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11. Ministry Women Identified by Service: Lydia & Phoebe

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Time: 49-62 AD Paul's Second & Third Missionary Journeys

Background

Settlers first arrived in Philippi from the off-coast island of Thasos to mine gold. A Greek gold rush, so to speak! Philip II of Macedon named the city after himself, built a wall, and colonized it in 356 BC At the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, Mark Antony and Octavian defeated the army of Brutus and Cassius. So, Philippi became a Roman colony as a thank you for its help. Being a Roman colony gave Philippi special privileges (few or no taxes), but more importantly it became like a "transplanted" Rome. The primary purpose of colonies was military, for the Roman leaders felt it wise to have Roman citizens and sympathizers settled in strategic locations. So, Octavian (Caesar Augustus) settled former soldiers there in the years following the victory.

Philippi was very influential in its part of Greece. Its 200,00-500,000 residents were mostly Greeks and Romans. Being only 10 miles from the coast, it was a great market for goods that Romans liked and was on a highway for easy transport. Main Street Philippi was the Egnatian Way, the Roman version of an interstate highway that connected Rome to all its satellites. Philippi was considered the Gateway to the East and, thus, a very prosperous place. What wouldn't be if you paid no taxes?! Also, it had exceptionally fertile soil and lots of timber for harvesting.

A school of medicine operated in Philippi run by as guild of Greek physicians. It is speculated that Luke (the author of Acts and the physician companion of Paul) had grown up and attended medical school there.

Being such a Roman city, Philippi had very few Jews, not enough to even establish a synagogue since doing so required at least 10 Jewish men. Without a synagogue present, the few Jews in any town and their converts met on the Sabbath outside the city walls, near water, to get away from idolatry. The women's prayer group Paul found probably gathered on the banks of the Gangites River, a mile and a half west of town!

Day One Study

1. Read Acts 15:40 - 16:5. List all that God was doing through the ministry of Paul and his companions.

2. Read Acts 16:6-9. How was the Holy Spirit directing their path? And, specifically describe the vision God gave to Paul to guide him over to Europe.

3. Read Acts 16:10-13. What did Paul and his companions do next? [Notice the use of the pronoun “we” beginning in v. 10 indicating Luke was traveling with the group now.]

4. Read Acts 13:5,14; 14:1 and 17:2,10. What was Paul's usual missionary strategy when he entered a town?

5. Living Out His Love: Did you notice Paul’s flexibility in how he followed the Lord’s leading on this journey? He had his plans to go to certain new places with the gospel, specifically the province of Asia (western Turkey) and Bithynia. We, as women, often have our minds made up as to what we should do each day. Read James 5:15 and other verses you can find about being directed by God’s will in our plans. In what ways have you submitted to the Lord your willingness to be open to whatever opportunities He gives you to build a relationship with someone who needs to know Him or to know Him better and perhaps share your faith?  

Day Two Study

Getting to Know Lydia

6. Read Acts 16:11-15. Paul had a vision of a man calling him over to Macedonia for ministry. What is significant about the fact that Paul's first proclamation on the continent of Europe was to a group of women (no men are mentioned in the gathering? See Galatians 3:26-28. Who sent Paul and his companions to Lydia and the other women?

Scriptural Insight: By this time in his ministry, Paul had been sharing the gospel with both men and women who embraced it with joy. Sadly, he also experienced persecution led by prominent “God-fearing” women in one city who had been incited by the Jews against him (Acts 13:49)

7. List everything you can glean about Lydia in this passage.

8. Deeper Discoveries (optional): Where was Thyatira, and why do you think Lydia was in Philippi? Use your study notes, Bible handbook, etc. to find out about Thyatira—people, products, religion, etc.

Historical Insight: Purple was a favorite color of the Romans and, therefore, in great demand because it was used on official togas in Rome and in the colonies. In fact, we still use the term "royal purple." It was very expensive to produce. We don’t know when or why Lydia relocated to Philippi, but it was a smart business move. Macedonian inscriptions show greater freedom for women in that area of the world than anywhere else at this time.

9. Consider Lydia's likely material wealth as a seller of purple, her position in the community and her background from Thyatira. Now consider her presence with the other women by the river. What more can we infer about her own heart and attitudes?

