The following notes and audio are by Keeley Chorn, co-teacher for Young Women’s Bible Study. Press play on the player below to listen to this message. Or to download to your computer – On a PC right-click “download audio” and select “Save As Target.” On a Mac Ctrl+click “download audio” and choose “Download linked file as.”
Two Working Women in the Bible
In the U.S., 60 % of women work outside the home. There are 9.1M women-owned businesses in the U.S. And, of married working women, ½ of them are the primary breadwinners in their family. With so many of us in the work force, it’s important for us to look at how God works through women who are professionals. What does it look like to be a Christian woman in the business world?
We’re going to see that God uses women in big ways in the spread of his gospel, and he uses them in and through their vocations, their jobs, their callings. They weren’t called to quit their job when they become a Christian or got married. We’ll see that we are to serve God through our work and where we are in life. Our texts tonight are found in Acts 16 and 18. The two women we get to look at are Lydia, who was a dealer of purple cloth, and Priscilla, who was a tentmaker. We’re going to look first at Lydia, who was the first convert to faith in Europe, and then at Priscilla, who labored alongside her husband and Paul in teaching others. Both women were able to learn first-hand from Paul, because they invited him into their homes.
Context of the book of Acts in the Bible
Open Your Bibles to Acts 16. To put into context where these women’s stories are in God’s overall story in the Bible, they’re both in the book of Acts. Acts occurs after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It tells the story of the founding of the church and its growth through the Holy Spirit in the early days. The disciples went out to convert and teach the Jews and Gentiles about Jesus. Acts is where we meet Saul of Tarsus, who is dramatically converted on the road to Damascus, and who receives the new name of Paul. The second half of Acts charts his 3 missionary journeys. Our stories of Lydia and Priscilla are found during his 2nd journey.
Lydia- Acts 16:11-15, 40
Paul and Friends Go to the City of Philippi. Look at Acts 16:11-15.
“From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.”
We encounter here the group of missionary men: Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Luke; Luke’s the one who wrote the book of Acts. They have just been traveling in the Northern regions of Asia, but were forbidden by the Spirit from actually entering Asia or preaching the gospel there. Paul then saw a vision of a man of Macedonia (modern-day Greece) standing and begging him saying “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). That’s where we meet Paul and his companions here in verse 11. They are following the Spirit and moving to Macedonia. This is their first time onto the continent of Europe.
Verse 12 tells us that they are staying in the city of Philippi, which is the city Paul will later write the book of Philippians to.
Verse 13 then tells us “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” Paul seeks them out, sits down and begins speaking to the women who had gathered there. I love that it was a man in Paul’s vision that called them over, and when he gets there, he finds a group of women praying.
They Meet Lydia, a Dealer of Purple Cloth. In verse 14, we are introduced to Lydia. It says,
“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.”
Right here, we learn 4 things about her. First, her name is Lydia and she was among the women gathered for prayer, and she was listening to Paul’s message. Prayer is important to her and to the life of her community.
Second, it says she was a dealer of purple cloth. What do you think of when you hear the color purple? Think in ancient days what purple signifies… What do you think this tells us about Lydia?
- purple would be associated with royalty, with wealth,
- she is known as dealer- has her own business
- think of an art dealer- she would have to have money to buy goods then sell them at profit
She is successful and has her own business. In the next verse we’ll see that she has her own household as well, which would have included servants.
So, third, we learn that she’s from the city of Thyatira. Remember that Thyatira was one of the 7 churches in the book of Revelation that we just got finished studying. That church had tolerated the woman Jezebel. Lydia is from modern-day Turkey but is now living in Greece. Actually, the city she is from is from the region called Lydia. So it has been speculated that her name comes from the region where she’s from, which is famous for the purple cloth. She probably got her name by being so closely associated with her business and trade.
The fourth thing we learn about her is that she is a worshiper of God. The phrase worshiper of God is used elsewhere to describe Gentiles, not Jews, who went to the synagogue and sometimes converted. She would already be learning about God and studying him. She is already seeking the Lord.
