Bill McFarland

May 11, 2003

I believe it can be safely said that the story of many a family and of numbers of congregations of the Lord's church over the land is really told by the lives of Godly women: A woman whose personal dignity and whose inner strength and whose servant heart influences the destiny of other family members and touches the lives of others of us who maybe were not from Christian homes but who have felt the benefit of the influence of Christian women down through the years.

You can see some of what I am talking about in the great book of Acts in the New Testament. Acts is, of course, in some ways the keystone book of the New Testament. It explains what the gospel records teach and then it shows us how those truths are to be used in our lives now. It gives us the story of the growth of the gospel and of the construction of the church and its spread over the world. In this amazing story in Acts, scattered through the events that take place, what we find is great ladies who made a huge difference and in so doing have become really strong lessons for us.

This morning I ask you to look with me briefly at the stories of four women whom we meet in the pages of Acts, and then to be with us as we apply these truths to our lives now.

Four Women

The first story that we run across of a great lady in Acts is a woman by the name of Tabitha. We meet her in Acts chapter 9 and the story is told in verses 36-42. When we meet Tabitha, it is at a time in the history of the Lord's church in which the effort is beginning to spread toward more Gentile areas. It is a turning point not only in the history of the New Testament but also in some ways in the story of the world. Tabitha lived in Joppa, a town about 38 miles northeast of Jerusalem, known as Jaffa today and really now sort of a suburb of TelAviv. Her Aramaic name meant Dorcas in Greek and Gazelle in English. No family of Tabitha is mentioned, nor is there any mention of any particular wealth nor any particular fame nor any great talent on her part. But the Bible tells us that she was full of good works and of acts of charity or deeds that blessed other people. That is verse 36 of Acts. 10. Notice carefully not just that she had done some of these kinds of things but that she was full of such works. She was a person, in other words, who didn't have to be organized by someone else, but she was someone who saw what needed to be done to be a blessing to other people and just did it.

When Peter came on the scene in Joppa, Tabitha had died and the people had gathered to mourn her passing. It was a very emotional time. The story shows that there were widows there standing beside Peter when he came to the place where Tabitha's body was. They were the people who had received Tabitha's practical kindness, the ones that other people might have overlooked or the ones who might not have had anyone else to care. They had received from the goodness of this dear woman and the Bible says that they stood there weeping. They had been so touched by her kindness and so blessed by her friendship that they were grieved at the loss they felt. And they were showing the robes and the other garments that Dorcas had made while she was with them. And the voice of the word that is used indicates that they were wearing these garments at the time. They were showing, "Here's what Tabitha did for me. Here is how she blessed my life."

And as they illustrated that to Peter (of course the Lord blessed the situation with this dear woman being presented back alive to them again), the real story is what made her mean so much to them in the first place. Her personal involvement in practical and thoughtful good works had made her beloved to the whole church. When she passed away, the disciples got together and they all decided that they would send two men to the town where Peter was to ask him to come there to help them. Her loss meant that they felt the need for help and they were going to seek somebody to come to their aid. They, in other words, were a group of Christians who felt like Tabitha (Dorcas) was a treasure to them that they could not do without. She was the kind of person whose loss was felt by the whole church,. In a way it could be said that this Christian woman was the heart of that congregation at Joppa. I wonder how many congregations down through the years a similar thing could be said about. Some Christian woman who really has been the heartbeat of a congregation of the Lord's people because of her being full of good works like this woman was.

Another Godly woman who we meet in Acts shows up in the record in Acts 12, verses 12-17. Her name is Mary. She is not the Mary that we would think of most often. This is Mary who is instead known as the mother of John Mark. This Mary was important to the church in Jerusalem. She was a person whose house the church thought of when things got tough for the church. She was, as I have said, the mother of John Mark, the writer of the second of the gospel records. That would mean that she was also related to Barnabas, apparently his aunt according to Colossians 4, verse 10. And that it is referred to as "Mary's house" leads us to believe that she was most likely a widow, and apparently she had enough material means to have servants and a place big enough for a group of people to gather in, and a place with a court and a gate out by the street. In other words, she apparently was fairly well off. Many writers have concluded that maybe it was Mary's house where the upper room was in which Jesus and the disciples met that evening before he was arrested later.

We meet Mary, though, when the church in Jerusalem is in some stress and some urgent concerns are on them. Herod, the king, has laid violent hands on some of them already. He has killed James, the brother of John, with a sword, and he has Peter in prison intending to do the same to him. The enemies of Christ in town are just thrilled about those intentions. But, the church got together and they made very earnest prayer for Peter, and in answer an angel was sent to rescue Peter from Herod's hand and to bring him safely to the church. And when a surprised Peter realized that he was free, he went (where would you go? How would you decide where to go?) to the house of Mary. If you were going to look for your brothers and sisters in Christ, way late in the night, when it was dangerous to be a Christian, and if you were Peter, in your mind you would think of Mary's house. And so, he went there and found many Christians gathered there who were praying in his behalf. Now they were as surprised by it as he was, but he knew what he would find at Mary's house.

