Are we Saved by Keeping the Law? – Acts 15

The progress of the Gospel has often been hindered by legalistic people who stand in front of open doors and block the way for others. In 1786, when William Carey had a burden of mission work in India, he met resistance from church leaders who said, ‘when God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine!” Those who desire to share the good news of Jesus will face opposition, and surprisingly from religious leaders.

Paul and his associates faced this same challenge at the Jerusalem Conference about twenty years after Pentecost. Courageously, they defended both the truth of the Gospel and the missionary outreach of the church. There were three stages in this event.

  1. The Disagreement (Acts 15:1-5)

It all started when some legalistic Jewish teachers came to Antioch and taught that the Gentiles, in order to be saved, had to be circumcised and obey the Law of Moses. These men were associated with the Jerusalem congregation but not authorized by it (Acts 15:24). Identified with the Pharisees (Acts 15:5), these teachers were “false” and wanted to “enslave us” and take away our freedom in Christ (Gal. 2:1-10).

It is not surprising that there were people in the Jerusalem church who were strong advocates of the Law of Moses but ignorant of the relationship between Law and grace. These people were Jews who had been trained to respect and obey the Law of Moses; and, after all, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews had not yet been written! There was a large group of priests in the Jerusalem assembly (Acts 6:7), as well as people who still followed some of the Old Testament practices (see Acts 21:20-26). It was a time of transition, and such times are always difficult.

What were these legalists actually doing and why were they so dangerous? They were attempting to mix Law and grace and to pour the new wine into the ancient brittle wineskins (Luke 5:36-39). They were stitching up the ripped temple veil (Luke 23:45) and blocking the new and living way to God that Jesus had opened when He died on the cross (Heb. 10:19-25). They were rebuilding the wall between Jews and Gentiles that Jesus had torn down on the cross (Eph. 2:14-16). They were putting the heavy Jewish yoke on Gentile shoulders, they were saying, “A Gentile must first become a Jew before he can become a Christian! It is not sufficient for them simply to trust Jesus Christ. They must also obey Moses!”

Another issue involved was the nature of the church’s missionary program. If these legalists (we call them “the Judaizers”) were correct, then Paul and Barnabas had been all wrong in their ministry. Along with preaching the Gospel, they should have been teaching the Gentiles how to live as good Jews. No wonder Paul and Barnabas debated and disputed with these false teachers! (Acts 15:2, 7) The Antioch believers were being “troubled” and “subverted” (Acts 15:24), and this same confusion and disruption would soon spread to the Gentile churches Paul and Barnabas had founded. This was a declaration of war that Paul and Barnabas could not ignore.

God gave Paul a revelation instructing him to take the whole matter to the Jerusalem church leaders (Gal. 2:2), and to this the Antioch assembly agreed (“they” in Acts 15:2). The gathering was not a “church council” in the denominational sense, but rather a meeting of the leaders who heard the various groups and then made their decision. Though the “mother church” in Jerusalem did have great influence, each local church was autonomous.

  1. The Discussion (Acts 15:6-18)

It appears that at least four different meetings were involved in this strategic conference: (1) a public welcome to Paul and his associates, Acts 15:4; (2) a private meeting of Paul and the key leaders, Galatians 2:2; (3) a second public meeting at which the Judaizers presented their case, Acts 15:5-6 and Galatians 2:3-5; and (4) the public discussion described in Acts 15:6. In this public discussion, four key leaders presented the case for keeping the doors of grace open to the lost Gentiles.

Peter reviewed the past (vv. 6-11). We get the impression that Peter sat patiently while the disputing (“questioning”) was going on, waiting for the Spirit to direct him. “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13, NKJV). Peter reminded the church of four important ministries that God had performed for the Gentiles, ministries in which he had played an important part.

First, God made a choice that Peter should preach the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 15:7). Jesus had given the keys of the kingdom to Peter (Matt. 16:19), and he had used them to open the door of faith to the Jews (Acts 2), the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17), and the Gentiles (Acts 10). Note that Peter made it clear that Cornelius and his household were saved by hearing and believing, not by obeying the Law of Moses.

Second, God gave the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles to bear witness that they truly were born again (Acts 15:8). Only God can see the human heart; so, if these people had not been saved, God would never have given them the Spirit (Rom. 8:9). But they did not receive the Spirit by keeping the Law, but by believing God’s Word (Acts 10:43-46. Peter’s message was “whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43, NKJV), not “whoever believes and obeys the Law of Moses.”

