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Called to Serve
Winter Quarter: Call in the New Testament
Unit 3: The Call of Women
Sunday school lesson for the week of Feb. 28, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: Acts 16:11-15, 40; I Corinthians 1:26-30
“When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us into her home. ‘If you consider me as a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” Acts 16:15
Acts is the second volume of Luke’s contribution to the New Testament. This book records the ascension of Jesus, the birth of his Church, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the spreading of the Gospel. It is structured according to Acts 1:1 in which Luke claims that in his Gospel he had recorded all that Jesus “began” to do and teach, rather than all Jesus “did.” Jesus was still alive in the world, ministering through his Church and the believers. Secondly, in Acts 1:8 Luke records how and where the Gospel will travel. The proclamation begins in Jerusalem then moves to Judea; from there, it moves into Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth. Judea was the remnant of Israel that exists in the southern part of the once united nation. Samaria is the area just north of Judea. It represents the northern remnant of Israelites. The remainder of Acts is structured exactly in this order. In our lesson, the Gospel has moved beyond both Judea and Samaria. It is now being shared in Mesopotamia. Acts records that this movement of the Gospel occurred through the life of Paul and his followers. Paul was great at recognizing and training leaders in the Church. He left them to care and nurture for the new congregations as he moved from place to place preaching and teaching Christ.
Our lesson is concerned with Paul encountering Lydia.
Acts is the one historical book of the New Testament. Why aren’t the Gospels historical? Does the fact that they are not historical mean they are not sacred and true?
(It will help to understand the difference between a historical document and a proclamation, experience, or both)
Troas stood at the north of Turkey’s western coast. Paul had established a church at Troas through God’s Spirit. In Troas, an event occurred that would set the course for Paul’s ensuing ministry. At Troas, Paul had a vision of a man pleading with him to come to them in Macedonia. They needed his help. Paul immediately traveled toward Macedonia. It appears Paul had a rather loose understanding as to where he would travel. Often, he tried to visit an area of Asia only to experience obstacles. He would interpret the obstacles as guidance from the Lord. Paul yielded every aspect of his life to Christ and trained himself to truly hear the Spirit in his life. Consequently, we read of his trusting God for direction in his ministry. Paul planned to visit the churches he helped establish while trusting God to make the next place known. Paul’s vision was his guidance for his next place.
According to Paul’s experience, should we plan for the future or simply wait for an answer? What do you think it means to “walk through the doors that open for us?” Could we say that Paul’s missionary activity was a blend of human and divine experience? In what way?
This city stood in eastern Macedonia. The city had greatly prospered since its founding. It stood as a commercial crossroad for connecting Europe and Asia. It was a Greek city of the Roman Empire. There was no synagogue. Founding a synagogue required 10 Jewish men. Thus, there was only a very small population of Jews. A church founded in Philippi would become instrumental in spreading the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Philippi was the city where the first church would be founded in Europe.
The city was rich in gold and silver. Thus, it was an area very attractive to the ever-expanding Roman Empire. As the Golden Rule of the World claims, “He who has the gold makes the rules.” Alexander the Great used the wealth of Philippi to help finance his army.
How and where does one start in establishing a church in a place like Philippi? There were few Jews, no synagogue, and therefore little knowledge of the Old Testament and Judaism. There were the common Roman and Greek gods in large cities. Consequently, there were many aching, longing hearts. Paul would speak to “blank slates.” The New Testament had not yet formed and there was little knowledge of the Old Testament. Yet, Paul was well-equipped. He had a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament and Mosaic Law. He had a personal testimony that gave him an aura of authenticity. And, he had been taught the Gospel. His preaching and teaching alone, anointed by God’s Spirit, would transform the world!
The church in Philippi began on a Shabbat. In Acts 16:13, a group of women were praying at the riverside. Here they customarily offered their prayers to their gods. Lydia was one of the women.
Would we have chosen Philippi as a city to evangelize in light of its obstacles? Can you list those obstacles? What does the evangelism of Philippi teach us about the power of “word” and “The Word?” What do we learn about the power of testimony? What does the evangelism of Philippi teach us personally about our witness, and what does it teach the modern Church?
