A Heart Like Lydia

From riches of purple to riches of the gospel

Who was Lydia anyway, and what was so special about this woman? What can we learn from Lydia? (Acts 16:13-15)

But let’s start at the beginning: Paul was on his second mission journey. The route of the journey was planned differently at the beginning; however, led by God, he traveled to Macedonia (now Europe) to the city of Philippi. 

According to habit, he approached the Jewish Christians first. Because Philippi was a Roman colony, Paul could not find a synagogue, but a place of prayer outside of the city by the river. At this special place, he encountered a group of believing women and struck up a conversation with them. One of these women was Lydia.

Who was Lydia? 

Lydia was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira in the province of Asia. Thyatira was a trading and industrial city that was known for its purple dye factories. The purple color was gathered from so-called “purple snails” from the Mediterranean Sea. Some Internet sources say that to gather one gram of purple, multiple thousands of snails were needed. Therefore, purple was one of the most valuable privileges and was mostly used for kings and royalty in the Old Testament. This lets us assume that Lydia was a rich or at least well-to-do woman. 

The riches didn’t make her happy, though. She longed for more. Riches may provide us comfort and ease in life, but they are only short-term joys that vanish quickly. The heart remains sad and empty if Jesus and His peace are missing. You can’t buy this peace for your heart with the riches of this world.

Lydia was a Gentile. She needed a lot of courage to belong to a group of Jews, because the Jews were very looked down upon by the Romans. But she did not mind that. She found what idol worship could not give her: she found the living God and peace with Jesus. Are you also determined to follow Jesus courageously, no matter what may come? 

Which characteristics particularly distinguished Lydia? 

1. She feared God

What does it mean to fear God? Does it mean that we have to live in constant fear of God, with the expectation of being punished? No. If we have experienced peace and reconciliation with God, we do not need to be afraid. You have the privilege of having a loving Father in heaven. But remember that you are not dealing with a pal or a buddy, but with the living God, the King of kings. Remember that it is His unending love and grace that gave everything for you, so that you can have access to Him. Do not abuse this love and grace by gambling with sin. Fearing God means preserving childlike respect (dignity, honor) in love towards God and Jesus. He is worthy to be honored by our life!

2. She listened attentively

It says that she listened and paid attention to what Paul said. Yes, attentive listening needs to be learned. How do you manage to be an effective listener if you’re present at a worship service but afterward have no idea what the sermon was about?

–  Pray before the service and ask God to speak to you. Pray for the pastor or youth leader through whom God will be speaking.

– Attend the service/youth session with an expectation of receiving a personal message. 

–  When you are there, quiet your heart and thoughts,  and tune into God speaking. It has often surprised me how precisely God speaks to us. Sometimes it felt like the speaker knew exactly what my situation was, and that the message was geared directly at me. It is not the speaker, but God who knows exactly what preoccupies and moves us. Often, the speaker gives such clear and accurate answers that we can only thank God. We need to attentively listen for that. It seems obvious, and yet it is still a fight not to get distracted in your mind. 

–  Ask yourself what you can take with you and learn. Think about the impact it can have on your life and how you can apply it to your daily life. 

–   Talk about it with a good friend. Share what you found interesting, what became important, and what you have learned. That helps strengthen what you have heard and can, at the same time, also create interesting, blessed conversations. 

3. God opened her heart

There are two sides to true repentance. First, there is the human side. We saw Lydia’s fear of God and her interest and longing. This, however, wasn’t enough. On the other side, God began His work and opened her heart. Now the spoken word, which she attentively listened to, was manifesting itself in her heart through the Holy Spirit. Suddenly, she understood and claimed the message of the crucified and resurrected Jesus in faith for herself. She demonstrated this by being baptized, and by her words to the apostles: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay” (Acts 16:15). It wasn’t a fleeting emotional high, but a visible work of God within her heart. She wasn’t just content with what she had received, but immediately began a new life of service. She invited Paul and Silas to her home and took care of them. She opened her house for further gatherings. The circle became broader. After Paul and Silas were released from prison in Philippi, they went to her house again and also met Christian brothers and sisters there. From the letter to the Philippians, we read that a church (the first church in Europe) existed there. Yes, when God works, it will have an effect. 

Has God been able to open your heart like Lydia’s and make the message come alive in you? 

In a fitting song, we sing: 

O give us an open heart and ear like Lydia; 
Come through the closed door and be here among us.

Dina Grötzinger
Eppingen, Germany

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