The next inspiring character in this series is a woman called Lydia from Thyatira. The name Lydia means “the Lydian woman” and is derived from the fact that she came from Lydia in Asia Minor. Thyatira was in the area of Lydia and the people there spoke ‘Lydian’. The only direct references to her in the New Testament come in Acts 16 where we are told that Paul met her in Philippi (a Roman colony in Macedonia).
13 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. 14 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.Acts 16:13-14
Lydia was a business woman, a “dealer in purple cloth” (Acts 16:14a) which means she was likely a wealthy woman. Purple cloth was worn only by the rich! Thyatira itself was famous for its trade in purple cloth and it seems like Lydia had travelled to Philippi to carry out her trade in this new location. Lydia was clearly a home owner and she eagerly opened it up for Paul and his companions. There is no mention of her husband, leading to suggestions that she was likely a widower. This would explain her inferred status as a homeowner.
Lydia met Paul and his companions on the Sabbath day following their arrival in Philippi. They went to find a place of prayer and ended up speaking to a group of women by the river. One of them was Lydia and though she was a worshipper of God she clearly had not heard the gospel. Luke records that “the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (v14b) and both she, and her household, were baptised.
1. Submitting to God’s Plan (Acts 16:6-11):
On Paul’s 2nd missionary journey, he and Silas travelled through Derbe & Lystra (where they met Timothy) and they saw the churches strengthened in the faith and growing numerically. Next they travelled throughout the regions of Phrygia and Galatia but there is a fascinating phrase here about how the Holy Spirit kept them from preaching in Asia (v6). We don’t really know what in practice this looked like for Paul, but it’s clear that heading into Asia was a clear no. The next verse tells us that they then tried to enter Bithynia but again the Holy Spirit would not allow them to enter (v7). It seems hard to understand why God would not want them to take the gospel into these places but clearly He had a different plan to Paul.
6 Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.Acts 16:6-10
Sometimes God will shut doors in order to take us in a different direction. In Isaiah 55 God says “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (v8). God always has His reasons, but will not necessarily make them clear to us. The challenge for us is to submit to where He is leading us however painful that might be.
In this case God’s leading causes Paul (and team) to travel on to Troas where they seemingly met Luke (from v10 Luke begins writing we…). In Troas God gave Paul a vision of a man begging them to come to Macedonia and help them. They stopped en-route in Samothrace and Neapolis but soon they made it to Philippi (v11-12).
So God’s intervention led Paul and his team into Macedonia and then onto Greece. This change of plans brought much fruit for the gospel. However, despite God saying no to entering Asia at this point, Paul did later minister extensively in Ephesus (Acts 19:10 says he was there two years) on his way back (see helpful map). I wonder whether there are things in our lives where God is shutting one door in order to open up another!
2. Playing out part (Acts 16:13-15 & 40):
By virtue of Lydia’s trade and implied wealth she is in a good position to play her part in the developing ministry in Philippi. Indeed it is particularly interesting that she insists that Paul (and friends) come to stay at her house. Indeed v15 says that she persuaded them to come:
15 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.Acts 16:15
In coming to Christ, Lydia seemed immediately convinced by the idea that she should use the resources that God had given her for the sake of others. Indeed after Paul & Silas escape the prison (which we looked at in the life of Silas), they head straight for Lydia’s house. There they meet with the brothers and sisters who encouraged them. It seems that already a church was forming in Philippi, and Lydia’s house was the centre of all their activity.
40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.Acts 16:40
It seems quite likely that Lydia became a central figure in the growing in church in Philippi which probably continued to meet in her house. Later in Revelation 2:18-28, we read of a church in Thyatira and yet there is no direct reference to Paul visiting that city. Could it be that Lydia moved back and was involved in starting something there too?
Its hugely challenging for us to think about all that God has blessed us with: our homes, possessions, finances, gifts, time and so on. Is God asking all of us to jump in and work full-time for the Church? Not at all! There is huge value in having Christians living out our faith amidst all the diverse aspects of our society. The Kingdom of God advances through ordinary people using all the resources that God has given to us for the sake of others.
Opening up our home has always been a key foundation of our own ministry. Indeed at one time we counted a footfall of approx. 100 different people through our house over a given week. Hospitality is a powerful expression of the love of Christ working through us. We have had so many great opportunities to minister to people over the years through inviting people in to our home to eat, to chat and/or stay overnight. What a blessing Lydia’s example could be for all of us as we seek to impact the people around us for Jesus.
3. Secret of Contentment (Philippians 4:10-19):
I want to finish with some words from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. This would have been a good 10 years after his initial visit and it was written from prison, probably in Ephesus, or Rome. Towards the end the letter speaks about resources, and in particular, how they, the Philippians, had helped to resource his ministry. First, he rejoices that they had renewed their concern for him (v10). It wasn’t that they were not concerned previously, but rather that they had not had an opportunity to show it (v10). A few verses later Paul explains that he had received their gift through Epaphroditus and he says he was “apply supplied” (v18). Indeed Paul says that after he left Macedonia they had been the only church who had shared with him and had done so on more than one occasion while he was in Thessalonica also (v15-16). Just as Lydia was eager to use her resources for the sake of others so it seems that the church which began in her home was eager to do likewise:
11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.Philippians 4:11-13
In the midst of what he says about their provision for him, Paul speaks about his own sense of contentment. Paul says he has learned the secret of what it mean to be content whatever the circumstances. Contentment does not come naturally but Paul is content both in times of need and in times of plenty. Its a pretty extraordinary thing to say given all the challenges and hardships that Paul faced in his life. Yet Paul is able to say: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (v13). Lydia and the church that met in her house in Philippi had been a huge help to him and yet Paul is able to be content even when things were more difficult. Paul loved it when the Philippians used their resources to partner with him – something which he says will be credited to their account (v17). But it also clear that he is trusting God to provide for him through people like them. Paul ends this section by also assuring the Philippians that: “God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (v19). How can we too find this secret of content and enjoy the blessing of partnering with others with the resources God has given to us?
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.Philippians 1:3-6
See other posts in this series