Women Serving Christ and the Gospel - Pentecost 20
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
October 18, 2020

This Sunday we are recognizing Women of Emmanuel and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League or LWML and the mission and ministry efforts they support. Women of Emmanuel, otherwise affectionately known by us as “WOE,” is our women’s organization here at Emmanuel. It also supports the work of LWML. The LWML is the national organization of women of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. It supports mission and ministry projects in the U.S. and in other parts of the world.

Recognizing WOE and LWML can give us an opportunity to thank God for the contribution to the life and ministry of the church that His Christian women have made and continue to make, especially our women here at Emmanuel. In this connection, I am thinking of these words from the Apostle Paul: “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 1:2-3 ESV). Though these words are for every Christian, they also provide a way to talk about women serving Christ and the Gospel.

In talking about women serving Christ and the Gospel, I would like to talk about some women identified in the NT, some women that may not be so well known. We often hear about Mary, Jesus’s mother, and then Mary Magdalene, and then Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus brought back to life from the dead. But what about Lydia, Prisca, Lois, Eunice, Joanna, Suzanna, Phoebe, another Mary whom Paul mentions in Romans 16:6 as having worked hard for the church at Rome, Persis, and the mother of Rufus, whom Paul also affectionately referred to as his mother too (Rom. 16:13).

It is important to talk about people identified in the NT, because they supported the ministry of the Apostles and the pastors, preachers, and teachers. There were so many Christians, both men and women who suffered with the Apostles and engaged in that spiritual battle for the Gospel in the early days of the church. And they gave much out of thankfulness and praise to God who provided such wonderful salvation in Christ as the wonderful gift of grace it is, and the wonderful promise and hope it gives.

These were real people, like you and me. Their hearts were gripped by the Spirit through the good news of Jesus. They therefore placed themselves and their means at Christ’s service, in so many important ways. It was not just the Apostles who engaged in the struggle for the Gospel and worked for spreading the Word of the kingdom. It was also Christians working along with them, supporting them, suffering with them, rejoicing with them, receiving Christ with them.

So when we talk about some women in the NT, we see a reflection of ourselves. For we have here at Emmanuel our own Prisca’s, Lois’s, Eunice’s, Joanna’s, Suzanna’s, Phoebe’s, Mary’s and so on.

Let’s get started by looking at Luke 8, vv. 1-3. It says, “[Jesus] went on through the cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from who seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means” (Luke 8:1-3 ESV). It is important to recognize that these women were with Jesus and the twelve as He was on His preaching tours. They were supporting them “out of their means,” that is, out of their possessions, whatever wealth they had, and whatever skills, talents, and character they brought to the table. Joanna was also a prominent woman in the community because she was the wife of Chuza. Chuza was an important man in the household of Herod Antipas. This Herod was ruler of Galilee at that time.

I have often used this text to encourage our women who are on altar guild, who are dedicated to taking care of our altar furnishings and preparing the bread and the wine so we can partake of the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. What we see here, though, is not limited to the work of the altar guild. We see how the ministry of the Gospel had gripped these women and what they did to support Jesus and the twelve as a result.

Now let’s talk about Phoebe. We find her mentioned in Romans 16:1-2. Romans 16 verses 1-16, by the way, is a wonderful chapter in terms of giving us a glimpse of the contribution of so many people, men and women, to the life of the early church and to the ministry of the Apostles. I would encourage you to take time to read it this week, and think about them in this way. In verses 1 and 2 Paul says: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant [or deaconess] of the church at Cenchraeae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well” (Rom. 16:1-2 ESV).

We see that Phoebe was from Cenchraeae. Cenchraeae was a town next to Corinth in Greece. Paul, however, was writing about her to the church at Rome. Paul is commending Phoebe to the church at Rome as a deaconess of the church at Cenchraeae so that they receive her in the Lord and give her what she needs for whatever her mission was. Because of the mission she was on, she had to travel. Her mission also suggests that she was a leader and organizer. It shows us someone who was fearless because she traveled, and also knew her way around.

Now what mission was she on? Paul calls Phoebe a “patron” of many people, Paul included. Patron is the word the ESV uses. The English is trying to capture a word here that means “helper,” though it is stronger than this. We get the picture of a women who was instrumental in gathering financial support and other resources for the Apostles and preachers of the Gospel, and for other charitable efforts of the early church. And it looks like she traveled to many churches around the Roman world to garner support. We see someone with a compassionate heart, dedicated to the Gospel and to supporting its ministry, but who was also a go-getter, well organized, fearless, able to be persuasive, well-known, and held in high respect and honor by Paul, and his immediate circle, and many in the church.

Now let’s talk about Lydia. We meet Lydia in Acts 16, starting at v. 11. Paul went to Philippi, in the region of Macedonia in Greece. On the Sabbath, he and his companions went outside the gate of the city to the river. They thought some people would be gathered there for prayer. They found some women there and spoke the Gospel to them. One of those women was Lydia. She was a seller of purple cloth and worshipper of God (Acts 16:14). Purple cloth was valuable and in demand.

