by Brian Currie, N. Ireland
As is obvious from the list of contents of this book, the subject matter is so comprehensive that it runs from Genesis to Revelation. When guidance is required in our day, and principles for service are sought, it is common to ponder the practices of the early church that are documented in the Acts of the Apostles. While this is unquestionably a book of transition from the old Jewish dispensation of being under law to the new Christian age of being under grace, there are principles revealed that have apostolic, and thus Divine, authority and are binding on Christians of this present era. On this basis we turn our attention to this wonderful book of missionary enterprise and seek to learn lessons that will enable personal and collective testimony to be advanced.
Women are mentioned throughout the book of the Acts as follows:
1.14, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren" – Continuity In Prayer.
5.1-11, Sapphira, who with her husband, Ananias, lied "to the Holy Ghost" – Severity In Punishment.
6.1, "Widows were neglected in the daily ministration" – Partiality In Provision.
9.36-43, "Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas …" – Profitability In Production.
12.14,15, "She opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad" – Faulty In Perception.
16.1, "Behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed;" – Fidelity In Parenthood.
16.14,15, "And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us" – Sincerity In Profession.
16.16-18, "A certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination … followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour" – Testimony In Pronouncement.
Not all of these could be placed in the category of "Godly Women" but by a consideration of those who were even the opposite, lessons, albeit negatives ones, can be learned.
1.14, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren."
Prayer was the main occupation of these early disciples. It was never looked upon as being the second most important activity and so they "all continued" in it. Their continuity is emphasised. These saints would never have missed the prayer meeting on the basis of a frivolous excuse. On the other hand, the prayer meeting would never have been boring by reason of long-winded and repetitive prayers. There would have been a real atmosphere of excitement as they prayed for real, felt and current need and they would have been living in the expectation of the Lord answering their prayers. Paul emphasised the importance of the prayer meeting when he wrote, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" 1Tim.2.1,2. The words, "first of all" show that prayer has the first place and is not so much first in time. Also, we note that "all" is plural and implies it is first before all other matters and is of prime importance:
The second matter to be highlighted is their harmony, which is seen in the expression, "with one accord". This implies they were harmonising like the instruments of an orchestra under the conductor. Here the Conductor was the Holy Spirit and He controlled them. This is the first of eleven occurrences of this word in the Acts and perhaps it is one of the secrets of their successful service.
They prayed meaningfully and with real entreaty as is seen in the words, "in prayer and supplication". Prayer is the general word and depicts a person on their knees: supplication is more particular and depicts a person on their face. Also, the constancy of the women is seen. They were there during the life of the Lord Jesus and at the cross and they are still there in the upper room. The value of praying women to the testimony is inestimable. Who could assess the worth of the prayers of Hannah that issued in a measure of recovery of the nation through Samuel? Anna’s prayers added greatly to her service of the Lord, Lk.2.36-38. This is the last time we read of "Mary the mother of Jesus" and shows her humility. While she is given the prominence of being mentioned by name, she never dishonoured the principle of headship by praying publicly in the presence of men. Neither is there any mention of the mother and child; nor is there any thought that she was prayed to; she is among the supplicants.
Many readers will take encouragement from the fact that His family is mentioned, "with His brethren". They remained in unbelief through all the years they watched Him and heard Him, but they now believe and are among His followers. We must continue to pray for unbelieving family and friends and not give up.
5.1-11, "Sapphira, who with her husband, Ananias, lied "to the Holy Ghost".
It can be correctly and thus very confidently stated that anything that is of God or brings pleasure to God will be attacked by Satan. This has been true from Eden’s garden. Satan takes on various guises to instigate an attack. These can be as a serpent, an angel of light or a roaring lion. As he tempted the Lord Jesus these three characteristics can be seen. In the wilderness he asked the Lord to make bread from stones and in this he acts as the subtle serpent. In the second he showed the Lord all the kingdoms of the world and desired worship and in this he was an angel of light. In the third he took the Lord to the pinnacle of the temple and invited Him to cast Himself down and was seen as a roaring lion.
