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Vol.  9  No. 5 May 2007  Page 8
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Priscilla's Page By Marilyn LaStrape *Editor's Note*

Bonnie Rushmore

Lydia: Eager to Serve

By Bonnie Rushmore

Character Study

Acts 16:12-15

    Lydia was a business woman whose vocation brought her to the town of Philippi. Her hometown of Thyatira was 250 miles away. “A seller of purple” is an indication that Lydia was a wealthy woman whose business was thriving. The color of purple was reserved for those who were in places of high authority or rich. Lydia must have been an outstanding woman who had daily dealings with the rich and famous.

    Thyatira was located 42 miles from the Aegean Sea, 37 miles north of Sardis and 47 miles northwest of Pergamum along the Lycus River (“Thyatira”). These three cities are mentioned in address to the seven churches in Asia by John in the Book of Revelation (1:11). Thyatira was known for its great trade guilds (unions) to which every crafter must belong in order to be successful. These guilds included bakers, potters, tanners, weavers, robe makers, coppersmiths and dyers. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia makes the following observation about the city of Thyatira:

Thyatira was specially noted for the trade guilds which were probably more completely organized there than in any other ancient city. Every artisan belonged to a guild, and every guild, which was an incorporated organization, possessed property in its own name, made contracts for great constructions, and wielded a wide influence. Powerful among them was the guild of coppersmiths; another was the guild of the dyers…

    The color purple is a bright, deep reddish-blue and is sometimes called Turkish Red. The dye was gleaned from one of two sources. The most common source was from shellfish; the other source was from the madder root. The shellfish secretes a slimy substance from its gland, which when exposed to sunlight passes through shades of yellow and green before settling into the purple color (New Unger’s). Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary makes this observation: “A total of 250,000 mollusks was required to make one ounce of the dye, which partly accounts for its great price.” The second source for the purple dye is from the root of the madder plant. “Madder is a perennial herb with leaves in whorls of 4-5 or more at the nodes…” (“Thyatira”).

    Regardless of the source for the purple dye, Thyatira was famous for its outstanding purple cloth. “The waters of Thyatira are said to be so well adapted for dyeing that in no place can the scarlet cloth out of which fezes [cone shaped hats, BSR] are made be so brilliantly or so permanently dyed as here” (New Unger’s).

    The city of Philippi was one of the cities located along the main route between Asia and the west, nestled among the mountains ten miles from the Aegean Sea in the country of Macedonia (New Unger’s). It was a Roman colony, and as such “made up largely of Roman citizens and located at strategic points throughout the empire, which enjoyed special privileges, such as self-government, freedom from imperial taxation, and the same rights as citizens in Italy. Such a city was a little Rome far from the motherland” (Wycliffe).

    Apparently, the city of Philippi had very few Jewish males living within its gates as it did not have a synagogue; ten, adult Jewish males were necessary to form a synagogue. For this reason the apostle Paul found women gathered at the riverside to pray. It was a common practice to have a designated place for Jews to gather, usually by the side of a river, when a synagogue was not available. A simple enclosure was built of stone, with seats and no roof, often built in a grove of trees in a suitable place for worship (Barnes’)

    Lydia was not a Jew by birth, but had at sometime accepted the Jewish faith by becoming a proselyte. (Commentaries commonly ascribe Gentile ancestry to Lydia owing to the choice of words in Greek identifying her as a ‘worshipper of God.’) Thus, on the Sabbath day Lydia was gathered with the other Jews of Philippi to worship God. She is the only individual named of those gathered on that Sabbath day to worship. There is no indication that any male Jews were present.

    The majority of the citizens in Philippi were Gentiles, none worshippers of the one true God. The Sabbath day was not a day of rest to the Gentile world. Work went on as normal; shops were open to sell their merchandise. Lydia choose to close her business to worship God on the Sabbath day, possibly losing sales for that day.

    As was Paul’s custom, on the Sabbath day he went to the place of worship in search of honest hearts willing to listen to the Gospel of Christ. Paul found such a woman in Lydia. The Scriptures state she “…heard us…” (Acts 16:14). The “hearing” was not simply listening to an audible noise. Lydia’s hearing consisted of her listening to the words spoken, understanding what was taught and applying the teaching to her life.

    Acts 16:14 goes on to say “whose heart the Lord opened…” God did not miraculously open Lydia’s heart to the words of Paul as some suppose. Rather, the preaching of the Gospel opened her heart to accept the Gospel just as the Jews on the day of Pentecost were pricked in the heart when they heard Peter preach the first recorded Gospel sermon (Acts 2:37). As a proselyte Jew, Lydia knew the teachings of the Old Testament and was well aware of the prophecies concerning Christ and his church. Thus, with her knowledge of the Old Law, she readily accepted Paul’s teachings on the church.

    Luke further records in Acts 16:14 “that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” After hearing the words of Paul and understanding what he was teaching, Lydia took the next step by accepting the truths being taught. Lydia’s actions on that Sabbath day followed the natural course of any honest and sincere heart. She heard the words, she understood the words and she acted accordingly.

    Lydia’s action is outlined in verse 15. “And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.” Although the words Paul spoke are not recorded for us, we know that a part of Paul’s teachings included baptism. The Scriptures record Lydia and her household were baptized. Thus, Lydia became the first Christian convert in Europe.

