Acts 16:11-15, 40
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district[a] of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 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.” And she prevailed upon us.
40 After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters[a] there, they departed.
The story of Lydia is one that is quite interesting in the scriptures. The story is actually a set of bookends that begin and end another story that has lots of action. But today is not about all that action. If you want to know about that, then you will have to read that story on your own in Acts 1:16-39. Today we focus our attention on Lydia. Look at the picture. Notice the eyes. The artist Lyle Gwynn Garrity wrote, “In this image I wanted her eyes to be the focal point. I hope that they draw you in, radiating their warmth.”
Lydia is a woman that is definitely a minor character in the Bible. Yet she is key to the spread of the gospel message by Paul, Timothy, Silas and the others. Without a whole lot of information, we are free to use our imaginations to try and understand who this woman was. This is my imagination based on the facts that we do know.
There was a woman who lived in the region of Philippi just beyond Asia Minor in Europe. It is the area that today we would know as Greece. Lydia grew up as a very independent young girl. She had friends but many of them just wanted to run off and get married. Marriage was ok for her, but she was not all about the customs and subservient role that wives played in the day. She wanted to be in charge of her future and not rely on someone else for her future. Even if she had a man, it was no guarantee that she would be provided for as fleeting as life was. Men did not live very long, and she could be a widow and out in the cold just as easily as she would have a decent life.
Lydia learned at an early age that when she went to the market there were people that you wanted to be associated with that could give you great power, influence and dignity in a world dominated by men. If you traded with the people who had money, then you were likely to have money for yourself. People who wielded power could be wonderful allies, as long as you kept them there and did not become too emotionally attached. There were certain goods that seemed to draw this type of clientele to shop owners. One of these items were purple cloths.
Purple dye was a luxury item in which only the wealthy and royal families could afford. The reason that purple dye was so expensive is because it was made from mollusks that were only found in the region of Tyre (Today’s Lebanon) in the Mediterranean Sea. To make one gram of purple dye it would take 9,000 snails, slugs, mussels and octopuses. The cloths were so expensive that often times the cost would literally be the items weight in gold.
Lydia had such a warm personality and seemed to truly care for her customers. She would ask about their families and then get to know their desires for items to be made. When she returned from Tyre with more dye she would send word that she had a shawl or robe made of fine purples so that they would come and shop. The more clients she built up the greater her wealth became. Yet for Lydia the wealth seemed to be lacking something. She loved the people that worked for her and that she sold goods to. There seemed to be more to life than money. She had built a home and had many servants that cared for the home, the grounds, the bathing pools, and did all the cooking and cleaning. Yet, she had no one to share it with and was not about to share it with a man.
One day in the market a couple came in to buy his and her robes for a ball that they would be attending the end of the week. While she was waiting on this couple, they told her about a group of women that were meeting down by the river to have prayers and hear God’s word. They were all Gentiles, they believed in God but were not allowed in the synagogue. Lydia was not so sure about religion and God because it might interfere with some of her clients that worshipped the Roman gods. They might not like to shop with her if she got religion on them, so to speak. The couple encouraged her and said that she could just come by and listen with no strings attached. She should come this weekend because a guy by the name of Paul and his buddies were coming through town and many people said he was a great teacher. She promised to think about it and maybe she would go.
The week was filled with many people who came and went in the market and Lydia sold several expensive items. She should have been elated, but instead she had this sense in her heart that there was something she was missing out on. Her mind kept going back to the story about the man named Paul and his friends. She was going to have to see what this guy was all about.
When Saturday rolled around she told some of her employees that she would be gone for awhile and to manage the shop for her. She picked out a simple purple shawl and went to the river to meet Paul. When she arrived, several other women were there, and Paul greeted her when she came. He soon started telling the story of a man named Jesus who was the Messiah. He told stories of his life death and then resurrection. The more he spoke the more the warmth began to grow in her heart. Could this be what had been missing all of these years she wondered? When he finished speaking she waited her turn, but not so patiently to speak with Paul, Timothy and Silas. She finally was able to stand before them and she asked what she had to do to get this life everlasting?
Paul told her to be baptized and to believe. When she heard that it was as if her heart leapt. She said yes and not only wanted to be baptized but to have her entire household all the servant’s men and women baptized as well. The men went with Lydia and they told them the gospel story and that day Lydia, and her entire household were baptized. Their hearts were filled with joy and Lydia asked them if they judged her to be faithful to the Lord to stay with her and her help in their home. The men could tell that they were in the presence of the Holy Spirit’s power and could not refuse her, so they stayed with Lydia.
Paul made this his base and began to preach. Soon he found himself in trouble with the local people and was imprisoned and beaten pretty severely. Remember that other story I talked about, go and read it. When he was released from prison and everything had been sorted out, he went and stayed with Lydia blessing her and her household until it was time to leave. Lydia being filled wit the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit shared what she had with Paul, Timothy and Silas. She opened her home and gave them food and a place to rest and sleep. She gave graciously because she had her heart touched. She felt the warmth she had been missing all of her life. She became a key person in the ministry of spreading the gospel. She did not give it all away but she shared what she could.
That is what we are called to do as Christians. When we feel the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives we should act in response to that love by sharing what we can. That’s called Stewardship, giving of our selves in our time, talent and treasures. Soon you will be receiving a letter in the mail describing the ministry needs for our church. There will be a pledge card and a survey asking you to participate in some of the events of the church such as being an usher or making cookies, helping with work around the church, maybe serving as an officer as elder or deacon. Currently we feel blessed because so many have said yes, we are only lacking…
Lydia truly is the example of modern-day stewardship. She was not made to feel guilty about what she should give to the men, she just shared what she had, a simple offering and it was more than enough. It became a safe place for Paul and his friends. The use of her home was exactly what was needed at exactly the right time. God has a way of doing that. Taking what we give and making it do exactly what needs to be done to further the kingdom.
When Paul and the disciples were getting ready to leave they gave them all a blessing and thanked them for their efforts on their behalf. One line, a sentence, verse 40. But that gift of peace was passed on. It is important that we pass our blessings on to others as well. It is important that we give as we feel led by the Holy Spirit. It is our calling to share what we have to help others. We ask that you bring your pledges to church on Nov. 25th we will bless them in worship and pray that God will use our gifts to further the kingdom of God. Amen.