Ever since the work of Christ on Calvary, God has made no difference between Jews and Gentiles as far as sin (Rom. 3:9) or salvation (Rom. 10:9-13) are concerned. Sinners can have their hearts purified only by faith in Christ; salvation is not by keeping the Law (Acts 15:9). We would expect Peter to conclude his defense by saying, “They [the Gentiles] shall be saved even as we Jews,” but he said just the reverse! “We [Jews] shall be saved, even as they!”

God’s fourth ministry—and this was Peter’s strongest statement—was the removing of the yoke of the Law (Acts 15:10). The Law was indeed a yoke that burdened the Jewish nation, but that yoke has been taken away by Jesus Christ (see Matt. 11:28-30). After all, the Law was given to the Jewish nation to prepare them to bring the Messiah into the world. The Law cannot purify the sinner’s heart, impart the gift of the Holy Spirit, or give eternal life. What the Law could not do, God did through His own Son (Rom. 8:1-4). Those who have trusted Christ have the righteousness of God’s Law in their hearts and, through the Spirit, obey His will.

Paul and Barnabas reported on the present (v. 12). Peter’s witness made a great impact on the congregation because they sat in silence after he was finished. Then Paul and Barnabas stood up and told the group what God had done among the Gentiles through their witness. Dr. Luke devoted only one summary sentence to their report since he had already given it in detail in Acts 13-14. Paul and Barnabas were greatly respected by the church (and their testimony carried a great deal of weight.

Their emphasis was on the miracles that God had enabled them to perform among the Gentiles. These miracles were proof that God was working with them. They had preached grace, not Law; and God had honored this message.

Peter reviewed God’s ministries to the Gentiles in the past, and Paul and Barnabas reported on God’s work among the Gentiles in that present day. James was the final speaker and he focused on the future.

James related it all to the future (vv. 13-18). James was a brother to Jesus (Matt. 13:55; and the writer of the Epistle of James. He and his brethren were not believers in Christ until after the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7; Acts 1:14). James had strong leanings toward the Law (there are at least ten references to law in his epistle), so he was most acceptable to the legalistic party in the Jerusalem church.

The key idea in James’ speech is agreement. First, he expressed his full agreement with Peter that God was saving the Gentiles by grace. It must have startled the Judaizers when James called these saved Gentiles “a people for His [God’s] name.”

James stated that the prophets also agreed with this conclusion, and he cited Amos 9:11-12 to prove his point. Note that he did not state that what Peter, Paul, and Barnabas had said was a fulfillment of this prophecy. He said that what Amos wrote agreed with their testimony. A careful reading of Amos 9:8-15 reveals that the prophet is describing events in the end times, when God will regather His people Israel to their land and bless them abundantly.

The Decision (Acts 15:19-35)

The leaders and the whole church (Acts 15:22), directed by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28), made a twofold decision; a doctrinal decision about salvation, and a practical decision about how to live the Christian life.

The doctrinal decision we have already examined. The church concluded that Jews and Gentiles are all sinners before God and can be saved only by faith in Jesus Christ. But all doctrine must lead to duty. James emphasized this in his epistle (James 2:14-26), and so did Paul in his letters. It is not enough for us simply to accept a biblical truth; we must apply it personally in everyday life. Church problems are not solved by passing resolutions, but by practicing the revelations God gives us from His Word.

James advised the church to write to the Gentile believers and share the decisions of the conference. This letter asked for obedience to two commands and a willingness to agree to two personal concessions. The two commands were that the believers avoid idolatry and immorality, sins that were especially prevalent among the Gentiles (see 1 Cor. 8-10). The two concessions were that they willingly abstain from eating blood and meat from animals that had died by strangulation. The two commands do not create any special problems, for idolatry and immorality have always been wrong in God’s sight, both for Jews and Gentiles. But what about the two concessions concerning food?

Keep in mind that the early church did a great deal of eating together and practicing of hospitality. Most churches met in homes, and some assemblies held a “love feast” in conjunction with the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34). It was probably not much different from our own potluck dinners. If the Gentile believers ate food that the Jewish believers considered “unclean,” this would cause division in the church.

It is beautiful to see that this letter expressed the loving unity of people who had once been debating with each other and defending opposing views. The legalistic Jews willingly gave up insisting that the Gentiles had to be circumcised to be saved, and the Gentiles willingly accepted a change in their eating habits. It was a loving compromise that did not in any way affect the truth of the Gospel. As every married person and parent knows, there are times in a home when compromise is wrong, but there are also times when compromise is right. The person who is always right, and who insists on having his or her own way, is difficult to live with happily.

What did this decision accomplish in a practical way? At least three things. First, it strengthened the unity of the church and kept it from splitting into two extreme “Law” and “grace” groups.

