On his second missionary journey Paul and his companions came, for the first time, into what we now know as Europe and entered the town of Philippi, the "chief city of that part of Macedonia (Acts 16.12). The first recorded convert was Lydia, a seller of purple cloth who had come from Thyatira, and she and those of her household who also believed were baptised. The apostle left Philippi after having been imprisoned, and it was some years later before he paid a second visit as he travelled to Jerusalem at the end of the third missionary journey. During these years, and those which followed, the assembly in Philippi kept in touch with him (Phil 4.15-16).
As he wrote the letter to the Philippian assembly he had memory of two women, Euodias and Syntyche, who were outstanding in their support for him and for the gospel. Differences had arisen between them since, but the work in which they had engaged so faithfully was not forgotten. They were honoured by being mentioned as "those women which laboured with me in the gospel" (Phil 4.3).
Such faithful women are still to be found. The clear teaching of the Word of God in relation to sisters in the gatherings of the assembly blind some, in an over zealous desire to maintain truth, to believe that there is nothing that sisters can do in the gospel, and little in the assembly generally. The writer has had such opinions pressed upon him by those who hold this mistaken belief which can cause the loss of the willing service and sacrifice of godly sisters. It is not given to sisters to preach, nor to take a lead in the assembly gatherings, but there is much invaluable work in which they can be engaged. What, then, are the distinguishing features of such faithful saints?
Above all, they have a love for the Word of God and a spiritual discernment far more acute than that of many brethren. Many of them are examples to others in how to reach sinners. They have dedicated themselves to being helpers in the gospel. There are contacts which they make, conversations in which they can become engaged, and problems which other women can discuss with them, that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for men to pursue. They are good listeners and can quickly grasp the background of, and be responsive to, the sensitive areas in the lives of those with whom they have to do.
Some work to be a support to all the saints in all the work of the assembly. This does not happen by accident, but they set out to encourage their fellow workers. The preacher will be told if the ministry was helpful. Some have the ability of even telling the preacher if the ministry fell short, and can do so in a way that does not cause offence, a very rare gift indeed, but necessary. Some may argue that it is not the place of a sister so to do, but there are godly sisters of more mature age, who can do this with the delicacy required, without being "forward" or belligerent. Again, the writer has found this to be so, and is thankful for those sisters who helped in this way. They will encourage the young, be aware of those who are downcast and lift them up, and be willing to act when a visit would be helpful.
Paul writes of Rufus (Rom 16.13) and of "his mother and mine". Here is a very needful service in which "those women" are engaged. They open their homes to believers with no Christian family background, and to the other saints, providing a place where fellowship can be enjoyed, the Word of God can be discussed, and the young can be helped. Travelling preachers feel comfortable in such homes. They gladly give of their time, energy and substance in His work, which is even more needful in these days when family life has been so diminished.
To those sisters reading these lines I would offer encouragement. If you have set your course in life in this way, keep going in this good work. "Mothers", encouragers, helpers in the gospel are all needed. The Judgment Seat will reveal how valuable this work has been. Others who may never have considered such work I would exhort to put their hand to the plough. Sisters are not passive spectators in assembly life. May those who pass through your lives be left with joyful memories of "those women which laboured".