Faith of Women Series: the Sinful Woman

Just as this series began with a story of redemption, I thought it appropriate to end with one, since that is what the entire story of the Christian faith is about. Our series started with Rahab, a woman with a less than good reputation. But she proved to be instrumental in the story God was unfolding through the people of Israel. The woman of faith we are focusing on today was an outcast of Jewish society. Much like Rahab, she would not be the top choice in many churches. But she is nonetheless, an example for followers of Jesus to aspire to. Here’s the story out of Luke.

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.” Luke‬ ‭7:36-38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In Luke 7 a broken, sobbing, unnamed woman enters the home where Jesus is dining. She anoints his feet with oil and tears, wiping them with her hair. The men present talk about her like she isn’t even there. They are offended by the “sinner” in their presence.

Much debate exists over who the woman in this story is. I would caution anyone to rush into claiming to know her identity. The safest thing to do is to remain silent when the Bible is silent. The question of who she was must be left unanswered. Two answers have, however, been suggested by various sources. They are only theories though. One suggests she was Mary of Magdalene. The belief adopted by some interpreters, and more or less generally received in the Church of Rome, is that the woman was none other than Mary the sister of Lazarus. Both of these assumptions are quite a stretch with no basis of supporting information from the gospel texts. If the name had been important, the Lord would have impressed it on Doctor Luke to include it. The point of this story is not her name, it’s her heart.

“Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”” Luke‬ ‭7:39‬ ‭ESV

We know only one thing about who this woman was: she was a sinner, That label, in this context, denotes that she was a woman well known for her lewd behavior. More than likely she was a prostitute due to the way the phrase is used elsewhere in the Bible. But no matter how much others wanted to label her that way, she wouldn’t allow it to define her destiny. In this concise passage from Luke’s gospel, we see the entirety of God’s mission in play.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans‬ ‭5:6-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

This woman saw something special in Jesus. She saw a necessity that couldn’t be filled in any other way. Jesus was her freedom. Her past would not deter her. Quite possibly she had been involved in her sinful lifestyle the day of this life-altering encounter. But sin requires a savior. The holiness of Jesus did not deter her, it attracted her. Faith overcame her failures.

“Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”” Luke‬ ‭7:44-50‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Who among us would go to such great lengths to show Jesus our love for Him? First, she had to recognize her sin and then she had to seek out the cure. Some sources suggest she was a gentile woman. Whether she was or wasn’t she still followed Jesus into the home of a Pharisee. That’s a huge no-no for a “sinful” woman. She could have very well been sealing her own death sentence. Instead of finding death, she found new life. And that’s exactly what faith does. It recognizes our need for Jesus and follows Him into any unknown danger. Her love for Him steered her course, not because she was worthy of Him, but because she knew she wasn’t and He chose her anyways. The same is true for all of us. No one in history ever deserved to kiss His feet or shower them in their tears. Which is precisely why her faith and His love are so amazing.

*I have enjoyed so much going through this series. We’ve looked at some pretty amazing women from the past, who’s faith exceeded our own. I just want to give a huge thank you to all the women in my life who have loved Jesus and followed Him into the unknown and spend their lives trying to make Him known. I’m a blessed man. Take the time to thank the women of faith in your own life. They are so important and are far too often overlooked. Thank you also to all the women of faith who have been reading this series. You’re changing the world around you!

Peace in Christ brothers and sisters

Advertisements

A leap from the edge

Parenthood gives us so many glimpses at the realities of how God views and wants to interact with us as His children. It’s just another grace of His and for me, it really makes the Bible come alive in unique and powerful ways. One such moment happened recently. My family and I were over at a friends house swimming. After a long time of playing we got out to have some lunch. When we were all finished and it was time to get back to the water we all waded it, that is, all but my oldest daughter. She walked around the pool’s edge rounding up toys to put in the pool before joining the rest of us. It was then that I had a fun idea.

My mind drifted back to times when I was little and I would leap from the pool’s edge into my dad’s arms. That’s how I learned to not be afraid. It wasn’t long before I would jump on my own. So I got my five year old daughter’s attention and said, “why don’t you jump from the edge and I’ll catch you?” Up to this point in the day she had mainly splashed around in the shallows with a floating vest on. Now I’m asking her to take a leap into the deep end. She paused and said, “no way daddy!” As most any father would, I encouraged her to face her fear and to give it a shot. Her hesitation turned to trepidation. It an attempt to calm her little heart I looked at her and said, “sweetheart, do you trust me?” Her eyes shifted from the water to me and she replied in a soft voice, “yes.” I smiled and told her, “that’s all you need. I know it’s a big jump and we’re in the deep end, but I’m in the deep end with you.” After a few more seconds of hesitation, my daughter inched to the side of the pool. Draping her toes over the edge, slowly bending her knees, legs shaking a bit, arms stretched out towards me, she jumped.

