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Lydia

 

This particular Monday morning was different. Lydia stopped by the bustling marketplace, and her tent was as crowded as ever. Strangers asked her workers about this purple garment and that scarlet one. Others asked how to purchase her purple dye. Lydia was a "seller of purple" with more than enough business, but there was another reason for the spring in her step.

     Making her way to the docks, Lydia picked over the mollusks, the shellfish, from which her workers would extract her well-known dye. The shellfish juice remained white while still in the veins of the fish, but when exposed to the sun it transformed into the most brilliant purples and crimsons.

     Lydia smiled when the irony dawned on her. She had been like the fluid of her livelihood. She had lived a shallow, colorless life. Her true worth and brilliance had been revealed only when she was exposed to the Son.

     Nothing had been the same since two days earlier, when Lydia’s gregarious ease with strangers led her group of women into a meeting with an itinerant band of ministers. She had led her customary gathering at the banks of the Gangites River. But then came Paul and Silas with the breathtaking good news that all of the promises, covenants, and predictions of the Jewish Scriptures had been fulfilled in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Lydia believed, was baptized along with her household, and now was entertaining Paul and his men as missionary guests in her impressive home.

     "Though in her era she no doubt represented the ‘new woman,’ that is, the businesswoman who had succeeded well, she later came to represent what was more significant, the new convert to the faith of Christ," writes author Edith Deen. "What a fervency of spirit, what deep humility, what keen foresight, what indomitable courage it took on Lydia’s part to accept the story of this new gospel."

     The story of Lydia is recorded in (Acts 16:12, 15, 40). It is a short record of Europe’s first Christian convert and powerful in the lessons it teaches. When Paul met her, Lydia likely was a Gentile widow or an unmarried woman who was a Jewish proselyte (she was "a worshiper of God," (Acts 16:14). Because the dye trade was lucrative and because she had servants and a house large enough to accommodate Paul’s party, most scholars believe she was wealthy.

     Lydia probably derived her name from her native region. Her hometown was Thyatira, a city in the Asia Minor region called Lydia. It had five major cities—Ephesus, Smyrna, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Thyatira, which was known for its dye trade.

     Lydia no doubt acquired her expertise in her homeland before moving westward and opening her own business on the thriving shores of Philippi. Her conversion reveals how God providentially furthers His kingdom through many avenues, not the least of which is using people of financial means. Whatever our station, we would do well to model this great saint and her:

     Lydia had no sooner accepted Christ as her Savior than she invited His emissaries into her home. "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord," Lydia told Paul, "come into my house and stay" (v. 15). The New American Standard Version states that Lydia "prevailed upon" Paul’s party to stay. This wasn’t a whimsical offer. This was the impassioned plea of a woman athirst for God. Instantly, the Lord used her to house His most important minister of the early church, which penetrated Europe more extensively because of her generosity.

     Lydia’s business possibly suffered somewhat because of her conversion. Consider that much of the dye business was fueled either by those purchasing purple garments for royalty or by those seeking ornate dress for the images of their pagan gods. Dressing a human king is nothing more than secular trade, but, as a Christian, Lydia may have refused to sell wares to the worshippers of false gods.

     "Her customers of the purple cloth or dye would probably have scoffed at the gospel of Christ, but Lydia did not wait to see," Deen writes. "She put Christ first, and business afterward."

     If ever her business suffered, her mentor taught her to count it as but rubbish so that she may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

     Europe’s first church likely met within the walls of Lydia’s spacious abode. She not only availed her home but likely also her vast resources to help spread the Gospel of Christ. And, most notably, she cast aside concerns of her reputation in the business community and housed prisoners—Paul and company—after they had been released from Philippi’s jail. (v. 40)

     How many of us—more schooled in God’s Word and less restricted by society’s expectations—use our time, talents, and treasure so unabashedly for the Lord? How many of us offer such a life that Paul himself would gleefully write, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.