By Pastor Glenn Pease
We may not see them very often, but they are out there in the world, and they have always been there, and in our day there number is increasing. I am not talking about UFO's but about those women who are wise in the ways of the world of wealth, and, thus, are rich and successful women of business. Murial Siebert, for example, the superintendent of banks for New York State where she supervises the management of 4 hundred billion dollars in our nations largest state banking department. She was the first woman to attain this kind of power in the financial world. She was the first female member of the New York Stock Exchange, and she owns her own brokerage company.
Vera Newmann, the Jewish grandmother, who is co-chairman of Vera Industries with retail sales over 100 million. She made the first designer signed articles, and the top selling designer sheets. Her merchandising vice-president and executive vice-president are both women. Joan Cooney is head and co-founder of the multimillion dollar Children's Television Workshop, which produces Seseme Street and Electric Company. Her commitment to Christian principles are important to her, and those values play a major role in the work she does in teaching children on TV. She is and honored and respected business woman.
These three I mention, out of numerous contemporary examples, have something in common with Lydia the business woman of the Bible. They are all single for one reason or another. Lydia was likewise single. She represents the millions of women who have been thrust by circumstances into the world of business. We don't know if she was a widow, or divorced, or never married, but it was a matter of survival for her, as well as many others, to use their gifts to become successful in the world of business. Corrie Ten Boom learned watch making, and she became so good at it she became Holland's first licensed female watchmaker. When women discover their gifts they can be successful in any endeavor.
We do not know how rich Lydia was, but the evidence we have suggests that she was quite successful. She was a seller of purple goods from the city of Thyatira. We find her far from home in the city of Philippi. She was a traveling sales woman of the ancient world. Not only is her business one that takes her over a wide territory, but it is one that provides well for her and her household, for she had a good size house there. She invited Paul and the others to come and stay at her house. It was obviously a large and lovely home able to accommodate more than her own family. Lydia was obviously selling some of that purple stuff, and doing alright in the business world. Ancient accounts tell us that this purple she sold was used by royalty and the upper classes, and so she was dealing with the money people of her day. She was one of those women who put her whole heart into everything she did. We want to focus on her heart as we see it functioning in three ways. First let's look at-
I. HER OBEDIENT HEART.
The only reason we even know about Lydia is because, in spite of her being a busy business woman, she closed up shop on the Sabbath and joined some other ladies for a prayer meeting by the river. She put God before gold in her value system. There are only women referred to, and so we see there were others like Lydia-women who had no place to go to worship, for there was no synagogue or church. This little group of women by the river provided the base for the beginning of Christianity in Europe. God led Paul to this ladies prayer meeting, and out of it came the first convert in Europe, and the first church in Europe.
Paul did not look at this group and say there is nothing here but women so we just as well move on until we find a more important group. God led Paul to Lydia because she was woman with an obedient heart. She lived up to the light she had. She was a Gentile who by some means had heard of the God of Israel, and she was convinced He was the true God, and she worshipped Him. God honors those who obey the light they have received by sending more light. The reason Lydia received the Gospel from the Apostle Paul is because God knew she would respond to this good news as she had to the previous light she had been given.
The book of Acts is filled with stories of resistance and opposition to the Gospel, but remember there is also the other side. Many have hearts where the seeds sprouts immediately, and there is the fruit of faith. We need to pray constantly that God would lead us to people whose hearts are prepared like that of Lydia. There are many like her in the world, and the majority seem to be women. Women are more likely to have hearts that are obedient and ready to respond to the Gospel. We ought not to assume that all unsaved people are ungodly. Lydia was a very godly person. She believed in God and worshipped Him, and sought to live according to His law. She was all of this before she was saved by faith in Christ. She had a good head on her shoulders, and she knew a good deal when she saw it. She knew opportunity was knocking and she did not hesitate to open the door. This leads us to look at the second point which is,
II. HER OPENED HEART.
There are several terms to describe the experience of being saved in the New Testament. One can be born-again, or redeemed, or converted. But the most gentle description of salvation is that of Lydia's experience where the Lord opened her heart, and she gave heed to the message. She believed and responded by trusting Christ as her Savior, and then she was baptized.
