The Bible is full of relatable characters—people who share traits, strengths, weaknesses, passions and struggles with all of us. Many of the Bible’s most famous characters are men. Though a protagonist in a story doesn’t have to be male for me to relate, the more similar a character is to me, the more I find him relatable.
There are plenty of women with whom our young ladies can identify. And the Bible supplies astounding examples of women who had strong relationships with God.
Many are found during the work of the Apostle Paul. Women were important to the first-century Church. Paul admonished a minister in Philippi to “help those women which laboured with me in the gospel … whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3). In other passages, Paul admonished his ministers to treat the older women like their own mothers and to treat the younger ones purely as sisters (1 Timothy 5:2). We will discover several outstanding characteristics by studying their examples.
Lessons of Lois and Eunice
Many women enter the spotlight during Paul’s ministerial journeys, outlined in the latter half of the book of Acts. In Acts 16, Paul is in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) during his second major ministerial journey.
The first verses of this chapter place him in Lystra where he had visited a couple years earlier—and where he had been stoned and left for dead. This is where the young Timothy lived. He was probably an older teen when Paul visited the first time, and now he had become a “disciple,” one “well reported” of! By discussing this notable young adult. The account in Luke brings up a notable woman: his mother. Timothy was “the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium” (Acts 16:1-2). We learn her name from Paul’s final epistle—Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). Here we can see that Timothy’s dad wasn’t really in the picture, but this mother strongly impacted the young man who would later become an evangelist.
From 2 Timothy, we learn that his grandmother Lois also had a remarkable impact on this young man. He apparently knew the Old Testament scriptures from childhood (2 Timothy 3:15), not because of his unconverted Greek father, but because of the great influence of his grandmother and mother! Even though Paul, inspired by Jesus Christ, wrote that women are not to preach in Church services, they are to teach their children about God’s way. He said mothers make quite an impact if their children continue in the faith (see 1 Timothy 2:12-15).
By training young Timothy in the scriptures, Eunice and Lois ended up giving the Apostle Paul invaluable support! Likewise, the young women in God’s Church today are learning how to be great mothers—to support God’s Work in their future child-rearing.
Liberality of Lydia
Tracing Paul’s journey through Acts 16, we find him having crossed into Europe by verse 12—in Philippi. (The Greek phrase translated “abiding certain days” actually refers to the annual Sabbath of Pentecost.)
During this early summer of a.d. 50, we read that they went to a riverside where women were praying: “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us” (verses 14-15).
After her baptism, Lydia insisted that Paul and his company stay with them. Hospitality was a greater need for first-century travelers than it is today. Roadside inns back then had a number of undesirable characteristics, so lodging with a trusted resident of an area would have been of great comfort to God’s ministers. With all the well-known hotel chains of our day, this isn’t as big of an issue, but there are other stresses and woes of travel. What a blessing that we were able to pray for and contribute financially toward a tool that allows God’s end-time apostle to easily travel by air wherever God wants him to go!
Paul and Silas were eventually arrested for causing a stir in Philippi (God used them to cast a demon out of a young girl). As the account shows, they were miraculously released, and they headed straight for Lydia’s house. Verse 40 says, “… and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.” Lydia hosted a group of brethren who welcomed Paul and Silas after their incredible release. What a reunion this would have been in Lydia’s house!
A similar thing happened in Acts 12 when Peter was imprisoned. A woman named Mary hosted a gathering of brethren who prayed for the apostle (Acts 12:12). The same Mary was an instrumental supporter of Paul’s work: Her son was John Mark, a minister who assisted Paul on a few occasions and who later wrote the Gospel according to Mark (see Colossians 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:11).
Devotion of Damaris and Other Greeks
Paul and company moved further south into a region of the Greek world known as Macedonia. Acts 17:4 talks about his three weeks in the city of Thessalonica where “some of them believed … and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.”
Similarly, in the city of Berea “many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few” (verse 12).
That Church area had some remarkable women!