The church at Philippi was founded through the open heart of one woman. She was Lydia. She dealt in purple cloth, most likely a solid business in this city of the Empire. Purple was the color of royalty, and a new king was present in the lives of Paul and his companions! Lydia worshiped God. This statement is both enlightening and confusing. Since there were no Christians in the city, and very few Jews, how did one become a God-fearer? She might have heard a monotheistic Jewish person speak and sought their God. She might have been one that had a seeking heart. Where there is a seeking heart, there is an answering God. She was the embodiment of “seek and ye shall find
.” Her heart responded to Paul’s message, she was baptized, and her open heart had its permanent, eternal resident. She became a loyal, devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
There are individuals all over the world who see God’s truth in life prior to knowing Christ. They see divine light and deeply feel the need to love. I have always loved C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia.” In the last section, Lewis illustrates his belief that there are people who do not know the name of Christ, but they know the person of Christ. They are people of love. They value love, they teach love and they live love. God is love. Therefore, there is a connection. There exists a sense of mystery as to who knows the Lord and who doesn’t. If there is anything we can agree upon, it is the fact that this judgement belongs solely to God. Instead of judging, we are to live and share the Gospel in every moment of life. People will hear, they will see, and they will remember. Notice, Paul and his companions did not judge Lydia who was not yet a Christian. They did not enter into a discussion around the question, “How can you call yourself a worshiper of God if you are not a part of Judaism or in Christ?” The text simply reads that she was a worshiper of God and, through Paul and the others sharing the faith she became a child of God and a sister to Paul and his friends.
Lydia invited Paul and his followers to her home. One of those with Paul was Luke (read the personal tone of the text). Her invitation was passionate and genuine. From there, the Church would flourish and become a major center of Christianity and the spread of the Gospel.
We should not overlook the phrase, “members of her household were baptized.” (Acts 16:15)
We should never equate Christian conversion with emotion. Emotion can be present and is a great blessing. We should never criticize it. However, some hear the truth, see the truth, and yield to the truth. The household usually followed the lead of the household head. We read a similar text regarding Cornelius. He and his entire household were baptized in the faith. I heard a dear fellow clergy in the Yucatan describe his experience in broken English. He said, “I believed in Jesus.” “Jesus called me to follow.” “I followed.” No thunder and lightning and no fanfare accompanied his experience. Yet, his experience was as real as any Christian. If the reader’s experience was a mostly unemotional choice, be not afraid! Your experience is as real as the one deeply moved.
The account of Lydia in Acts moves on with the statement, “After Paul and Silas came out of prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them.”
As in many places, Paul’s teaching and preaching created controversy. He was preaching of a King, a Messiah in a major city of the Roman Empire. He spoke of a possession far greater than silver and gold in a wealthy city. He spoke of one God, incarnate in Jesus Christ to a mostly polytheistic culture. As they leave jail, they return to the Church, which now is being filled with brothers and sisters. The Church wasn’t just about the saved, it was also about the community of faith. We are saved by Jesus and brought into personal relationships.
What do you think Luke meant when he wrote that Lydia was a woman who worshiped God prior to becoming a Christian? Are there people who seek God everywhere prior to becoming Christian? What are the dangers when we make the judgment as to whether a person is in Christ? The evangelism of Philippi involved both proclamation and networking. What do we mean by networking? Do we network? Does our church? What is the value of networking?
Can you name the people in your life who are directly related to your being brought into the body of Jesus, the community of faith?
Brothers and Sisters
As cited above, brothers and sisters were coming to Christ, becoming the Body of Christ. The above lesson allows us to ask, “Who did God call to establish his Church?” We learned that he used Paul and those who accompanied him. He used Lydia, a business-woman in Philippi. Now in I Cor. 1:26-30, we hear Paul teach that God chooses those we might otherwise ignore. Often God chooses the weak over the strong, the poorly educated over the learned, and the common person over nobility. In fact, God chooses whom he will! This includes us! In essence, every Christian is called. Some are called to lead, others to follow. Some teach, or preach, or care for orphans and widows, etc. (Read I Cor.12-14). The gifts and graces we possess are gifts, we did not earn them. Therefore, they are enacted most powerfully when done for the Kingdom of God. No one can boast! What we know, what we feel, and what we believe is a gift from Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit.
The value of Christian community is beyond expression. It is difficult to fathom where we might be if not for our church. The community of faith has touched our lives from birth to the grave and beyond. No other institution on earth can make such a claim.
What moment or experience is most vividly remembered related to your being strengthened and nurtured by the Body of Christ? Have we in turn given such strength and nurture to another? When have you considered where you began in faith and where the journey has taken you? Why do you think it is important for us to assemble together? What are the blessings of belonging to the family of Jesus? Have you ever turned down a position or ministry in the church because you felt yourself unqualified? Whose qualifications did you believe you must meet? How have others helped you in finding your call in Christ, and how are you engaged in that call presently?
All loving God, your mercy humbles us. Your grace in Jesus saves us. Your gifts and graces through your Spirit empower us. We are indeed grateful. Continue to reveal to us our holy calling in the world, that the world may know Christ, and the power of his resurrection. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.