“Whose heart the Lord opened”
In thinking of the companions of Paul we cannot overlook the women, for there were many godly, faithful women who were of tremendous help in carrying forward the work of the Lord. Because of Paul’s teaching, received of the Lord, concerning the place of the women and their Christian duties, he has often been accused of being a misogynist or woman hater. This was certainly not the case. He spoke highly of many dear sisters in Christ and praised them highly for their devoted service. The Scriptural record indicates that the women had a very important part both in connection with Paul’s ministry and also in the local churches. And even today if it were not for the dedicated labors of godly women most churches would be forced to close their doors.
Before getting acquainted with Lydia, the subject of this chapter, it will be good to consider what the Word has to say about some of the other women who helped make known God’s message of grace. In the 16th chapter of Romans the apostle refers by name to a number of women. In the very first verse he speaks of Phoebe. She was a servant, or deaconess, of the little church at Cenchrea, the seaport of Corinth. She was a deaconess not because she had been elected or appointed to this office. She simply proved to all that she was a deaconess or servant of the church by her manner of life; by visiting the sick, helping those in need, and performing the many tasks that came to hand. She surely epitomized the truth of I Timothy 5:10, “Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saint’s feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.” Phoebe was a choice saint, to be commended to all, and she had the high honor of carrying a priceless treasure to its destination, the Epistle to the Romans. William R. Newell has written …
“Phoebe is honored with a mighty mission; she is to carry this great epistle to the Christians at Rome! That was a priceless burden! No Spanish galleon freighted with gold ever bore such a treasure as God let dear Phoebe carry to the center of the Gentile world. Yes, as He told Jeremiah, He ‘watches over’ His Word. It came safely, right down to us, though the feeble hands of Phoebe brought it on its way.”
Another woman mentioned here (vs. 3) is Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila. What valued friends and helpers they were and we will be getting to know them better in a future chapter. Mary is the next name in this Hall of Fame (vs. 6) and this is the only reference to her in the New Testament. Paul said she “bestowed much labour on us.” God is not unrighteous to forget our work and labour of love and neither was the Apostle Paul. How often we fail in this. How often when the work and labor of others has benefitted and blessed us, we forget, and fail to express our thanks and appreciation. Tryphena and Tryphosa (vs. 12) were sisters who were always laboring for the Lord; worthy helpers indeed. Then the beloved Persis (vs. 12) who also labored much in the Lord. And what about Rufus’ mother (vs. 13) whom Paul said was a mother to him also. She must have bestowed much loving care on him. The business of all these precious women was to help. In I Corinthians 12:28 along with the gifts of apostles, prophets, teachers is the gift of “helps.” This gift should be coveted and cultivated by all of God’s children.
The only reference to Lydia is contained in a couple of verses but she played a most important part in the extension of the gospel. In obedience to the Macedonian call Paul and his companions had arrived at Philippi. We read: “And on the sabbath day we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 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” (Acts 16:13-15). Here is the first preaching of the gospel on European soil and Lydia and her household are the first European converts. This was a rather modest beginning for the mighty work which resulted. One result was the important work done by Paul on that continent. They referred to his company as “these that have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Another result was that later practically every country in Europe became Christian, at least nominally.
One of the first things to be noted is that this great work began with prayer. It began with the godly women who came regularly to the river side to pray. Every great movement of God has been prefaced by prayer. It was true with Peter and the others working under the kingdom program. Before the outpouring of the Holy Ghost and the thousands converted on the day of Pentecost there was prayer. Read Acts 1:14, “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women (here are the women again—bless them), and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with the brethren.” It needs repeating again and again that there is little blessing apart from prayer. Prayer in our day seems to be a lost art. Most Christians, if honest, would have to confess their sin of prayerlessness. Most churches no longer have a prayer meeting and yet wonder why the Lord’s work moves at a snails’ pace. The reason is that too little time is spent fasting in the upper room and too much time is spent feasting in the supper room. We need to say as did the disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
Many things could be said about Lydia. She was a resident of Philippi but came originally from Thyatira, which was in a region of Asia called Lydia. Whether she got her name from this fact we do not know. She was a businesswoman and she sold purple garments or the dyes used in their manufacture. In the narrative in Luke 16 we read that the rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen. Lydia was doubtless well educated, intelligent, and evidently quite prosperous. She was a worshipper of God and a woman of prayer. The prayer meeting in which she was prominent was not a haphazard thing. She and the other women met together unfailingly every week. It is not simply the act of prayer that is to be noted but the habit of prayer. These women made it their business each sabbath to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and to honor God. This was Israel’s seventh-day sabbath and what we would again emphasize is Lydia’s devotion in giving God His due; she did not let business or anything else interfere. She thus honored God and God honored her, even as in the case of Cornelius when the angel said, “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4). We today who are members of the Body of Christ are not sabbatarians, we do not rest in a day but in a person, our Lord Jesus Christ. However, we can be glad that we live in a society where one day each week we can turn aside from mundane affairs and honor God by our attendance at the house of worship. All too many let business or pleasure, family or friends, interfere with their attendance at the divine services. No church could continue if it were not for those like Lydia who are present at the Place of Prayer each week.
