as a community of faithful and determined believers.
Questions for our consideration and discussion:
The “household of Lydia,” outlined in the text, is an indication that Lydia was the leader of her home. How does female leadership in the home (whether single or married), influence the way in which the household worships the Lord?
When you think of “the ways of women,” what are some of the elements which have been incorporated into the Christian church?
Paul writes about the idea of joy/rejoicing throughout the book of Philippians. Based upon the idea of feminine fellowship [think of Tabitha’s Daughters, as an example], how does this type of women’s gathering bring us joy?
“Women helped each other in ways small and large, without thinking, and that was what kept [us] going even when the world came up with new and exciting ways to crush [us]. – Alyssa Cole
“Women instinctively know how to nourish each other and just BEING with each other is restorative.”
“It’s because of our friendships – female friendships are just a hop to our sisterhood, and sisterhood can be a very powerful force to give to the world….things that humans desperately need.” – Tanya Taalijard
OUR SENDING PRAYER
Lord Jesus, our Messiah and glory,
We, your sisters, desire to know You better.
We, your sisters, desire to walk with You closer.
We, your sisters, desire to love You more and more.
Grant us the power of love, the gift of joy, and a season of peace,
That Your divine light within us, may be illuminated to transform this world into the kingdom of God.
We pray, together as a fellowship of believers, in Your precious and holy name. Amen!
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