Lydia — The Woman With the Open Heart

And a certain woman named Lydia... heard us; whose heart the Lord opened (Acts 16:14).

   The contrast between vision and reality is great. Nowhere is this brought out more clearly than between Paul's vision of the man of Macedonia and Paul's first convert in Europe, the woman Lydia. Great expectations sometimes eventuate in little experiences.

   Paul's Macedonia call is familiar to every Christian (Acts 16:9, 10). A dramatic and moving challenge was given to Paul and his team in the appearance of the man of Macedonia to him in a vision saying, "Come over and help us." Innumerable similar visions have been received by God's people challenging them to undertake spiritual activity on behalf of needy people. This has been the motive of many missionary calls. Paul and Luke, with Timothy and Silas, had intended to go into Bithynia, but were forbidden to do so by the Spirit. Thus, being deflected from their objective, they waited at Troas for further guidance. Tradition tells us that Luke was so impressed with Bithynia that he later made it his home and died there. Bithynia is a place of strikingly beautiful mountains and fertile valleys. In this interim of waiting, the apostolic party may have been assailed with doubts as to their guidance. Certainly they had no intention before this time of entering Europe. Thus the man of Macedonia was Europe's first great call to the Christians to come and evangelize them. How strange it is

Page 232

that Europe is such a great mission field today and the call is being repeated to the Christian Church.

   The mission to Europe was immediately undertaken by Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke. They made their decision to go into Europe "assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us." One wonders as they crossed the Hellespont, that narrow neck of water connecting the Aegean with the Black Sea and so filled with historic associations, what dreams they had of conquest, of greatness, and of achievement. If their dreams were great, their disillusionment was corresponding when they arrived at Philippi, a Roman colony which out-Romanized the inhabitants of Rome in dress, in manner of life, in class distinctions, in military cliques and in manners. The evangelistic team found that no one was waiting for their help and no synagogue existed where they could even make contact with the Jews. Nevertheless, Luke says, "we were in that city abiding certain days." Where they stayed and what they did, we do not know, but they no doubt surveyed the situation, made inquiries, and attempted to determine where they would first preach the Gospel.

   The first meeting attended by and addressed by the apostles was held along the shores of the river which flowed through Philippi into the Aegean. Here was a legal meeting place for Jews and God-fearers, set apart by the authorities of the Roman colony of Philippi. It was not a place of preaching but a place of prayer and worship assigned to the Jews. They apparently had no building but only a grove. It is one more illustration of the fact that believers in God do not need a temple in which to pray. They may meet for prayer in the open places or a barn or a home, as well as in a temple. One almost senses the loneliness of the missionaries as they opened up their work in a new city on a new continent with no friends and no contacts and had only this opening in the place of prayer by the river. They had the additional limitation of being able to speak only to a few women who sat by the riverside making their prayers. We who know St. Paul are sure, however, that in his conversation with these women, Paul made as

Page 233

effective a homily as he ever preached and he was to bear fruit in the conversation of an important woman "whose heart God opened." This was the turning point in the evangelization of a continent. Little do we know whence the fruit of our ministry will come.

THE CASE OF AN OPENED HEART

   The woman whose heart God opened was named Lydia and came from Thyatira which was a city in the province of Lydia of Asia Minor. She was a business woman engaged in merchandising dye for which Thyatira was famous. She is described as "a seller of purple." Purple was a name for a dye which was made from shellfish. The fluid from them was first placed on wool, which turned it blue. Then it was exposed to the sunlight, which turned it green, and finally purple. And when it was washed in water it became a brilliant crimson. This was very widely desired and brought a high price. It was used by the kings and by the wealthy class. Sometimes decrees were passed by kings that no one in a realm might use this but royalty. Lydia's traffic in purple was either the export-import business, or she was the representative of it in Europe. She represents that large segment of women who have taken an interest in business across the years. Modern women have no monopoly on business acumen. Lydia also is a representative of those professional and businesswomen's groups throughout the world today who are interested in Christian activity.

   Lydia was a religious woman, for it is said that she "worshipped God." She was a Gentile but had come to unite herself with the Jews through the steps ordinarily taken by converts to Judaism. First, she had become a hearer of the Word, then a God-fearer, and then finally a proselyte. She was like so many of those noble women in the book of Acts who attached themselves to the synagogues and were worshipers of the true God. They were disgusted and disillusioned with the evils of polytheism and heathenism and had turned to Judaism as the one answer. Lydia gathered regularly with others at the river to worship God and to pray. The most

Page 234

religious people I have ever known have been women, and this religious quality is not incompatible with business acumen and keenness.

   Lydia was probably a wealthy woman. This is implied from the nature of her business, from the fact that she possessed a house and had a household. Tradition says that she was a widow with children. How she lost her husband, we have no knowledge, but the fact that she was engaged in this particular business implied that she was wealthy.