God Opens Lydia’s Heart to Believe
And it’s here that God meets her. The next thing we read in verse 14 is that “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Paul is now telling the women about the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures in Jesus Christ, preaching Jesus as Lord who has come to give forgiveness, in God’s name, for the repentance of sins. God is the one who acts in opening her heart to understand these things and to believe.
When I was living in NYC, God opened my heart to understand the gospel. I remember sitting in church during one of my pastor’s series, he had been preaching for 6 weeks on the same topic. I began to notice that he was basically repeating the same message at the end of each sermon. Finally, one Sunday, it hit me. It was like the light-bulb finally went off in my head. I began to understand the gospel. Christianity is not just about getting saved to get into heaven. It’s about a way of life. God loves us and went to the cross to bring us back to him and give us new life. Christianity isn’t about following a set of rules to get into heaven, but it is about God who came down to us to show us the way to him. We don’t have to work our way up to find favor with God, but he’s already shown us how much he loves us. I was to follow him because I understood why he died for me. I was to follow him out of thankfulness for his great love and mercy towards me. That changed me. I know that only God could open my heart to truly begin to understand this and to live a new way.
Lydia Invites Them to Stay in Her Home
Look back at verse 15 then, here we learn that Lydia is baptized, together with the members of her household. Then she invites the men into her home. She says, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” (which they should, since they just baptized her), “come and stay at my house.” Then Luke tells us that she persuaded them. Why do you think Lydia persuaded them to stay at her house? Why would she want these men to stay with her?
- to serve them- she would have the space
- to welcome them,
- also to learn from them
Yes, she, this successful, well-known businesswoman, has now invited them to come and stay in her home so that she can (serve them, but also) learn from them.
Lydia’s House a Place of Refuge
We next encounter Lydia in verse 40. Paul and Silas have just been imprisoned in the Philippian jail, God has miraculously saved them from it; the jailer has been converted and, with his household too, baptized. Verse 40 says that after they “came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.” After their ordeal, they return to her house. Lydia has now opened her home as a place of meeting for this young group of believers and as a refuge from the persecution that is going on in the city.
Lydia’s life has changed. She knows that her work takes on greater importance and significance now that she follows Jesus. She takes in as much as she can, learning, and opening her home to the missionaries, new believers and the growing church in Philippi.
Priscilla- Acts 18:1-3, 18-19, 24-28; 1 Corint 16:19; Romans 16:3-5
Next, we get to look at Priscilla. She, too, is a woman with a vocation who is called by God to be an integral part of his church. Look at Acts 18:1-3. We learn that Paul has now traveled down through Athens and come to the city of Corinth. Inverse 2, we are introduced to Aquila, Priscilla’s husband. He is a Jew, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius, the emperor, had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Commentators believe they were part of a group expelled for following Christ and causing an uproar in the city. Many believe they would have been taught by some Jews who were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost and who returned to Rome telling about Jesus’ death and resurrection and giving of the Spirit.
The end of verse 2 tells us that Paul went to see them and verse 3 tells us that “because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them.” So they all make tents for their profession. They have a trade and work with their hands. She is a working woman too, like Lydia. It’s because of their job and skill that Paul hears of them, comes to them, and ultimately stays with them while he’s in Corinth. Because of their shared trade, they were able to invite Paul into their home. We can assume that the 6 days they were working together that he would have taught them more about Jesus. Paul ends up staying in Corinth with them for a year and a half.
Moving to verses 18-19, we learn that “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time. Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila.” And in verse 19, “They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila.” He preaches in the synagogue, but when they want him to stay longer, he declines and heads on out, leaving Priscilla and Aquila there alone.
Why do you think Paul takes them with him from Corinth, and then leaves them there in Ephesus? (Why take them at all?)
- he’s been training them
- he trusts them
- he’s ready to leave them and let them carry on the work
So yes, Paul would know that they were ready to then go and do the same work on their own. He had taught them and discipled them, and now they were ready to do the same in the city of Ephesus. This is just what we see does actually happen.
