Women of Philippi- Your gifts are Vital to the Cause of Christ
March is Women’s History Month in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia- and it coincides with International’s Women’s Day, which is March 8th. When I lived in Berlin, Germany, I taught a 6-month women’s Bible study and leadership course about women from the Bible, with the aim that my students would walk away with practical life application tips that they could apply to their own lives.
I seek to do the same thing today by opening up to you the lives of the women from the first Christian church in Europe, the women of Philippi.
Oftentimes women think that God doesn’t care about their success, or that they don’t have a place- and they feel quarantined into the children or women’s ministries. And this causes us to be concerned about our stewardship to Christ, when our talents aren’t’ being utilized.
This is not a feminist profile of women being better than men, but rather, I aim to show how God used Paul AND a group of women to establish the first Christian church in Europe.
Paul was on his 2nd missionary mission in Asia Minor (Turkey) with Silas, Timothy, and Luke- revisiting and fortifying fledgling churches that he and Barnabas had planted- when the Holy Spirit tasked him the Philippian assignment.
But God, doing what He sometimes likes to do, interrupted Paul and blocked his path and with a vivid dream, redirected Paul to Macedonia (Greece). In his dream Paul saw a Macedonian man standing and pleading urgently “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).
God was opening the door to Europe, a historic development. So, Paul cancelled his plans and set sail for Europe, and landed in Philippi, a major Roman colony and leading metropolis in the region of Macedonia.
Paul finds a small group of women, praying outside the city gate, along the riverbank. These were gentile women, not Jewish insider women like Mary Magdalene or Susanna the wife of Chusa. If Paul and Silas were disappointed we don’t know, but they began teaching them about Christ. God intended to open the eyes of the Europeans with the Gospel message in enemy territory with a group of women. These women had heard about God from Jewish exiles in Philippi, but their knowledge was limited, pieces of the puzzle were missing, but they were God fearing.
-A business woman, a dealer in purple cloth that she imported from Asia. Her clients were the movers and shakers of 1st century society.
-She opened her home to the apostles and insisted they stay with her. By the time hostilities had forced the apostles out of Philippi, Lydia’s home was an established meeting place for the Philippian church (Acts 16:40).
EUODIA & SYNTYCHE
-They were 2 women who were embroiled in a serious disagreement that got their focus off ministry and threatened unity in the church (Philippians 4:2-3).
-Paul urged them to lay aside their differences (Philippians 4:3)
God was doing several things in Philippi, but here are two:
1). The first church plant in Europe was predominantly female.
Paul was following the lead of Christ in establishing the Philippian church teaching women. The women needed to hear the Gospel, they had missing puzzle pieces. And Paul needed the ministries they had to offer.
· They financially assisted him through Lydia, who aided him in Thessalonica, by sending Epaphroditus to help Paul with his needs.
· There’s a loneliness in pastoring and Paul opened up to them about the load and responsibility. He shared a lot of his troubles with the people at Philippi.
Was Paul disappointed that the Holy Spirit led him to a group of women? Did Paul fear the feminization of the church?
· From a Roman Prison cell some years later, Paul wrote:
“ Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. (Philippians 1: 3-5)
Many modern scholars believe that the Church at Philippi was Paul’s favorite church because of the affection that he wrote of the church (Philippians 1:7)
2). There was a lot of paganism going on in Philippi. Believers faced hostilities from pagan enemies on the outside, subversion from false teachers within, and divisive interpersonal conflicts. But Paul held women and men responsible for protecting and maintaining the unity of the church. And women continued to spread the Gospel, even after Paul was exiled.
So, what can we 21st century women learn from the women at Philippi??
1). Women are gifted in the church. We are: theologically astute, wise counselors, and actively involved in each other’s lives. We can use these gifts to be a blessing to their sisters, no matter what church we go to.
2). We see that Paul is pro-woman. We want women and men to stand beside each other and fight the battle of faith, and use our gifts to bless the church and our world. Paul is just as radical, countercultural, and affirming as the rest of Scripture- and following Christ.
3). Paul confirms that a woman’s gifts are vital for the cause of Christ. Women do indeed have a place, and we learn from Paul that our actions impact the spread of the Gospel, as well as the Apostle’s morale. A lot is riding on whether we stand firm or hold back.
While Paul’s epistle to the Philippians was written to people he knew personally, the Holy Spirit meant for his letter to fall into our hands to apply into our lives, and grow from. God calls for men and women to serve together. When women’s spiritual gifts and ministries are overlooked or underutilized, both men and women lose.
Cover photo sourced from Revealing Him