Lydia fills a remarkable place in the history of the expansion of the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus told His followers to proclaim the Gospel into all the world. In the Old Testament, God had been mostly dealing with His Jewish children. But now, God wants His story of love and salvation to go to everyone, even Gentiles. God’s dealing with Lydia is just one story that illustrates God’s plan for the ages.
Our story is told in the Bible in the book of Acts, chapter 16. We see at the beginning of our story that Paul had wanted to go to Asia to tell the good news of the Gospel, but the Holy Spirit had forbidden him. Paul then had a vision in the night of a man appealing to him to, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And so, Paul, with Luke joining him, went to Philippi. Here he would make his very first convert –a woman! Her name was Lydia.
Paul and Luke stayed in Philippi for some days, and on the Sabbath they went outside of the city to a riverside looking for the place of prayer that they supposed would be there. It was Paul’s practice to preach in the synagogues first, but in God’s providence, there wasn’t one in Philippi. God led Paul, Luke and the others to speak to the women who were gathered by the riverside.
“A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening: and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” (Acts 16:14).
A woman named Lydia was listening. One of the most exciting things about our story is to see God’s sovereignty in how He brought Lydia to salvation. She was actually from Thyatira, which was located in that area in Asia where Paul originally wanted to go to preach. But now, here she was in Philippi on business. The irony is that, the Gospel has come to Macedonia, and the first European convert is an Asian woman! If Lydia had remained in Asia, she would not have heard the Gospel at this time. How remarkable and amazing God is in arranging things for our lives.
Lydia was a “seller of purple fabrics.” She was a businesswoman, and a very successful one at that. We are also told that she was a “worshiper of God.” Another irony in our story is that Lydia was not a Jewish woman. As we mentioned, Paul usually tried to go to the “Jew first” (Romans 1:16). In Philippi, he was seeking the prayer meeting of the Jews, but his first convert was a Gentile who was seeking God.
“The Lord opened her heart.” How gracious and wonderful God was to bring Paul into Lydia’s life so she could hear the Gospel and respond with faith in Jesus Christ. She had been worshiping God in the best way she knew how all of these years, and now God graciously brought the Gospel to her. She must have been very loved by God Who changed all of Paul’s plans to make sure that she could be the very first convert in Europe.
“And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us. . . . . . . . They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.”
Lydia and her household were baptized. Lydia’s new faith produced instant actions. This meeting was taking place next to a river, so she took advantage of it and was baptized and all of her family and servants with her. In those days, when the head of a household became a believer and was baptized, all of the household was baptized.
“Come into my house and stay.” Lydia was so thankful for her salvation that she immediately responded with an offer of hospitality. We know since this verse says, “her house” that she was probably a widow. But she apparently decided to keep on running the family business by herself anyway. She must have been doing a good job, because she owned a large enough house to invite Paul and Luke and all of the other disciples who were with them to stay at her house.
Lydia must have been a very courageous woman. She was exposing herself to trouble. Later in this story in the book of Acts, we will see that Paul and Silas would be beaten and imprisoned in Philippi. She took the risk of opening her home to the disciples willingly. Even while Paul and Silas were in prison, she continued to use her home for the place of meeting for the new little church where all of the new believers met for fellowship and prayer.
That is where Paul and Silas went when they left the prison. By this time, many others were coming to Christ. The first church in Europe started inLydia’s home. In a few years, Paul would write an epistle to these Christians who continued to do well in love and service to God.
Lydia is a remarkable example of a courageous woman. She was an exceptional woman who showed amazing courage, thankful for the work of God in her heart. As women, we can all be encouraged by her graciousness, hospitality, sacrificial love for the brethren, servant attitude, and especially her love for her Savior, Jesus Christ.