Happy Thursday, friends!
Yes, that was probably a little too chipper for me also, but I meant it with the full ‘Here, here!’ of this coffee in my hand.
I woke up this morning thinking about Lydia, a woman to whom Paul spoke in Phillipi. If you’re not familiar with the story:
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 had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:11-15, NRSV)
Discussions of this amazing lady meet the criteria for several thoughts on women at the time—she was a woman talking to a man, a female business owner in a prominent industry, she was hospitable, etc.
But what I want to discuss are two things: the idea that Lydia ‘was listening to us’ and ‘The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly.’ These two observations by Paul are essential because they indicate 1) Lydia listened of her own accord, and 2) God’s intention toward women is to create spaces for them not otherwise obtainable in the past.
The example of Lydia is significant because it wasn’t the dutiful, quiet, homebound woman who is presented as receiving God’s exhortation, but a working, successful woman who was wise and intelligent enough to run and maintain a business in a city (and world) dominated by men. Lydia became Paul’s first European convert—willingly, not coerced or shamed.
Examples like Lydia are vital to women reading the Bible. We need to be able to see ourselves in the people we read, or for men teaching their daughters and answering their questions like ‘How does God view me?’
There are so many examples of women in roles that even in this modern age are presented as forbidden, or come with stipulations—many times, only women who stay home having children are venerated as godly or noble. But what of Mary Magdalen, who joined a ragtag group of men and followed Christ everywhere, who was the first to know of his resurrection, and went to tell a group of men who didn’t even believe her.
Now after He had risen early on the first day of the week, He first appeared to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went and reported to those who had been with Him, while they were mourning and weeping. When they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they refused to believe it. (Mark 16:9-11, NASB)
Later, Christ ‘appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen’ (Mark 16:14, NASB).
Men, I encourage you to not act dismissively toward women and children who have, just like Lydia, the same ability as you to have our hearts and eyes opened by God Himself.
Women, I encourage you to read the Scriptures with this in mind—that if you, no matter what your profession, past, condition, or biological manifestation, if you look for yourself in the Book God left for us, you will find grace hidden between the stories of patriarchs and preachers.
Rahab, the sex worker who hid two spies sent by Joshua (Joshua 2:1-22), was not only responsible for sparing herself and her family when the Israelites seized Jericho, but is mentioned by name in the lineage of Christ—‘…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab…’ (Matthew 1:5, NRSV). The men tell Rahab, ‘Our lives for your lives!… If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land’ (Joshua 2:14). No focus on what she did, but who she was as a person.
Tamar, a woman jilted by a revered man—Judah, a significant Jewish and Christian patriarch—disobeyed Jewish law by not giving his youngest son to her in marriage after the first two sons had been ‘wicked in the sight of the Lord’ and ‘displeasing in the sight of the Lord,’ (Genesis 38:7, 10, NRSV), respectively. So what did Tamar do? She knew her rights under law as a widowed woman, but had no power to enforce them. Tamar disguised herself as a sex worker—often looked upon more disdainfully than Judah, who went to her as a patron—and conceived by him. At first, he wanted to burn her (v. 24), but then she showed Judah his signet, cord, and staff she’d asked for as a pledge when he visited her. Judah’s response was then, ‘She is more right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah’ (v. 26).
I point these women out, not to glorify the life choices of anyone—whether successful in the world’s eyes or the most overlooked and condemned—but to encourage both men and women to consider that ‘…without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him’ (Hebrews 11:6, NRSV), a chapter about the righteous faith of those who were accepted by God and his followers no matter what, and Rahab is again mentioned by name.
God can and will meet anyone, anywhere, any time. Let’s be cautious to refrain from judging people in their life status or condition—whether by profession, poverty, or afflictions—lest we become like Job’s friends. One is named Eliphaz, to whom the Lord says, ‘My anger burns against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has’ (Job 42:7). Let’s be careful to approach everyone in love.
What is it to us who God chooses? To whom God extends grace and mercy?
Guess what? You’re included. These examples of these amazing, faithful women show that no matter what people or society deem as unworthy or unforgivable, Christ does not. In fact, you are exactly who he wants to talk to—you’re why he came.
Exhorting women doesn’t threaten men—I guarantee it will only enhance your relationships with those closest to you—mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. But more than that, it will affect how you view women who have long lived on the fringes of society viewing themselves in ways God never intended, that their purpose was unclear or subservient, that there’s no place at His (and our) table.
No, friends, women are integral to the very history of the Church proper and our Christ. Treat them well, do not condemn anyone, and ‘do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think’ (Romans 12:3, NRSV).
Be kind, have compassion, and pray for mercy for everyone.