There is no description of a conversion anywhere that is so simple as that of Lydia's. What a blessing there is to the millions of believers who come into the kingdom of God more like Lydia than like the Apostle Paul. We so often promote the radical and exciting conversion of people like Paul that we give the impression that this is the real experience to expect. The lights flashing from heaven, the vision of Christ, the radical experience of being blinded and then restored, are held up as the norm. Most of the testimonies that make it into print are the Paul type testimonies because they are exciting, and they proclaim the grace of God loudly. This is alright as long as we get things in a proper perspective. The reason there are radical conversions is because people have gone so far off the path that the only way to get them back is by means of a radical conversion. This type of conversion exalts the grace of God, but it is no credit to the one experiencing it, for it is a sign that they were far from the kingdom in their rebellion.
Lydia did not need a radical conversion like Paul, because she never rebelled and went astray. She was a sinner in need of a Savior, but she did not need to be knocked to her knees and blinded. All she needed was to hear the truth of God's love, and of the gift of His Son, and her heart was opened. God had to dynamite the door open on Paul's heart, but Lydia's heart was available to God. God merely touched it gently and the door swung open, and Christ entered her heart by faith. Paul's story is more exciting and interesting reading, and we would all rather marvel at the message of his conversion than hear dozens of commonplace testimonies like that of Lydia. But the fact is, the ideal conversion is like hers.
To never go far into the depths of sin and rebellion, but to stay in the realm of the honest seeker whose life style is not far from that of the true believer is the way God wants it, and the way that is best for the world and for all concerned. Thank God for the Lydia type heart so easily opened because it is not warped by a wild life of sin. Thank God also that His grace is sufficient for a Rahab the prostitute, and the woman at the well, who lived in immorality. But rejoice if your conversion is the more simple and gentle kind like that of Lydia. This is the more common conversion that we see in millions of children and young people who have not experienced a life of sin.
Many Christians like Lydia are made to feel unimportant because they were not wild rebels into gangs, night clubs, and the drug scene. These are the conversions that sell books, but the kingdom of God is built primarily out of those who are more like Lydia, and it is folly for them to feel bad for not living such a wild life that their conversion is more spectacular. We do not see Paul expecting anyone to have a radical conversion like his. He is delighted when God simply opens the heart of a person, and they quietly enter the kingdom by simple faith.
It is of interest also that her heart was opened as she sat by a river listening to Paul share the Gospel. Many of fisherman loves this text which shows you can worship God by the river as well as in a church. But we note also that there is no fishing gear involved in this account, and there were no churches to go to at that point. New Testament Christianity is, however, an outdoor faith. There were no church buildings and so people had their conversion experiences in outdoor places. Zaccheaus was in a tree, Paul was out on a road, the Ethiopian Eunuch was in a chariot in the desert, the Philippian jailer was in a jail leveled by an earthquake, and the thief was on a cross.
All of these conversions remind us that the Holy Spirit is not limited to the church building. Nobody has to come to church to come to Christ. People can open their hearts to Christ at work, at play, out in a boat, or while driving to work or home. The settings are endless. We need to be reminded of this so we do not go through life limiting God to the church as if the only place people can come into the kingdom is there. Don't spend your life trying to get people to church only. The wise way to is take the church, or the message of the church, to them where they are. Jesus did not say let all the world come to church. He said for the church to go into all the world.
God can and will open hearts anywhere where people are given the opportunity to respond to the Gospel. He does not dwell in buildings made with hands, but is ever available to open the hearts of those who are ready to believe. Don't wait for people to come to church to share the love of Christ. Note also that God opened her heart, but she listened, believed, and responded by getting baptized. We see clearly the cooperation of God's Spirit and the human will. There is no point in asking which gets your hands cleaner-the soap or the rubbing? It is obvious that both work together, and so also the Spirit of God and the will of people. Don't try to separate them, for God desires human cooperation.
