Lydia was a devout woman; a seller of purple; and a believer in Jesus Christ.
(Acts 16:13) And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. “Wont” means customary. “Resorted” means to go somewhere often or on a regular basis. It was here, by the river, on the edge of town that the women usually met. Since women were prohibited from participating in the worship at the Synagogue it was here that a group of women gathered and as they worked they had their own prayer meeting. It was on the Sabbath that Paul, along with Luke and Silas, went down to where the women were at the river and preached to and taught them there.
Among these women was one named Lydia. (Acts 16:14) And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. Not much information is given about Lydia but from this verse we learn four important things.
Lydia from the Bible
Lydia Becomes a Believer
We are told first of all, that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart. Make no mistake; it is God who saves us. Yes, we make the choice, but not without God changing our heart first! Do we understand that completely? No, we don’t. Men have been arguing that point for centuries. Don’t waste your time haggling over the little things; spend your time working for the Lord, and showing His true love to those around you!
What exactly did Paul tell Lydia? Let’s use Paul’s own words to explain this.
”Men of Israel, and ‘you who fear God, listen: . . . . From this man’s seed [David], according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus. . . . And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead. . . . For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; but He whom God raised up saw no corruption. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
So, what is it that Lydia from the Bible now understood? Believing in God is not enough! The Bible tells us that the devils also believe and tremble in fear. Yes, God is God and our belief begins with Him; but, if we truly understand God, we know that our sins keep us from being able to fellowship with this Great and Holy God. Therefore, God sent His only Son, Jesus, to live on this earth, and die on the cross to pay the debt to God for our sins.
Yes, believe in God; but you must believe also that Jesus died for your sins, was resurrected, and lives in Heaven with God to intercede for us. Our hope is in Christ and His resurrection.
Because He lives, we can fall before Him asking Him to forgive our sins, and rest on Christ alone for our true salvation. Now, the door to God is opened for us; God does not see our sins, but instead sees the blood of Christ shed for us. That is what Lydia understood!
Sermon: Lydia: A Model of Service and Hospitality – Acts 16
Have you ever had an experience where you knew God was calling you to do something, but it didn’t come out the way you thought it would? When you answered the call of God, you were excited and energized about the possibility of service. You couldn’t wait to get where you were going or do what you needed to do. But it was so unlike what you expected. I have had that happen to me, and I would ask God, “Are you sure this is what I am supposed to be doing?”
Sometimes our heart is willing to serve God, but our circumstances cause us to draw back or limit our service. A similar situation confronted Paul on one of his missionary journeys. I want you to know that when you serve God, when you go where He sends you and do what He tells you, you never know what the results might be.
I. The perspective of service
Prior to the verses we just read, Paul received what is known as the Macedonian call. He had a vision of a man in Macedonia pleading with Paul to come and help them. Paul answered the call and he, along with Silas and Luke, undertook the journey described in today’s Scripture passage. What must Paul have thought when he received such a powerful call to mission work, only to arrive in a major city like Philippi and discover there is no synagogue.
The Jewish law required ten males for a synagogue to be formed. There are not ten God-fearing Jews in the whole city. In Paul’s vision there was a man calling him to Macedonia. If I were him I would be wondering, “where is that man?”
To further complicate the situation, inscribed on the arches outside the city of Philippi was a prohibition against bringing an unrecognized religion into the city. This may explain why there was a Jewish prayer meeting being held outside the city, on the riverbank.
Having been trained by the Jews to be a leader among Jews, Paul would have been well acquainted with their views of women. The rabbis were known to say, “It is better that the words of the Law be burned that be delivered to a woman.”
The fact that Paul was willing to speak to these women indicates he no longer held that view. But the lack of a synagogue, no influence in the city, a prohibition against religion, and a prayer meeting at a riverbank does not seem to be the formula for a powerful revival.
So often we see things only from our perspective. There was an organization in Montana that wanted to thin out the population of wolves, so they offered $5,000 for every wolf captured alive. Two old boys, Sam and Jed, decided they could make good money trapping wolves. They searched the mountains, followed tracks, and set traps. This went on for several days, but with no results.
One night Sam woke up to find they were surrounded by wolves. Their eyes were red in the last flickering light of the campfire, their white teeth bared, glowing in the moonlight, and their back legs poised to pounce. Sam nudged Jed and said, “Wake up Jed! We’re gonna be rich!” (More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks, Youth Specialties, Grand Rapids MI, 1995, p. 176.)
What you and I may see as dangerous or hostile may be an opportunity for the kingdom of God. In the words of Esther, “Who knows but that I have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” Here is my problem: I am too quick to allow the circumstances of my life to define my level of service to God. If things get hard, I look for a way out. I look for a way to diminish my dedication to the task. If people don’t respond immediately, I look for a new plan or gimmick.
If Paul had done that, he would have bailed on Phillipi. But Paul understood that service for God is always about our faithfulness to God, not the results. The reason I want to bail on bad situations is because I do not see the profitability of it. But that is faulty theology. Such an approach says that God only does what it profitable, like He is a business that only cares about the bottom line. It also means God is limited in power, so He will only use it in prime locations.
We talk about building and growing churches, as if it is something that we can do. That is something only God can do. God wants a relationship with you, and part of that relationship is commitment, dedication, and faithfulness.