During a simple fun day at the pool, this moment probably did more for me than it did for her. I hope she gained confidence in overcoming something that was big and scary for her. But in that moment I felt the Holy Spirit teaching me like I was trying to teach my daughter. You see, what my daughter was asked to do is, in a way, a lot like scenarios that we find ourselves in with a fair amount of regularity. As followers of Jesus, we’re asked to take many leaps from the waters edge. Sure, it looks different in each of our lives but the idea behind it all is the same. A life of faith is a life lived by jumping in to the deep end when we can’t swim. But our faith tells us that our Heavenly Father is in the deep end with us, ready to catch us so we don’t seek to depths. We are all faced with the same choice that my daughter had, do I let me fear of the unknown and possible danger keep me from jumping, or do I listen to my Father’s voice and trust Him to catch me?

Faith of Women Series: Lydia

One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.” Acts‬ ‭16:14-15‬ ESV

Scripture does not supply us with any information regarding Lydia’s background apart from the fact that she lived in Thyatira which was one of the Macedonian colonies. Thyatira was conspicuous for its many guilds which were united by common pursuits and religious rites. One of these guilds was that of dyers. The water of the area was so well-adapted for dyeing, and the unique purple dye of Thyatira brought the city universal renown. This is the atmosphere that Lydia found her self in. According to Acts 16:14, Lydia was a well-known seller of this product making her an example of a successful business woman in a prosperous city.

I believe there are several observations about Lydia that make her a great example of faith. First, she is labeled as a worshipper of God. No one knows for sure if she was of Jewish descent. Most speculate she wasn’t due to her name and where she lived. Most in Thyatira wanted nothing to do with the God of Israel. It was a center of Greek paganism and the worship of many other gods, mainly Apollo. The fact that she worshipped the God of Israel made her set apart from the crowd and willing to be different for her convictions.

A second observation about Lydia is that she was actively seeking out the things of God. In verse 13 Paul said that they went to a place of prayer by the riverside on the sabbath day. Lydia was there. She was a woman of prayer, not afraid to be seen among other believers, outside the gates of the city wall. She risked a lot for her faith…to be active in her faith. This is where she met Jesus. As a worshipper of God, Lydia only knew him in part. In Jesus, we get a much fuller picture of who God is, since Jesus is the full embodiment of God’s holiness and character and love.

Thirdly, Lydia responded to the gospel without hesitation. As Paul preached, she soaked it all in. The Holy Spirit moved in her and when it did, she took the call to be baptized, making her public confession of her faith in Jesus.

Lastly, Lydia showed her love for others. She most likely contributed to her family’s salvation and baptism and immediately requested that those carrying the gospel come to her home to be taken care of. Her faith becomes action in the form of her generous hospitality. She maintained that hospitality by continuing to take care of Christians after this original encounter. After Paul and Silas got out of prison (for preaching the gospel) they went to see her where many brothers and sisters in Christ were. It is very likely that Lydia had started a home church there.

“Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Philippians‬ ‭4:3‬ ‭ESV‬‬

In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he asked for the prayers and support for the women who had labored beside him in the furthering of the gospel. Lydia was undoubtedly one of them. Her presence and example would continue to carry on. Her life was spent for the gospel of Jesus. Today, she is regarded as one of the greatest women of faith among the Orthodox Christian church, which has its roots in region Lydia called home.

Faith of Women Series: Priscilla

“He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Acts‬ ‭18:26‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Our topic of discussion in this post is quite opposite from that of our last post, but also quite the same and other ways. The person of Priscilla to mention a half a dozen times throughout the New Testament. Her name, along with out of her husband Aquila, is of Roman origin. It is believed that they both had strong connections with Roman families of good standing. They were tent makers, and as merchants they were able to assist those who were spreading the gospel in the first century, namely Paul the apostle. They were from a Roman culture, but most definitely not of that culture as was displayed by their life. Biblegateway comments on the unique couple as follows:

As Priscilla is always paired with her husband, Aquila, it is difficult to separate her and place her on a pedestal of her own. Their two hearts beat as one. Harmoniously, they labored together in the service of the church. They walked as one for they had mutually agreed to put Christ first. In the six references where both are mentioned, the name of Priscilla comes first in three instances, and Aquila first in the other three. They are never mentioned apart.

