God Opens Lydia’s Heart

January 26, 2020 / No. 4021

Dear Radio Friends,


Tabitha, whom we considered in our last broadcast, was a Jewess. Lydia, whom we consider today, was a Gentile. Two different backgrounds and cultures. One lived in Palestine, the other lived in Europe. Tabitha was raised from the dead by the apostle Peter. Lydia was converted under the preaching of the apostle Paul.

Paul was led by the Spirit on his second mission journey into Macedonia and Greece, the gateway into Europe proper. This was new and uncharted territory. When entering into the city of Philippi, Paul discovered very soon that there was no Jewish synagogue. Previously, on his journeys in Asia Minor, he had a place to start in each city. He would begin his preaching in a synagogue. Because he was a Jewish Rabbi of the sect of the Pharisees, he was always welcomed into the synagogue—until he preached Christ. He was then cast out, but always with a few Jewish converts. From these he would begin a Christian church. But this was not the case in Philippi.

This was a Grecian city, a major city that drew people from all over the world. Paul confronted a problem that every missionary confronts when looking for a possible place of labor: where does one begin. Paul must have inquired in the city and been told that a small group of women would go outside of the city on Saturday in order to worship the Jewish God. Paul and the men with him—Timothy, Silas, and Luke—decided to check out this place when the Sabbath day came. There they found what they had been told: a small group of Gentile women who were evidently converts to the Jewish faith.

This, then, is the setting of the Word of God we consider today out of Acts 16:13-15. Luke informs us in Acts 16:13-15, “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshiped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.”

In these verses we are introduced to Lydia—a faithful worshiper of God. We learn nothing of her husband. But then, this is not strange. Women in the early church were at times brought to faith and repentance before men were. The passage, however, implies that Lydia was married (or widowed), since she did have children who belonged to her house. We will examine that in a moment. What is unique to this account is what we are told in verse 14, that upon hearing the Word, Lydia’s heart was opened to attend unto the things spoken. Then also the fact that she took the missionaries to her own house and was baptized by them. Once more, we are faced with a woman of faith who feared God.

I. A Faithful Worshiper

We learn of Lydia in verse 14, the first part, that she was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira. Thyatira was actually located in Asia Minor, across the Aegean Sea from Philippi. Lydia had evidently taken up residence in Philippi in order to sell her purple wares. You see, Thyatira was located near waters where a certain type of shellfish lived. It is from these shellfish that the purple dye could be extracted. The dye was costly because only a small amount of it was found in each shellfish. We learn that it was during this era that a certain guild of dyers lived around Thyatira and produced clothing of tremendous beauty and therefore very costly. That Lydia moved to Philippi also makes sense since it was a major city and the sale of purple would be in high demand. It was the color of choice at that time. The wealthy and prominent citizens of the cities in Greece and Rome wore it. Purple was the color of royalty. Emperors and state officials wore it to official functions. Even today purple is still considered to be the color of royalty.

This means, then, that Lydia was a successful and wealthy businesswoman. It could very well have been a business that she and her husband established in Thyatira and that she continued to carry on while living in Philippi.

There was something else she carried over with her to Philippi from Thyatira: her faith. We learn in verse 14 that she worshiped God already before Paul preached to the women by the river. We learn in verse 13 that she and the other women gathered by the river to pray and worship on the Sabbath day. The Jews worshiped on the Sabbath. Every Sabbath, Lydia and this small group of women walked outside of the city of Philippi, and about a mile down the road they came to a natural shelter by the riverside. There they met to study the Word and to pray. We are told that this place was “where prayer was wont to be made.” It was a prayer place. Obviously, these women worshiped Jehovah, but according to the Jewish faith. And since there was no synagogue in Philippi, Lydia must have come to faith in Thyatira, where Jewish synagogues were located. Lydia must have carried her religion with her to Philippi and there spoke of it to other women who came with her to the riverside to pray. The point is, of course, that Lydia was a believer.

