All throughout the Bible women have played a major role in sustaining and expanding the kingdom of God. From Genesis to current day, God uses and affirms all kinds of people, from all walks of life, in a mighty way. One influential woman in the life of the early church was Lydia, “from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God” (Acts 16:14). God used her and her gifting to establish, support, and sustain the local church and the evangelistic efforts of the Apostle Paul and his band of missionaries. Who was this woman, and how can her story influence us to continue the work of expanding the kingdom of God?
Lydia was a dealer (aka fashion icon) of purple cloth and a successful business woman. Think of her as the “CEO” of a fashion empire. She was likely wealthy and of Asian ethnicity (Thyatira is located in Asia minor, modern day Turkey). Historically, Lydia’s hometown of Thyatira was famous for its trade guilds. The purple cloth manufactured in the city was dyed with either sea slugs or madder root. Purple was a costly fabric, reserved for the very rich and royalty. Because Lydia sold purple cloth, her client base would have been the rich and famous. She was intelligent, wealthy, and well-traveled. She also has the distinct privilege of being the first Christian convert in Europe. But before she knew the truth of Jesus, Lydia had already rejected the idea of polytheistic worship. Because Acts describes her as a “worshiper of God,” we know she believed that the one, true God was the One worshipped by the Jews. Lydia was not Jewish, but we can be certain that throughout her life, spiritual truths about the one true God had been planted and cultivated so she was ready to receive the truth about Jesus when Paul met her at the river outside of Philippi.
And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. (Acts 16:13-15)
Lydia’s life displays the persistent, strategic, impartial love of God. Paul’s obedience to God brought him to the thriving Roman city of Philippi in the land of Macedonia. God led Paul and his companions to the river outside the city where they encountered women praying. God orchestrated the meeting between Paul and Lydia. God opened Lydia’s heart, making her the first Christian convert on European soil while using her power and position to save others in her household. God prepared Lydia for leadership in the Church. Lydia was not the Macedonian man from Paul’s dream, but gender, ethnicity, and status did not stop Paul from sharing the Gospel and partnering with others to expand God’s kingdom.
Lydia, the wealthy, Asian, fashion guru shows us that God uses all kinds of people to reflect his character and his kingdom. Lydia had smarts, money, and influence. She is not the “typical” woman we encounter in Scripture. But God often uses the atypical to bring glory to his name. Lydia loved God and used her gifting, talents, and resource to spread the good news of Jesus. Because of her obedience, the Church flourished. We are commanded to do the same. However God has gifted and equipped you, use it for His glory and the spreading of joy that comes only from the Holy Spirit.