Let's move from Old Testament to New Testament women, and start with Lydia in Acts 16:11-15. Her name suggests that she was a former slave, but rather than let her past hold her captive, Lydia worked hard and became a successful merchant of luxurious purple-dyed cloth in a male-dominated world. She was a non-Jewish truth seeker who was already worshiping God when she first heard the apostle Paul preaching about Jesus. God opened her heart to the Truth, and she became the first Christian convert in Europe.
Grateful to those who taught her about Jesus, wealthy Lydia invited Paul and his three companions to stay at her home in Philippi. Scripture records that Lydia had to urge the men repeatedly until they finally agreed to her invitation, probably because Paul didn't want to be seen as freeloading off new converts, plus there were "strong taboos against Jews accepting hospitality from Gentiles." If Lydia had been a Christian Nice Girl, she would have stopped asking after their first "no thank you" hurt her feelings. A CNG would have taken their rejection personally instead of discerning that this was a time to push, not shrink back. Sometimes God's Good Women have to be forcefully persuasive, just as Jesus was, despite cultural pressures to be quiet and timid.
Also, note that Lydia's "good work" of offering hospitality was not motivated by fear. Many CNGs believe that god always needs appeasement, so they sacrifice and "serve" him, not out of love, but out of fear of his disapproval or rejection. Good works motivated by love produce joy, freedom, mutual benefit, and come with no strings attached; good works motivated by fear sometimes produce resentment and often come weighed down with strings of expectation. Neither the producer nor the recipient of fear-prompted good works receive the best God has for them.
Lydia was also shrewdly thinking ahead by offering hospitality to these missionaries—she and her household would have additional time with them to receive more teaching and truth. Can't you see her gathering everyone around the breakfast table, salting the scrambled eggs while peppering Paul with theological questions? Lydia was willing to forcefully persuade these Jewish men to go against "the rules" and needlessly give up pleasures in order to earn god's love. They fear that if they step outside their culture's rules, then God will drop them like last season's hot fashion trend—they are no longer perfect, so God won't want them.
Lydia knew, as God's Good women know, that this is no way to live. Eventually this treadmill spirituality will wear you out, and those around you. God doesn't expect perfection—he wants good women who are motivated by deep love for him and who aren't afraid to make a few mistakes along the way. It takes a while to become one of God's Good Women, and in the process you learn that you can't avoid every mistake or please everyone. There simply isn't time to be that uptight and rigid. God designed limits to your time, treasure and talents so you wouldn't squander your life away. Recognizing your limited time here on earth can motivate you to say, "Goodbye, perfectionism, I don't have time for you!"
A few chapters over from Lydia, you can find Priscilla in Acts 18. She and her husband, Aquila, met the apostle Paul in Corinth after being forced to move when Claudius Caesar decreed that all Jews had to leave Rome. As one of God's Good women, Priscilla refused to wallow in misery over her forced deportation, and instead got busy making tents (and converts) with her husband and Paul.
Priscilla was a gutsy woman. She hosted a church in her home, and was open to adventure, traveling with her husband and Paul, and even risking her life for Paul at one point (Romans 16:3-5).
In her day, women were not considered worthy of teaching by Jewish religious leaders. As a trailblazer, Priscilla not only soaked up as much teaching as she could from Paul, but also taught what she learned to a man. If she had been a CNG, she would have allowed her culture to keep her totally quiet. Once, while in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila heard an eloquent, enthusiastic preacher named Apollos boldly teaching in the synagogue to repent because Jesus, the Messiah, would appear soon. His fervent message was not inaccurate or insincere—it was just incomplete because "he knew only the baptism of John" (Acts 18:25).
Priscilla and Aquila didn't correct him publicly, which would have embarrassed Apollos and confused the listening Jewish audience. Instead, they met with him privately and, with gracious firmness, affirmed where Apollos was correct, and then taught him the rest of the story (Acts 18:24-26). God's Good Women speak the truth, but they know how to correct errors without losing the person in the process. Rather than despising or criticizing people for what they don't know yet, God's Good Women share the truth they know, and then leave the results up to God. Women like Priscilla understand that they are responsible for speaking the truth in love, not for making people accepting the truth. CNGs often don't speak the truth because they are afraid that other people will reject or criticize them. That's an excuse, not a valid reason for remaining silent.
