Turn to Acts, and discover the story of Lydia today.
The conversion of Lydia is another powerful story about the women of the church. Paul, Silas, and Timothy are making the rounds, stop in Philippi, and encounter Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.”
This is a quick turn. All we know about her worship life is that she is a “worshiper of God” which is a nice way of saying she is a Gentile who worshiped Israel’s God, somewhat of a stray by Jewish standards.
On the other hand, this is a Roman colony. We are told of the “household of Lydia” which indicates she is unmarried. She is also of relatively high social and economic status, being a merchant and mistress of a household, a combination that wouldn’t normally be possible in that day and time. The district in Lydia, where she is from, Thyatira, is a center of production of purple dye, so it is possible she is the representative of all that is purple in this region, one of the top merchants in the area. She seems to be quite a maverick.
I had the privilege of sitting in Philippi, down by the river, probably in a similar place to where Paul and Lydia met. I am excited to go back in just a few weeks. The Journeys of Paul Mediterranean Cruise.
What I remember most in Philippi was the most delightful open-air Greek restaurant, right on the sea. The group that year included my mother and my friend Rose, both of whom are pretty adventurous eaters much like me. We ordered a few things ala carte and dove into our food. There was a strange ground up fish dish that tasted like heaven. What was this glorious concoction? Since the menu was in Greek, and I didn’t know a lot of the menu items, we had told our waiter to bring a few authentic dishes, his choice. Turns out this great dish was octopus! After my first encounter with eating octopus in Japan (which was a cold, raw trainwreck), I was amazed I could find any joy in this animal. The Greeks made octopus tasty and delicious for me.
As I reflect back on my time in the city of Philippi, and Paul’s travels here – his ups and downs – I draw inspiration from people like Lydia. She blazed a trail for the Gospel to spread, an outsider who found a place. I remember feeling out of place in this beautiful country, probably like Lydia did at times, but enjoying the bounty of this area, ready to go back and tell the story of this beautiful land and the stories it held.
It was just a few verses ago we were told that Paul and Silas went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia “having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” Lydia, you see, was from Asia. She has made her way to Philippi for commerce.
But lying underneath all this is a theme: There are places where the Holy Spirit is ripe, and places it is not. Since the word of God was not ripe for Asia, perhaps because of language or culture, Lydia becomes a lynchpin. Rather than Asia opening to Paul and Silas, Asia has come to Paul and Silas. Lydia, who ironically bares the same name of the region in Asia where Thyatira is, is a person who can “walk the walk and talk the talk” so to speak. She can now be an ambassador to that region.
This too is a story of the unleashed good news. God’s power is out on the loose. And, once again, it is entrusted to a woman. Those who want to believe that Paul and the New Testament are anti-women need a refresher course on Acts and Paul’s letters! As Luke writes his two books, there is a movement: from Jewish men to Gentile women. God’s word spreads more than just geographically.
For me that is such good news I can hardly contain myself!