Moving south into Greece, however, the message in Athens fell mostly on deaf ears, though verse 34 shows us that “certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”
How moving that Damaris is named in the Bible, along with a few others, for believing God’s message and cleaving to God’s apostle!
Paul eventually moved even further south to the Corinth area where a woman named Chloe was converted. At some point, thanks to her and her household, Paul received reports of some serious issues in Corinth. This inspired Paul’s largest epistle, Corinthians, covering such vast subjects as the Passover and days of Unleavened Bread, the truth about judging angels, the sanctification of children, the examples to be followed or avoided from Old Testament successes and failures, the most detailed definition of godly love, thorough comments on the proper use of languages in worship, and an in-depth look at the resurrection to immortal life!
Alerting Paul to the issues in Corinth took loyalty and courage on Chloe’s part.
Death-Defying Dedication of Priscilla
Back to Paul’s original journey into Corinth: There he “found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them” (Acts 18:2).
Aquila and Priscilla were a “power couple”—wealthy tentmakers who hosted Paul (verse 3). They joined the apostle partway in his travels eastward, staying in Ephesus for some time as Paul headed on to Jerusalem to finish his second ministerial journey (verses 18-22).
While in Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla noticed a Jew named Apollos who “began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (verse 26).
Apollos needed to be brought up to speed on some of the Church history he had missed before his conversion (verses 24-25), and this couple—both husband and wife—helped educate Apollo in “the way of God.”
This couple had an enormous impact on God’s Church. Later, when Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote it from Ephesus, where Aquila and Priscilla still lived (1 Corinthians 16:19). The Ephesian brethren were holding Sabbath services in their home.
At this point, Paul embarked on his third major ministerial journey. On this trek, he made it back to Corinth and wrote another epic epistle—this one to the congregation at Rome. Aquila and Priscilla must have returned there, because in his long list of greetings to the Roman brethren, he wrote: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house ….” (Romans 16:3-5).
True to form, this couple had opened their home to host Sabbath services again, but did you catch that other detail? They (and Priscilla’s name is listed first) endangered their lives for the apostle’s life! These “helpers in Christ Jesus” risked death to the extent that the entire Work to the Gentiles owed them thanks!
Effort of Phebe and Other Romans
In this letter, Paul also mentioned how this lengthy letter would make its way to Rome in a time when there wasn’t a formal postal service for regular citizens: Paul used a woman by the name of Phebe.
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe [Phebe], a deaconess of the church at Cen’chre-ae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well” (Romans 16:1-2, rsv).
The original Greek verbiage indicates Phebe was going to Rome on personal legal business, so she was able to save Paul the trouble of paying and acquiring an untrustworthy letter carrier.
The Greek word for “servant” is derived from the same word as deaconess—a position in the Church for a spiritually mature woman designated to serve the physical needs of a congregation. Some translations read “Phoebe, a deaconess.”
The Old English translation found in most Bibles says she was also a “succourer” of many, including Paul. That Greek word means a guardian or patron, in the sense of aiding and assisting. Phebe was a strong helper, support and assistant to the apostle and many others in God’s Church.
In his closing remarks, Paul also sends greetings to a few other women in the Roman congregation: “Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us” (verse 6). In Greek, that literally means she exhausted much exhaustion on them. What a hard-working woman! “Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord …” (verse 12). Here again is the same Greek word implying exhaustive work. Verse 15 mentions a woman named Julia and a sister of Nereus. “Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his motherand mine” (verse 13). Secular history says his full name was Rufus Pudens, a Roman official and convert who married a British princess named Claudia. Here we see that Rufus and Paul shared a mother (making them half-brothers). So Paul’s elderly mother lived in Rome at this time and was probably looked after by this son who had a more stationary life than that of a traveling apostle. Secular history says her name was Prassede. To have reared the boy who became the Apostle Paul, she must have been a remarkable woman as well.