Second, this decision made it possible for the church to present a united witness to the lost Jews (Acts 15:21). For the most part, the church was still identified with the Jewish synagogue; and it is likely that in some cities, entire synagogue congregations believed on Jesus Christ—Jews, Gentile proselytes, and Gentile “God-fearers” together.

Third, this decision brought blessing as the letter was shared with the various Gentile congregations. Paul and Barnabas, along with Judas and Silas, took the good news to Antioch; and the church rejoiced and was encouraged because they did not have to carry the burdensome yoke of the Law (Acts 15:30-31). On his second missionary journey, Paul shared the letter with the churches he had founded on his first missionary journey. The result was a strengthening of the churches’ faith and an increase of their number.

We today can learn a great deal from this difficult experience of the early church. To begin with, problems and differences are opportunities for growth just as much as temptations for dissension and division. We need to work together and take time to listen, love, and learn. How many hurtful fights and splits could have been avoided if only some of God’s people had given the Spirit time to speak and to work.

Most divisions are caused by “followers” and “leaders.” A powerful leader gets a following, refuses to give in on even the smallest matter, and before long there is a split. Most church problems are not caused by doctrinal differences but by different viewpoints on practical matters. What color shall we paint the church kitchen? Can we change the order of the service? Should worship music by traditional or contemporary?

We all need to learn the art of loving compromise. We need to have our priorities in order so we know when to fight for what is really important in the church. It is sinful to follow some impressive member of the church who is fighting to get his or her way on some minor issue that is not worth fighting about?

As we deal with our differences, we must ask, “How will our decisions affect the united witness of the church to the lost?” Jesus prayed that His people might be united so that the world might believe on Him (John 17:20-21). Unity is not uniformity, for unity is based on love and not law. There is a great need in the church for diversity in unity (Eph. 4:1-17), for that is the only way the body can mature and do its work in the world.

God has opened a wonderful door of opportunity for us to take the Gospel of God’s grace to a condemned world. But there are forces in the church even today that want to close that door.

Help keep that door open—and lets reach as many as we can!

 

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Adapted from: Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary – New Testament, Volume 1, (Colorado Springs, CO: Victor, 2001), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 461-465.

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Priscilla- Teacher of Teachers – Acts 18

Scripture ReferencesActs 18:2, 18, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19

Name Meaning—Priscilla means “worthy, or venerable,” as belonging to the good old time. This name is also found as a family name in the earliest Roman annals, and appears in the form “Prisca” in Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:19). It is also interesting to note that Aquila, Priscilla’s husband, had the family name of the commander of a legion, for it means “eagle”—emblem of the Roman army. Both names are Roman. From the prominence given in Roman inscriptions and legends to the name Prisca it is concluded that she belonged to a distinguished Roman family.

Family Connections—Like her husband, she was born in Pontus. Both were Jews of Asia-Minor, and as such were expelled by Claudius from Rome, and in Corinth, Priscilla and Aquila became the honored and much-loved friends of Paul. In fact, they were the most distinguished among his fellow-helpers in the cause of Christ.

As Priscilla is always paired with her husband, Aquila, their two hearts beat as one. Harmoniously, they labored together in the service of the church. They walked as one for they had mutually agreed to put Christ first. In the seven references where both are mentioned, the name of Priscilla comes first in most instances.  They are never mentioned apart. Is there any significance attached to the fact that Aquila is not named first every time? A number of conjectures have been put forth why Priscilla comes first at all in the references to them both. Some writers suggest that she was the more energetic of the two, and perhaps had the stronger character. Dinsdale Young thinks that Priscilla may have been a believer before her husband, and that she won him for the Lord by her “chaste conversation,” or that perhaps hers was a primacy of character and service, or a more conspicuous intellectual ability, or that she may have been of nobler birth and social quality than Aquila.

If, Priscilla outshone Aquila, he must have praised God for such a precious gifted wife. Let’s look at the many fascinating facets of the union existing between these two godly people.

They Were One in the Lord

Paul first discovered this godly pair when he came to Corinth from Athens where they had been driven by the edict of Claudius against the Jews. What an interesting phrase, “Paul found a certain Jew named Aquila … with his wife Priscilla” (Acts 18:2). What a find that was!  Just when Aquila and Priscilla became the Lord’s, Scripture does not say. The inference is that when Paul met them they were firmly established in the Christian faith, and that in them he found two saintly souls after his own heart. Both Aquila and Priscilla as Hebrews were drenched in Old Testament Scriptures and had found in the promised Messiah, their Saviour and Lord, and were thus able to enter into Paul’s remarkable ministry during his stay in Corinth. With honored Paul as their guest, what times the three of them must have had together in prayer and meditation upon the Word. What spiritual knowledge Aquila and Priscilla must have acquired from the Early Church’s greatest Bible teacher. Theirs must have been a thorough theological course.

