"Lydia and Priscilla: Home-based Ministry"
Acts 16:11-15; 18:18,24-28 Mother's Day May 9, 2010
MOTHERING'S LITTLE CHALLENGES
I have a renewed appreciation for mothering after this past week. Keith and Darcie were visiting for six days with Isaiah (3) and Lucia (1½). Often Emily and Trenton were over with 5-month old Aiden. So not infrequently we had a trio of little ones around. Any mother is to be honoured and admired - raising even one child is demanding enough - but those who have several young children at once deserve special recognition for what they must go through. Here are some typical scenarios (lifelike even if not exactly how things happened)...
1) child A (the elder) is trying out his new 'scooper' playtoy equipment on grandma's flowerpots while child B (the younger - barely walking) makes a break for the top of the stairs because some adult with their hands full did not yet close the gate.
2) child A wakes up with a sore throat at 3 am and starts crying loudly; this wakes up child B who's still sore from her diaper rash. She too starts wailing as if the sky is falling.
3) the bathroom is officially declared a disaster zone after child A (who is potty training) doesn't quite make it to the toilet in time and decides to try to clean up the mess on his own - thus unwittingly spreading it further.
4) while packing up after a week-long visit with relatives, you spend an hour looking for your digital camera, only to finally discover it tucked in a diaper bag where child B (the one who's just walking) had relocated it according to some sub-cognitive wacky scheme of organization.
5) You've been educating child A on the proper use of kleenex with the current head cold that has been circulating amongst the entire extended family. You are just in the middle of an unplanned serendipitous Bible study / fellowship time with your sister-in-law and some profound spiritual discussion when you're interrupted by child A calling from his naptime pak'n'play loud enough for the entire household to hear, "Mommy, I have a booger!"
As you have guessed by now, it was a very eventful week - and I hardly had to do ANY of the hard stuff. Praise God for mothers who patiently nurture and steer their children in the right paths - however quickly our human heart is wont to depart from it!
Today in our adventure through the Acts of the Apostles, we encounter a pair of godly women who nurtured Christian growth significantly in the early church by making their homes and personal gifts and strengths available to God, sometimes despite stressful circumstances.
LYDIA: BENEVOLENT, WELCOMING BUSINESSWOMAN
In Acts 16, following a vision of a man from Macedonia beckoning, Paul and his companions cross the gulf from Asia Minor into Greece. They arrive at Philippi, leading city of the area. There being no synagogue, on the Sabbath they head outside town to the riverside - a possible place for Jewish folk to gather on account of the availability of water for ritual washing and ablutions. They sat down and began to speak to the women gathered there. Luke records in v14 one was named Lydia: perhaps the head of a household, either widowed or unmarried, as there's no mention of a man in connection with her. We read she's "a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira" - a town in Asia Minor renowned for its purple dye, also mentioned in Revelation 2 as one of 7 churches in the area. Obviously Lydia managed by selling the purple garments for which her home city was famous. There was a great demand for this fabric as it was used on the official toga at Rome and in Roman colonies. So here's an independent merchant, a businesswoman in her own right, in charge of her own enterprise. Luke adds she's "a worshiper of God" - a God-fearer, perhaps not fully 'Jewish' but adhering more or less to the Jewish teachings. V14 notes, "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message" - the Greek verb behind this is beautiful, "to open up wide or completely like a folding door" - both sides, wide open. Jesus can do that in our spirit, give us new birth, make us totally receptive. She accepted the missionaries' message and thus this woman became the first European Christian convert.
V15 says that after she and the members of her household (ie including her employees) 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." This well-to-do woman who owned her own house and had servants wasn't hoarding her wealth but kindly, generously welcomed the bearers of the good news to stay at her place, thus making it a sort of 'headquarters' or base for them. Her hospitality was significant when you realize Luke's little word 'us' probably included at least four men - Paul, Silas whom he'd chosen for the trip in 15:40 at Antioch, Timothy whom they'd picked up at Lystra (16:3), and Luke the doctor who'd joined the group at Troas (16:10f). Likely Lydia was offering more than just a spare sofa-bed! An outfit like hers maybe had a guest-room or two. When Luke says "she persuaded us", it must have been appealing in a befriending / wholesome sort of way.
