The Bible is full of power shifts and amazing conversion experiences. Today those two combine in conversion of Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth, in Acts.
Now on the surface we may miss the profound and radical nature of this passage. Paul and Timothy are moving through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, preaching the good news to many, which some in Jerusalem thought impossible. Already God’s dream of a nation of believers beyond Israel is a dream too big for some.
Paul and Timothy make it to Philippi, a leading city of that time, a place of trade and commerce. It would be like us saying, “They made it to Seattle or Hong Kong, or Tokyo!” This is big, in and of itself.
It is also the Sabbath day, and they go down to the river to pray. There they encounter a woman who had also gathered there. Already the story is extraordinary. In a culture when it was a scandal to even speak to a woman who was not of your family, these two guys buddy up and talk “faith” with her. (Do you see God’s dream spilling out past the boundaries again? Be on the look out in the NT. It is always happening!)
Lydia is a dealer of purple cloth, in a region known for its purple cloth. And she is not in her home town. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear she owns her own home, is unmarried, and comes from relatively high social and economic status. Selling purple, the color of royalty, she encounters many of influence. Most likely, she owned one of the largest companies in this region of the world, employing many. And she is her own boss. What luck that Paul and Timothy have found her! She can greatly influence this region!
Already being a worshiper of the God of Israel, she hears the story of Jesus – a story of turning power on its head – and she was deeply moved, and opened up her heart and her home to it all.
Lydia’s story is more than a story of conversion, or simply breaking gender barriers. This is a story about power and influence. We are seeing how the early church operated – much like a virus – a good virus – infecting people’s hearts in a good way and spreading like wild fire. The good news became an unstoppable force as it spread from a centralized core to a multi-faceted and complex machine. In its wake, it left people like Lydia entrusted with the good news of Christ’s salvation.
Now we are a part of this radical and virus-like instrument of God’s goodness. We are entrusted with the news that Christ has died for us and saved the world, breaking apart the power and influence that others have on our lives, and opening a way of freedom from sin and the power of death. Thanks be to God.