They Were One in Occupation

Luke informs us that “by their occupation they were tentmakers” (Acts 18:3). This must have added to Paul’s delight in living with Aquila and Priscilla for he was of the same craft, and at times supported himself in this way (Acts 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). When not preaching and teaching we can imagine Paul, Aquila and Priscilla sitting together in Aquila’s shop as they plied their needles and fashioned or repaired tents. Aquila and Priscilla shared the duties of their workshop. They were not ashamed of manual toil. Proud of their craft, we can believe that the product of their joint labors was known for its excellent quality. The tents from their establishment made of honest goat’s hair, sewn with honest thread, seamed and disposed of at an honest price, gave Aquila and Priscilla a wide reputation. They were in the tent business first of all, for the glory of God.

As Jews, Paul, Aquila and Priscilla were taught the tent trade when they were young, for the teaching of rabbis was that the father who failed to teach his son a trade educated him to be a thief. Jesus Himself was taught a trade and was thus known not only as “the carpenter’s son” but also as, “the Carpenter.” So we are shown the dignity of labor. The craft of Aquila and Priscilla may have been a common one, but it was approached in an uncommon spirit. Their toil was honorable and they honored God in their toil, even as Jesus did when for long years He worked at the bench. Do we turn our particular craft to good account for the Lord? “A particular craft will throw one into association with a particular class of persons, and if one is alert and always about the Master’s business, he may find in his particular calling a special opportunity for testimony from which others, not of the same craft, are circumstantially excluded.”

They Were One in Their Friendship for Paul

As we read the references to Aquila and Priscilla we cannot fail to be impressed with the affection they had for Paul, and of the way he held them in high esteem. Of all the Apostle’s co-workers none were to prove themselves as loyal and helpful as these two. As a lonely man, and in constant need of friendship and comfort, none cared for Paul as that home-making couple provided for him. Their oneness in spiritual things made Aquila and Priscilla so precious to the heart of Paul who designated them “my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3, asv). They were workers not shirkers in the divine vineyard, and their labors with and for the Apostle were not in vain, seeing they wrought “in Christ Jesus.” They shared Paul’s itinerant ministry. They went to Ephesus and to Rome assisting their friend in every way. As missionaries they scattered the good seed of the Gospel wherever they went (Acts 18:18; Romans 16:3; 2 Timothy 4:19).

This is why Paul was generous in his recognition and acknowledgment of indebtedness to these godly souls, who, for love of Christ labored with him so devotedly in the Gospel. When Paul left Corinth after a residence of a year and a half in the home of Priscilla and Aquila, they left with him for Ephesus. After some time he “left them there,” and sailed to Jerusalem. Being “left there” was in the providence of God as we shall see when we come to their contact with Apollos there. In the furtherance of the Gospel Paul tells us that Priscilla and Aquila laid down their own necks for his sake, earning thereby not only his heartfelt gratitude, but also that of all the Gentile churches which Paul had founded. Moule translates this passage, “For my life’s sake submitted their own throats to the knife” (Romans 16:3, 4)—referring to some stern crisis otherwise utterly unknown to us but well-known in heaven. In some way or another, possibly during the great Ephesian riots, they had saved the man whom the Lord consecrated to the service of the Gentile world.

The way Paul describes their readiness to sacrifice themselves on his behalf conveys the thought that they had been exposed to martyrdom for his sake. He never forgot the self-sacrifice of Priscilla and Aquila who, for the most part of their lives worked at their trade as tentmakers but who were capable of noble deeds equal to the occasion. In perilous circumstances they exhibited a martyr-like self-sacrifice, and thereby emulated the example of the Master whom they so faithfully served. Can we say that we are ready to lay down our necks for the cause of Christ?

While the last mention of Aquila and Priscilla is to be found in Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy where they were back at Ephesus about the year a.d. 66 (2 Timothy 4:19), there is a tradition to the effect that they ultimately laid down their lives for Christ’s sake. The 8th of July is the day set apart for them in the martyrology of the Roman Church when it is said the faithful couple were led out beyond the walls and beheaded.

They Were One in Their Profound Knowledge of Scripture

One of the most impressive aspects of the spiritual influence of Priscilla and Aquila was the way in which these two simple souls with a deep knowledge of Christian truth were used to open the eyes of a great Alexandrian divine to the reality of the Gospel. The eloquent and fervent Apollos with all his brilliance and power suffered a sorry limitation as a preacher. He knew only “the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25, 26). He knew nothing of salvation through the cross and the accompaniments of salvation. The larger truths of the Gospel of Redemption were as yet unknown to him. Priscilla and Aquila followed the crowds who went to hear this most popular and persuasive preacher.

