Learning from Lydia
I was talking with a female executive the other day who said that she had difficulties because the teaching and culture of the church didn’t seem to address her situation – a woman in a highly responsible position that involved leadership of men. Many of the women her age were focused on child rearing and home duties and did not understand her life or the stresses on her. Much preaching addresses the relationship of women to their husbands, their role as a mother or their role in the church ministry, but little assists women in significant leadership roles in how to be who they are – women in responsible jobs in charge of large teams of people.
Sometimes as a woman I can feel a bit ripped off by the paucity of depictions of female life in scripture - references to women can seem fleeting and disjointed. However, some writers suggest using Girard’s mimetic theory “to analyse and interweave the historical fragments in order to discern wider systemic patterns at work” which have served to cover and confuse the influence of women at this time (Bellan- Boyer 2003).
One of the difficulties when we read the stories of women in the Bible is the context of the time: in Jewish society, women were considered in many ways as inferior beings, being aligned with slaves and children in terms of some basic ways of contributing, or not, to society. For example, women were not allowed to testify in legal proceedings, nor study the Torah, read aloud in synagogues, or to lead Jewish assemblies. In general in the Late Antiquity, the biological theory promoted the idea of women’s “lacking in vital energies”. Hence we see a climate whereby the achievements of women outside of their normal roles as wives and mothers are viewed as the exception: women generally being considered inferior physically, emotionally, psychologically and intellectually (Gould 1991). It is exactly this context that makes the “pro women” messages in scripture all the more remarkable.
Lydia seems to be one of those exceptional women: a business woman and prayerful woman. After her conversion, she appears to have influenced her whole household to be baptised, and opened her home, and begged Paul and Silas to use it for their ministry. Later, in the fourth century, the influence of women on their household is noted by Frend: “Christian women were an important aspect of the Christianisation of this period when there was a “transfer of allegiance from paganism to Christianity”. In mixed marriages, the final outcome tended to be a Christian pairing, such as the example of the Christian faith of Augustine’s mother overruling his pagan father’s view.
We don’t read about how Lydia conducted herself in business: but we do read that she was influential over those in her household, and that she placed at the disposal of Paul and Silas the resource of her home. Lydia was a woman who worshipped God, who was open to the message of the gospel and sought to spread the gospel message. Surely we can infer that her personal witness as a business woman in her sphere of influence was persuasive? Furthermore, despite her ‘busyness’, she did not forget to nourish her prayer life and was mindful of making opportunities for others to hear the gospel. She used her place in society, her influence, and her material resources, to bring others to Christ.
Women like Lydia are significant in bringing others to Christ through their commitment to the gospel, their witness and their actions – maybe this is what we can learn from Lydia?
Bellan- Boyer, L. Conspicuous In Their Absence: Women in Early Christianity. Cross Currents. Spring 2003. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2096/is_1_53/ai_102979437/?tag=content;col1 Accessed June 2010.
Frend, W.H.C. (1984) The Rise of Christianity. Fortress Press: Philadelphia
Gould, G. (1991). Women in the Writings of the Fathers: Language, Belief and Reality in Women in the Early Church. Eds Sheils, W.J. & Wood, D. Blackwell: USA, 1.