In the Acts he is seen in these guises. It is as the serpent, with subtle deception he attacks through Ananias and Sapphira. When that did not work as he desired, he donned the robe of the roaring lion and the saints were fiercely persecuted, which was seen in all its ferocity in the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts chapter 7 and that of James in chapter 12. Finally, he came as the angel of light and sought to destroy the testimony by introducing wrong doctrine through false teachers. This is apparent in Acts chapter 15 where there was an attempt to corrupt the purity of the gospel by introducing circumcision as a prerequisite to salvation. Paul warned against such, "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" Acts 20.29,30.
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was covetousness combined with hypocrisy and their attempt to cover it led to them lying unto God. Sin among mankind was introduced in Eden by the instrumentality of a man and a woman and here Satan repeats his successful tactic. Achan’s sin was also covetousness, Joshua chapter 7. Solemnly, each occasion ended in death.
The lesson for all Christians is that we are to be men and women of integrity and we ought not to allow the deceitfulness of riches to blur our sight and eventually to mar our testimony. Christians are expected to be truthful and honest and if Ananias and Sapphira had displayed these characteristics this attack would have foundered. Where these features are absent, endless problems will arise.
6.1, "Their widows were neglected in the daily ministration."
A problem arose as the testimony increased. It has often been noted that the larger the number of people, the more numerous the problems and such was the situation here. The first verse connects the multiplication of disciples with the murmuring of discontent. The children of Israel murmured against the leadership of Moses and Aaron and thus against the Lord. This is the teaching of Ex.16.7,8, "… for that He heareth your murmurings against the LORD: and what are we, that ye murmur against us? And Moses said, This shall be, when the LORD shall give you in the evening flesh to eat, and in the morning bread to the full; for that the LORD heareth your murmurings which ye murmur against Him: and what are we? your murmurings are not against us, but against the LORD." With respect to the nation, this attitude can be seen in many chapters of the Old Testament such as Exodus chapters 15,16,17; Numbers chapters 14,16,17 etc., as well as being highlighted in the New Testament as a prevalent sin.
The problem in Acts chapter 6 appears to have sprung from a perceived favouritism based on nationalistic tendencies. The Hellenists, the Greek-speaking Jews, thought that their widows were being disadvantaged "in the daily ministration" or the daily provision that was given to the widows. This murmuring had the potential of hindering the work of God since "the twelve" may have had to "leave the word of God and serve tables" v.2. There are a number of lessons we ought to learn from this:
The Lord desires that saints, especially widows, who are in penury be cared for
All materialistic matters in the assembly must be seen to be done impartially
It takes very little to cause big problems; see Jms.3.5b
Problems can be solved by spiritual men acting decisively and in harmony.
9.36-43, "Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas …"
There are three people in the Acts who are termed "a certain disciple". These are Ananias, 9.10; Timothy, 16.1 and Dorcas, 9.36. The idea in a disciple is a follower or a learner; indeed these may be combined and it can be stated that a disciple is one who follows to learn and who learns to follow. This becomes cyclic since the more we learn the more we follow, and the more we follow the more we learn and the whole of Christian experience is following and learning and learning and following. This results in not only learning, but becoming attached to one’s teacher so as to follow his way of life, so that the life of a disciple is changed. This means that in the disciple, features of Christ will be detected. In some of the considerations above, lessons have been learned in a negative way, but with Dorcas all is positive and features are seen that can only be if we are truly learning Christ.
Her Dwelling – v.36, "Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha …"
There are a number of features of Joppa that permit us to conclude that it is a picture of the world. Its name means "beautiful" and none can deny the beauty of this world even though scarred with sin. It was the place to which the disobedient prophet Jonah ran in a futile attempt to hide from God. It was located in the territory of Dan, the most northerly, and perhaps the worst, tribe. It was a very ancient city, which was near the sea and was built on a hill. Would these facts not remind us respectively of the antiquity of the world, the place for the nations and the pride that marks mankind? All this suggests that Tabitha lived in a world that was just like ours!
It was "near Lydda" v.38, which means "birth-place". This adds to the evidence that it was marked by things natural. The distance from Joppa to Lydda was just over 16.5 km (about 10 miles), reminding us of the proximity of our debased nature.