As they listened, Priscilla and her husband detected the negative defects of the preaching of Apollos. He taught no positive error, denied no essential of the faith. What he preached was true as far as it went. Apollos knew the truth, but not all the truth, and so in the quiet way, with all humility, Priscilla and Aquila set about correcting the apparent deficiency of Apollos. Inviting him to their home they passed no word of criticism on what they had heard him preach but with consummate tact instructed him Biblically in the truth of the crucified, risen and glorified Saviour. “They expounded unto him the way of God more carefully” (asv)

What was the result of that Bible course which Apollos received from those two godly, Spirit-enlightened believers? Why, Apollos became so mighty in the Gospel that he was called an apostle. In fact, he became so effective as a true gospel preacher that some of the Corinthians put him before Peter and Paul. But all that Apollos became he owed, under God, to the quiet instruction of Priscilla and Aquila. In Apollos, Christ gained a preacher whose spiritual influence was second only to Paul himself. Says Alexander Whyte in his chapter dealing with Aquila, Priscilla and Apollos.

If we cannot be great, by God’s grace we may be the means of making others great. Quiet, unobtrusive Andrew little knew when he brought his brother Peter to Christ that he would become the mighty Apostle to the Jews. As husband and wife, and humble tentmakers, Aquila and Priscilla greatly enriched the ministries of Paul and Apollos whom God, in turn, used to establish churches.

They Were One in the Service of the Church

Paul gives us a still fuller insight into the passionate desire of Aquila and Priscilla to bind the saints together in fellowship. To the Corinthians he wrote, “Aquila and Priscilla salute you much in the Lord, with the church in their house.” In Romans, the Apostle sent his greetings to them and to “the church that is in their house.” At stated times they gathered the followers of Christ for worship, prayer, the Lord’s Supper and the ministry of the Word of God.

Priscilla the Author of Hebrews?

Many scholars now believe that the author of Hebrews was one of Paul’s pupils or associates, citing stylistic differences between Hebrews and the other Pauline epistles.[1] Recent scholarship has favored the idea that the author was probably a leader of a predominantly Jewish congregation to whom he or she was writing.[2]  Its vastly different style, different theological focus, different spiritual experience, different Greek vocabulary – all are believed to make Paul’s authorship of Hebrews increasingly indefensible. At present, modern scholarship does not ascribe Hebrews to Paul.[3][4][5]

A.J. Gordon ascribes the authorship of Hebrews to Priscilla, writing that “It is evident that the Holy Spirit made this woman Priscilla a teacher of teachers”. Later proposed by Adolf von Harnack in 1900,[7] Harnack’s reasoning won the support of prominent Bible scholars of the early twentieth century. Harnack believes the letter was written in Rome – not to the Church, but to the inner circle. In setting forth his evidence for Priscillan authorship, he finds it amazing that the name of the author was blotted out by the earliest tradition. Citing Chapter 13, he says it was written by a person of “high standing and apostolic teacher of equal rank with Timothy”. If Luke, Clement, Barnabas, or Apollos had written it, Harnack believes their names would not have been obliterated.[8]

Donald Guthrie’s commentary The Letter to the Hebrews (1983) mentions Priscilla by name as a suggested author.[9]

Believing the author to have been Priscilla, Ruth Hoppin posits that the name was omitted either to suppress its female authorship, or to protect the letter itself from suppression.[10]

Also convinced that Priscilla was the author of Hebrews, Gilbert Bilezikian, professor of biblical studies at Wheaton College, remarks on “the conspiracy of anonymity in the ancient church,” and reasons: “The lack of any firm data concerning the identity of the author in the extant writings of the church suggests a deliberate blackout more than a case of collective loss of memory.”[11] 

As we say farewell  to Priscilla and Aquila we remind ourselves that in the history of Christianity the truly great characters have always been simple and humble men and women.  Paul, ever conscious of his indebtedness to inconspicuous persons, paid just tribute to Aquila and Priscilla. Whether we are prominent or otherwise, may we be found serving God to the limit of our ability. How much we owe to the quiet and useful lives of the world’s Aquilas and Priscillas, we shall never know this side of heaven!