Lydia filled her home with the Lord's enterprise - she used what she had to further the gospel. Beyond inviting Paul and his companions, Lydia's home seems to have become a gathering-point for the church at Philippi; after Paul & Silas' prison experience, 16:40 says "they went to Lydia's house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them."
The New Bible Dictionary comments, "Her hospitality became traditional in the church there." Paul's letter to the church at Philippi later is one of the most joyful, upbeat epistles in the New Testament canon; the church carried on Lydia's benevolence. He writes of their 'partnership in the gospel', their sharing in his troubles, sharing in giving, sending aid 'again and again' unlike any other church (Php 1:5, 4:10,14ff). So Lydia's 'mothering' of the missionaries went far beyond just hosting them a few days; her resources and responsiveness to the Lord caused her to model a giving/caring attitude for the whole church there at Philippi. In that sense she 'mothered' others in their stewardship and sense of mission.
PRISCILLA: ADAPTABLE AND ENCOURAGING
A little later, in Acts 18 we meet another very woman, this time with her husband. 18:2 says that in Corinth (further south in Greece) Paul "met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome." Now just stop there a moment and unpack this couple's movements geographically - it may seem they pop around the Mediterranean like a pinball machine. Aquila was from Pontus, in northeast Asia Minor. He'd been in Rome (Italy) a while, then was deported and came to Corinth. Later we find them instructing Apollos in Ephesus; after that, Paul sends them greetings in Rome; and in another place Paul speaks of them being in Ephesus again where they have a church in their house (Ac 18:24ff; Rom 16:5; 1Cor 16:19). New Bible Dictionary alludes to this couple's "obvious propensity...for travel'!
Did they have children? Anyone who's travelled with kids must wonder - the thought of so many moves would be off-putting if you had children. A quick estimate regarding our own family is that Emily lived in at least 10 different places by the time she was 7 years old - that meant a lot of packing and shuffling for Yvonne! Missions and ministry demand a high degree of commitment on the part of moms in those families.
Don't forget to read between the lines in what Luke's saying. The Emperor Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome: this is recorded by the contemporary historian Suetonius, which suggests the purge followed disturbances in the Roman Jewish community over Christianity. So Priscilla and Aquila may have been victims of persecution on account of their faith in Jesus. Priscilla would be able to relate to the hundreds and thousands of Christian women in families in the world today who may be fearing for their lives, having little security because of persecution.
18:19 tells of them going with Paul to Ephesus, "where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila." Notice anything unusual in the word order there? The woman is mentioned before the man, like saying "Mrs and Mr" instead of "Mr and Mrs". Not only there - most times this couple is mentioned, Priscilla is listed BEFORE Aquila. The NIV Study Bible says this "may indicate the prominent role of Priscilla or her higher social position". For whatever reason, the early church honoured Priscilla in their records, making her name stand out. Like her husband and Paul, Priscilla too is a tentmaker, contributing to the family income - she's a working gal.
While they're in Ephesus, along comes an itinerant teacher named Apollos, a skilled orator. 18:24f describes him as "a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John." He begins to speak boldly in the synagogue. This sounds like an intimidating kind of character: knows his stuff like a professor, speaks forcefully, has notable credentials. Yet he's lacking some key information - kind of like Hugh Halter last week saying that if you haven't heard about the Kingdom and the Holy Spirit, "you're missing two of the biggies!"