Thus there is no excuse for not working for God in this world. She learned Christ in the midst of an appealing world and so can we.
Her Designation – v.36, "… a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas"
She is the second woman to be named in the Acts: the first is Sapphira. What a contrast; one greedy, the other giving; one deceitful, the other diligent; one a hypocrite, the other honest.
The name Tabitha means "clear-sighted" and the implication is that she was not fooled by the beauty of the world. She had a clear vision and could see what others were unable to see. This reminds us of Moses who "endured, as seeing Him who is invisible" Heb.11.27. This continued to the end, Deut.34.7, "Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated." It seems that saints of a former day were more of this character than the present generation. Lands, titles, high status, fortunes of money were all given up because they believed the Lord Jesus was coming at any moment, and eternity had a grip on their souls. In this day far too many believers are taken up with amassing material things.
The interpretation of Tabitha is Dorcas, which is much more familiar to us. Its meaning is ‘gazelle’, often translated ‘roe’ in the Song of Songs. A number of differing ideas come to mind when we ponder the spiritual significance of a gazelle.
A gazelle is easily frightened and its only defence is its speed. Applying this to Dorcas and so to ourselves, it suggests a woman who is not forceful or pushy. She would happily accept her place of subjection to the man and so to Christ, 1Cor.11.3. Perhaps the last woman to be named in the Acts also would reflect this character. She was Damaris, 17.34, whose name means ‘to tame, curb’ or as some suggest, ‘gentle’. Modern day feminism has made women loath to accept this place and has caused problems in some assemblies.
It must be understood that headship does not imply inferiority, since the Head of Christ is God and He is not inferior to God. It is rather an accepted place of subjection to advance the work of God. The acceptance of headship is displayed by a two-fold covering, namely the natural one of the hair and the artificial one of the head covering. The man’s head is uncovered and his hair is short; whereas the woman’s head is covered and her hair is long. Space prohibits an exposition of 1 Corinthians chapter 11, but it would richly repay the reader’s personal study.
Such a woman would not be an attention seeker and so would dress in a becoming manner. She would exemplify 1Tim.2.9,10, "… women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works"; and 1Pet.3.3,4, ‘Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price."
The gazelle can run swiftly over rough, uneven terrain where others would stumble. Where do we obtain such spiritual stability? The answer may be in Isa.33.6, "wisdom and knowledge shall be the stability of thy times." It is a knowledge of God and His Word that enables us to be stable Christians. It is most refreshing to find a sister who is knowledgeable in the Word of God and can discuss it intelligently. The godly women referred to in this book would have had a knowledge of God’s Word and His ways. It would appear that Samson’s mother was more spiritual than his father, Manoah, since each time the angel appeared, it was to her. There is little doubt that Hannah was more spiritual than Elkanah, Naomi than Elimelech and Priscilla than Aquila;
Paul encourages us to stand for God in Eph.6.10,11,13, "Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil … Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." This is not advancing into the devil’s territory, but it is standing and holding what we have got because too often we are driven back.
Stand before the attack, v.11, "ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil"
Stand during the attack, v.13, "ye may be able to withstand in the evil day"
Stand after the attack, v.13, "and having done all, to stand".
The gazelle parted the hoof and chewed the cud and so it was a clean animal. Clean animals were marked by two characteristics, "Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat" Lev.11.3. These characteristics bring to our attention two very important features of Christianity. Parting the hoof is outward and implies separation in our walk. Chewing the cud is inward and implies the importance of meditation. These are clearly seen in the blessed man of Psalm 1, "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful", this is parting the hoof: "But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in His law doth he meditate day and night", this is chewing the cud. Both are required and each exercise will help the other.
Her Diligence – v.36, "This woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did."
It was not that Dorcas was marked occasionally by good works and giving, but she was full of these. The word "full" (pleres) is also in v.17, "filled with the Holy Ghost". It means to be complete, fully furnished. For example in Matt.22.10, "the wedding was furnished with guests." Her life was filled fully, totally complete with doing good works and giving to the poor. The Pastoral epistles are a commentary on "good works" and the Scriptural commentary on giving is 2Corinthians chapters 8 and 9. Her life was so busy she never would have time to be bored and she never could have been accused of being lazy. What tremendous value such sisters are to the testimony!
