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Lydia

Updated: Mar 11



The SimplyRevised Podcast




While on his second missionary journey, during the night, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia calling for help. When Paul and his missionary companions got up the following day, they set out for Macedonia. As they traveled, they "...traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days" (Acts 16:12). Here, they met a woman named Lydia.


Continuing our series, Bearing Witness, we are considering the lives of several women we read about in the New Testament. In looking at their stories and reading these accounts, I hope we learn from their lives as we discover their significance in the gospel and early church communities. In some traditions, historically, these women have been overlooked, or at a minimum, their accounts have been neglected. Although they may not be as prominent in the Scriptures as other accounts, their stories have much to offer. What can we learn from them and their service to the Lord for our lives today?


Last week, we noticed Mary Magdalene. Her story is one of redemption, transformation, and devotion. A story many of us can relate to. Often misunderstood, she was a woman who experienced the transforming power of Jesus as she followed and served Him. She was the first to see the risen Lord and was the first to share of His resurrection life (Jn. 20:10-18). Her life was a life lived as she shared the story of redemption. 


In Phillippi


Let's join Paul on his second missionary journey.

 

Acts 16:11–15 (NIV)

"From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us."


Historical Context


Throughout ancient Greco-Roman times and in the context of the New Testament, the patriarchal system dominated the culture. The world Jesus stepped into, the world of the New Testament, was a world in which males sought to exercise authority over women. At about every level, political, home, wealth distribution, and judiciary, it was predominantly in men's hands. In many ways, this system relates to the idea of a patriarchal system. Although this was the predominant environment, as we see in the example of Lydia, it was not always the exclusive pattern. Some women in the ancient world accumulated wealth, owned businesses, and had levels of influence in their society. 


Lydia


What can we learn about Lydia from our text? Lydia was from Thyatira, a significant wool, clothes, and dyers trade center. This helps us understand Lydia's business as a dealer in purple. Purple dye of the highest quality was extracted from the murex shell, a complex and expensive process. Due to the rarity, purple goods were often associated with luxury, royalty, and wealth. Lydia was a businesswoman who had financial stability and influence in her community. Lydia, although a Gentile, worshiped God. She would gather with other women on the Sabbath for prayer. She was hospitable and generous, offering her home to Paul and his missionary companions and, later, hosting believers in her home. When Paul and Silas were released from prison, they returned to Lydia's house, where they met with and encouraged the church (Acts 16:40)


As a businesswoman, Lydia dealt with many of the issues we face today. She managed her home and business, including staffing, budgets, raw goods, and material supplies. She had to keep records of profit and loss statements and, like us, had to pay her taxes.


There were nights of tired hands, exhaustion, and frustration. I am sure there were days filled with joy as well as days with unexpected interruptions. There would have been nights of hosting in her home where the dishes still needed to be done. There would have been the groceries, kids, and day-to-day life we all experience. We look back on the lives of people who lived in ancient cultures and tend to simplify their lives in our minds. Life in the first century was just as complex and busy as today's. What I want us to see is that Lydia was much like us. Her life was pulled in many directions, with many activities and distractions seeking her time and attention. 


The Conversion of Lydia


It was into this life on a Sabbath Day that Lydia experienced the gospel. "...The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message" (Acts 16:14b). It was not the influential words of Paul, although not to subtract from the importance of proclaiming the good news of Christ, but the life-giving message of the gospel through the Spirit that opened Lydia's heart. She and her household, which may have consisted of family members and servants, put on Christ in baptism. A spirit of generosity and hospitality marked her joy in Christ.

 

Acts 16:15 (NIV)

"When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us." 


Her rather forceful tone, "come and stay at my house," as she persuaded Paul and his companions, may have been due to the highly uncustomary nature of the invention. For Jewish men to step into the home of Gentiles, and perhaps even a single Gentile woman's home, would have been met with strong cultural taboos. However, Paul demonstrates the true spirit and unity of the gospel in the Lord's church; "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28), as he accepted her invitation. This does not mean that Paul stopped being Jewish or that Lydia was no longer a female. Paul refers to the social barriers, classism, and cultural divisions that are broken down in the gospel. In Christ, we are one at the Lord's table and in His home. 


Learning from Lydia


We see in Lydia the life of a woman seeking the Lord. She had the habit of seeking the Lord in prayer. She had a receptive heart and a willingness to listen, impacting her desire to follow and obey His word in baptism. 


Lydia's heart of generosity and hospitality was developed through her joy in the Lord. Her immediate invitation to Paul and his companions reflects a desire to learn, grow, go deeper, and know more. Her home and her heart were opened, a place of generosity and hospitality where the good news of Christ was freely shared. Her engagement impacted others. Her generosity and hospitality welcomed others, and her joy and example extended the message of Jesus to others. 


Crossing The Context


As we consider the life of Lydia and look at her example in Scripture, here is what I would like us to see: cultivate a receptive and generous heart. 


As we are open to God's word, we should prioritize intentional time for prayer, reflection, and studying Scripture. We should recognize that there is always room for growth, understanding, and going deeper as we pursue Christ. Actively seek out opportunities to be generous with our resources, whether through financial giving, volunteering, or opening our homes in hospitality to others, as we demonstrate the love and compassion of Christ in tangible ways.


We may not all be wealthy business owners. However, Lydia's generosity and hospitality were built upon her joy in the Lord. Her joy in Christ is one we all share in common. In Christ, we have been recipients of His generosity. We participate in His hospitality at His table as He is the gracious host. 


Learning from Lydia and the example of Christ: 


May we cultivate a receptive and generous heart 




notes:

Scripture references and quotations are from the: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.



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