Priscilla and Aquila Teach and Train Apollos
In verses 24-28, a man named Apollos, a Jew, from Alexandria in Egypt, came to Ephesus. “He was a learned man, [or well-studied,] he had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.” So here comes this great preacher, who’s a very smart man, who knows the Lord, has a gift of speaking, and taught accurately about Jesus, but he didn’t know about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, only the baptism of John.
Verse 26 says, “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” What do you think we learn about the process of making and being disciples from this story?
- you have to learn, to study,
- invite someone into your life,
- can do it while working,
- then share it with others
Notice the difference in how Priscilla and Aquila handled this situation and how we today might handle this situation. They don’t call Apollos out publicly; they don’t tell him he’s wrong or kick him out of the synagogue, but instead, they invite him into their home and teach him more adequately about Jesus. (Notice how much private instruction and discipleship is going on in the home and through shared work in this story.) They gently correct him in his theology. Apollos went on to be an instrumental leader in the church at Corinth.
So God had used Priscilla and her husband and worked greatly through them. Paul came to them because they shared a profession with him. He stayed with them for a year and a half, and then took them with him on to Ephesus. And because he would have trusted them, he left them there to begin the church and to teach others and make new disciples who would then go on to teach other people in the process. God was multiplying the church through Priscilla and her husband and because of their profession.
The Importance of Priscilla and Aquila in Paul’s Work
The end of their story, we can piece together from a few mentions in the rest of the NT, in Paul’s letters. From the closing of the book of Romans (16:3-5), we learn that Paul considered Priscilla and Aquila his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. Not only are they fellow tentmakers, but now he calls them his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. It also says there was a church meeting in their house. They have been instrumental in starting various churches and in training up leaders, all because Paul came to them one day, because they were tentmakers like he was. God met them in their work. Just look at how big God’s plans were for using them, when they were first kicked out of Rome for following Jesus.
To wrap up Lydia and Priscilla’s stories, we see that they’ve come a long way in their faith from when they first were encountered by Paul. Work was an integral part of who they were. But God didn’t just call them to be a really good purple cloth dealer or a tentmaker. He did do that, but he called them to be disciples of Christ too, first and foremost. He called them to learn about him and to be a part of the church, of God’s community, to encourage others and to teach and disciple others, even as they continued their work.
Application- What does this mean for our lives today?
Two things I want us to take-away from Lydia and Priscilla’s stories:
1. You are important in God’s mission and your work is important. God works through every one of his people to proclaim his gospel. Turn to Colossians 3:23-24. God has this to say about our work: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Do you approach your work with all your heart, knowing that it is the Lord Christ you are serving? Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to convict you and help you live into this. Our work includes our jobs, but includes all of life. In all of life, know that you are serving the Lord.
2. You are called to be a disciple and learner, but also a disciple-maker and sharer of your faith. Be thinking about what it means to learn from someone and then to lead someone. God has called each of us to be a friend to others, and to share Christ with others. This doesn’t just mean you should be trying to convert that family member who won’t even give you the time of day, but we should be doing this with Christians too. Reach out to someone in your small group or a friend, invite them over to hang out, have coffee together or a meal. But be intentional in your conversation. Ask them where they are in their faith, what are their struggles, how can you be praying for them. And then pray together.
To sum it up, this is what God is at work in the world doing. He is drawing people to himself, opening our hearts, teaching us, but also calling us to learn and pass it on, to not just be consumers of information. We are a part of what God is doing in the world. He uses us where we are, in our jobs: either as a boss, as a business owner, as an artist, a writer, a lawyer, a teacher, a manager, or as an employee working for someone else. Everything we do witnesses to God and the one whom we serve.
Questions for Application and Discussion
- What are some practical ways you can begin to approach your work and life with a Col 3:23-24 mindset? (“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the LORD, not for men…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.”)
- Discuss ways that you personally can grow in learning then passing on what you’re learning to someone else. Commit to doing this with one person this week.