Give my greetings to the brothers at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
We must never minimise or overlook the incredible influence in the early church of a number of courageous and faithful women. Where does one begin to list them all? I suppose we’d have to give preeminent notice to Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose remarkable faith and submission to God’s will is an example for all people, male and female, of all ages (Luke 1:38).
Also Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, the mother of John the Baptist. Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus, who also played a vital role in the early ministry of Jesus, as did Mary Magdalene. (No she was not the wife of Jesus and she did not bear him a child, thank you Dan Brown!)
The book of Acts is full of powerful and passionate women who put their lives and livelihood on the line for the kingdom of God. Yet another Mary, mother of Mark, opened her home to serve as a base for prayer and fellowship (Acts 12:12). Lydia’s salvation is well known, but not many are aware that she opened her home to Paul and Silas which may well have been the original house church in the city of Philippi (Acts 16:15,40). All generous and hospitable.
Priscilla, wife of Aquila, was evidently well educated and was used of the Lord together with her husband to explain to Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). In fact, they also opened their home to serve as the base for a local church (1 Corinthians 16:19).
The four unmarried daughters of Philip the evangelist ministered faithfully in the gift of prophecy (Acts 21:9). The apostle Paul had such great trust in Phoebe, “a servant of the church in Cenchreae” (Romans 16:1) that it was she to whom he probably entrusted delivery of his letter to the Romans.
Euodia and Synthche “laboured side by side” with Paul in the work of the gospel (Philippians 4:2), and there are many more who could be mentioned and honoured. What would the early church have done without them?
In verse 16, of our passage, we encounter yet another faithful servant of the Lord. Paul sends his greetings to “the brothers at Laodicea and to Nympha and the church in her house.” There is a measure of ambiguity as to whether the name is masculine or feminine, but Paul does say the church in “her” home not “his” home.
As you probably know, these so-called ‘churches in houses’ are mentioned on several occasions in the New Testament. Christians didn’t congregate in larger public facilities until late into the third century. In some smaller towns the entire local body of Christ would have gathered in one person’s home, while in larger cities several house churches would have existed.
In addition to the church that met in Nympha’s house in Laodicea (which was located some ten miles to the west of Colossae)
Philemon’s house was the meeting place for maybe part of the church in Colossae (Philemon 2).
Evidently the house of Gaius was large enough to host, at least on one occasion, “the whole church” (Romans 16:23) (1 Corinthians 14:23)
in the city of Corinth. In all likelihood there were smaller groups of Christians that also met throughout that city. Priscilla and Aquila hosted a church in their home wherever they lived whether that was in Ephesus or in Rome.
It’s sounds an over simplistic point but verse 15 reminds us of the nature of the church and how far removed we are from its original meaning. Use the word ‘church’ today and the vast majority in our society, both Christian and non, immediately think of a building, a physical structure of some sort, from an historic structure to a warehouse. We still have in our psyche something that tells us we go to church or attend church rather than we are the church.
My point is simply that the church is the people, an assembly of gathered believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether they meet under a tree or in a mega building both are the church. A living, vibrant, spiritual organism (not organisation) gathered, thrived, worshiped, prayed and studied God’s Word in Nympha’s house.
Walk into Nympha’s house and you would find that there was no electricity or amplified sound system. No PowerPoint presentations staging or lighting. No indoor plumbing, robed choirs, offering plates, Sunday School classrooms, air-conditioning, padded pews, pipe organs, pianos, carpeted hallways, computers, printed notice-sheets, offices, or any of the paraphernalia we typically associate with normal church life, but you would find a church, a Christ exalting church!
I am not at all surprised that ‘house churches’ here in the UK thrived in the 1970’s and 1980’s (I was part of one). There was a simplicity and spiritual authenticity that was found in such gatherings that caused many to seek out such meetings as against the impersonal, sterile and formal environment of a church building. (Not all churches in buildings were like this). Our challenge is found in the simplicity of the word ‘church’ that it is always biblically the people and not the four walls of a structure with a sign over it saying church, however ancient or modern it looks.
We use terms like ‘proper church’ to describe those with a building, a team of full time staff and dozens of ministries. We once had an African Pastor staying with us in our home who spent much of his time travelling between villages preaching the gospel using a battery operated mega phone. When folk responded to the gospel he encouraged them to meet as a church. He would often return to encourage and teach them from scripture. “Where did they meet” I asked?” “By the river, by the well, in the field, outside the house,” He replied. Yes, the church truly is the people.
The fact that Nympha’s name stands alone probably indicates that she was either single or a widow, which in my mind elevates her servant heart and hospitality even more. In any case it is testimony to her courage, her capacity to bear an immense spiritual and physical burden, and especially her willingness to subject herself to persecution and slander for opening her home to this new and growing church that marks her out as an impressive Godly lady.
I can only imagine the wonderful meetings that must have taken place in the home of Nympha, Oh to have been there.