And that tells us a lot about the heart of this Godly woman. When pressures made the church feel the need to pray, they thought of Mary's house. They found hospitality there. When circumstances made Peter want to get word to the church, he thought of Mary's house. He found brothers and sisters in Christ there. That is the kind of a home she had. And when John Mark grew up in that house and when he wanted to find the spiritual training that he needed, or when he had problems and he needed to find a place where he would get a second chance, he of course thought of his mother's house. That is the kind of woman she was.

A third Godly woman we meet in Acts is a woman by the name of Lydia. We meet her in Acts 16, verses 11-15. Lydia comes on the stage on Acts when Paul and Silas and apparently Timothy and Luke traveling with them, have wanted to go over into Asia but have instead seen the man of Macedonia saying, "come over into Macedonia and help us." And so Lydia shows up on the Sabbath Day at a place of prayer by the river in Philippi. Philippi was the first city of the Roman province of Macedonia. And the first person who responded to the gospel that Paul and Silas were preaching there was Lydia. Interestingly, by the way, Lydia was from a town in Asia where Paul had not been permitted to go and his first convert in Macedonia was a woman from Asia. Such is the providence of God. And this woman becomes the first member of the Lord's church in Macedonia and in the city of Philippi, a congregation that ends up being a partner with Paul and blessing his life again and again and again.

Lydia, we are told, was from the city of Thyatira. She was a seller of purple, a dye made out of a type of a fish found in that area and apparently a seller of purple goods, royal colored garments, in other words. And the Bible says in verse 14, she was "a worshiper of God." Now if you will think about it, you will notice that tells us here is a businesswoman. She works outside the home. She has a household but we don't know if it involved a family. It may just have been servants who lived in her household. She was with the women who had come together at the place of prayer that Sabbath. That means that while the people in the Gentile city of Philippi would have been going about their business on a normal day, this businesswoman had closed up shop to be out there to remember to pray to God. The Lord, as Paul and Silas taught that day, opened her heart to what the Lord said. As she listened, the message had the power to help her understand the gospel. The Bible says when she was baptized, as if that were simply something that she learned from what she was taught and she then acted on, that her household was as well. And if that means that her household was in fact servants who lived with her and who worked with her, then that means that her influence was felt on them. If her household was other family members, then that means that her influence touched their lives. Then she urged Paul and Silas and others who were with them to come to her house and stay where her hospitality blessed their lives as they had come to work in a strange city.

Look at the Godly Lydia's conduct here and notice how it instructs us. She was faithful in the worship of God even when business or being away from home could have been an excuse. She was ready to do whatever the apostle of Christ instructed her to do to become a Christian and to do it that day without delay. And then she sought to serve. She wanted to extend the hospitality of her home to those who had blessed her with spiritual riches through the gospel.

So here is Tabitha blessing people through her sewing and the work of her hands. We don't know if she had a family or any material wealth at all. Here is Mary blessing people with her home, with her opportunity and her wealth with a spiritual oasis in a dangerous time. Then here is Lydia, a businesswoman whose heart is quickly opened to the gospel who turns out to be the seed of a great congregation in Philippi.

A fourth woman I want you to be acquainted with is a woman named Priscilla. We meet Priscilla in Acts 18 in the first three verses. But she plays an important role in the development of the history o the church from that point to the end of the story in Acts and then in three New Testament letters. While none of the husbands of the other women we have mentioned are named, her's is always mentioned. And he is never mentioned without her. It is always Priscilla and Aquila. Aquila's name meant eagle. He was an impressive man himself from Pontus. They had recently come to Corinth because they had been run out of Italy by the cruel Roman Emperor Claudius. Half of the time when Priscilla is mentioned with her husband, she is mentioned first, apparently indicating that she was a person of prominence in the church in those days. Paul would refer to Priscilla and Aquila as "my fellow workers in Christ Jesus." Romans 16:3. And in the next verse, he says "they risked their necks for my life." And then he says that he as well as all the church was grateful to them for what they had done.

Now you think about the way those things are said. Because of this kindness that they had shown him, because they had given him a place to stay, because they had risked their lives for him, because they had opened their hearts to help in the work, these dear friends become extremely important co-workers of the apostle. He often refers to Priscilla as Prisca, the more dignified form of her name indicating maybe the respect he had for her. The hints in the record that we have in Acts as well as Romans and I Corinthians and II Timothy suggest that Aquila and Priscilla's influence would not have been possible without the special spirit of this great woman.