Lydia was from Thyatira. Thyatira was a town in Asia minor. We know this part of the world as present day Turkey. Thyatira was inland from Ephesus.

The Lord brought her to faith in Christ through the Gospel spoken by Paul and those with him. She was then baptized into the Christian faith, along with her household. She then invited Paul and those with him to stay at her house. This suggests that she had a house that could accommodate them, indicating a woman of means.

What kind of picture do we see of her? She was a merchant. She was probably somewhat wealthy. She too traveled the Roman world, being from Thyatira, yet being found by Paul and by Christ through the Gospel at Philippi. She feared God, and then became found by the Gospel. She was a leader in her family. This is evident because when she was baptized, her household was too. She too placed her means in service of Christ by providing hospitality to Paul and his companions.

Now let’s talk about Lois and Eunice. We encounter them at 2 Timothy 1:5. Lois was the grandmother of Timothy and Eunice was Timothy’s mother. Paul mentions them to remind Timothy of his sincere faith in Christ, which faith “dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” (2 Tim. 1:5 ESV). What does this tell us about Lois and Eunice? It tells us that they were Christians, believers in Christ and holders of the teaching of the Gospel. It also tells us that they taught this Christian faith to their daughter, and then to their grandson and son. They brought them up in church and the Christian faith. So Lois made sure Eunice was taught the Gospel. Eunice, Timothy’s mother, made sure that Timothy was taught the Gospel. The Christian faith was so important to them that they made sure their children were taught it and participated in the gathering of Christ’s people around His Word and Sacrament. They probably also had the Gospel and prayer on their lips and taught it at home. As a result in this case, the grandson and son, Timothy, became a pastor in the church and an important person in Paul’s circle and in the early church. Their dedication as Christian parents to the Christian upbringing of their children is forever recognized in the church because they are mentioned for it in one of Paul’s letters to Pastor Timothy.

Finally, let’s talk about Prisca. Prisca is short for Priscilla. We first encounter her as Priscilla, but in Romans 16:3 Paul calls her Prisca. Prisca was the wife of Aquila. We first encounter them in Acts chapter 18 verse 2.

Paul had left Athens and gone on to Corinth. In Corinth he met Prisca and Aquila. Aquila was a Jew who was a native of a region called Pontus. Pontus was a region in the north of Asia Minor along the south shore of the Black Sea. Aquila and Priscilla were in Corinth because they had been expelled from Rome. Rome was a long way from Pontus.

Aquila and Priscilla were merchants. They made and sold tents. They were well traveled. Paul also made tents. He must have run into them in that business. Paul struck up a relationship with them and ended up staying with them in Corinth. He stayed there for 6 months. Scripture says that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” to the Gospel (Acts 18:4 ESV). You can imagine how Aquila and Priscilla opening their home to Paul enabled him to do this. Undoubtedly, when Paul was trying to persuade Jews and Greeks in the Synagogue in Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla heard it all and were very good students. Can you imagine the conversations they had with the Apostle?

Paul and Aquila and Priscilla became close friends in Christ. When Paul left Corinth on his way to Syria, Priscilla and Aquila went with him. On the way, they came to Ephesus. Paul left Aquila and Priscilla there as he went on to Syria.

Then Apollos, a fine preacher, came to Ephesus. He preached about Jesus, but there were some things that he did not quite have straight. So Priscilla and Aquila took him aside and explained the way of God in the Gospel to him more accurately. Prisca played a prominent role in this. We get the impression that she was pretty sharp and had an exceptionally good and accurate understanding of the Scriptures, the Gospel, and Christian teaching, which she had learned from the Apostle. So she, along with her husband, were able to clarify some things for Apollos.

Later, Paul calls Prisca and Aquila his fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their lives for Paul’s life (Rom. 16:3-4). They played a huge part in the early church by making their house available for gatherings of the church for word and sacrament, instruction, and fellowship. We know that they did this at least in Corinth and Rome. They may have also done this in Ephesus.

And so we are back to us. These women are no different than all you women here. And we could tell of the faithfulness of women here at Emmanuel. We could speak of your service, giving, sacrifice, knowledge of the Gospel and Christian teaching, and dedication to Christ and the Gospel. You, along with the men, make the ministry of Emmanuel possible and make Emmanuel strong. And we give thanks and praise to God for you all, as you give thanks and praise to God for Christ and the mercy and grace you have in Him, which we then want others to come to know.

And may the example of these women in the Scriptures, inspire us even today, and inspire you in your thanksgiving-filled dedication to Christ and the ministry of the Gospel, as He strengthens you through His Word and His giving of Himself to you, strengthening you in your service, as He leads. May God bless you in Christ as you serve Him with gladness in thanksgiving and praise.

Amen.



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