   Lydia's interest in the Gospel was aroused. "She attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul" (Acts 16:14b). We have sufficient examples of the content of Paul's preaching given to us in the book of Acts to know the things about which he was talking at this place of prayer. We need only refer to Acts 13 and to Paul's sermon in the synagogue at Pisidia in Antioch to know his approach to the Jews. Usually he gave a Scriptural exposition of the history of the Old Testament people, culminating in the coming of, the crucifixion of, and the resurrection of Christ, whom he identified with Jesus of Nazareth. A summary of Paul's message is given to us in I Corinthians 15:1-3 where he makes the death and resurrection the ground of the salvation of one's soul. The intensity, fervency, and charity of Paul in such witnessing is well attested throughout the book of Acts and this would be no exception to his practice. He had no cathedral and no great crowd, but the same intensity and fervency would be manifested in his dealing with these few women. The unction of God was upon him.

   As a result, Lydia's heart was convicted. She believed, assented to these truths, and closed with them by faith. Evidently before this time her heart had been closed to Christ even though she was seeking the solace of the true religion. How many times this condition is repeated. Sincere, honest, seeking people, following various religions, sometimes have strong prejudices against Christ and what is actually the truth; but as she listened to Paul, she found her heart opened and drinking in the facts and truths as a thirsty plant drinks in

Page 235

water. There was no more resistance within her. Her heart naturally opened to the truth.

   Lydia immediately became a convert of the Christian faith. She believed the truth, committed herself to Christ, and trusted the promise of God for salvation. The change in her came immediately as she listened. How wonderful is a Gospel which will accomplish this. I have often known people to be converted as they sit in their pews listening to the truth as I have expounded the Scripture on Sunday mornings and evenings. Lydia found what she had sought. Her heart was at rest. Her longings were satisfied. She knew the peace of God which passeth all understanding.

   The sincerity of Lydia's intention was immediately manifested, because she submitted to the rite of Christian baptism. There is an interval implied between the time of her embracing the truth as presented by Paul in this Jewish place of prayer and her baptism for it was when she was baptized that she appealed to her proof of faithfulness. This could not have happened in a moment's time. It is never wise to baptize a person immediately upon his profession of faith. The missionary practice of making an interval between the two would be wise for the homeland as well. Yet it was inevitable that Lydia should make her confession known. Once she had accepted Christ, she needed to confess Him openly as Lord to be saved (Romans 10:9, 10). By the time that she was baptized, she was judged faithful by the demonstration of her new life.

   THE CONDITIONS OF AN OPEN HEART

   This story of Lydia reveals to us that there are several conditions which are prerequisites of an opened heart. One is the preaching of the Gospel; another is the prevenient grace of God; and another is the personal good will of the recipient.

   It is indispensable that the Gospel shall be preached if men's hearts are to be opened for the gift of salvation, for "it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those that believe" and "faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." If hearts are to be opened, it must be because

Page 236

they have heard the Word of truth. It is "by the knowledge of him my righteous servant shall justify many." Thus, we may declare the Gospel to be indispensable. But it must also be intelligible. The presentation of the Gospel must constitute the knowledge of the way of salvation. It must present the fact of the lost state of man, the active and passive obedience of Christ in making an atonement, the necessity of repentance and faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the transformation of human character. Paul was expert in making this Gospel plain. His presentation of the truth was undeniable. It must either be accepted or rejected, but whether accepted or rejected, it still stood as the truth having been vindicated through the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, those who heard were left without excuse and facing the imminent judgment, the assurance of which is that God hath raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

   The second prerequisite of an opened heart was the prevenient grace of God. There is a divine agency in softening and opening a person's heart. Some hold the view that God regenerates the heart before the exercise of faith on the part of the individual. This is called irresistible grace and is grounded in the elective purposes of God. This theology is debatable and it is rejected by many. It is undebatable, however, that God's grace must attend the preaching of the Word and enable an impotent and spiritually dead sinner to repent and believe. This is called prevenient grace and it goes before any activity on the part of the believer and without it a man cannot be saved. For this reason, all Christians agree that we are saved by God's grace through faith. Lydia's heart was visited by the grace of God so that it was opened to the truth. This is what happens to an individual who upon hearing the presentation of the Gospel finds that without any acts of his own will he believes and is ready to respond affirmatively to an invitation to accept Jesus Christ.

