My True Companion
I am a new Quaker and really happy to have found a home in two churches—Newberg Friends and North Valley Friends. The general acceptance of women in ministry is just one of many things that causes me to say “I was born a Quaker but nobody ever told me.” Still, I am struck by the pain and angst that surrounds the “role of women” in the church. It seems the issue leads some toward rejection of scripture and an unfortunate loss of spiritual guidance. I don’t want to further fuel the gender war when I point out the harm I see being done to women and men by continuing what amounts to a distraction.
In Mark 9:35 Jesus tells us: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Should we debate who is superior at being “least”? To “win” that argument is to lose the war and the war is spiritual. I am aware of the many passages from the Pauline epistles that some quote to prove men are not really required to believe what Jesus said. It is worth asking whether he wrote these passages as spiritual guidance or political expedience.
After being knocked flat and blinded, Jesus offered Paul an opportunity to serve him. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (Acts 9:6). Some offer! Fortunately for all of us, Paul accepted and this reoriented, former zealot set off to change the world, one bull-headed and contrary community at a time. They were deeply entrenched in social structures that counted women as property. Paul’s new message was the truth of Christ—Christ crucified and Christ resurrected. The hostile audiences would make anyone reluctant to incite other emotionally charged, divisive conflicts regarding things like the social status of women. What Paul knew for sure was that his message was a game changer and he knew that nothing, nothing would ever be the same again.
Did Paul conduct his ministry guided by these principles? He did not. Consider the following from 1 Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” Or consider this from 3:2-3, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?” Ouch! In Galatians 3:28, Paul writes “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The less abridged story that follows is found in Acts 16. After the Holy Spirit prohibited him from preaching in Asia, Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia begging him to come over to Macedonia and help. He passed through Samothrace and Neapolis without stopping and came to Phillipi. There he found a group of women worshiping by the river. One was Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. Lydia was a business woman involved in a male-dominated profession whose customers would typically be wealthy and aristocratic. Lydia was converted, and she persuaded Paul and Silas to stay at her home. Paul and Silas were imprisoned. An earthquake broke open the prison and loosed the prisoners’ chains. They chose not to escape and were released the next day. Back at Lydia’s house, they met with the believers there, encouraged them, then left for Thessalonica. So God, in a vision, sent Paul to the women at the river in Phillipi. If that is not true then either the vision was not from God or Paul got lost. He also went to Thessalonica and Berea while in Macedonia. In both places the people he was able to persuade included significant numbers of women. Many of them were “prominent women,” those more likely to be Lydia’s customers.
About 13 years later, in prison again, Paul wrote a letter to the church in Phillipi and asked Epaphroditus, himself a Phillipian, to deliver it. In the letter Paul wrote, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:3-5). The people Paul met on “the first day” were the women by the river, the ones he was sent to in a vision. In 2:3 Paul wrote “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” and in 2:13 “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” Paul’s concern for the welfare of the church seems to stem from the relationship between Euodia and Syntyche, whom Paul said “have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel” (4:3). He specifically requests that his “true companion,” also translated yokemate, help these women resolve their theological differences. Who is this true companion and yokemate? I believe she can only be Lydia, the first named convert in Phillipi and present on “the first day” by the river with Euodia, Syntyche, and the other women. Lydia is the one who established the Phillipian church in her own house. Unfortunately, even the fact that she was not addressed by name argues in favor of this conclusion. In 4:15 Paul writes “As you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.” Not too surprising for the leader of a busy church who is also a merchant of purple cloth, regularly shipping and receiving products.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, wrote, “The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.”
Christ’s work will be done, or not, by Christian women and men exercising spiritual gifts bestowed upon them through the grace of God. If it flourishes it will be by the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through us, revealing itself in our unconditional love for all of God’s children. Until then, the body of Christ is incomplete, the work not done, and the wound not healed. The commandments to love God and love people remain while the great commission compels us to “go.” Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them” (John 14:21).
Love Jesus? Want to see him revealed in your life? Then express your gifts in ministering to others and fulfill your role in the body of Christ. Encourage everyone to do the same, encourage all and hinder none.