Her Death – v.37, "She was sick, and died"
It may be supposed that Dorcas was the last person the assembly wanted to lose, but sometimes the Lord takes home those who were doing a good work; those we feel we cannot do without. However, we must accept God’s purpose and His overruling will, understanding that He makes no mistakes. This is true even when we lose a loved one. Often we do not understand why and while we do not have the answers, we must rely on Him. It has been said that down here we have the tears without the reason, but up there we will have the reason without the tears. We recall that it is twice recorded, "As for God, His way is perfect" 2Sam.22.31 and Ps.18.30. We are not surprised when we cannot understand, since Paul wrote that, "His ways (are) past finding out!" Rom.11.33.
Her Donation – v.39, "The widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them."
She was mourned because she was missed. Some Christians would be missed because of their nuisance value, but this woman was so loved by the saints they mourned her passing. Should not each one of us live so that we would be missed for the right reasons? It is tragic to read of Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram, 2Chr.21.19, "he died of sore diseases. And his people made no burning for him, like the burning of his fathers … he departed without being desired."
Dorcas made "coats" which may be the outer clothing, and "garments" which could be either inner or outer. Her ministry to the saints was warming. How we need such from both sisters and brothers. It is not difficult to see how a brother can do this as he ministers the word. Some ministry is as clear as ice and just as cold! It is good when a brother imparts heat to the saints so that it could still be said, "Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the scriptures?" Lk.24.32. There is a longing among the saints for a fresh and warm ministry rather than a constant repetition of old, stale sermons.
It is obvious that the ministry of Dorcas was a personal and private exercise. It would take a quantum leap of spiritual imagination to see here any Scriptural authority for a sisters’ meeting. A sister can still use her talents to help and warm the saints, without stepping outside her God-given sphere. It may be by producing garments to be used at home or in missionary work; she may have the necessary equipment and knowledge of technology to prepare texts, book marks, fridge magnets etc. for gospel work; she can visit elderly and sick saints, perhaps transporting them to various appointments; it may even be by way of a word of appreciation and encouragement to a ministering brother. It would be more difficult to see the work of God advancing if it were not for the diligent ministry of sisters in showing hospitality to the saints and the Lord’s servants. This is imperative in the case of an overseer’s wife who needs to support her husband to allow him to fulfil the qualification of "given to hospitality" 1Tim.3.2.
She left behind her something that was valuable to the next generation. Aaron left garments for Eleazar; David left the materials for the temple; Elijah left a mantle; Paul left a spiritual treasury. What are we leaving the next generation? Paul, as he thought of four generations, encouraged Timothy when he wrote, "the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" 2Tim.2.2. The same sentiment is expressed in Deut.4.9, "… teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons"; Ps.78.5,6, "… commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children"; Prov.13.22, "A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children"; Joel 1.3, "Tell ye your children of it, and let your children tell their children, and their children another generation." The rising generation has to be willing to use whatever is left. When the garments were taken from Aaron and put on Eleazar there was no alteration required or permitted. Similarly, Elisha donned Elijah’s hairy mantle without wanting it modernised! Thinking particularly of sisters and their spiritual legacy: how often we miss a sister’s intercessory prayers; her persistence in teaching the Scriptures to her children; her example to younger women in the realm of dignified, modest apparel and spiritual deportment and her Mary-like, godly appreciation of the Lord Jesus as she left the lingering aroma in the house, Jn.12.3.
The words, "which she made" are worthy of note. They show her diligence and activity. Referring to those who would not work (not who could not get work), Paul wrote, "if any would not work, neither should he eat" 2Thess.3.10. Those who benefited from her ministry were "the widows" v.39. She gave to those who were not in a position to repay her. The Saviour said, "For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again" Lk.6.32-34. James revealed what God expects, "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" Jms.1.27.
Her Deliverance – v.40, "But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Tabitha, arise. and she opened her eyes: And when she saw Peter, she sat up."