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 Sources

  1. ab c Fonck, Leopold. “Epistle to the Hebrews”. The Catholic Encyclopedia.  7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. Web: 30 Dec. 2009.
  2. ^Rhee, Victor (Sung-Yul) (June 2012). Köstenberger, Andreas (ed.). “The Author of Hebrews as a Leader of the Faith Community” (PDF). Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 2. 55: 365–75. ISSN 0360-8808. Retrieved 2012-11-17.
  3. ^Attridge, Harold W.Hebrews. Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1989, pp. 1–6.
  4. ^Ellingworth, Paul (1993). The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing Co. p. 3.
  5. ^Ehrman, Bart D. (2011). Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are. HarperOne. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-06-207863-6.
  6. ^Ehrman 2011: “The anonymous book of Hebrews was assigned to Paul, even though numbers of early Christian scholars realized that Paul did not write it, as scholars today agree.”
  7. ^Adolph von Harnack, “Probabilia uber die Addresse und den Verfasser des Habraerbriefes, ” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche (E. Preuschen, Berlin: Forschungen und Fortschritte, 1900), 1:16–41.
  8. ^See Lee Anna Starr, The Bible Status of Woman. Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1955, pp 187–82.
  9. ^Donald Guthrie, The Letter to the HebrewsTyndale New Testament Commentaries, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1983, reprinted 1999, p. 21
  10. ^Hoppin, Ruth. Priscilla’s Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.Lost Coast Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1882897506
  11. ^Hoppin, Ruth; Bilezikian, Gilbert (2000). Priscilla’s Letter. Lost Coast Press. ISBN1882897501.

Also adapted from:  Resources  Lockyer’s All the Women of the Bible  Chapter 2. Alphabetical Exposition of Named Bible Women  P  Priscilla

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Lydia – Successful Business Woman – Acts 16

Scripture ReferencesActs 16:12-15, 40; Philippians 1:1-10

Name Meaning—Lydia, who was an Asiatic, derived her name from the country on the borders of which her native city, Thyatira, was situated. It was not an original Greek name, but probably Phoenician, and a common name meaning “bending.” Readers of Horace will be familiar with Lydia as a popular name for women. There are those writers who think that it means “The Lydian,” seeing Thyatira was a city of Lydia, and that her personal name is unknown.

Family Connections—Scripture does not supply us with any information regarding Lydia’s background apart from the fact that she lived in Thyatira which was one of the Macedonian colonies. From names discovered on monuments it is evident that the city was the melting pot of many nations, and that the chief object of worship was Apollo, who was worshiped as the sun-god under the name of Tyrinnus. There was also a strong Jewish element in the city maintaining faith in Jehovah. Lydia, one of the prominent women of Thyatira, is presented to us in various ways, namely—

As a Business Woman

Thyatira was notable for its many guilds which were united by common pursuits and religious rites. One of these guilds was that of dyers. The water of the area was so well-adapted for dyeing, that no other place could produce the scarlet cloth out of which garments were so brilliantly and so permanently dyed. This unique purple dye brought the city universal renown. Lydia was a well-known seller of this product (Acts 16:14), and typifies a successful business woman in a prosperous city. Ability, enthusiasm, singleness of purpose and mental acumen were hers, and she prospered greatly in an honorable and extensive calling of “selling purple.” Lydia was an example of the comparatively independent position some women attained to in Asia Minor. That she became prosperous in business is seen in that she owned a spacious home, and had servants to care for her.

As a Devout Woman

While it is not certain whether Lydia was of Jewish descent it is evident that she was a Jewish proselyte. “She worshipped God,” we are told. Often business people are so engrossed in their affairs as to have no time for religion. But Lydia, in spite of all her secular obligations, found time to worship according to the Jewish faith. Daily she made her way to the riverside where prayer was wont to be made. She knew that in order to successfully meet the stiff competition of the Philippian traders, she needed grace as well as knowledge. At that riverside prayer meeting perhaps she met other Jewish dyers, and with them eagerly waited upon the ministry of Paul and his companions.

As a Seeking Woman

Although sincerely religious, Lydia was not a Christian. She did, however, have a hunger for a deeper spiritual experience. The mind is closed against the full truth either from ignorance or prejudice and cannot discern it, or from pride and perversity and will not admit it. Ignorance was responsible for Lydia’s closed mind, but as she attended to the truth of Christ which Paul spoke of in conversational style in that small seated Jewish gathering, the light dawned, and her heart opened to receive that Christ as her Savior. As Chrysostom puts it, “To open is the part of God, and to pay attention that of the woman.” Her faith was born through hearing the Word of God (Psalm 119:18, 130; Luke 24:45).

As a Christian Woman

As an evidence of her surrender to the claims of Christ she was baptized, “the waters of Europe then first being sacramentally used to seal her faith and God’s forgiveness in Christ.” Her conversion was declared by a public confession, and such was her enthusiasm that she immediately told her household what had happened, and all within it likewise believed and were baptized as disciples of the same Savior. Thus Lydia had the honor of being Paul’s first European convert—the forerunner of a mighty host to honor the Lord. Becoming a Christian did not make her less of a successful business woman. Now she had Christ as her Senior Partner and with Him we can imagine that trade remained good and that much of her profit was used to assist His servants in the work of the Gospel.

