The Gospel Doctrine lesson 31 manual objective is “To help class members learn from Paul’s teachings about how to share the gospel and how to live as Saints.”
To learn from the examples of early Christians who strengthened the church.
How are churches established? Or how do wards and branches become strong in the faith? In these chapters, we catch a glimpse of the process. Keep in mind that the author of Acts is Luke the Evangelist, the same writer who gives such close attention to the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ ministry. So while the main character of these chapters might be said to be Paul, the great missionary of the early church, Luke’s history in Acts also details the contributions of many other men and women, converts to Christianity, who played a significant part in the building up of Christian communities. Chapters 15 to 18 of Acts are especially rich in descriptions of “chief women” (Acts 17:4). Here are a few:
In Acts 16, we read about the first named European convert: Lydia of Thyatira. Acts 16:14 describes her as a “seller of purple,” meaning that she was a merchant of costly dye, possibly also dealing in textiles. She seems to have been a woman of means, and she did not hesitate to contribute these resources for the establishment of the church in Philippi. When Lydia heard the words of Paul and Silas, her heart was softened, she and her household were baptized, and she begged to be able to provide food and shelter to the beleaguered missionaries. Through her service, she strengthened the church.
In the same chapter we find the first mention of Eunice, whose son Timothy later joined Paul as a missionary. In Paul’s letters to Timothy, he praises both Eunice and her mother Lois: “I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” 2 Tim 1:5. Why was Paul persuaded that Timothy’s faith in Christ was genuine? In part because of the faith of Eunice and Lois. Their honest belief became a legacy of strength for their son and grandson.
In Chapter 17, Luke describes the “chief women” who established the churches in Thessalonica, and when Paul moved on to Athens, giving his sermon on the unknown God, one of the few named converts is Damaris, a woman. With only her name, we are left to speculate about her life and the reason that Luke may have wanted to include her in his record. We can acknowledge her contribution even without knowing what it was.
And then we come to Priscilla in Chapter 18. A Christian Jew, she and her husband traveled 750 miles to Corinth after being expelled from Rome for their beliefs. Taking up their trade as tentmakers, they allowed Paul to work with them during his stay in their city. In multiple letters, Paul saluted them, as in his letter to the Romans: “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) Like Lydia in Philippi, Priscilla and Aquila made their home a gathering place for early Christian converts.
Priscilla and Aquila continued serving with Paul, showing up later in Ephesus, again as teachers and leaders. When the well-meaning Apollos erred in doctrine, it was Priscilla and Aquila who “took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly” (Acts 18:26). Apollos took their words to heart and later became a leader in his own right.
So how were the churches established? Through the good works, faith, teaching, and open hearts of many, including these strong women converts. In the April 1997 General Conference, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke about supporting new members of the church: “Every one of them needs three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God.’ It is our duty and opportunity to provide these things.” Both our personal discipleship and our communities of faith are made complete by building relationships of love and friendship, fulfilling duties of service, and internalizing the truths of the gospel. Lydia, Eunice, Lois, Damaris, and Priscilla are examples to me of these crucial components of a life of faith and a community of believers. They took responsibility for the edification of the church. They opened their homes in friendship with others. They shared their wisdom and testimonies of the good word of God. Whether we are new converts or old members, our wards and branches are strengthened by this kind of discipleship.
Related Mormon Women Project Interviews
Choosing Good and Making Change, Bethany Brady Spalding
I feel really strongly about working in whatever community I live in. If that’s Mumbai [India], then I want to engage there, and if it’s Richmond [Virginia], I want to be here. I want to be on the ground, making an impact where I live and where I’m invested. I used to think of myself as loving international work, but as I’ve gotten older I’ve started to think that the biggest impact we can make is where we are. I love community work and community development. Wherever I am is where I want to focus my efforts.
School, Sacrifice, and Service, Rachel Esplin Odell
The Church is present in China. It is growing through a limited amount of proselytizing, family to family, and all very much legal and above the board. I think that I still see myself as being able to play a role in that as a faithful member who is involved in China issues. I think I can have a positive impact on the way the Church is perceived in China and by Chinese officials. We have to realize that missionary work happens differently in different places. I think China is a good example of that. My membership and desire to be a representative of the Church and to get to know other cultures is part of my missionary work.