Sermon on Acts 16:11-15 – “Women in Church History”

Sermon on Acts 16:11-15 – “Women in Church History”

Sermon for Sunday Evening, April 23rd, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Sermon Text

[Act 16:11-15 ESV] 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 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. 15 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.


I. Women in Scripture

Lydia is one of a number of women mentioned in Scripture. A wealthy woman, dealing with purple clothing, that most expensive dye from just one type of shell in the sea. This is clothing worn by kings and the most wealthy.

And we must admit that women aren’t mentioned as frequently as men.

God chose Noah, Abraham, Moses, etc. to be leaders and have a special place in the plan of God.

But, it would be a mistake not to notice the special place of women in the plan of God.

There are particular women like Eve, Sarah, Rachel, Rahab, Mary, and Lydia who are noted in the Bible; each with a purpose in God’s plan.

The important roles of women in church history was often overlooked in ages past.

II. Women in Church History

I’m currently reading a book called “The Old Faith in a New Nation.” And there is chapter in that book called “How Women Recovered their Place in Church History.”

The author, Paul Gutacker, explains how early Protestant history books overlooked women. Even when women authors began writing the histories in the 19th century, they too overlooked the role of women.

In time, however, the role of women in Christian history was noted in a number of books.

For example, Gutacker quotes Sarah Hale, writing in 1853. Hales emphasized the importance of women in Christian history. She wrote, “Beginning with Constantines’s mother Helena, Europe’s queens and princesses converted their countries by converting their husbands, son, and father. It was the influence of women that changed the worship of the greater part of Europe from Paganism to Christianity.”

It is often through the gentler sex that Christianity first flourished in a nation or a family. Against the supposed manliness of Roman and Greek culture, was the more peaceable Christianity which was embraced by women.

There is conflicting research out there as to whether there are more women than men in church today. But Pew research tells that among Christians, women attend religious services more often and pray more often than men.

Often they pray with great fervency for many years for the conversion of their male relatives. Consider Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. She was notable for her prayers, and it was her influence in part that led him finally to be a Christian.

Why do I note all of this?

Well, Lydia of course is a woman. And we find her coming to faith. And then her whole household is baptized as well. And look at where we find her in the first place. She was found by Paul, Silas, and Luke at a place of prayer!

Women are prayer warriors!

And for women, and men, we are encouraged that in times and places where we feel like we have little control over the circumstances we can always go to the Lord in prayer. Women weren’t typically the leader of a household in the ancient world. They often played a supporting role. And in that supporting role, prayer is vital. Vital for the woman of prayer, for her to communicate with God, and vital for the whole family as God hears the prayers.

Lydia, may or may not have been in control of her house. It is interesting in the text it is speaks of “her household.” This could mean she was the leader of the family, the mater familias. You may be familiar with the term pater familias. In the ancient world a leader of a household was the leader of the whole band; the nuclear family plus some other distance relatives and servants and perhaps friends as well who stayed with the family. A leading man would be a pater familias, a woman a mater familias.

Well, it is not necessarily the case, from the text, that Lydia was in charge of her household. It merely says she has a household. The lack of a husband mentioned might lead us to think that there isn’t one. But possibly the fact that there is a household tell us that perhaps a husband was once there, father children, but is perhaps deceased. We don’t know.

What we do know about Lydia is that she was already a worshipper of God. She prayed to God. But she didn’t know about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Paul spoke to her about Christ, and the Lord opened her heart so that she paid attention.

Lydia is a simple, but great example, of a believing woman in the Scripture.

Another example in Acts of the Holy Spirit working belief into the heart of the person. She didn’t will herself into belief in Christ, nor was she smarter or better than other people that she might figure out that Jesus is Lord, but rather “the Lord opened her heart.” He worked faith in her.

So we have then her baptism, and with it the baptism of her whole family. Where one goes the others must follow. You can’t have a house divided. And hers now was a Christian house. You could perhaps imagine her saying “get baptized or get out!.” My mom had a saying she frequently used “twenty-four and our the door.” Well, I left at 18 and but for brief periods did not live with my parents. So they didn’t need to kick me out at 24.

So we see that women can pray and women can lead their families into belief. And now we see something else … women are greatly used by the Lord for hospitality.

III. Lydia’s Hospitality

Lydia invites the evangelists to stay at her home.

Early in Acts we saw the disciples going to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. And do you remember what the disciples were doing there?

[Act 12:12 ESV] 12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.

They were praying.

We’re seeing a trend here. Women associated with prayer. And women associated with hospitality.

Elsewhere in Acts we read of the church that meets in the house of

1Corinthians 16:19 notes the church in the house of Aquila and Priscilla, a man and a women.

Colossians 4:15 – Nympha’s house church

Philemon 1-2 – Philemon and Apphia’s house church

There is not a single house church without a woman attached to it. Maybe that is just coincidence, or maybe you don’t want to go to a bachelor’s house.

So we’ve seen that women lead their husbands, their sons, their families, and their nations into faith. Women are prayer warriors. And now women are effective in hospitality.

Lydia, having just met the evangelists, but trusting the as servants of God, now invites them to stay in her house.

It struck me the other night, talking about hospitality at SUNY-New Paltz to the students there, that a home invite is an even greater form of a connection with someone than is a meal together. Meals together are a great thing, a great chance to talk. But you can really know a lot about a person seeing their home. Maybe there are things we don’t want others to see about us! But it is for growth of fellowship and connection in the church that we invite people over.

In our independent minded day and age (and country) we can tend to forget the importance of community. Christianity has not only its individual parts, but its collective elements. We each must believe in Christ. We must each pray. But much of what we do is together. In worship we come together to pray, to hear the word, and to be the church. The church is the gathering of believers.

So we are to take encouragement from Lydia, seeing her example of hospitality, inviting others over to bless them when they are in such a need.

Who is to be hospitable?


[1Ti 3:2 ESV] 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,

[Tit 1:7-8 ESV] 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.

All Christians:

[Rom 12:9-13 ESV] 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

1 Peter 4:9

[1Pe 4:8-9 ESV] 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

If you’re not able, for some reason, to invite people to your house, welcome the guests at church.

One minister says “This church doesn’t have official greeters because you’re all official greeters.”

It is amazingly bad when a person says about some church “they are not friendly” or “no one spoke to me.” Or even, “when I stopped attending, nobody reached out to me.”

This is amazingly bad for two reason. One, of course, each and every church member should be hospitable. Certainly there are some limits of age, gender, etc. Men, other than officers of the church, probably shouldn’t be calling the women to see why they weren’t in church. But in general, we are called to be hospitable and therefore to care about one another and to reach out to one another.

But it is also amazingly bad when people say “no one spoke to me at church” because, and this is always hard for them to hear, they probably didn’t speak to anyone themselves! It is a two-way street. It is great when others care for you, but you’ve got to care for them too. Hospitality, kindness, friendliness works best when all have that Biblical goal.

Let us conclude with that, knowing that women play important roles in God’s plan, and that we all are called to hospitality.