As a Hospitable Woman

Lydia’s transformation of life was evidenced by her eagerness to give missionaries the hospitality of her fine home. Truth in her heart was manifested in kindness to each other—as they ought to be! “Be ye kind one to another.” First came Lydia’s faith, then the winning of her servants to Christ, then her love in gracious hospitality, and finally her reception of Paul and Silas into her home after their discharge from prison, bruised and battered though they were. She was not ashamed of the Lord’s prisoners (see 1 Timothy 5:10; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). While benefiting from Lydia’s generous hospitality Paul warned all present of the terrible trials before them, and then parting from godly Lydia, praised God for all she had meant to him and his companions.

As a Consecrated Woman

Lydia always had “open house” for the saints of God and her home became a center of Christian fellowship in Philippi with perhaps the first Christian church being formed therein. When Paul came to write his letter to the Philippians, we can rest assured that Lydia was included in all the saints at Philippi to whom he sent his salutations (Philippians 1:1-7); and was also in his mind as one of those women who labored with him in the Gospel (Philippians 4:3). William Ramsay thinks that Lydia may have been either Euodia or Syntyche (Philippians 4:2).

When Paul penned the triple exhortation—“Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11), we do not know whether he had his hospitable convert, Lydia, in mind. She certainly exemplified these three virtues, and grace can be ours to emulate them.

“Not slothful in business”

If our business is honorable and we are diligent in it, and if we are the Lord’s, we have the assurance that if we honor Him in all transactions, He will honor us. He places no premium upon idleness or laziness. Did not Paul say that if we are not willing to work we have no right to eat?

“Fervent in spirit”

Moffatt’s translation is suggestive here. He expresses it, “Maintain the spiritual glow,” which, by God’s grace Lydia was able to do as she cared for her business interests and pursuits which were no bar to her spirituality. Too often, we allow the secular to rob us of our glow. Our affection becomes too set on things below.

“Serving the Lord”

Lydia not only sold her dyes—she served her Savior. She stayed in business that she might have the money to help God’s servants in their ministry. How her generous care of Paul and Silas, and of many others, must have cheered their hearts. Lydia was, first of all, a consecrated Christian, then a conscientious business woman who continued to sell her purple dyes for the glory of God. When we reach heaven, we shall find this “seller of purple” wearing more superior garments, robes not stained even with the notable dye of Thyatira, but “washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.”

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Adapted from: Resources  Lockyer’s All the Women of the Bible  Chapter 2. Alphabetical Exposition of Named Bible Women  L  Lydia

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Rhoda – The Woman Who Was Called Mad

Rhoda was a household servant of Mary the mother of Mark, her name in Greek means “rose.” Biblical commentator, Dr. Wilkinson writes that as “Barnabas, Mary’s brother, was of the country of Cyprus, it is a very likely that the family had lived there, and brought this servant girl from there.”  Although she carried one of the most beautiful names she was called by another not so pleasant. Some of those gathered in Mary’s home called her Manias meaning, “a mad woman.”

Scripture ReferenceActs 12:1-19

In our passage, that mentions Rhoda, nothing is said of her background or family.  As a servant, she had no hours. The fact that it was long past midnight when Peter reached Mary’s house, and that Rhoda the servant answered the door, indicates that she was willing to serve long and late. Mary, her mistress, also found in Rhoda a spiritual help. Doubtless she, too, was on her knees with the others praying for Peter, and hearing his knock went to the door. Perhaps we can break up the narrative in this threefold way. Peter knocked—Rhoda was shocked &–; then those gathered mocked.

Peter Knocked

The background of the record which Rhoda shares can be briefly cited. Mary of Jerusalem, a rich widow and mother of Mark the evangelist, owned a large house in the city which she opened for the Lord and His church. During the days of terrible persecution the saints in Jerusalem gathered regularly in her lovely home not only for the reading and exposition of the Word, but also to pray for afflicted saints. On the night in question the saints concentrated on the deliverance of a precious life, namely, Peter their leader. Herod’s sword of persecution had fallen heavily upon the church in Jerusalem. James the apostle, (brother of John) had already drunk the cup of martyrdom prophesied for him by his Lord, and the gathered intercessors had learned that Peter, imprisoned by Herod, was the next to be killed.  If their shepherd was taken out, what could the sheep do? Such a crisis brought Peter’s fellow believers to their knees in night-long intercession.