Some women (and many men) might feel inhibited by such a guy. But is Pricilla put off by "Dr Apollos"? Not at all - she shows pluck, boldness, and intelligence. V26, "When Priscilla and Aquila heard him [note the order again], they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately." Tactfully, respectfully, but skillfully, Priscilla and hubby filled in the missing pieces in this early church giant's understanding of the Kingdom and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This couple may or may not have had kids, but here we see Priscilla 'mothering' Apollos spiritually, mentoring him, nurturing him along the way to Christian maturity. So much so that when Apollos wants to go to another field, the church encourages him and write a letter of introduction. Vv27-28 record, "When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ." Priscilla and her husband had a part in that; without their intervention, Apollos might never have been such a help to the early church.
There is one other passage which gives us some insight into Priscilla's character. In Romans 16 Paul is wrapping up his letter to the church there by greeting a long list of Christians who are already at Rome. Guess who's top of the list? Romans 16:3f,"Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus.They risked their lives for me.Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them." Such honour! Here's none other than the Apostle Paul calling them "fellow workers", held in gratitude by all the churches. Apparently at some point they "risked their lives for" Paul. Priscilla must have been a gutsy lady, not scared of what at times could be an oppressive and hostile system - like women in Third World house churches today. With her husband, by her bravery, commitment, and intelligence, Priscilla nurtured all the church, far beyond her own household.
OBEDIENT HOSPITALITY STRETCHES A HOME TO BE A PLACE OF MINISTRY
Both Lydia and Priscilla made use of their homes to help the cause of Jesus move forward: Lydia by inviting Paul and his companions to find a place of rest and refreshment; Priscilla by welcoming Paul and Apollos, providing instruction and encouragement in spiritual realities. You don't have to go to a far-away mission field to make an impact for God! All the time people are passing by our doorstep and through our homes whom Jesus may draw to Himself if we just make our faith-lives credible and touch them with His kindness, caring, and truth.
One such woman who has had global impact in modern times that way is Edith Schaeffer, wife of famous evangelical and philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Their ministry called 'L'Abri' has had huge effect on the lives of many people. Making their chalet in Switzerland available to skiers and other tourists, they would have thousands of visitors through the years. Here's an excerpt from Edith Schaeffer's book The Tapestry which illustrates how home-based hospitality stretched their family's dwelling to show God's very real love to others. It even includes a "Prisca" (the main form of the name from which 'Priscilla' is derived).
Edith Schaeffer writes, "We had no idea of what was coming next! But thank God, it wasn't a surprise for Him, and He had given us a home to share in a new way. That living room was going to 'open up' to bring thousands upon thousands to the fireside to look over Fran's shoulder at his Bible, so marked up, so worn, so full of what he wanted to make clear!...Not a very private room.
"The first Christmas in Chardonnet, we were sitting in front of that fireplace, just ready to open gifts, when the doorbell rang. I went to find Vic there with a shivering Indian boy, hesitantly waiting for a greeting. I recognized him in his thin suit, even though he had had on white robes when I saw him last. He was one of the two boys from the ashram near Bombay where Vigu had taken us a year before. Fran had been corresponding with both of them during the year. Now all the permits, visas, and tickets had been received--and here he was! We quickly made a place, and found some gifts to wrap so he would be included for the next half-hour. However, it seemed better to check and see when Prisca's family would be eating, as we had finished lunch, and dinner wouldn't be for some hours. Prisca exclaimed that they were just sitting down to eat, so John would come and get Regu, then bring him back with them when the whole family came for the evening turkey dinner. Lisby, Becky and Giandy loved it, especially as Regu frankly explained he had never used a fork and John quickly responded, "Oh, we have never learned how to properly eat with our fingers, so please teach us." So the Sandri family had a wonderful lesson of how to eat with just one hand, deftly placing the food in the mouth with a special movement, not getting the fingers soiled beyond the first knuckle, and not touching the lips with the fingers. A specialized art."
Do you see how the Schaeffer's opened their home to make it a place of ministry? Sitting down at Christmas ready to open gifts when out of the blue the doorbell rings. Finding your guest has never used a fork before. How would you respond? It's a stretch, isn't it? I'm sure it was a stretch for Lydia and Priscilla, too. But thank God for such responsive, tactful, obedient, and intelligent 'mothers' in the faith! Let's pray.