The ripple effect: Lydia

After Jesus’ ascension, the believers spread the gospel around the world in widening ripples.

Daniel N. Balge

It was a vision of a man from Macedonia that prompted Paul to carry the gospel for the first time into Europe (Acts 16:6-10). But it was women who first heard the good news at the apostles’ initial stop of Philippi.

A woman’s saving faith

Paul’s habit in a new city was to begin his outreach in the local synagogue (14:1; 17:2). The synagogue offered a logical point of contact. Paul and his companions met Jews who knew the Old Testament and to whom they could show Jesus was the Messiah God promised. But Philippi apparently didn’t have a synagogue. Ten Jewish men were needed to form a synagogue, and Luke mentions only women (16:13) gathered at a “place of prayer” at the Krenides River, probably outdoors. Paul began with them.

Among them was a businesswoman who dealt in purple cloth. She came from Thyatira. History’s record, though likely incomplete, offers an impressive list of goods manufactured there: pottery, leather products, clothing, woolens, linens, and bronzeware. Thyatirans traded in these things as well as in slaves. The region also produced purple dye, using a labor-intensive process that made anything tinted purple expensive. It was high-end cloth that the businesswoman sold in Philippi.

The businesswoman’s name was Lydia. Luke describes her as “a worshiper of God” (16:14), in other words a devout convert to Judaism. Lydia was a Gentile who had come to faith in the prophecies of a Messiah. Though not obligated to follow all of the Old Testament ceremonial law, Lydia believed in a promised Savior. Paul and his coworkers told her all about him.

“The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (16:14). Hearing the gospel, Lydia’s faith refocused on the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises—Jesus. She and members of her household were baptized.

A woman’s generous offer

Out of thanks to Jesus, Lydia extended an invitation to Paul and company: “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house” (16:15). That invite hints at her success in the purple cloth trade. First, she had a businesswoman’s cordial assertiveness, and here it met success (“she persuaded us”). Second, she owned a house that could indefinitely accommodate four men as guests, besides the members of her household. Her home became a base of operations for outreach in Philippi.

The Holy Spirit blessed this gospel effort. Acts 16:16-40 records the exciting story of the conversion of the warden of Philippi’s jail along with his household. A broader sense of the Spirit’s success one gleans from references Paul makes in his letter to the Philippians. Writing about a decade later from prison in Rome, Paul does not once chide or correct the Philippians for error. Moreover, Paul addresses “all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). That sounds like a good-sized group. And he thanks them for a gift of money and for the encouragement of Epaphroditus, the Philippian who had brought it (2:25-30).

That gift was characteristic. The Philippians, alone among the congregations Paul had served, frequently shared their money to help Paul proclaim the gospel (4:15,16). Not a surprise from a congregation whose first member had thankfully insisted, “Come and stay at my house.”

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, a professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the 11th article in a 12-part series on lesser-known New Testament witnesses.


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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 104, Number 3
Issue: March 2017

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