    Lydia did not sit back and relax once she accepted the Gospel. She put her newfound faith to work. Remember the last part of verse 15 says, “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.” Lydia was so thankful for Paul and his companions that she offered them a place to stay while in Philippi. The hospitality offered by Lydia included a place to sleep, meals and the other necessity one would need when traveling far from home. Notice this was not a mild offer, but a begging plea to be of service to God in her newfound religion. Not only did Lydia persuade Paul and his three companions to stay with her while in Philippi, she opened her home to those that were converted. Acts 16:40 states that when Paul and Silas “…went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.” Christians were gathered at Lydia’s home, probably praying for Paul and Silas’s safety.

Applicable Principles

Lydia was a worshipper of God.

    Lydia was a Gentile by birth. At sometime in her life she became acquainted with the one true God. With this knowledge, she became a proselyte Jew serving and worshipping God under the Old Law. When she was taught the Gospel, she became a Christian and worshipped God according to the New Law.

    Christians of the first century gathered daily for prayer, fellowship and teaching (Acts 2:42-47; 5:42). At Troas, Paul preached until midnight to the Christians gathered there (Acts 20:7). The writer of Hebrews admonished Christians to not forsake the assembly of the saints (Hebrews 10:24-31). God commands that we worship him on the first day of the week. To be like Lydia, a true worshipper of God (John 4:23-24), one should desire to worship God at every opportunity.

    Are you like Lydia? Are you a worshipper of God? Do you seize every opportunity to worship God? Do you long to spend time with Christians or do you prefer to spend time with worldly individuals? Do you worship God with a desire to learn more or because it is a command?

    Let us follow the example of Lydia and strive to worship God with an honest and sincere heart at every opportunity.

Lydia had an honest heart.

    Lydia readily listened to the words of Paul. Paul did not have to convince Lydia to believe in God. She was a worshipper of God. Lydia worshipped God under the Old Law. Now there is a better law, the Gospel of Christ (Hebrews 10:1-10). Lydia “attended unto the things which were spoken” (Acts 16:14). She reasoned within her heart to verify the truth. Once she realized the truthfulness of the words spoken, she acted accordingly.

    Are you like Lydia? Do you have an honest heart? Do you readily listen to the Words of God, then “attend to them”? Do you concentrate on the lesson you hear? Do you apply those lessons to your life?

    Let us follow the example of Lydia by eagerly listening to lessons from God’s Word then apply those lessons to our lives.

Lydia immediately corrected her life to conform to God’s will.

    From the Scriptures we learn of at least two occasions on which Lydia made course corrections to better serve God. The time of the first is unknown; however, we know that she became a proselyte Jew sometime before her encounter with the apostle Paul in Philippi. The second occasion is outlined for us in Acts 16:14-15. Here we learn that as soon as Lydia understood the words of Paul she corrected her life to conform to God’s will. She was immersed (baptism is immersion, Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12) in water to wash away her sins. From all indication, Lydia was an honest person. She worshipped God, but being an honest person and worshipping God was not enough. Lydia had to submit her will to God’s will in baptism. Lydia did this as soon as she understood the necessity to do so.

    Are you like Lydia? Do you immediately make changes in your life when you understand that your actions are contrary to God’s will? Have you washed your sins away through baptism? If yes, do you make changes in your life as soon as you understand the necessity to do so?

    Let us follow the example of Lydia by making course corrections in our lives without hesitation.

God was more important to Lydia than her business.

    The Sabbath day was a normal business day in Philippi. Lydia chose to close her business to worship God on the Sabbath. She probably lost sales on the Sabbath. Furthermore, once she obeyed the Gospel, she placed herself at odds with the guild for dyers. This would hinder her association with various individuals, possibly limiting her sales as well.

    Are you like Lydia? Do you forgo the extra hours at work so that you can worship God at the appointed times? Do you “go along to get along” so that you can get that promotion or do you let others know that you do not appreciate their crude language, inappropriate jokes and immoral behavior? Can the people with whom you work know that you are a Christian by the way you talk and act at work?

    Let us follow the example of Lydia and put God before our jobs.

Lydia was the kind of person that could influence others for good.

    Acts 16:15 states that Lydia and her household were baptized. One of the requirements for baptism is to understand why one is baptized. Lydia’s household was baptized because each individual understood he or she was lost in sin and that baptism into Christ washed away that sin. Lydia’s character was such that those who knew her understood she would not encourage them to do something inappropriate or unnecessary. She always had their best interest at heart.

    Are you like Lydia? Do you have a good influence on others? Can your actions lead others to Christ or will it lead them into the ways of the world? We must remember we are being watched by our peers and by younger individuals looking for role models. What kind of role model are you?

    Let us follow the example of Lydia and be a role model for Christ, leading lost souls to heaven (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Upon obeying the Gospel, Lydia immediately began to serve God.

    Lydia began to serve God immediately after her baptism. She offered Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy a place to live while in Philippi. This was not a polite offer, hoping they would decline. She begged them to lodge with her, which gave Paul and his companions a base of operation while preaching Christ in Philippi. This also afforded Lydia opportunities to learn more about Christ and his church. As more individuals were baptized, Lydia opened her home as a gathering place for Christians. The church at Philippi may have used Lydia’s home as its place of worship.

    Are you a Lydia? Do you offer hospitality? Do you open your home to others for Bible study and prayer?

    Let us follow the example of Lydia and use our homes to glorify God by reaching out with hospitality.
Works Cited

Barnes’ Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.

International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1996.

Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Nashville: Nelson, 1986.

New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody P., 1988.

“Thyatira” Holy Land Photos. 28 Mar. 2007 <http://holylandphotos.org/browse.asp?s= 1,3,7,20,82>.

Wycliffe Bible Commentary. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody P., 1962.

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