Lydia came from Thyatira, a city in the western province of Lydia in Asia Minor. Her name originally might have been the designation of her home, “a woman of Lydia.” At the time Lydia met Paul, she lived at Philippi, a leading city of Macedonia on the European continent.
As a wealthy and influential businesswoman, Lydia sold articles dyed purple, a prized color made from certain mollusks—a respectable and lucrative trade. She had a spacious home that could accommodate many guests and servants to meet their needs. This had to be a rare achievement in her day. She surely must have been a hardworking, bold, intelligent woman to achieve the success she enjoyed.
Archaeological finds have shed new light upon the purple dye industry in the Mediterranean world. The purple material was the most desirable and expensive, partially due to its colorfastness. This “Tyrian purple” was wool colored with a dye made from tiny Mediterranean mollusks. Additional methods of purple dyeing utilizing plants and other materials were developed. Thyatira was a center for this purple dye industry. Thus, Lydia may have been a dealer in the Thyatira purple cloth, or she may have been an importer of the royal “Tyrian purple.” Either way, she was a smart, and probably wealthy, businesswoman.
One Sabbath day, Lydia went to the river’s shore that had been designated by the Roman authorities of Philippi as a place of prayer and worship for the Jews. There she met Paul and Silas, who had been in Philippi only a short time. While others along the river may have rejected Paul’s words about Jesus, Lydia accepted them and became a believer (Acts 16:14).
Once she believed, she made a confession of her faith to her whole world through baptism, and then she assembled her entire household, told them what had happened to her, and asked them to believe. After her entire household accepted Christ as Savior and was baptized, Lydia invited Paul and Silas to stay in her home (Acts 16:15). When Paul and Silas were thrown into a Philippian prison, Lydia visited them and attended to their needs. Her house became the meeting place of the first European church.
Lydia was quick to perceive that what had been hers before her conversion—home, business and possessions—now belonged to the Lord.
• She had a new partner—the Lord Jesus
• A new purpose—to serve him
• And a new satisfaction—seeking to be effective and successful in order to glorify the Lord.
Lydia’s career aspirations did not hinder her sharing the gospel with family and friends. And she was not too busy to take time for hospitality (Acts 16:15).
Lydia’s Influence Made a Mark on Generations to Come
Lydia’s name appears in Scripture only twice. She was seemingly the first Gentile convert in Europe and the first believer to open her home as a worship center for European Christians. This benefited not only Paul and the early church but also the lives of future generations of believers. Her life was a model of determination, foresight and generosity that offers encouragement to us today.
Article edited from a study feature in the NIV Woman’s Study Bible.
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