An Unusual Woman? Acts 16: 11-15,40.
In the First century was it unusual for women to have their own business? Historical records reveal, that although Roman society did not allow women to gain official political power, it did allow them to enter into business. Lydia of Thyatira is one such businesswoman. Lydia herself was recognised for her successful business, not her father or her husband. It is not presented as anything unusual.
Lydia was a merchant, living in Philippi but from the town of Thyatira. Her hometown was famous for its dyeing works, producing the most expensive purple cloth. She was a trader and that’s possibly why she had moved to Philippi, a Roman colony on the main trade routes would be a good choice, a sound business decision. The dye to produce purple cloth was costly – and therefore purple robes were associated with wealth and high social standing. Philippi was the main city in this area of Macedonia, it was a Roman outpost and a place where many legionnaires chose to live out their retirement.
Lydia, was already a worshipper of God, as a Gentile she was following the moral teachings of Judaism, although it appears that she was not a convert. At that time to be a follower of Judaism in Philippi was unusual, as there were not many Jews living there and, consequently, no synagogue either. On the Sabbath she was outside of the city, apparently relaxing with friends by the river…..
Paul the Apostle and Missionary
Paul, with his companions, was on his second missionary journey. They had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from travelling East into Bythinia and had moved on to the port of Troas. While they were there Paul had a vision of a man, across the water in Macedonia, standing and calling out to him, to come over and ‘help us’. Paul and his companions got ready to travel to Macedonia, concluding that was the direction they were to go in, and so the decision was made, and the gospel came to the West.
They landed in Neapolis and travelled on to Philippi. On the Sabbath they went outside of the city to look for a place of prayer. Paul and his companions sat down by the river and began to speak to the women who were there, and one of those listening was Lydia. God opened her heart, and she heard and responded to the gospel message.
Whatever her background or history, whatever had brought her to this place in her life, we can see that Lydia’s heart was soft and she was able to respond to the gospel message.
Paul came to Philippi because of a vision, and the message of the vision brought guidance and direction, leading him to Macedonia. Once there, Paul did not meet a man, literally calling to him for help, instead he met a woman who was seeking to know God, with a spiritual need just waiting to be met. God sent Paul with the message of salvation for Lydia of Thyatira, and of course for the ‘whosoever’ would choose to believe. We are promised that those who seek God, will find Him!
The Church in Philippi
Lydia straight away exercises the gift of hospitality and invites Paul and his companions to stay at her house – as a successful businesswoman, she was able to house them all and to provide for them.
The church at Philippi had a generous woman as one of its founder members and that became part of its godly heritage. The church partnered with and supported Paul’s ministry right from the start, for which he was thankful. (Philippians 4:14-19)
Lydia of Thyatira was an unusual woman, not because of her success as a businesswoman, but because she, as a Gentile, was seeking the God of Israel. She had her priorities right, seeking God first, with a generous spirit and being responsive to God’s word.
Three lessons from Lydia of Thyatira
Priorities – are so important, and it is so easy to get them wrong and to get caught up in self-centeredness. Our culture today is so focused on all the ‘things’ that we need to lead fulfilled and satisfied lives but Jesus in his counter-cultural teaches a different way. In the ‘sermon on the mount’ He teaches that we cannot serve both God and money, that the demands are incompatible. Jesus then goes on to teach, that we need not spend our time and energy worrying about the necessities of life, for God knows what we need. When our priority is our commitment to God there comes a promise that He will provide all that we need:
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”Matthew 6:33
Jesus came to set us free from a life of self-preoccupation, as He extends His grace to us, we are called to extend that grace to others, with the same generosity that has been shown to us.Tweet
Generosity – We are told that Lydia was ‘a worshipper of God’ and we can see that her worship was not just an intellectual seeking of enlightenment or truth, but that God’s word had penetrated her heart demonstrated by her generosity and hospitality.
Lydia was seeking God and being generous with what she had and God ‘refreshed’ her, with true lasting refreshment.
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”John 7:37-38
Responsive – God opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the gospel. We need above all else to guard our hearts so that we remain responsive to the word of God. If we are to have depth and strength as Christians, it is not enough to just hear the word of God, it requires a response – whether the word is one of guidance, encouragement, instruction or even correction.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”Proverbs 4:23
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18
Lord, I pray for wisdom, to have my priorities right, that my desire might be to put You first, and to remain responsive to Your word. I pray for sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, that I may be in the right place at the right time, to share your love with those who are seeking to know you, for the glory of your Name. Amen!