Read: Acts 16:6-15 (Mission in Philippi)
I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men dream dreams, (quote from Joel 2 in Acts 2:17). Paul was a prophet (Acts 13:1) who received many visions (see Acts 9:3-4; 10-11; 16:9-10; 18:9-10; 22:17-21; 23:11; and 27:23-24). Oftentimes, these visions from God set the course of direction for mission. In Troas, Paul saw the vision pleading for his help to come to Macedonia. When the door to the Roman provinces of Asia and Bithynia on the western coast of Asia Minor were closed to Paul’s preaching, Paul received this urgent invitation to come to the region of Macedonia. In this case, two doors closed yet a new door opened. Keep your eyes and ears open, pray and wait for the Lord.
Looking in the Mirror
In a word play off of the Joel 2 verse above: your sons and daughters shall be physically active, your young men shall run fast and long whenever they please, and your old men will need to stretch both before and after they run. It is only in the last few years that I know I am now an older man because stretching is no longer optional! My muscles deserve and demand proper attention.
On the one hand, stretches for the quads and calves or the hips can warm and open up the body for running and increased performance. It takes time and becomes a routine. On the cool down side, it is very helpful to prevent stiffness and pain.
On the other hand, stretches can prevent injury and other running related problems like plantar fasciitis, shin splints or an aggravated hamstring. Preventative stretches before and after a workout can eliminate time off from exercise because of being stiff, sore or injured. On top it, it is good self-care.
To be brutally honest with you, it is only because my body has begun to scream at me that I have become more attentive to my body and its proper care. I would likely be healthier now if I had been disciplined in my overall care of self, earlier in my life. Sometimes we need a wake-up call to pay attention to ourselves as well as what is going on around us.
It was because Paul was attentive to what was going on around him that he entered into conversation with the women at the place of prayer in Philippi. As a matter of practice, Paul usually went to the synagogue on Sabbath and talked with the Jewish men. Without a synagogue in Philippi (apparently), Paul and his companions found the prayer place located by the river. It was out of Paul’s norm to reach out to women. Because of his actions, Paul met Lydia.
Spotlight on Lydia
Lydia was a worshiper of God from the city of Thyatira in the Anatolian region called Lydia. She had a business of dying and selling purple cloth in the city of Philippi located in Macedonia. The Lydia area and Thyatira in specific was known for its trade guilds. Located about thirty miles inland from the coast of the Aegean Sea, , Thyatira sat on a fertile plane and housed hard working trade laborers. Among the guilds were tanners, leatherworkers, coppersmiths, workers of wool and linen, dyers, and the producers of purple dye (Clyde E. Fant & Michael G. Reddish, A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 329). Thyatira is one of the seven churches of Revelation (2:18-28).
The importance of Lydia in this story in Philippi has caused scholars fits as they try to figure out why her name is absent from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. Was Lydia simply known as “the woman from Lydia” but was one of the courageous women of the church in Philippi: Euodia or Syntyche (Philippians 4:2) or Paul’s loyal companion, yokefellow or Syyzgus (Philippians 4:3) and even Paul’s wife! (Gerhard Krodel, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Acts, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986, p. 307)?
On the Sabbath, Paul, Timothy, Silas and others searched for the synagogue for their worship. According to Jewish law it requires ten men to form a synagogue. There is no mention of men in this account at Philippi so the mission team from Antioch located a place designated for prayer near a river. It was an open air gathering of Jewish and gentile worshipers of the Jewish God. Among the women was a gentile worshiper named Lydia. In Jewish rabbinic custom, like Jesus teaching his sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:1), “we sat down,” (Acts 16:13). The story names Paul as the teacher to whom Lydia listened intently.
Lydia’s heart was opened by the Lord as she listened intently to the teaching of Paul. This story reminds us of another story of Luke where the Lord warmed the heart of the two pilgrims from Emmaus on Easter eve (Luke 24:32). What is inferred about Lydia is that she was a successful business woman as she had her own house and household, who like her, were baptized as followers of Jesus (Acts 16:15). Purple cloth in particular was costly and profitable and made Lydia a good amount of wealth. The absence of any mention of a husband may mean she was a widow. The term household does not mean she had children. It likely means she had servants and other family members for whom she was financially responsible.
Lydia is the first Christian in Europe. Keeping in mind that Israel and Palestine are located on the continent of Asia, Peter, James and John were the first followers of Jesus according to Luke (5:11) from Asia. The Ethiopian official baptized by Philip is the first African Christian (Acts 8:26ff). In the biblical scheme of events, this makes Europe the third continent to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. On top of it all, the first European Christian is a gentile woman!
Hospitality was demonstrated by Lydia to the mission team because she welcomed them (prevailed upon them to stay at her home, v. 15, 40). As a result, Paul did not need to work as a tentmaker in Philippi, as he had to do most everywhere else he went. This was the only church Paul allowed to support him (Philippians 4:15) because of their generosity (2 Corinthians 11:8; Philippians 4:16).
What will become more obvious after the mission team leaves Philippi, Thessalonica and Beroea behind is that the plea to come to Macedonia caused quite a stir and much pain. Paul was warned of his impending suffering for the sake of the gospel at his conversion in Damascus (Acts 9:16). Meanwhile, today’s reading focuses on the planting of the church in Philippi. It began with a woman with an open heart and a spirit of hospitality.
Not only did she become a follower of Jesus but either she told the members of her household what she heard from Paul and his mission team or she invited them to her home where they shared the good news of Jesus. No matter, Lydia and her whole household was baptized into Christ Jesus. The church in Philippi was born. She opened her house and compeled the mission team to stay with her.
1. What captures your imagination as you listen to the story of Lydia?
2. What do you love most about the story of Jesus?
3. In what way does it matter to you that the book of Acts includes a story of a successful business woman who becomes a leader in the newly emerging church?
4. Who comes to your mind as a modern day Lydia? Why?