We may learn some lessons about seeing the spiritually dead raised; that is seeing souls saved. Firstly there must be separation; "Peter put them all forth". There was to be no carnal show or fleshly display. There would be nothing in which the flesh could glory. All glory must be His and His alone. A true, God-sent preacher will not project himself but will preach Christ and Him crucified. Then there will be identification; the preacher will get down to the level of his audience: he will not preach over their heads or try to impress Christians in the audience with his knowledge or oratory. This is illustrated in the experience of Elijah and the widow’s son, "he stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD, and said, O LORD my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s soul come into him again. And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived" 1Kgs.17.21,22. The same is seen with respect to Elisha and the Shunammite’s son, "He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm" 2Kgs.4.33,34. There is the indispensability of supplication since he "kneeled down, and prayed". It has been said that to preach without praying is presumption. Power to reach the spiritually dead comes from a prayer life. When this is in order there is resurrection, "And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up" and satisfaction, "when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive". What joy there is when a soul is born again!
The Development – v.42, "Many believed in the Lord."
As a result of this miracle others were blessed. As the Lord taught, life came out of death: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit" Jn.12.24.
12.14,15, "… she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. And they said unto her, Thou art mad."
The times were very difficult for the saints. Herod the king had killed James, Acts 12.1. Because this action pleased the Jews, v.2, he thought he would capitalise on the mood of the Jews and so "he proceeded further to take Peter also … And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison …" vv.3,4. The believers turned to their only resource and so it is recorded, "Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him" v.5. Another of Scripture’s glorious ‘buts’! What a contrast between the pomp and political might of an earthly ruler and the insignificance and frailty of Christians.
God graciously answered their prayers and Peter was miraculously delivered from the prison. He soon made his way to where he expected to find the believers: "And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying" v.12. It seems that Peter’s release took place during the night, hence v.18, "Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter". The intensity of the prayer meeting is gauged therefore by the fact that it seems to have lasted through the night. Sometime during the hours of night Rhoda, the maid, answered a knock at the door and was astounded: "when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate" v.14. The praying saints showed their unbelief when they said, "Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel" v.15. "But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished" v.16. Perhaps this reflects our faith more than we would like to admit, but we are thankful that He "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think …" Eph.3.20.
16.1, "… behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed …"
Here we are introduced to Timothy who is called "a certain disciple". We have noted previously that a disciple is a learner or a follower, or perhaps he is both. He learns to follow and follows to learn. Timothy is mentioned 24 times in the New Testament and he became one of Paul’s closest companions. There are only eight men called ‘man of God’ in the entire Bible and Timothy is the only one so described in the New Testament, 1Tim.6.11.
Paul calls him, "my genuine child" 1Tim.1.2, and "my beloved child" 1Cor.4.17; 2Tim.2.1 (J.N.D.). It is probable that he was saved shortly after his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice when Paul visited Lystra in Acts chapter 14. These two godly women had taught him the Old Testament Scriptures "from a child" (babe, R.V.), 2Tim.3.15. That they had done a good, spiritual job with Timothy as seen in the man he became. It ought to be an encouragement to all sisters who sacrifice many material comforts so that they can spend time with their families, raising their children for God. Too many little children are left with minders who have no sympathy with the gospel and the children are reared in a worldly atmosphere. Not all children who are raised at home by loving parents turn out like Timothy, but if they don’t, the parents are spared looking back with regrets wondering, ‘what if?’
Here, on his second missionary journey, Paul takes Timothy with him to ‘full time’ service. This was about seven years after his conversion. He was growing spiritually and that quickly and he was fulfilling the meaning of his name, "honour of God". It seems he always had the honour of God before him and he honoured Him in his life and service. In some ways he came from an unlikely home, his mother "was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek", which may imply his mother got saved after the marriage. Since the father is not mentioned again; the imperfect tense is used in the phrase, "was a Greek"; and Paul seems to take control of their circumstances, these cause some to conclude that the father was dead. If so, his mother and grandmother were probably dependent on him for their livelihood. Yet when the Lord called Timothy and he had to leave home and become an itinerant preacher, these two godly women did not put any obstacles in his way. Undoubtedly they would miss Timothy tremendously but they had faith to allow Timothy to go. It is usual for the most missed to be the ones who are called. They taught Timothy the Scriptures when he was young and now they honoured them in their experience. With these godly women the claims of Christ were pre-eminent and surpassed every personal consideration.