Priscilla was a model of the Christian woman. She served alongside her husband, unified in cause and purpose. She would have played a significant role, not only in helping Paul, but even discipling Paul. Her and her husband were on the front lines. While Paul new doctrine, Priscilla and Aquila knew servanthood. From what we know is scripture, Priscilla was along the missionary journey with revolutionized the world. Along with her husband and the Apostle Paul, she went to Ephesus and to Rome assisting in every way. As a missionary she scattered the good seed of the Gospel wherever she went. You can read about her exploits in passages like Acts 18:18, Romans 16:3, and 2 Timothy 4:19.

Priscilla’s faith demonstrates a mind set on the greater purposes of life. I don’t know her story leading up to her rendezvous with Paul, but it had to be one of divine encounter. Priscilla and her husband were fully walking in the things of Christ by the time Paul reached them. Their lives were wholly devoted to taken care of others and spreading the good news of Jesus. While her background makes her different from Mary, her life of service and surrender makes her similar. In a “man’s world” of the first century, Priscilla succeeded in both business and, most importantly, ministry. She is one of the greatest examples we see that took the call of Jesus to go to the ends of the earth and make disciples.

In many ways, Priscilla reminds me of the faith in my own wife. God has blessed me with an incredible woman of faith. Her heart is for missions and the spread of the gospel. She loves greatly and serves with her life. She loves Jesus and makes Him known.

The world needs more Priscillas and Aquilas. Men and women who live only unto the Lord. Couples who are one in purpose. Couples who are doing all they can to further the good news of salvation in Jesus.

Faith of Women Series: Mary

Few women from the Bible need introduction, least of all the one we’re looking at today. Mary is unique for many reasons. Unfortunately, that has led some people to hold her in such high regard that she’s even worshipped, prayed to, and relied upon (at least in part) as a means for salvation. She is indeed extraordinary. But only one person is worthy of worship. Nonetheless, she is worth honoring as a woman of incredible faith.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” Luke‬ ‭1:26-31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Mary, as the mother of Jesus, is the most well known female character in the Bible, and has been the best-known woman in the world since those days of the manger in Bethlehem. However, not a lot is known about her. We know that she was a virgin living in an insignificant town, and of no high standing. This made her a prime candidate to be used by God.

Many early scholars believe that Mary was between 12-14 at the time the angel came to visit her. It was custom for women to get betrothed and married at that age. In our current era and culture, getting married before you’re 20 is extremely uncommon and often met with a lot of speculation and criticism. So it’s hard for us to wrap our minds around Mary being so young. But youth, in God’s eyes, does not equal ineffectiveness. Can you imagine being 12 years old and being given news that you were going to be carrying and raising. the Messiah? That would be a huge task for anyone at any age!

Of course Mary was hesitant right? Well, nothing in the text leads us to believe that. In fact, Mary has but one question, “how will this be for I am a virgin?” I don’t think it would be correct to assume that Mary was questioning the LORD’s abilities. It’s a completely valid question. In addition, Mary accepts the angel’s response without another question or sign of doubt.

“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” Luke‬ ‭1:38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When we compare Mary to some other highly acclaimed figures of the Bible, her willingness to serve the LORD shines. Think about Moses and how he argued with God to avoid going to Pharaoh. Or Gideon and all the signs he needed. Abraham and reassuring he needed so much. Mary truly was special in her trust of the LORD. That’s not just awesome for someone her age, but for any age. However, it goes to show that age and gender are no boundary to faithful obedience to Yahweh.

It would be easy to imagine someone becoming extremely prideful when placed in such a position. But what we know from the text is that Mary never forsook her role as mother and servant. She raised the greatest person in human history and was there till the very end, at the foot of His cross. She gave birth in a stable, took her young family to Egypt not long after Jesus was born, and raised Jesus and His siblings on her own for part of her life. She undoubtedly had to endure ridicule and speculation surrounding Jesus’ birth and ministry. Her life had to be a hard one. Just as any life of faith is. But faith ushers us into a grander story. Just as it did for Mary.

Her faith motivates young and old to say, “here I am Lord. I will do your will, whatever it is.” Her faith inspires us to not make excuses or come up with reasons for our apathy. At any time, in any place, the LORD could come calling on us. Will we be like Mary and say, “I am yours LORD”? Her story should encourage us all to not shy away from the big callings on our lives but to be an open book who’s pages the LORD may write upon as He wills.

“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”” Luke‬ ‭1:46-55‬ ‭ESV‬‬

When God calls us, let’s sing songs of praise just as Mary did. For those of you who think of yourself as insignificant, whether because of age, location, or station in life, God’s eyes are on you and you’re exactly who He loves to use for great things.

Faith of Women Series: Hannah

Wilhelm_Wachtel_-_Hannah_at_prayer

Back in April, I did a post on Hannah. It mostly highlighted her prayer in a dark time in her life. This post will be more on what motivated her to pray like she did. Hannah must have been an incredible woman.