Focus of Philip’s Daughters
As Paul’s third ministerial journey ended, his ship made its way back to the Middle East. Jerusalem was the destination, but the ship needed to offload some cargo in Tyre where Paul and his companions spent seven days (Acts 21:3-4).
Luke records: “And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed” (verse 5).
After only a handful of days with God’s apostle, entire families from the Tyre congregation wanted to say goodbye, to the extent that they followed him out of the city and all the way to the beach. Paul and his ministers had endeared themselves even to the women and children there—within a week!
The ship then sailed south to another coastal city: Caesarea. Here was another set of outstanding young ladies. Staying in the home of the evangelist Philip many days (verses 8, 10), Paul and company met Philip’s “four daughters, virgins, who did prophesy” (verse 9).
This wasn’t wild-eyed prophesying in the way Hollywood might depict it. It simply means these young ladies—while Paul, Luke and others in the troupe were staying with Philip—talked intelligently about God’s truth. The conversation probably ranged from current events to the coming Kingdom of God, and these girls were able to keep up with the apostle in their conversation.
Encouragement of Claudia
In Jerusalem, Paul was eventually arrested, sent to Rome and placed under house arrest. There he received a gift from the Philippian congregation (Philippians 4:18). It may have come from Philippi’s famous Lydia.
Paul was released after two years (Acts 28:30-31) but eventually found himself imprisoned again in Rome. Here he awaited his execution, as we learn from his final letter, the second epistle to Timothy (see 2 Timothy 1:8, 16; 2:9-11).
He dictated this letter from horrific dungeon conditions, probably with the help of Luke (2 Timothy 4:11). In it, he waxed nostalgic about Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). He also asked Timothy to send greetings to Prisca and Aquila (2 Timothy 4:19). Notice that he used a nickname, a sign of endearment, illustrating a certain closeness with her and her husband.
In verse 21, he sent Timothy greetings from a few remaining faithful brethren in Rome, naming four specifically: “Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren.”
Remember, Claudia was the wife of Rufus Pudens (here called Pudens). Mentioned too are Eubulus and Linus, noted in secular history as her relatives. One source suggests they all ministered to Paul the night before his execution. They are also supposedly buried near Paul, which indicates a familial relationship (remember that Rufus Pudens was probably Paul’s half-brother). For centuries that burial ground in Rome was British controlled (remember that Claudia was a British princess).
For a figure of that long ago, Claudia is relatively well-known. She was a singer and poet who wrote several volumes of odes and hymns. She and Pudens named their firstborn son Timotheus, perhaps after the famous evangelist who served Paul. And all their children were also buried near Paul.
Five Feminine Features
From these women, five major characteristics stand out—traits that can be applied by girls of all ages.
1. They were hospitable.
Remember how Lydia offered lodging, and how Priscilla and her husband opened their home for services wherever they lived.
2. They were encouraging.
Remember when Lydia comforted Paul and Silas after their release from prison and how Claudia likely visited the apostle as he wrote his final letter on death row.
3. They were loyal.
Remember Damaris who cleaved to Paul. Consider Chloe who alerted Paul to issues in Corinth. Ponder Priscilla and her husband who famously risked their lives for the Work.
4. They were educated.
Remember Philip’s four daughters who could talk about prophecy and God’s Word intelligently, Priscilla who helped her husband teach Apollos, and the mother-daughter team of Lois and Eunice who set examples for all mothers by diligently teaching Timothy.
5. They were hardworking.
Remember the service of Cenchrea’s deaconess Phebe who hand-delivered Paul’s epic epistle to the Romans. Muse on Mary of Rome who labored to the point of exhaustion, among other ladies in Rome who were singled out for their sacrifices.
Consider also the many other women in these accounts who aren’t named. But again, as Philippians 4:3 mentions, their “names are in the book of life.” God didn’t inspire the biblical writers to list every wondrous woman who served in God’s Work, but they are in a far more prestigious record. Even if we aren’t singled out by other human beings or given credit in this life, our names can be recorded in the most important book of all: the Book of Life!