Up to this point she knew only the Jewish faith, which taught of Jehovah from the Old Testament Scriptures. She had already been convinced that Jehovah alone was God and that He must be worshiped. This means that Lydia must also have had some running knowledge of the history, prophecies, and promises of the Old Testament Scriptures. Every Sabbath, therefore, she would gather a group of women together and go to pray and worship Jehovah God. Very small, very humble, seemingly very insignificant. But here was a place for Paul to start his work in Philippi. Through the preaching of Paul, the Lord opened her heart so that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

When Paul and his companions arrived on the scene by the river, we may not assume that the women immediately accepted these strangers into their midst. Paul may have been a person of authority among the Jewish people when they heard he was a Rabbi from Jerusalem, but that office bore little weight among these few Gentile women. Paul had to establish that fact. So we read in verse 14 that the women heard the testimony of Paul and his companions. Upon their testimony these women then gave them permission to speak to them. They listened carefully to the preaching of Paul concerning Jesus Christ. The things Paul spoke to them refer to the gospel. The truths Paul expounded were so much different from the Jewish religion they were at that time practicing. Paul preached Christ crucified. No doubt Paul, in his masterful way, expounded how Christ had come as a fulfillment of the Old Testament laws and prophets. He spoke of sin and the need for repentance and the need to turn to the cross of Christ alone for forgiveness. He explained in a very simple manner the cause of sin and misery, the wrath of God that lay upon the human race, and the payment for sin only through the blood of the Messiah. In short, Paul preached the blessed truth of justification by faith alone on the basis of the cross of Christ alone. He put before these women the call of the gospel: Repent and believe! Then the promise of the gospel: everyone that believes on Jesus Christ will receive everlasting life. All those who come to Him in faith He will in no wise cast out. Such is the call of the gospel—the external call that comes through the preaching of the gospel.

It is the same powerful call that we hear yet today. It is the same call that is sent forth through the mouths of missionaries to all who will hear. It is a call that contains no prejudice. It is proclaimed to all peoples, nations, and races of the earth. It is an efficacious call that produces exactly what God sends it forth to accomplish. It either hardens a person’s heart or it opens it. It is a call that we today hear too. Jesus Christ is come to save sinners. Are you that sinner? Do you know your sin? Then you too are called to daily repentance. We too, each day anew, must turn to our Lord Jesus Christ where alone we find our salvation. The call of the gospel does not go forth only to those still lost in sin. It goes forth in the midst of the church, calling us to repentance and faith each day anew.

But, though that Word preached is powerful to work and maintain salvation in the hearts of God’s people, that Word does not stand alone. Many are called objectively by the gospel preached, but not all give heed to that Word. Not all the women by the river did either. But God opened Lydia’s heart to attend to, that is, to give heed to, the things Paul spoke concerning Jesus Christ. This can be ascribed to the irresistible work of the Holy Spirit in Lydia’s heart. Her heart was opened. The heart is the spiritual center of a person. If the heart is hardened in sin, a person will refuse to believe in Jesus Christ. The heart of fallen man stubbornly refuses to attend to the things of the kingdom of God. It is like the lid on a jar of pickles that refuses to be opened no matter how hard you twist it. But the work of the Spirit in the heart is all powerful. He opens that which is stubbornly shut. He works in a man, making his hardened heart pliable. When the gospel goes forth, the Spirit works through that preaching and opens a heart closed by sin and shame.

Lydia knew already that the only way to find peace was to be found in Jehovah God. This is why she was practicing the Jewish faith. But now she received the entire picture, salvation in Christ crucified, and she attended to the things Paul spoke. One more thing needs to be said at this point. This was a work of the Lord! The Lord opened Lydia’s heart, we read. Christ is referred to here as Lord—the one who sits enthroned at God’s right hand and is given the authority to send forth the Spirit. As Lord, Christ controls the salvation of each one of His people. At this point Christ from heaven sent forth His Spirit to work in the heart of Lydia. It is not in the hand of man to open his own heart. He must not accept Jesus first, before Christ will work in him. He cannot exercise his free will, because his will is not free. It is enslaved to sin. He cannot believe on Jesus Christ. Jesus does not sit helplessly by, waiting for people to ask Him into their lives. Christ is Lord. He determines whose heart He will open. Lydia was one of God’s elect chosen unto salvation. It was therefore at this moment that the Lord chose to call her to faith and repentance.

