WHAT DOES STEWARDSHIP REALLY MEAN? A lot of the time, it seems to have something to do with money—but money’s just a tool. So what does stewardship really mean? It really means taking good care of something important, something people care about, with an eye to the future. (See discussion questions at the end of this devotion.)
The same goes for those of us who care about our community of faithful women created in the image of God. We want to take care of it with an eye to future generations. What tools do we have for that? How do we use them?
In Acts 16:11-15, we hear about a woman who used the tools she had to take good care of her own faithful community.
Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, is one of a group of women who gather regularly outside the gates of Philippi to pray. Luke tells us that Lydia was a “worshiper of God,” meaning a gentile who loved God and God’s chosen people, but was not a convert to Judaism. Luke mentions other people like this in his two-part book: See the Roman soldier in Luke 7:2-5 and the Ethiopian court official in Acts 8:27-28.
Paul meets Lydia and her community of women
Paul ordinarily began his missionary visits at the local synagogue, but in Philippi, he didn’t. Maybe there wasn’t one. Instead, he goes looking for people who worshiped God along the riverside, knowing that Jewish places of prayer had to have a source of water. And that’s where he meets Lydia and her community of women.
Luke doesn’t give us a lot to go on in those few verses, but we can deduce a lot about Lydia from what he says and doesn’t say. For example, Luke doesn’t mention Lydia’s father or husband. Is she a widow? A single woman? Luke doesn’t say, but we can guess that she’s used to making her own decisions. After all, she prevails on Paul and his companions to stay at her house. And Luke doesn’t say she has to consult anyone else before making that invitation.
We can also guess that Lydia’s one smart, hard-working, worldly-wise woman since she’s a successful businesswoman in a high-status commodity. Purple cloth was the ultimate luxury good, and status symbol—only the noblest Romans were permitted to wear purple. Was she Philippi’s official purveyor of purple cloth to the nobility? Whether she was or whether she wasn’t, she could still make a lot of money: One pound of fine purple wool could be sold for a thousand denarii, more than three years’ pay for an ordinary worker.
And Lydia’s wealth means she has a house big enough for her household (meaning herself, her relatives, her servants, and their relatives, along with her workshops, workers, offices, showrooms, and guards—there would have to be guards) with plenty of room left over for guests.
This wealthy, worldly woman was bold enough to invite Paul and his ragtag band of missionaries to stay in her home and then take them back in after their stint in prison (see 16:40). She opened her home to the believers in Philippi, a group that flourished in her hospitality. Was she the leader of this house church? It’s likely she was. I believe we can see her loyal support of Paul and his ministry in his thanks to the believers for their steady generosity even in his later troubles (see Philippians 4:15-19).
Lydia used every tool she had to take good care of several somethings that were important to her and to others: Her faith in Christ, the apostle who brought it to her, and the church that grew out of that faith. She took good care of these things with energy, intelligence, courage, and generosity.
She’s an example of a good steward taking good care of something important, and she took care of it so well that we’re still talking about it today, 2,000 years later.
- Lydia was clearly an independent and influential person, used to making decisions and inspiring others to take part in what she’s decided. Have you ever known anyone like that? Are you someone like that? How does a good leader take good care of the people she leads?
- Luke writes that Lydia “and her household” were baptized. A wealthy household in that time and place wasn’t just a few related people in one house, it was a whole network of relationships in and around one house. (Think of the network of relationships in and around Downton Abbey.) Lydia would have made a point of taking good care of the community known as her household. How do you think she did that?
- The church in Philippi started with Lydia’s household and grew from there. How do you think Lydia took care of the community of believers as it grew and changed? As a good steward, she would have had the community’s future in mind. How do you think she planned for that? Might she have helped find and nurture future leaders? We know the church in Philippi kept sending money to Paul. Do you think Lydia invited others to contribute to the support of their missionary? Might she have invited others to contribute to the support of their own community of believers? Might she have included the community in her will and invited others to do the same?
Our community of women
You can help take good care of our community of women created in the image of God by keeping in touch with the women you know—by phone, mail, or email if we can’t yet gather in person. You can also help take good care of our community of women with a generous gift to be used where it’s needed most, just like the gifts that Lydia and the Philippians sent to Paul. Here’s how:
Give with a credit card online at welca.org/give and choose “Where Needed Most” in the drop-down list
Make out your check to Women of the ELCA and write “WELCA: Where needed most” on the memo line. Then mail it to:
Women of the ELCA
c/o ELCA Gift Processing Center
P.O. Box 1809
Merrifield, VA 22116