   The third condition essential to an open heart is the good will of the recipient. This is the activity of the human agency. The fact that Lydia is described as one who worshipped God

Page 237

reveals that she was possessed of a good will, that she sought the face of God. It is necessary for the will of the individual to go into action. This is emphasized again and again in Scripture.We are told that whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, that whosoever will do the will of God shall know, and we are asked, "Why will ye die?" Never is the will of man violated in the matter of salvation. Man is permitted to exercise his moral agency. Holman Hunt's picture of Christ standing at the door and knocking, on which door there is no handle, is accurate. Christ may remove the vines, the hindrances, the bars of prejudices, of ignorance, and of irresolution, but the latch to the door is on the inside. The key to this matter of salvation is the will of man. On the other hand, no man who ever sought the will of God with his whole heart was denied. The promise is that if we will seek we will find, if we will call God will answer; thus, He answered the need of Lydia's heart because she was possessed of a good will.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF AN OPENED HEART

   When Lydia's heart was opened, she manifested friendliness to the apostles and also to the Christian message. God opened her heart to the truth and she opened her home to the messengers of the truth. Lydia stands in the New Testament in the position which is occupied by the Shunammite woman in the Old Testament (II Kings 4:10), who prepared a prophet's chamber for Elisha and Gehazi. The principle of hospitality is enunciated in III John 5-8. John was writing to the beloved Gaius, the elder in the church, who had opened his home to the preachers of the Gospel who were strangers to him but not to the Church of Jesus Christ. This action received the commendation of John the beloved and resulted in the praise of Gaius before the church. John declared that this is the duty of Christians and that by the exercise of this duty we are fellow helpers in the dissemination of the truth. No one has kept a prophet's chamber occupied with the messengers of God without receiving a blessing for himself and his family. Often such has resulted in the conversion of the children of the

Page 238

family or in their call to the mission field or to Christian service of some other sort. Hospitality to Christian strangers was enjoined upon the New Testament Church with the reminder that thereby some have entertained angels unaware (Hebrews 13:2).

   Lydia not only offered her hospitality but she pressed it on the apostles. "She besought us... come into my house and abide." How sincere is your offer of hospitality to Christian people? Do you say, "Sometime come and see me," and the very indefiniteness of it negates the invitation. Or do you say, "Wouldn't you like to stay at my home" and the negative statement of the question implies a negative answer. Not so with Lydia. She had a sincere, heartfelt desire for the apostles to come into her home. She actually created a home for these worthy, weary, worn servants of the Lord who had little in the form of a home while they were doing the peripatetic work of the ministry. Lydia was an illustration of the word of Jesus, "He that receiveth you receiveth me."

   Lydia's opened heart developed faithfulness. This is implicitly expressed in the text, "If you have judged me to be faithful." As we have said, a lapse of time is necessary for the fulfillment of this text. Faithfulness grows out of faith. In the Old Testament the word "faith" means faithfulness. We cannot divorce the two. Faith produces works. Lydia wholly identified herself with the apostles and the Christian faith when she was converted.

   Faithfulness is explicitly stated in the reference that the apostles abode in her home for a considerable length of time. This is inferred from the description of the bewitched girl's activities, "this she did many days" (v. 18). As the apostles went from Lydia's house to the place of prayer and back again, they were followed by this bewitched girl, calling out that they were servants of the Most High God. Here we see that there was no question about Lydia's identification with the apostles and with the Christians. As soon as she was converted, she took her stand openly. There is also the tacit expression of her faithfulness in that she shared the calumny of their persecution.

Page 239

When Paul healed the girl of her spirit of divination, those deprived of their gain seized him, falsely accused him before the magistrates, and beat him. As a result, he was put in prison. The only person available to minster to Paul and Silas in prison was Lydia, and we may well imagine how that she came into this foul place bringing them food and other items of personal comfort. It is only of recent date that prisons have become even remotely respectable. Even as late as one hundred years ago prisoners were manacled, were subject to disease, exposure to cold and sickness and corruption, and were in a despicable plight. Lydia's identification with the disciples certainly must have meant some ostracism for her from the community. This would have an effect upon her business and her social standing, but Lydia was unafraid and was faithful.

   Lydia's opened heart resulted in fruitfulness. We read that she was not only baptized, but also her household (v.15). This is one of several household baptisms record in the book of Acts (cf. 16:31). Whether these were servants of Lydia or children, we do not know, but the implication is that they were children. Here is household baptism which has to be explained by those who expound the Scripture and hold only to believer's baptism. Moreover, Lydia had a church in her house (v.40). When the disciples were released from prison, they visited with "the brethren" in Lydia's house. This became the meeting place of the church. Thus many churches have begun and thus, also, Christian work should be pursued even in our own day. What a contrast for Paul and Silas between the foul prison and the commodious and comfortable house of Lydia (vs. 35-40). Lydia's opened heart resulted in a true fruitfulness of the Gospel.

   Here was the beginning of the church at Philippi and in Europe, a spiritual church which helped Paul in his missionary endeavors and became partakers of his grace. Lydia's stamp was on the church, although in the epistle to the Philippians Paul does not mention her. Here is evidence of what an opened heart can do in the service of Jesus Christ.

Table of Contents