II. A Household Baptism

We then read in verse 15 that Lydia and her household were baptized. When this baptism took place, as well as how and where, is left open in this verse. It does not say that Paul took her to the river, where the women were meeting for prayer, and baptized her there. To say this would be an assumption. The fact that she was baptized with her household implies that she was no longer by the riverside but in her home—unless, of course, those of her household were with her by the river. If the baptism took place in her home, it would have been by other means than in the waters of the river. It may equally be true that she was first baptized by the riverside and later her household was baptized. There simply is nothing conclusive in these verses in this regard. All we read is that she and her household were baptized. This is a clear instance, however, of baptism on a mission field. Baptism is a sign and seal of our having been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ. As such, it is a sign in particular of our being grafted into the body of Christ by means of regeneration. Certainly, when one is converted, then at that moment he or she is regenerated—the new life of Christ is instilled in him. Baptism is a sign of regeneration or conversion—cleansing in the blood of Christ. As such, it is also a sign of incorporation or grafting into the covenant and church of Jesus Christ. It is proper, therefore, when one is brought to faith and repentance, that such a person be baptized.

This is what took place with Lydia. The sign and seal of God’s covenant was placed upon her. Not, mind you, that this sacrament of baptism saved Lydia. Lydia believed and was then baptized. The sacrament of baptism does not save anyone. It is only a sign and seal of the washing away of sin and of incorporation into the covenant of God. It is only a sign and a seal, that is, it signifies that Christ works in the hearts of believers.

But Lydia was not baptized alone. We read that her household was baptized too. The term translated “household” here is actually “house.” Lydia and her house were baptized. Now, the standard argument here centers on who was included in the house of Lydia. Some insist that the Greek here refers to the servants of one’s house, that is, the servants that served the family of a householder. The Greek term carries no such idea. Did the house of a person refer to the servants of that house? Maybe. But we can be sure that if these servants were themselves adults, Paul would never have baptized them unless they themselves, like Lydia, heeded the Word of the gospel. In other words, adult baptism can only follow upon confession of sin and confession of faith in Christ. It is quite an assumption that, since Lydia believed, we can say all the adult servants of her household believed too.

The truth is that these servants had their own “houses.” They were not included in Lydia’s house. The term for “house” here in our text, as in other places in Scripture, is used to denote the family. Lydia and her family were baptized. Neither does this mean that only adult members of her family were baptized together with her. Again, Paul would not baptize an adult unless there was evidence of repentance and faith in them. But it does mean that Lydia and her children were baptized. Small children, toddlers, infants? We cannot be certain. The only explanation we can give to this is that entire households were baptized together with the baptism of that father or mother or both who were baptized.

An entire household could indeed involve any servants who themselves were brought to faith. It would include any adult children who also confessed their faith. But certainly, it also included any small children and infants born into that family. Why would we conclude this? Because such was the way God had always dealt with His church in the Old Testament. The children of believers were circumcised as well as adult converts to the Jewish faith. Romans 4:11 teaches that circumcision was a sign and seal in the Old Testament of the righteousness which is by faith in Jesus Christ. Abraham was commanded to have his own children circumcised, and then they in their generations. Baptism is come in the place of circumcision. The New Testament church is but a continuation of the Old. It was only normal for the children of adult believers to be baptized with their parents. Why? Because baptism is a sign and seal of God’s covenant with his church in the generations of believers. It is a sign and a promise that God gives to believing parents that He will continue to gather His church in the line of continued generations of believers in His church. So also here, Lydia submitted to baptism and had her children baptized with her too.

III. A Thankful Invitation

Having been baptized, Lydia extended to this group of missionaries an invitation: “If ye have judged me faithful to the Lord, come into my house and abide there.” The way Lydia states her invitation makes it seem as if Paul at first refused. This could very well have been the case. Paul was not of a mind to take advantage of anyone for the gospel’s sake. He did not wish to leave the impression that he was hawking the gospel. The gospel was not preached by Paul in order that he might earn favors of people or to gain increase. Unlike so many preachers today who make merchandise of the gospel, Paul was very careful to avoid this. But Lydia insisted: if you have found me to be faithful to the Lord, you will stay at my house. If you have found me to be one who truly believes, then you will stay by me. Paul and his companions probably had not found very good accommodations in the city of Philippi yet. Lydia here reveals her hospitality. She actually constrained these men to stay by her house. Hospitality is one of the Christian virtues that characterizes a believer—the willingness to extend oneself for the comfort of another. Here was a lovely virtue this new believer revealed.

This brings us to a close in our series of broadcasts on women of the Bible. If there is one thing we have learned, it is that we must not overlook the faith of the women of the church. God used them too in a powerful way to establish and preserve the church. May God continue to dwell with the women of His church today in order that they too may have a godly influence on the generations to come. We are grateful for such women of faith.