16.14,15, "And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us."
As we know, a tremendous work for God was accomplished in Philippi. The Philippian assembly became especially close to Paul and it all began with Paul and his friends being directed to the riverside where it was known there would be a prayer meeting. They sat down and began to have a conversation with the women who were already there, perhaps waiting for the men to come and conduct the service. What a large oak tree grew from this small acorn! Let us not give up seeking to personally evangelise those who may show an interest in eternal matters.
We can discern the omniscience of the Lord since He knew who she was, "Lydia"; what she was, "a seller of purple"; where she was from, "the city of Thyatira"; whose she was, "which worshipped God". This last statement is an indicator that she was likely a proselyte. Her conversion to Christianity commenced with her ears being opened for the message, "heard us" v.14. This echoes the truth of Romans chapter 10, where the necessity of hearing the gospel is expounded. There is the need of a preacher, "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" v.14. Then Paul concludes in v.17, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God". Having accepted her responsibility to give ear to the message, the Lord worked in His sovereignty, whose "heart the Lord opened". Her heart was opened for the Master. Again we can find this sentiment in Romans chapter 10, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" v.9. The opening of the heart to receive the truth of the gospel is a work that is Divine. It is not accomplished by the persistence of a preacher, or by his persuasive pleas. The next step for such a person is baptism and so we read, "she was baptized" v.15. Her mind was open for the ministry. Her household was also baptised, v.15, which implies they were all of a responsible age and had all personally received the Lord Jesus as their Savour. Neither infant baptism or sprinkling, nor household baptism finds a place in the New Testament There is then incontrovertible evidence that she has been truly saved. Her home was opened for the ministers, "If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord come into my house, and abide there." It is a healthy sign when a new convert desires the company of the Lord’s people. There is something radically wrong when a professing believer desires the friendship of the world rather than that of fellow believers. James, in his usual practical manner states, "… know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" Jms.4.4. How blessed it is to say with meaning, "… he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend …" S of S.5.16. It is a wholesome question and a test of reality to ask oneself, "Which company do we desire most?"
It was not just that she wanted the preachers to visit her, but she invited them to "abide there". The force of the word "abide" can be seen in other places where it is used by Luke: "Mary abode with her about three months …" Lk.1.56; "… it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner" Acts 9.43; "And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought …" Acts 18.3; "And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house …" Acts 28.30. Her sincerity is displayed when it is recorded, "she constrained us" v.15. She was in the same frame of mind as those on the road to Emmaus, where we have the only other occurrence of this word "constrained". Lk.24.29, "But they constrained Him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent." Remarkably the former word "abide" is also used in their invitation to the Lord Jesus.
Lydia well illustrates the injunctions of 3Jn.8 "We therefore ought to receive such, that we might be fellowhelpers to the truth": and Heb.13.2, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares". We ought to look upon the opportunity to show hospitality to the Lord’s people as a privilege and not a burden. It is sad when we need a period of forewarning before we could even offer a fellow believer a meal.
16.16-18, "… a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination … followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the Most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour."
As we commence her story, there is nothing godly about this woman. It is marked by slavery to men, Satan and spiritism. Yet her experience was all in the sovereign plan of God since it led not only to her conversion, but also that of the Philippian jailer. How true is Rom.11.33, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!"
It would seem that this girl was a kind of fortune-teller and then, as now, people were prepared to pay money if their future could be told. Present day astrology, horoscopes, tarot cards, palm reading, séances etc. are all part of this satanic realm. When she was delivered from her slavery her masters lost their source of income and instigated the persecution that led to the preachers being beaten and thrust into jail. Undoubtedly Satan was behind this incarceration but he overstepped himself and the circumstances led to the furtherance of the gospel.
The lesson we learn is one that is often seen on the surface of the Bible, that salvation makes a change in the life of the person and that it is impossible to continue in sin and be a true believer. A person who practises sin is not a believer regardless of their profession: "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" 1Jn.3.9. May we know what it is to live lives that are holy and without blame so as to give evidence that a true work of God has been wrought in us.