Throughout the book of Acts, we see women of God playing roles that had a positive influence on the affairs of the church. At the same time, there were some first-century women whose actions hindered the Lord’s Cause.
Even before the church began, we see women involved in the disciples’ activities. After Jesus ascended back to heaven, His apostles returned to Jerusalem, where they came together with “the women and Mary the mother of Jesus,” these being part of the group which numbered about one hundred and twenty people (Acts 1:14,15).
We see a less than pleasant scene in Acts 5, where we learn that Sapphira, wife of Ananias, joined him in lying to the Holy Spirit about the amount of money they were paid for a piece of land (5:1-8). As a result, she was struck dead, causing great fear to come on all the church and those who heard of her death (5:11). Like worldly women of our generation, Sapphira made a name for herself, but it was not a good name (Proverbs 22:1).
Following the death of Ananias and Sapphira, it is written, “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (5:14). Later when Philip went to preach the gospel in Samaria, after some believed his message, “both men and women were baptized” (8:12). These examples make it plain that God’s salvation is open to all people, and He shows no partiality toward males or females (10:34,35). In God’s family, brothers and sisters have the same value in the Lord’s sight and have the right to the same heavenly inheritance (Galatians 3:26-28; 1 Peter 1:3,4).
Going back to chapter six, we learn that some widows were being neglected in the daily distribution (6:1). The apostles responded by having the congregation choose seven men to take care of those widows’ needs. Rather than being a burden to God’s people and second-rate citizens in the Kingdom, faithful sisters in the Lord who happen to be widows are a great blessing to other saints. Today there are many congregations which have wonderful widows showing a godly example and working diligently in the Lord’s work. And, the church is better because of them.
Tabitha is a familiar sister in the Lord who lived nearly two thousand years ago. “This woman was full of good works and charitable deeds which she did” (9:36). Her helpful activities included making tunics and garments (9:39). After Peter raised Tabitha (also called “Dorcas”) from the dead, “. . . it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed on the Lord” (9:42). The church is blessed in our generation to have so many sisters in the Lord who walk in the steps of devoted Dorcas.
While Peter was imprisoned, the church prayed for him. After an angel helped him escape from prison, he went to the place where the brethren were gathered to pray – “the house of Mary,” the mother of John Mark (12:12). Since the Bible says that there were “many” assembled at her house, it must have been a sizeable house. Like a number of other first-century saints, Mary was gracious enough to allow the church to assemble in her home. She also had a part in raising a son who helped in evangelistic outreach (with Paul and Barnabas), and in the apostle’s later years, he counted Mark as “useful” in ministry (2 Timothy 4:11).
On Paul’s second-recorded journey, while he was in Thessalonica, “not a few of the leading women” were persuaded by the gospel message (17:4). Paul eventually moved on to preach in Athens, where the acceptance of the word was limited. One of the converts there was “a woman named Damaris” (17:34). For further information about this sister’s life and service, we will have to wait patiently until we meet her in heaven.
In Acts 18, we are introduced to a woman who had an impact on the apostle Paul’s life, as well as the history of God’s church. That would be Priscilla, who along with her husband, Aquila, made tents together with Paul in the city of Corinth (18:2,3). Priscilla teamed with her husband to point out a shortcoming in the preaching of eloquent Apollos, as “they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (18:26). The church is blessed when it has sisters who have good knowledge of God’s way and a willingness to share that knowledge with others in a proper manner. Paul counted Priscilla as a fellow worker and one who had risked her own neck for his life (Romans 16:3,4).
We further read that Philip the evangelist “had four virgin daughters who prophesied” (21:8,9). Other women prophesied as well (2:17), and we understand that their presentation of God’s word must have been done in such a way that they did not violate the instruction of 1 Timothy 2:11,12. That is, they did not have dominion over men during the teaching process.
Our lives are enriched by the inspired record in Acts of the women who influenced the early church. May the Lord help us to glean lessons from their lives and then apply them appropriately in our own.
— Roger D. Campbell