Now think about this. Paul's staying with them is an indication of her welcoming heart. This woman worked with her husband as a tentmaker. They let Paul work together with them and then they took him home and gave him a place to stay. That couldn't have happened without a great woman like her. The way they took Apollos aside later on in Acts 18 in a considerate and thoughtful and respectful way to explain the way of God more accurately to a man who at this point believed in Jesus but only knew the baptism of John, that again shows in Priscilla a rare combination of knowledge of scripture, tender sensitivity and understanding of people. She was there helping this eloquent Apollos to see the way of the Lord more accurately. And then in I Corinthians 16, verse 19, it mentions the church in their house. It means more than just that the church met at their place. It means also that there were other people who lived there who were also believers in Christ, maybe servants, maybe other family members. If you had servants and they believed in your God and your Lord, then that meant that you were the kind of person who treated your servants right. This dear woman apparently did.

One Character

Now let's apply those four stories very quickly. These four women, Tabitha, Mary, Lydia, and Priscilla were from very different circumstances. They obviously were from different places - Joppa, Jerusalem, Thyatira and possibly Pontus. And from very different backgrounds, ranging all the way apparently from a God-fearer like Lydia, meaning she was from a Gentile background, to a woman like Mary, who was from a strongly Jewish background. Their material and financial situations were not the same either. Some we know had quite a bit; some we don't know if they had anything materially. And the family settings in which we find them represent the different kinds of homes in which people have to live - maybe from being a widow to being a mother to being maybe possibly even unmarried to being a married woman who worked beside her husband.

They were different in some ways but there is one way in which they are all alike. They have one character, one Godly character that they shared in common. Toward God these women have an attitude of devotion and faithfulness. They reverence the Lord and they eagerly submit to his will as they learn it. They have a genuine concern for the Lord's cause. They gladly use whatever opportunities and talents they have in his service. They are women who are willing to do that wherever they are. Thank God for that kind of character. Toward other people these are thoughtful and sensitive and caring and understanding women. They see other people's feelings and other people's needs and then they take action to be a blessing to other people. They are not selfish individuals occupied with their own amusements. They are not the silly women the apostle Paul wrote of who are caught up in the world's foolishness and in the idle tales that sometimes are destructive to other people. These women's homes are centers of hospitality where practical love is handed on to those whose lives are touched by them. And then within themselves these are women of dignity and of wisdom. They have the practical goodness about them that comes from the heart. They have the beauty of the gentle and quiet spirit. Their conduct and their character call forth a certain respect from people who are around them.

This characteristic in Godly women, this Godly character, is the strength of the church, it is the strength of the family, it is the treasure described by the wise man at the end of the book of Proverbs. It is the beauty that is precious in the sight of God that Peter talked about. It is the dignity that makes them women of influence that you will often find in the letters of the apostle Paul.

Thank God for the presence of Godly women. May we honor them and respect them the way scripture calls on us to do. Several years ago I read a book by Bro. Rue Porter titled "Musings." Bro. Porter told in his book about having held a long meeting down in the Yellville, AR area. The last night of that meeting, coming from out in the darkness where he had been sitting out with the wagons or whatever people came in or the old cars or whatever it was, I believe Bro. Porter called him Uncle Henry. People had been trying to talk to Uncle Henry about his relationship to the Lord for years and no one had ever been successful. At the darkness came that old gentleman down in front of all the people and said, "I want to be baptized into Christ." There was not a dry eye anywhere that night as they assisted that gentleman in putting on the Lord in baptism. Bro Porter said, "I was feeling as a young preacher pretty good about myself, I knew he had heard all kinds of preachers over the years and nobody had been able to move him and now he had obeyed the gospel." He said he was at the building the next morning gathering up all my materials and all my things and getting ready to go when Uncle Henry came. He said, "I just wanted to tell you, Bro. Porter, that your preaching had absolutely nothing to do with what I did last night." Well, he was a little bit put back by that until the old gentleman went ahead to explain. I think Bro. Porter said his wife's name was Liza. He said, "It's that woman that I have lived with for fifty years and I have seen her love for the Lord and her faithfulness and her character and that's why I did what I did."

A Godly woman is powerful, more powerful than anybody understands. One of the ways we honor that influence is in our own conduct with the Lord because of our Moms and our wives, Godly women who taught us and helped us grow. Let's honor that influence in the way we live and in our relationship to the Lord. It might be that someone is here this morning and ready to place their faith and trust in the Lord and repent of sin and be baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins. If that person is you and if we can help you, then we encourage you to step out and act on that good intention this very moment while we stand and sing together.