“The women, my co-laborers”

This morning I read Philippians 4. This one chapter could fuel a dozen deep sermons (wait till it comes round on the calendar!) but this particular line stood out to me:

I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow-labourers, whose names are in the book of life” (v.2-3)

Saint Paul calls out two female leaders at Caesarea Philippi, and charges the bishops and deacons (see 1:1) to help his women co-workers in the Gospel. There is no getting round the fact that Paul expects women to be co-workers with the Apostles in the Gospel.

Also, St Paul does not engage with whatever difference Evodia and Syntyche have. The saint expects them to cooperate wholeheartedly in unity and love, regardless of who may be right or wrong in the issue that divides them. Who is right or wrong is not the issue: Dividing the parish and weakening the body of Christ is very much the issue.

Aside: There are issues — such as abuse or other grave sins — that affect the community and need to be raised pastorally or even publicly. It is a sin to prioritize peacekeeping over anyone's safety and wellbeing. See Matt 18:15ff for Christ’s counsel when someone’s sin against us must be addressed.

And, while I’m thinking about women who are co-workers among the Apostles: Here is St John Chrysostom (†407AD) on Romans 16:6-7.

“Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”

“Greet Mary…” How is this? a woman again is honoured and proclaimed victorious! Again are we men put to shame. Or rather, we are not put to shame only, but have even an honour conferred upon us. For an honor we have, in that there are such women amongst us, but we are put to shame, in that we men are left so far behind by them…

For he says, “who bestowed much labour on us,” that is, not on herself only, nor upon her own advancement, (for many women of the present day do this, by fasting, and sleeping on the floor), but upon others also, so carrying on the race Apostles and Evangelists ran. In what sense then does he say, “I suffer not a woman to teach?” (1 Tim 2:12). He means to hinder her from publicly coming forward (1 Cor 14:35), and from the seat on the bishop’s throne – not from the word of teaching. Since if this were the case, how would he have said to the woman that had an unbelieving husband, “How knowest thou, O woman, if thou shalt save thy husband?” (1 Cor 7:16). Or how did he come to permit her to admonish children, when he says, but “she shall be saved in child-bearing if they continue in faith, and charity, and holiness, with sobriety?” (1 Tim 2:15).

How did Priscilla come to instruct even Apollos? It was not then to cut asunder private conversing for advantage that he said this, but that [teaching which is] before all, and which it was the teacher’s duty to give in the public assembly. Or again, in case the husband be believing and thoroughly furnished, able also to instruct her. When she is the wiser, then he does not forbid her teaching and improving him.

And he does not say, she who taught much, but “who bestowed much labour,” because along with teaching (τοὓ λόγου) she performs other ministries besides — those in the way of dangers, in the way of money, in the way of travels. For the women of those days were more spirited than lions, sharing with the Apostles their labours for the Gospel’s sake. In this way they went travelling with them, and also performed all other ministries. And even in Christ’s day there followed Him women, “which ministered unto Him of their substance” (Luke 8:3), and waited upon the Teacher.

“Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”

And indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even amongst these of note, just consider what a great encomium this is! But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! how great is the devotion (φιλοσοφία) of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!

Context: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf111.vii.xxxiii.html