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Launching A Movement

Updated: Mar 26




The SimplyRevised Podcast




Through our series, Bearing Witness, we have looked at the lives of several women in the New Testament and asked, "What can we learn from their lives for our lives today?" Mary Magdalene's life was transformed and devoted to Jesus. Lydia's life shows someone who cultivated a receptive and generous heart. We found the importance of "sewing" kindness to those around us in Tabitha


As we conclude this series with our lesson today, I want to take a shift and notice the apostle Paul. Paul served with and partnered with several women as he shared the gospel. We also see in his letter to the Romans how impactful women were in the early church movement and the ministry of Christ. Let's jump in!


Paul's Purpose and Conversion


We read about Saul's (Paul) conversion in (Acts 9). Saul was persecuting followers of Jesus, those of "the Way." While traveling to Damascus, Saul encountered Jesus.


Acts 9:3–4 (NIV)

“As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"


The Lord had a purpose and plan for Paul. 


Acts 9:10–16 (NIV)

"In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered. The Lord told him, "Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” "Lord," Ananias answered, "I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name." But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”


How Did Paul Understand His Purpose?


Romans 1:1–5 (NIV)

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name's sake.


Paul understood his purpose as sharing Jesus' message with the nations. As an apostle, he understood Christ had sent him out with this message. The word "apostle" ἀπόστολος (apostolos) means a sending out, messenger, or envoy. 


In the New Testament, the word apostle typically refers to those directly sent out by Jesus (the twelve). However, it is not exclusively used this way in the Scriptures. Barnabas was referred to as an apostle in Acts. 


Paul and Barnabas taught Christ at Iconium. Many people believed in their message and became followers of Jesus. However, some were stirred up against them. In this chapter (14:414), Barnabas is referred to as an apostle. The word apostle is used in a general sense. This would apply to someone sent with a message like Barnabas. 


Paul's purpose was to share the message of Christ with the nations, which was no small task. How would you begin to undertake such a mission? We know that Paul was guided by the Holy Spirit (ref. Acts 16). However, I want us to notice that Paul did not undertake this mission alone. Paul had the assistance of and surrounded himself with a team of Christians set on living out and sharing the message of Christ. Some of his co-labors in the Lord are described in (Romans 16).   


Commendation


In (Romans 16), Paul commends and talks about several of his co-laborers in Christ. He lists 28 people; of the 28, 10 are women (nearly 1/3). Given the context of the ancient world and their culture, to have almost 1/3 of them be women is a significant, almost staggering number. 


Paul, in our culture, is often "attacked" for his portrayal of women in the Scriptures. Passages such as (Eph. 5:22) where we read women are to submit to their husbands, or (1 Tim. 2:11-12) where women are to be silent, they must not teach or exercise authority, often are ripped away from their historical and contextual framework. Paul is frequently misrepresented and misapplied for personal agendas. The apostle Paul and the Scriptures hold a high view of the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, and women. The Scriptures elevate those who are put down and suppress those with power. We must reevaluate our understanding if we read anything different in these passages. 


Phoebe


Romans 16:1–2 (NIV)

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon, of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”


Phoebe, among others Paul talks about, has been the subject of much discussion and debate. I remember conversations some 30 years ago concerning Phoebe, and the conversations have not slowed down. Phoebe and Junia remain the topic of much scholarly debate and discussion. My purpose is not to stir controversy or create divisions. I aim to highlight women's significance in the early church movement. 


Paul commends Phoebe as a "deacon" of the church. The word deacon διάκονος (diakonos) means a servant or minister. Like the word apostle, the word deacon could be used in a general sense or in a more specific role, such as leadership within the church community. Enter the debate. In either case, from her name, we would recognize her as a non-Jewish woman. She was someone who financially supported the work of Paul and others. Paul says she has been a "benefactor of many people, including me." 


Many scholars, and I agree with them, recognize Phoebe as carrying Paul's letter from Corinth to the house churches in Rome.


-Joshua M. Greever, Ph.D.

"some of the manuscripts of Romans the subscriptio at the end of the letter reads, "The letter was written to the Romans from Corinth through Phoebe." (1) 

Paul would have had great trust and confidence in Phoebe as a co-laborer in Christ. 


Priscilla and Aquila


Romans 16:3–5a (NIV)

“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.”


Priscilla and Aquila were a husband-and-wife team who labored in teaching and proclaiming Christ. Like Paul, they were tentmakers by trade and worked with him in Corinth, making tents and sharing Christ (Acts 18:1-4). Paul says literally they "laid down their necks" for him. In a real sense, they put their lives in danger for Paul and Christ. They were leaders in a local church community that met in their house. Priscilla and Aquila were a respected husband-and-wife team that sacrificed for the gospel's sake. 


Andronicus and Junia


Romans 16:7 (NIV)

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”


Like Phoebe, Junia has been the subject of much debate and conversation. The main issue is how the name "Junia" should be translated. Junias or Junianus is the masculine form of the name, and there is a struggle in translation with this text. Most modern scholars I am aware of have agreed that the name should be translated as Junia and that she is understood to be the wife of Andronicus. They were a powerful team in Christ before Paul and outstanding or of note among the apostles. This phrase also conjures discussion.


At one point in prison with Paul, this husband and wife team was greatly respected in the early church movement. 


Crossing The Context


Although their stories are often pushed back, women played a significant role in the early church movement. They held deserved places of influence, leadership, and ministry. They were examples of Christian behavior, sacrifice, and devotion in the first century and should be for our lives today.  


Our faith in Christ is not a "stand-alone" experience. Paul understood his commission, as given by the Lord, to take the gospel to the nations. He also understood it would take a team. He was going to need help to carry out his mission successfully. 


Christianity is a movement that requires teamwork. What part are we willing to play in sharing the hope of Christ with our generation?




notes:

Scripture references and quotations are from the: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


1. Joshua M. Greever, “Phoebe,” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016).



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