|Lydia sat among
the other worshippers of God beside the river Gangites as she had been
doing each week since she arrived. Although she wasn’t Jewish, she was
a God-fearer. She had learned to appreciate the peace and joy of resting
and worshipping God on the Sabbath.
She was a merchant who sold purple dye and dyed goods. She had moved to Philippi from her hometown of Thyatira which was the center of this trade.
As she repeated the customary prayers and psalms, she noticed some men approaching. One of them was a rabbi, she assumed, because of his garments. Since the expulsion order, there were too few Jewish men to build a synagogue in Philippi. She was curious why a rabbi would even be in Philippi and even more, why he would take an interest in a few Jewish and Gentile women worshipping by the river.
He introduced himself as Paul, an emissary of Jesus the Messiah. He asked if he might speak to them.
She listened intently as he talked about Jesus. Paul said Jesus was the Messiah who had come to restore the relationship between all mankind and God through his suffering and death and resurrection. Jesus is the blessing God had sent to people of all nations as well as the Jewish people. He went on to say that the gift of life was available to slave and free; women as well as men; and that God is not a respecter of persons. She looked around at the women on all sides of her, seeing slaves and free women and widows and children all worshipping together. She considered the message this man was giving.
She didn’t know how she knew, but she knew Paul was speaking the truth. She had found what she had been seeking. God had selected her, a woman and a Gentile, to be the first in Philippi to receive the Holy Spirit through belief in Jesus. She and the people of her household asked to be baptized.
She was eager to hear more of Paul’s teaching. But he and his companions were reluctant to accept her invitation to stay at her home. She assumed that their reluctance came from her being a Gentile and a woman, so she gently reminded them of Paul’s own teaching of equality before God: “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” The knowledge and understanding she received from Paul’s teaching would prepare her to give an answer for the hope that she had gained through Christ. Her business gave her opportunities to discuss her faith in Jesus as she came into contact with people from all over the world.
Once Paul agreed, Lydia’s home became his headquarters while he stayed in Philippi. They continued to meet with the women on the river bank each Sabbath. As Paul continued to preach and teach, a small congregation of believers began to build up. On one of his trips to the river bank, he released a slave woman from demon influence. The owner was incensed and stirred up a mob which caused Paul and Silas to be beaten and thrown in prison. As soon as they were released, they returned to Lydia’s home where the other believers had gathered.
Paul encouraged them before he continued his missionary journey. The letter that Paul later wrote to the church in Philippi reveals a faithful church still meeting together. The role of Euodia and Synteche as co-laborers with Paul imply that women still had a significant role in a church that began around a Gentile woman who worshipped the Lord God of Israel.
References: Acts 16:13-40; Reader’s Digest The Bible Through the Ages; Zondervan Handbook of the Bible; Zondervan NIV Study Bible study notes; Illustrated Dictionary and Concordance of the Bible; All the Women of the Bible by Edith Deen; The Jewish New Testament Commentary by David H. Stern