Her open heart led her to open her mouth also, for she shared her experience with others, and especially with her own family. We do not know how old her children were, but they were old enough to listen to the Gospel, and to follow their mother in public commitment by being baptized. Lydia was the spiritual leader in her home, for she was a single parent, and she shows that a woman can be an excellent parent to her children without a partner.
What a contrast this story is from the great mass evangelism of Peter at Pentecost where 3,000 were baptized. Here we see this little family ceremony with one woman and her children, and possibly a servant or two. One is not better than the other, for both are beautiful, and both bring rejoicing in heaven. But the fact is, this little family baptism is the more typical experience throughout history. Most people who come to Christ and give their testimony in baptism do so in small groups, and not in crowds. Many are all alone like the Ethiopian Eunuch out in the desert with Philip. I think God intends it to be this way so that the testimony of faith is more personal. Nobody could doubt that Lydia and her household were making a commitment to be Christians. She was well known, and many of her personal friends would be there at the river to watch her give this public testimony. Her obedience set an example that, no doubt, had an impact on many other lives in that community. God opened other hearts through her openness to obey, and take an open stand for Christ.
Being a part of the business community enabled Lydia to have a greater impact. It is of great value when Christians have lines of communication with the non-Christian world. Business is often the key link of the Christian to the non-Christian, and we need to see its value. Lydia, no doubt, sold her purple die to pagans who used it to make curtains for their pagan temples, and garments for their idols. Profits from these sales would go to help build the church of Christ in that community.
Through business the Christian and the non-Christian are linked. The Christian in business is constantly serving the non-Christian. For all we know the Mafia buys all their bullets from a Christian hardware dealer or sports shop owner. Prostitutes buy their toothpaste from a drug store owned by a Christian. We could go on endlessly sharing how the two worlds of the saved and unsaved touch on the level of business. That is why it is so important for Christians to be truly Christ like in business, for it is the place where one is most likely to have an impact for Christ. Next we want to look at-
III. HER OVERFLOWING HEART.
Lydia was so grateful that Paul brought her the good news about Jesus that she immediately went into home missions. She asked Paul and his fellow laborers to come to her home and set up their base of operations. Her overflowing heart expressed by her hospitality led to her home becoming the first church in Europe. The church of the Philippians was born in her home. Paul wrote her famous letter of joy to her church. It got off to a happy start and had far fewer problems than most of the churches Paul started. We can assume that the spirit of Lydia had a lot to do with this positive picture.
Lydia is not named in the letter to the Philippians, and so we can assume that she went back to Thyatira, or moved on to begin a new work. This letter does reveal Paul's deep respect for women, however, and for their work in the church. Two women leaders there had some kind of dispute going, and Paul writes in Phil. 4:2-3, "I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord, and I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the Gospel." Paul does not write to this church that got its start in Lydia's home, and tell them not to permit a woman to speak. The church was her home, and she, along with other women, work side by side with Paul, and not in the kitchen only, but in the Gospel. This was a church where women were not in the background. They were side by side with the Apostle Paul, and it was a church characterized by joy.
Lydia's overflowing heart provided the physical resource for this church. She was the first to be baptized, and other women soon joined her. You can count on it, as she went about selling her purple dye for garments, she would talk to women about Jesus. Those women she met with for prayer each Sabbath were her friends, and she would seek to win them to Christ. This church started with women, and women played a key role in it. It was a great church, and the beginning of the westward movement of the church into all of Europe.
There are no negatives about women in this church, for Paul knew the church owed its very existence to godly women like Lydia. When Paul has to write about women in a way that is negative, remember that he does so because of local problems that need correcting, and not because he was a male chauvinist. When women discover their gifts they can be successful in any endeavor. Paul, next to Jesus, is our greatest resource for the exaltation of women. Paul both preached and practiced the equality of women in Christ, and you can be sure that Lydia's love and hospitality had a great influence on Paul's view of women.
Blessed are those women whose hands are open to God to be used in His service; whose hearts are open to God to be blessed in salvation, and whose homes are open to God to be blessed in worship. Quiet and gentle Lydia was successful in selling, in salvation, and in service, and all this while raising a family alone. If you are looking for a woman to admire as an example toward which to aspire, look no further, for you have one in Lydia the business woman.