10. How did Lydia respond to the gospel? What was the immediate evidence of her faith?

11. Who else was influenced by Lydia's becoming a believer?

12. What did her home become? See also Acts 16:40.

13. Living Out His Love: Paul may have expected some men gathering at the river, but he doesn’t act surprised. Instead, he is ready to share what he knows with the women gathered there. No doubt, he had some great conversation starters that led into sharing about Jesus. You can be ready for opportunities the Lord gives you through preparing some conversation starters and transitions from common topics of conversation into sharing some aspect of your faith story.

Conversation Starters

What are some good conversation starters to stimulate meaningful talk that might reveal a woman’s heart and give you a chance to invite it somewhere? Use these when you engage your hairdresser, co-worker, or neighbor. 

Transitions

Prepare some transitions from common topics of conversation that could lead into sharing some aspect of your faith story. Use the examples of common topics below and finish out what you would say.

  • Corruption, evil and sin – “Though I am not guilty of that particular sin, I am just as guilty of…
  • Community – “I believe we are created by God to live in real community, first of all with Him. And, I’ve experienced this…
  • Family – “I am so glad God cares even more about my family than I do. What would I do without Him helping me to…
  • Something good happened“God has been so kind to you in that. I see His kindness to me everyday…
  • High expectations—“I am so glad God doesn’t expect perfection from me. What a relief it was for me to learn how much He loves me just as I am…
  • Ask Jesus to give you boldness and opportunity to use these soon.

Day Three Study

14. Read Acts 16:16-40. The other incidents in Paul's visit to Philippi no doubt had a direct effect on Lydia. Summarize what happened to Paul and his companions.

15. How might these events have affected Lydia as a new believer? Think of her household, position in the community, business and any other areas.

16. Where was the last place Paul and his companions met in Philippi? In view of their notoriety, what does this tell us about Lydia?

17. It sounds as if Lydia's home was a hotel and conference center for believers and missionaries. In what ways can this hospitality be viewed as ministry? Discuss the importance of this ministry by Lydia and other women to the spread of the Gospel. See Acts 5:42, Romans 16:5,13 and Hebrews 10:23-25,32-34. Remember that the main road between Asia and Rome runs through Philippi. Notice the outcome of their faithfulness in Philippians 4:15-19 as Paul commends the Philippian church approximately ten years after his first visit.

18. Living Out His Love: Believers are told throughout the New Testament to practice hospitality. Read Romans 12:13; 1 Timothy 5:10 and 1 Peter 4:9.

  • In what ways can hospitality be a great tool for ministry, particularly for building relationships with those who don’t know Christ or don’t know Him well?
  • In what creative ways can you make your home available?
  • Does hospitality have to be practiced in a home? Explain your answer.

Day Four Study

Getting to Know Phoebe

19. Read Romans 16:1-15. From the limited amount of information in vv. 1-2, describe Phoebe. Do some research to discover the meaning of her name.

From the Greek: Phoebe is described by Paul as a diakonon of the church. The word diakonon, "servant," is used for the office of deacon (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8,10,12) as well as used generally (Romans 15:8; 1 Corinthians 3:5). Use of the word with the phrase "of the church" strongly suggests some recognized position in the church at Cenchrea, a fact appropriate for a person serving as Paul's emissary. She was the emissary to deliver Paul's letter to the Romans.

Phoebe is also described by Paul as a prostasis, translated "great help/helper of many." The Greek word prostasis means "a protectress, patroness." It is a word of dignity and indicates the high esteem with which she was regarded, as one who had been a protectress of MANY. The word was used as a title of a citizen in Athens, who had the responsibility of seeing to the welfare of resident aliens who were without civic rights. Among the Jews, it signified a wealthy patron of the community.

20. Knowing the meaning of the words Paul used to describe Phoebe gives you a great deal more insight into Phoebe's life. Look up patroness in a dictionary. What would you add to your description of Phoebe in the previous question?

21. So, what was Paul's view of this woman, and how did he act on her behalf?

22. Living Out His Love: What can you learn from Phoebe's example, especially in her example as a patroness? In what ways can you be a patroness for other believers?

23. List the other women mentioned by Paul in Romans 16, including any information Paul gives us about them and their ministry to the church. In vv. 6 and 12, the Greek word translated "work hard" means “to labor with wearisome effort, to toil to the point of exhaustion." Would you say that Paul demonstrated that he had the same value for women as a follower of Christ that Jesus showed to women during His lifetime? Explain your answer.              

Related Topics: Character Study, Love, Women

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