When you read both about Lydia in Acts 16 and the Proverbs 31 woman, you get a strong sense that both of these women were able to run very profitable businesses during their specific Biblical times, even from the “fringes” of their societies and cultures.
In Acts 16:11-15, Paul was directed by the Holy Spirit to head to Philippi and “we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be place of prayer.” Paul sat down in the company of “women who had assembled” [emphasis added] and engaged all of these women. Warren Wiersbe quotes a rabbinic saying contemporary with Paul: “It is better that the words of the Law be burned than be delivered to a woman.” Paul, through the Holy Spirit, was going to have none of this.
Lydia, probably a widow, was a seller of purple cloth and perhaps on a business trip visiting Philippi from Thyatira (in today’s western Turkey, north of Biblical Ephesus). Her business in her city was the epicenter of various other enterprises and business guilds and trades such as “wool-workers, linen-workers, makers of outer garments, dyers, leather-workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave-dealers, and bronze-smiths.”
The Tyrian purple (or Turkey red) cloth was expensive to make and because of it’s color and wear it became a status symbol to the affluent and government officials. Lydia was probably wealthy, and once she and her household became believers, she pivoted her wealth to support Paul and others (Acts 16:15, 40) and afterward probably showed by her actions and shared by her words her new found faith among her various affluent and government clients.
The Proverbs 31 woman has a similar business background as Lydia because women’s hands and fingers are smaller and nimbler are a natural fit for the textile industry. However, as a wife, she was indeed an “equally yoked” partner in life and business. She pulled her own weight in her marriage with her God-given talents and resources. Proverbs 31:24 says she “supplies belts to the tradesmen” [emphasis added]. This businesswoman worked with and alongside men in the marketplace.
But not to limit herself to only a textile income, she “considers [Heb., “proposed to herself (to possess)”] a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard” (Prov 31:16). She’s planned for and started this second stream of income for her household. Creating a startup business, you can be sure that she homeschooled her children and trained others in her businesses giving them age or knowledge appropriate responsibilities and pay. I suspect she even expected her children to take over the family business and grow it beyond her startup vision.
A Proverbs 31 women show a “softer side” compared with men in the marketplace. She reaches out to and has empathy for the poor and needy (Prov 31:20) and uses some of her business profits, first to hire then to help others in need. And let’s not forget other Biblical entrepreneurial women, like the married couple and business owners Aquila and Priscilla (tent makers like Paul, Acts 18:1-3). Or the miracle of the widow’s oil (2 Kings 4:1-7), telling the prophet Elisha she “has nothing in the house except a jar of oil,” [emphasis added]. Elisha shows we always have something of value to sell others, but it’s getting her to see what she had, not what she didn’t have. Elisha showed how she could sell, with God’s provision in this case, her goods in the marketplace so she could not only pay off her debts but earn a living for her family. Elisha and God invested in her! Where’s the church?
Today’s Proverbs 31 Woman
There are tons of opportunities in which a Christian woman can become entrepreneurs with the barrier to entry so low today. It’s not, how much more a woman can add to their plate in life, but a more mindful “what mindset, skill sets, or perspectives does God see for me and my assignments for the marketplace?”
A fellow Christian writer mentioned in our writer’s group how she was having trouble putting all of her talents to use for God’s glory. She and her husband both worked and made good money, but she felt she left some of her primary talents potential on the table at the end of the month. Long story short, she outsourced her tasks to a cleaning lady for some hours a week. This freed up her time so could pursue her true calling: Writing. Like the Proverbs 31 woman, she not only reached out and blessed someone with earning more income, but now was able to perform her primary calling better.
Women creating wealth? Nothing could please God more than what He says about women in business for Him in the marketplace. Proverbs 31:31 says; “Give her of the product of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gates [of the city]! [emphasis added, Amplified Bible].
Let a Christian woman entrepreneur’s good deeds create, not a silent or “in the shadow of men” second-class Christian reputation, but a legacy she creates for her family and community, and most important, as a marketplace representative of the King of kings.