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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
Acts 16:14-15 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us. (NIV)
Lydia was a leading lady in the first church in Europe. Here’s what we know about her.
First, she was a successful business woman. She dealt in a high end product – purple cloth. Only the wealthy could afford it. It was the official garment of royalty. If she had been a car dealer it would have been Lexus not Hyundai.
Second, she had a home large enough to accommodate not only Paul and his team of four but also servants and the first church in Philippi.
Third, when she became a believer, “her household” believed and was baptized with her, which meant that she was probably a widow and the leader of a house with servants and perhaps dependent relatives. We don’t know who they were. But we do know that they respected her judgment and were willing to follow her lead.
Fourth, Lydia was also the first to believe the gospel in Europe – a risky thing for a man or a woman. She made the decision to become a Christ follower without hesitation, not worrying about how it might affect her business.
And finally, Lydia was bold. When Paul and Silas were escorted out of the Philippians’ jail they had an official pardon and apology, but they still had enemies. They went straight to Lydia’s house and she did not hesitate to welcome them (Acts 16:40). She put herself on the enemies list of some powerful groups in Philippi by doing that. Again, think of the threat to her business.
A few observations about this story as it relates to how the Apostle Paul viewed women: The first believer in Europe was a business woman. The first church in Europe was in a business woman’s house. And the first European believer to put himself in the cross hairs of persecution was not a him but a her.
Now put yourself in the Apostle Paul’s shoes as he writes his letter to the Corinthians. He knows the Old Testament better than you and I do. He knows about all the heroic women of the Old Testament. And he personally knows Lydia. He led her to Christ. She was his first convert in Europe. She hosted him in her home. She put her business – and thus her dependents wellbeing - in jeopardy for him. When he writes that women ought to be quiet in Church, and not teach men, is it reasonable to think that he is trying to impose a glass ceiling on them? That he thinks they are somehow inferior to men? Or is Paul concerned with something much more fundamental?
What God is Saying through Lydia’s Story –
First, God will use anyone who will trust him, male or female, to do great things.
Second, women’s judgment, their ability to discern the right course and take it, is not in question. Deborah was known for her wise and godly counsel in civil matters as well as in war. Lydia ran a successful business.
Third, women do not take a back seat to men in leadership skills. Their roles are different. The way they exercise leadership is different. The avenues along which those leadership gifts are expressed might be different. But the calling and ability to make a plan, initiate that plan, martial the human resources to execute the plan and see it through to fulfillment are no less present in women than they are in men and of just as much service to the kingdom.
Women’s ability to lead is not in question in Paul’s letter. If male and female leadership in the home and in the church isn’t about ability what is it about? We’ll get in to that next week.