Acts 16:6-40

Lydia was a woman who was similar in many ways to Deborah. She was a very successful business woman who obviously had leadership talents. She led a prayer meeting that gathered by the riverside in Philippi. She was a woman who showed great concern and warm hospitality for the people of God. Like many other women, there are not many verses written about this amazing woman and yet she has had a profound effect on all our lives. She was the woman that God used to bring the good news about Jesus to Europe. Her work was the basis for the first European church, established by Paul in Philippi. This church, as we shall see later, gave sacrificially to Paul's work, enabling other churches to be set up elsewhere in Europe. (Philippians 4:14-19)

Lydia came from Thyatira in Asia Minor, an area that forms part of Turkey in our modern age. She had moved to Philippi in order to be in a vital trading centre, selling the purple cloth that she imported from her home town. This expensive cloth was generally worn only by very wealthy people and royalty. Philippi was an important city in Macedonia. It connected the Middle East with Europe along the Roman highway called the "Via Egnatia". It was the centre of commerce between the Aegean and Adriatic seas. Lydia evidently believed that her new home would be strategic for furthering the success of her business. She was well respected and successful as a woman, very independent and obviously capable. She was no longer a young woman but had been working for several years and had built up a prosperous business with a large house and many servants.

A worshipper

You can’t walk with God until you worship Him.” (T D Jakes - Power for Living)

Although successful in secular business, Lydia was also a worshipper of God. (Acts 16:14) She must have had a great deal going on in her life, but regularly made time to meet together with other women, to pray. Many others in Philippi were worshippers of Apollo. Jewish law required that there should be a congregation of at least ten Jewish men in order to set up a synagogue for public worship. The absence of a synagogue shows that there must have been a very small Jewish community, so the women met in a public place by the river.

Lydia's attitude towards worship and prayer showed a recognition of her need for God. Despite all her worldly wealth and the luxury and happiness that her lifestyle seemed to bring, she had a God-shaped hole in her heart that she was keen to fill. In those days, many non-Jewish people were aware of the God worshipped by those of Israelite descent. Lydia had never heard of Jesus, but God had clearly been speaking to her. At just the right time, God brought His messenger, the apostle Paul, to the river where her group had met for prayer. Paul was then on his second missionary journey and had not planned, originally, to go to Macedonia or the town of Philippi. He had thought at first that God was guiding him to return to Asia Minor to preach the good news there. However... “they had been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in Asia... They tried to enter... but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them.“ (Acts 16:6-8)

A change of direction

Paul was doing nothing wrong in making plans to return to Asia. God expects us to get on with the work He has given us and to use our commonsense and discretion in doing it but, occasionally, He steps in to give us a change of direction. In this case, He made it very clear for Paul and gave him a vision during the night of a man calling him to Macedonia. What amazing lengths God will go to in order to bring everything together for so many people at the same time! Lydia probably never thought of herself as a world changer or history maker. She was faithful to God in a small way by faithfully holding her prayer meeting, week by week. Building on this, God eventually trusted her with much greater things. Her prayer meeting became the first church in Europe!

It started with some unexpected guests: Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy. Because of her beautiful, open spirit to the things of God, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” (Acts 16:14) Paul told the small group about Jesus and how He had come to bridge the gap between God and humanity, completely washing away the sins of the whole world. He explained that, through faith in Jesus, they could receive the very life of God and have a whole new perspective on living. Until this point, Lydia’s relationship with God had been instinctive and based on second-hand knowledge of God rather than a personal relationship. She had been reaching out to Him in the only way she knew, but her heart was open and ready to respond. “The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word and retain it and, by persevering, produce a good crop.” (Luke 8:15)

Lydia is a perfect example of "good soil" receiving the seed of God's word and being changed by it. (John 8:32) Her own change of direction directly affected the members of her whole household, who join her by making a public declaration, through baptism, of their new-found faith. (Acts 16:15) This was the start of the first church in Philippi. Immediately, Lydia offered her home to Jesus and “persuaded and begged” Paul and Silas to stay with her, so identifying herself with other believers. Even after they had later been arrested and thrown in prison for preaching the good news about Jesus, Lydia was not ashamed to be their friend and to receive them back in her home along with many others. (Acts 16:40)

Imagine Paul coming to an open-air festival or religious meeting today, in the West, and telling people that they need to believe in God. How many would be mortally offended and turn away from the truth? People may actively seek "spirituality" and some sort of refuge from the endless activity of life in our Western culture; they may find comfort in the rituals and ceremonies of religious activity and good deeds that encourage them to believe that they are good people; but they will shy away from any suggestion that there may be a holy and righteous God who regards them as sinful beings in need of being saved. So many think that being born again and filled with the Holy Spirit is only for fanatics. We need to respond like Lydia and receive the seed of God's word, allowing it to bear fruit in our lives. (Mark 4:15-20)

A time to retire?

Lydia is such a challenge to any of us, whatever our age, who feel that our value and work in this life is finished. Perhaps our working life has come to an end or our physical ability has diminished. Perhaps we thought that life was good and we were doing great things for God, only to wake up one morning and realise that it had all fallen like sand through our fingers. Perhaps we have had an horrendous set-back in our circumstances and we think there is no way forward; we are ready to give up.

We can take a challenge and encouragement from Lydia. This woman was probably a widow and living just with servants, far from her home country and society and fully immersed in her business. She had a limited knowledge of God, certainly no formal religious education or training and was not part of a synagogue or church community. Nevertheless, she had a lot going for her.

  • She was a worshipper. (Psalm 92:12-15; 2 Samuel 22:33-34)
  • She was open to receive from God. (Psalm 103:2-5; Hebrews 4:16; Psalm 23:3)
  • She was prepared to surrender herself to God. (Proverbs 10:27; Psalm 32:8)
  • She obeyed His word (insofar as she knew it). (Titus 2:2-3; Ephesians 3:16)
  • She was concerned for others, especially her household. (Psalm 48:14; Isaiah 44:3)
  • She was prepared to give all she had to God and His people. (Psalm 41:1-2; Philippians 4:16)
  • She looked at the bigger picture (2 Corinthians 4:16,18; Isaiah 26:3)

A time to take stock

When we are tempted to give up and feel that our life is finished, we need to take an inventory of our spiritual condition and deal with any pride, self-righteousness or unbelief. We may have become cynical, affecting our personal relationship with God. If so, it is worth pausing for some moments and thinking about a change of direction. We may need to put the past behind us. (Philippians 3:12-16) We may need to forgive all who have hurt us, disappointed us, or let us down. We may need to take a new, child-like, fresh relationship with God. Then we can make some time simply to enjoy worship, just "sitting at His feet" and allowing Him to share all His plans for us. (Job 42:2; Jeremiah 29:11) This can be the best and most fruitful time of our life. Let's choose to be involved, to surrender all to our Father, however small that may seem. Let's wait and see what our Heavenly Father can do with clay in His hands, just like He did with Lydia. God’s purpose and plan for us is always the best.

God is not looking for ability just availability! (Neal A Maxwell)

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