You may be in a place like Paul. You look at the things around you and ask, “Am I in the right place, God? Am I doing what you want me to?” The circumstances may be overwhelming. Don’t be too quick to throw in the towel. As we are about to find out, just one convert can make all the difference.
II. The pattern of service
The Macedonian call was not about huge numbers. There was only one convert at first, a woman named Lydia. But the Lord used her greatly to aid Paul. We know very little about Lydia. We know she was from Thyatira, a city known for burnished bronze and brass, and purple cloth. Lydia was a business woman who made and sold the expensive purple fabric, but she was also a worshiper of God. Since she was a Gentile, her exposure in a traditional synagogue would have been severely limited, but here at the riverbank she had found a place to belong.
As Paul speaks the Bible says that she listened and opened her heart. The Greek word here for listen indicates a continuing process. In other words Lydia had been listening to those at the riverbank and growing in her devotion to God, but that day Paul led her a little bit further down the road of intellectually understanding who God was and how He had sent Jesus.
The other night, Jack, my 3-year old son, was playing with some Legos on the living room floor. Well his tower came apart and crashed all around him. He first started trying to put the pieces together, but they were not fitting for him. Then in frustration he threw them across the room. I said, “Hey, hey, hey! We do not throw our toys. Now pick it up and bring it here. Let’s see if Daddy cannot put it back together.” And of course Lego blocks are not as difficult for me as they are for him.
Isn’t that a picture of our relationship with our Heavenly Father? We get frustrated when things do not immediately work or go together. Then there is the Father, who is more than able and waiting on us to let Him put the pieces together. Some people come to know Christ as their savior all at once. Others need time to listen, ponder, and come back for more. But it is God putting all the pieces in their places.
Paul is in the right place, at Phillipi on a riverbank with a group of women, and Lydia is in the right place listening to Paul. But in that in that moment she believes the word she has heard. That is what it means when it says “she opened her heart to pay attention”. She was taking the next step in her spiritual journey, and that step was trusting Christ as her savior. How exciting that Lydia is the first European convert to Christianity!
But Lydia didn’t just open her heart, she opened her home. Given her business and the high price purple cloth could fetch, her home was probably one of the nicer ones in Thyatira. But she willingly shared what she had and demonstrated the spiritual gift of hospitality. For Paul, Silas, and Luke to refuse her offer of hospitality would mean that they did not believe she had accepted Christ as her Savior.
I am a peculiar man. I like order and certain things, certain ways. I can’t sleep at night if the covers are not just right. I like things in piles that move from right to left on my desk. I like my food a certain way, my house a certain way, and my clothes a certain way. I am not a man who has a natural trait of hospitality. To bring someone in your home is to upset your order and ways. And for every person you are hospitable to the disorder increases. Lydia has the ability to be hospitable, because of the size of her home. She has the desire, for she urges them so strongly. But she also has the gifting.
Look at verse 40 of the same chapter. The missionaries end up at her house again. I really think the ministry they received in verse fifteen by staying at Lydia’s house was a surprise blessing. The ministry in verse 40 is an essential necessity. After Paul and the crowd leave Lydia, they cast out a demon, and are arrested for doing so, God sends an earthquake that releases them from prison, they are used of the Lord to convert a jailer and his family, and they re-appear before the government to exercise their rights as Roman citizens. It was a busy couple of days for these men.
As they left Phillipi, They may have talked about how rough it had been, how they hurt physically, emotionally, mentally, and maybe even spiritually. Then Silas might have said, “You know what we need is a place to rest and recharge.” Luke could have chimed in, “I know the perfect place. Remember how nice it was at Lydia’s, how hospitable she was? Let’s go there.”
The word hospitality is a kin of hospital. Now we rarely put those two words together in our culture because the mental images they generate are so different. But a hospital is place away from your home that is designed to bring healing and wholeness. Hospitality is not about a vacation, but about allowing your home and your presence to bring emotional, mental, and spiritual healing to others.
I have often heard the old adage that a man’s home is his castle. Unfortunately, that is how we have begun to live, in fortresses of gated communities, unlisted numbers, hoarding our privacy, and secluding ourselves away. With a 3-year-old boy, superheroes rule at our house. But these rugged individuals live in caves, labs, and places secluded from the world. We too often live like Superman, in our own fortress of solitude.
God did not design us like that. We were made for community. Don’t think so? Look at who Paul and Silas encourage – the brothers. Just 25 verses ago there were no men. Where did the brothers come from? They had to come from Lydia and her evangelistic efforts. Her home was a statement of her wealth and success, and then it became a mission outpost for some traveling missionaries. Now it is a church.
The missionaries encourage the brothers at the church, but how encouraged are they because of the partnership that has occurred? Lydia is using her gifts and possessions to start the church at Phillipi. Paul is using his gifts and ability to exhort, encourage, and build the church spiritually. They are community, they are working together, each with their gifts and abilities. That is a great picture of the church.
So how are you doing at being church? Is your home a secluded fortress or a haven for hurting souls? Are you using your gifts and abilities to do what you can, where you are? Are you listening in such a way that you are taking the next steps in your own spiritual journey? Are you letting circumstances determine your devotion, or are you nurturing a heavenly perspective? Are you willing to open your heart and all that you have to be a servant for God? Lydia did. Will you?