Fortunately, Apollos did accept the truth Priscilla and Aquila taught him, and doing so enabled him to have a powerful ministry in Corinth (I Corinthians 3:6; 16:12). Priscilla helped both Apollos and Paul become even more effective in their ministries. Paul commended her and Aquila as "fellow workers in Christ Jesus" and added that "all the churches of the gentiles are grateful to them" (Romans 16:3-4). On this particular thank-you list, Paul even listed Priscilla's name before her husband's—an unusual occurrence in Bible times—which may indicate that Paul considered her the more prominent Christian worker. Priscilla's decision to teach Apollos was revolutionary 2,000 years ago, and in some churches today, still controversial and displeasing to believers who focus exclusively on I Corinthians 14:33-35 and I Timothy 2:11-15. Whether you agree or disagree that women should teach the Bible to men, please know that like Jesus, Gods' Good Women follow him rather than the rules.
From more recent history, you may be aware of the praise given to the late Mother Teresa, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. But did you know that she was dogged throughout her life by criticism? It's hard to believe that anyone would dare to criticize her, but criticism follows almost everyone who decides to be good instead of merely nice. Christopher Hitchens, rogue journalist, cynic, and harsh critic of faith in general, has called Mother Teresa the "ghoul of Calcutta" and her Missionaries of Charity a "cult of death and suffering" in his documentary Hell's Angel. Yet she rose above her critics because she understood that Christianity is not a religion comprised of only sweet and gentle virtues. She wrote "I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love." Mother Teresa, as one of God's Good Women, understood that showing Christ's love to the world comes with hurt, but she also knew that by persevering believers can turn their hurt into even more love.
To the slaves she helped rescue, Harriet Tubman, former slave, abolitionist, humanitarian, Union spy during the Civil War, and women's suffrage advocate, was a near mythological figure with almost superhuman strength, courage, and cunning. She was beaten and whipped as a little girl. Early in her life, she suffered a traumatic head wound when she was hit by a heavy metal weight thrown by an irate overseer. The injury caused disabling seizures and powerful visions. As a devout Christian, she ascribed her visions to God.
She believed that her difficult life experiences, along with her mother's Bible stories, were put in her life to help others gain their freedom. But in order to do so, she would have to discard sentimental spirituality and fight like a Good Christian Woman. On the verge of being sold into slavery once again, she decided to run away. "There was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other. For no man should take me alive. I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the lord would let them take me." Tubman would later help hundreds obtain their own freedom from slavery.
Sojourner Truth was the self-given name of Isabella Baumfree, who was also an African-American abolitionist. She was born into slavery and sold around the age of 9 for $100 to a man who beat and raped her. Late in 1826, Truth escaped to freedom. She later became a devout Christian and traveled and preached against slavery and capital punishment and advocated for women's rights and prison reform. She was met with fierce opposition. During her speeches, people booed, interrupted, and tried to belittle her with the contemptuous accusation that she wasn't even a woman. The spirited, near six-foot tall woman proved her accused wrong by opening her blouse and revealing her breasts!
She worked to improve the conditions of African-Americans and met with President Lincoln. Critics and enemies mounted, but like all people who stop being nice and start being good, she gained supporters and influential friends including William Lloyd Garrison and Susan B. Anthony.
Several days before Truth died, a reporter interviewed her, "Her face was drawn and emaciated and she was apparently suffering great pain." Her last words to her interviewer were, "Be a follower of Jesus Christ."
Teresa, Tubman and Truth followed the real Jesus of the Bible, the 360-degree Savior who did more than bring us salvation. He also brought protection, rescue, and a real-world example of what love is, how we should really live, and what is worth living and dying for. Like their Savior, these women were gracious and firm, sweet and salty, and at times blessedly inappropriate. (We don't recommend opening your blouse to prove your gender. Best to keep them guessing.) And like Jesus—like all of God's Good Women—they changed the world around them.
Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous Faith, No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the values-based and faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for public schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals who want to diminish child-based bullying.
Visit Paul's websites at: http://www.theprotectors.org, and http://www.paulcoughlin.net
Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: http://www.reluctantentertainer.com