As the church in the house earnestly petitioned the Lord, their prayers were heard. In the prison the Lord, by means of an angel, miraculously freed Peter. Peter sped past guards and through opened doors, and came to the closed door of a house where he knew the saints were gathered together praying. Peter knocked at the door of the gate, but because of Rhoda’s excitement, she failed to open the door. Peter continued knocking until the door at the gate was opened, not by angelic hands, as at the prison he had left, but by unbelieving human hands. Such a delay might have been dangerous, if the guards, discovering their prisoner had escaped, had tracked him down and found him standing at the closed gate of Mary’s well known house.

Rhoda Was Shocked

Peter not only knocked but also spoke, for we read that she knew his voice—the dear voice she had listened to so often expounding the sacred truths of the Word. But she was so stunned and overwhelmed at the answer to those midnight prayers standing there, that she failed to draw the bolts and admit Peter. “She opened not the gate for gladness.” Such gladness would have been changed to sadness had Herod’s soldiers appeared at that moment and taken Peter back to prison. We can understand Rhoda not opening the gate as soon as she heard the knock. “Never open a door in the dark until you know who is behind it.” In those days when the saints were not sure who would be the next to join the noble army of martyrs, great caution was necessary. That knock might have been the summons of cruel Herod, making a fresh inroad on the little flock. But when Rhoda asked, “Who is knocking?” and received the muffled reply, “It is Peter, open quickly,” she should have opened the gate before opening her mouth to others in the house about Peter standing outside. Knowing that for certain it was Peter, it was her duty as the maid to open the door. But stunned by the glad tidings she was momentarily thoughtless.

There are some characteristics of this maidservant who only has this one notice in Scripture, which are attractive. First, unbounded joy was hers. Luke, the beloved physician, who wrote the Acts, analyzes Rhoda’s state of consciousness when the good news of answered prayer on Peter’s behalf overpowered her presence of mind. She forgot herself—and her duty—and ran in to tell the intercessors to pray no more for Peter was at the gate. We can imagine how excitedly she shouted, “Peter is free! Peter is knocking at the door!” A spontaneous child of nature, she manifested her exuberance. Had hers been a calmer, less passionate nature, she would have opened the door when she knew it was Peter, and then gone in to tell the praying band that Peter was safe and free.

Further, when her good, glad information was scorned by the saints whose prayers for Peter had been interrupted by Rhoda’s joyous outburst, “she constantly affirmed that it was even so.” Her young heart believed in God and in the power of prayer, and knowing definitely that prayer had been answered, she would not suffer the praying band in the house of her mistress to browbeat her into silence. Although only the maid, she was not to be subdued by the sarcastic criticism of the large congregation present. She knew it was Peter, and nothing could move her from that belief. Rhoda wore the red rose of courage so beautifully as she persisted against opposition to constantly affirm the truth.

The Saints Mocked

How revealing was the reaction of those gathered together to Rhoda’s excited announcement. First of all, they told the glad maid that she was mad. They accused her of insanity! But Rhoda was in good company because it had been said of the Saviour whom she had come to know and love, “He is beside Himself.” Then, when Paul’s eye kindled with the glory of his message, just as the face of Rhoda glowed as she told of answered prayer, Festus said of the Apostle, “You are beside yourself, much learning has made you crazy.” The prophet speaks about the spiritual man being mad (Hosea 9:7). Have we ever been thought mad for Christ, or fools for His sake? We are in the best of company if others sneer at us as we declare and live the message of God’s power through Christ. But being told she had lost her senses did not deter Rhoda from the repetition of what she knew to be true.

Departing from their accusation, some said, “It is his angel.” Failing to move Rhoda from her persistent testimony, the saints treated her message as coming from the dead. It was a common Jewish belief that every true Israelite had a guardian angel especially assigned to him, who, when he appeared in human form, assumed the likeness of the man whom he protected. The continued knocking of Peter, however, stifled that interpretation of Rhoda’s testimony because guardian angels are not prevented from carrying out their mission by closed doors. So, feeling that there was something insistently human about that constant knocking “they opened the door, saw Peter, and were astonished.”

Astonished! How this description of their feelings revealed their unbelief! They had been praying for hours for Peter, yet when Peter stood at the door they did not believe it. Lack of faith was mingled with their intercessions, and so they were surprised at the miracle God had performed in Peter’s escape from prison. Our Lord instructed His disciples to pray believingly. “When you ask, believe that you receive.” Spurgeon once said, “If the Lord wants to surprise His people, He has only at once to give them an answer. No sooner do they receive an answer than they say, ‘Who would have thought it?’” Mary of Jerusalem came to value her godly maid, Rhoda, more than ever because of the great assistance she had rendered that memorable day. And once in the house, Peter must have commended her for her persistence!

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Adapted from: Resources  Lockyer’s All the Women of the Bible  Chapter 2. Alphabetical Exposition of Named Bible Women  R  Rhoda

 

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