Having had a vision from God to go and help the people of Macedonia, Paul and Silas board a boat. They end up in Philippi, a major wealthy city in the district of Macedonia as well as a Roman colony, and stayed there for several days.
The passage goes on to say that on the Sabbath, they went outside the city to a riverbank where they thought people would be meeting for prayer. We don’t know if Paul got information from someone in town about this location, or was merely looking for Jews who would be worshiping on the Sabbath. It was custom for Jews that inhabited “pagan” or gentile cities to prepare a synagogue or place of worship outside the city but close to water for ritual purification (IVP New Testament Commentary). Since there was no formal place for Jewish worship around Philippi, that probably meant that the Jewish population there was small – ten men were needed to form a synagogue (IVP New Testament Commentary). Paul and Silas join the small group of women and begin to explain to them how Jesus is the fulfillment of the divine prophesy to send a Messiah.
After the team shared the good news of Jesus with Lydia and the other women, the passage says that God did what only God can do and “opened her heart”. God calls us to be faithful in sharing Jesus with those around us, but the work of softening someone’s heart to a point of receptivity is something that only He can do. We get the privilege of carrying the message, but the response to it is between God and the person who hears it.
Lydia’s position as a merchant of expensive purple cloth indicated that she was a wealthy business woman. She is identified as the head of her household so she would have either been single or widowed and obviously had influence over them as evidenced by the baptism of them all. Lydia appears again at the end of this chapter in a passage that we will look at next week.
Paul and Silas were missionaries which we usually think of as people who are sent to another country in an effort to spread their religion. This definition is not false, but for us as Christ followers, it’s incomplete. As a follower of Jesus Christ, we all have been called to a mission of telling others about Him. Matthew 28: 18- 20 says, “Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This was given to the disciples, but it is also given to us as a command to follow.
For the early church, their primary purpose was spreading the good news about Jesus. They still had families, jobs, commitments – much like we do today, but they saw their primary purpose as spreading the word about Jesus. Often, we are willing to talk to others about Jesus if the opportunity presents itself, but shouldn’t it be in reverse? Shouldn’t we be looking for and creating opportunities to share instead of waiting for them to happen? How would our lives change if we intentionally made that subtle shift in our thinking? How would it change our community and our church? Lots to think about this week as we look at Lydia’s story.
Executive Director of Education and Outreach