“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)
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 to the whole 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.
Another thing that changed with the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit was that now women would be involved in the work of ministry as well as men. For the last several months I have posted stories about the many women that Jesus interacted with (January – May, 2014). Jesus broke the traditional ways of dealing with women. In the Jewish culture of the first century, women were not allowed to participate in very many things. Jesus invited women to be His disciples. In the book of Acts we will see that the apostles understood this and included women in the ministry of the church.
Lydia’s 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.
When Paul and Luke arrived in Philippi they went to the synagogue first as was Paul’s usual practice. But in God’s providence, there wasn’t one in Philippi. They stayed there for some days, and on the Sabbath they went outside of the city to a riverside looking for people at a place of prayer that they were told would be there. God led Paul, Luke and the others to speak to the women who were gathered by the riverside. Even thought there were only women there, Paul knew this was God’s will and he began to preach.
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 woman 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.
“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.
And also, she must have been a very courageous woman. She was exposing herself to trouble. Later in this story 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 in Lydia’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. (See the epistle to the Philippians.)
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.
We can be thankful that Lydia’s story is included for us in the New Testament. It is further evidence of the new place for women in service in the Kingdom of God.