Lydia was a Greek proselyte and worshipped God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now she heard through Paul of the Messiah who should come and who had come in the person of the Lord Jesus, and here we have the operation of grace. As she listened the Lord opened her heart. The heart of the natural man is closed to God and to the things of God and it is beyond our ability to do anything about it. We have the privilege of preaching the Word, for faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, but it is God who must speak the life-giving word and open the heart of the hearer. Paul had this in mind when he wrote II Corinthians 4:$id, “But God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God must do it and God does it in response to prayer.
It is again to be noticed that the European work had a very quiet and modest beginning. There were no advance men sent ahead to prepare the way, no big publicity campaigns and no big personalities to draw the crowd. It was just a little company of men speaking to a little company of women, but little is much when God is in it. The Lord delights in the little things. When here in the flesh He used a few loaves and two little fishes to feed the multitude. He used a little child to give an object lesson on humility. He told the little flock not to fear as it was the Father’s pleasure to give them the kingdom, and the widow’s little gift was more pleasing to Him than the more pretentious gifts. How opposite to all this is man’s idea of things. Man despises the little things and looks with disdain at the little flock. Man wants the crowd. Well, Paul had the crowd but it was always out to get him.
In the record before us we read that Lydia and her household were baptized. Does this mean that water baptism is to be practiced under the Pauline message today? At this point in the book of Acts the nation Israel had not yet been finally set aside, it was still a period of transition and much of the old program still remained. In this 16th chapter of Acts Paul had just circumcised Timothy. Are we to practice circumcision today as a religious rite? Paul had just been called to Macedonia by a night vision. Are we to look to such visions today to discern the Lord’s leading? Paul is about to cast an unclean spirit out of a damsel. Are we to attempt that today? Paul is soon to be delivered from jail by an earthquake. Are we to expect this to happen today? To all of these questions we would have to answer “no,” for none of these things are included in God’s program for His people today. But now for the next question. Paul baptized Lydia and her household at that time. Are we to practice water baptism today on that account? Be careful in answering this question. If the answer to all the other questions is “no” then we must say “no” to this last question also. To eliminate all the other signs, including also tongues and healings, and to hold on to the water sign is both illogical and poor exegesis. All of these must stand or fall together. In the Acts period water baptism is always linked up with the other signs and what God has joined together let no man put asunder. When Israel is finally out of the picture with Paul’s arrival at Rome and the solemn pronouncement of Acts 28:28 all the signs are gone. In the epistles written thereafter there is no mention of miracles, angelic visitations, healings, tongues, water baptisms, passover suppers, or any of the other signs that were in evidence while Israel was still on the scene. In these later epistles we have the normal program for the Body of Christ in this dispensation of the grace of God, when we walk by faith and not by sight and when we have in the completed Word of God all we need to govern our walk, practice and doctrine.
Lydia not only became one of the first members of the Philippian church but the others in her household did so as well. We do not know whether she was married or not or whether there were children. Her household would not only include family but her servants also, and most likely a woman in her position would have many servants. The fact the household followed her example indicates that the godly, devout and consistent life she lived before them had a great influence upon them. We should take a lesson from this. All of us, especially parents, should be careful as to how we live in the home, for our actions do influence others for good or for ill. All too often there is failure here. It is a great tragedy when the children of Christian parents grow up unsaved and with no desire to live for the Lord.
Another commendable quality to be noted about Lydia was her hospitality. Immediately after her conversion she showed evidence of the new nature in Christ. She had received the gospel into her heart and now she desired to receive the gospel messengers into her home. To paraphrase it she said, “If you consider me now to be a believer, come and stay at my house.” She did this not merely as a Christian duty but she sincerely desired them to lodge under her roof. Luke wrote, “And she constrained us.” The brethren gladly accepted her invitation and made her home their headquarters during their stay in Philippi.
In those days there were no motels on every hand and in many places Christians would not be too welcome, so it was imperative that they should be mindful of one another. But even today, hospitality can be shown in many ways and all Christians should be characterized by it. The Scripture says that we should be “given to hospitality” (Romans 12:13) and we also read “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). We sometimes miss a rich blessing by our failure to open our homes and hearts to fellow-Christians and the servants of the Lord.
Lydia is certainly worthy of high honor as one of the first converts of Europe and also as a helper of those who had been called to reach that continent for Christ. If we are challenged and blest as we consider the exemplary lives of these men and women of faith it is only because we see Christ in them. We are confident that the desire of each one of them was that Christ should be magnified in their body and that no man should be seen but Jesus only.