Many things show Hannah’s faith. To begin, Hannah is that she was married to a man who broke biblical law and married two wives. What made it worse is that the other wife had children and she did not. She would have been subject to an open shame. Not only was her husband, Elkanah, living contrary to the Bible, she also had to endure infertility. As if polygamy wasn’t enough to endure. All along she maintained her faith in who God was despite the lack in her husband or that of her circumstances.

Hannah was the fourth woman mentioned in biblical history to suffer through infertility. Before Hannah, three other women endured the despair of not being able to conceive. Sarah was the first, followed by Rebekah and then Rachel. What makes Hannah stand apart, however, is that she accepted God’s promise with unwavering faith. The other three did not. Sarah laughed at the angel’s proclamation that God would give her a child. (Genesis 18:12 NIV) Rebekah questioned, “If all is well, why am I like this?” as her twins struggled in the womb. (Genesis 25:22 NKJV) Rachel gave the responsibility to her husband. (Genesis 30:1 NIV) But Hannah trusted God without any doubt. Her reverent fear of the Lord was just one of many of her godly qualities.

You can read her story in 1 Samuel chapter one. To summarize, her husband and her go up to Shiloh year after year to make sacrifices to the Lord. Each time she falls before the Lord in earnest heart-felt prayer. She longs for a child. At the annual sacrifice at the major shrine of Shiloh, Hannah’s predicament is intensified by her husband’s allocation of sacrificial portions, one to each of his wives and children: the value of the women is demonstrably enhanced by their child-bearing capacities. Though he gives a generous portion to Hannah, this gesture still emphasizes the fact that she has born no children and thus does not comfort her. When she weeps and does not eat, Elkanah tries to assuage her misery with a series of “Why” questions, concluding with “Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1:8). If I were her my response would be, “I’m obviously not enough for you so how could you ask me that?” Obviously, she is of far greater restraint and faith than myself.

During this unfolding of events, Eli the priest comes to Hannah and blesses her (twice actually) and God answers her prayers and grants her a child. That child is none other than Samuel the prophet. In my opinion, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. But this isn’t about him. It’s about his mom. Many people would stop here. But Hannah’s faith drove her to fulfill her side of the prayer. She had promised to dedicate her child to the Lord for His service. And that’s exactly what she did. This mama took her baby boy and left him in the service of God, only to see him year after year when she would travel to Shiloh. That would take immeasurable amounts of faith. Out of her faithfulness, God ends up granting her five more children. FIVE! What a story. What a woman of God. Here is her prayer:

Then Hannah prayed and said:

“My heart rejoices in the Lord;
    in the Lord my horn[a] is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
    for I delight in your deliverance.

“There is no one holy like the Lord;
    there is no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.

“Do not keep talking so proudly
    or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
    and by him deeds are weighed.

“The bows of the warriors are broken,
    but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
    but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
    but she who has had many sons pines away.

“The Lord brings death and makes alive;
    he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
    he humbles and he exalts.
He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
    and has them inherit a throne of honor.

“For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s;
    on them he has set the world.
He will guard the feet of his faithful servants,
    but the wicked will be silenced in the place of darkness.

“It is not by strength that one prevails;
those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
    the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.

“He will give strength to his king
    and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

1 Samuel 2:1-10 NIV

Faith of Women Series: The Servant Girl

Servantgirl

This is the fifth post in a series where I’ve been highlighting incredible women from the Bible who have been an inspiration to me and countless others. Today’s focus is unique because no one knows her name. Which goes to show us that our name is not important, but our faith is. While no one may remember you in a hundred years, your faith can carry on to affect generations to come.

 

 

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said.

2 Kings 5:1-4 NIV

This is basically all we know about the young girl, that she was taken captive in Syria and that she was a servant girl. Our last post looked at a young girl who became a Queen and used her position and influence to shape the future of Israel. Here is a young girl here also uses her position, not one of power but still one of influence.

I love what this girl does because what slave girl would care one bit about her owner? One who loves God, that’s who. Jesus tells us to love those who persecute us (Matthew 5) and this young girl demonstrates that in a real way. She actually sought the well-being of the ones who took her from her home and family. This is divine love, one that can only be inspired by true faith in the God of Israel.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.

Colossians 3:22 NIV

As believers in the Lord, we are NOT meant to be situational servants but frequently faithful. Everything we do is meant to glorify God in heaven regardless of where we are in life and no matter what is done to us. That is the lesson of faith that this young girl puts on display. People of faith don’t operate on the idea of reciprocity. We can be people who love even if we aren’t loved.

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.

Colossians 3:17 NLT

Because of this young girl, Naaman was able to be healed from his leprosy by the Prophet Elisha and God was glorified. One act did so much. That was true for her, and that is also true for us.