Missions at Home - Acts 16:13-40
For this week’s study, we will look again at missions in our Jerusalem, and focus on our home. Missions is about spreading the Gospel, whether that be sharing Christ with a non-believer, or by being available with our time and resources to be an active part of the body of Christ. We see this week that Lydia accepts Jesus’ Salvation and hosts the Philippian church.
Division #1: Lydia receives a Mission Message.
13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
Lydia is a great example of a person in the Bible who was hungry for the Word of God, and HAD to share it. Before we get in to the details, let’s first look as some background of who Lydia might have been. Scripture speaks only briefly of her, but we can use history and culture to extrapolate some details.
Her Location: by the river
Her Name: Lydia
Her Occupation: “dealer in purple cloth”
Her faith: Jewish convert, who converted to Christianity
Now, believe it or not, there is a wealth of information in these two little verses, but a lot is also left out or left up to interpretation. We can use clues given in the Bible to point us in one direction or the other, so let’s dig in to see if we can get a good picture of “Lydia”…….
Luke (the author of Acts) starts off telling us that on the Sabbath, we (Paul, Silas, Luke, & Timothy) went to the river where they expected to find a “place of prayer” and they spoke to women gathered there. Now, it is interesting to ponder what is here and not here. It does not specifically say that there was a church here or that this was in fact a church service. Luke just says there were women gathered there. Luke also does not say that there were no men there, it just says Paul’s group started talking to some women there. (Although if there had been men there, Paul would have probably been talking directly to them.) We will not delve into that aspect of this story, but we will look at the location here…… “outside the city gate”. The location of where she was could be indicative of a few things, either:
1) This was just where the Jews of the city met and prayed because they did not have a Synagogue, and history tells us that diaspora Jews (Jews that were scattered from Jerusalem) met by rivers because of all the ceremonial washing that was done.
2) The leaders of Philippi would not let them meet within the walls of the city
3) Their social class (slaves, poor, etc.) prevented them from being inside the city.
In the Lydian region, there was a city called Thyatira, which is located in Asia Minor. This leads us to two options, either:
1) Her name was in fact “Lydia” (N.I.V. …..woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia.)
2) She was a freed slave and she was named by using the region she came from.
The Bible gives us a fact that Thyatira was famous for its textiles and purple dyed cloth. We also know that Macedonian women had more freedom than Greek women, so her being actively employed in her own trade is historically accurate. From this, we again can assume one of either two things about Lydia:
1) She was a commodities trader or a local salesperson for a company based in Thyatira. She could have been the Philippian representative for the main company based in Thyatira, selling purple textiles to resellers in Philippi, or was actually the manager of a Philippian storefront for the Thyatira textile company.
2) She was poor and used what she learned or “was forced to do” in Thyatira and made “knock off” purple clothes here in Philippi with less expensive ways to die fabric purple.
We can assume that she was not born a Jew, but had been converted to Judaism, whether in her home town of Thyatira or during her residence in Philippi we do not know. Scripture does however, clearly state she believed in and worshipped God. We can also say that to this point, her knowledge of God was incomplete, knowing only what she had been taught by the local Jewish people, but she was a worshipper of God. We do not know if she and the other women were there worshiping or praying, scripture is not emphatic about the women’s activities, but if they were there to pray, then Lydia was being observant and keeping the Sabbath day. She was not in town selling purple cloth or arranging deals, she was with a group of women in a place where people gathered to pray.
So in the final part of our verses, we see how beautiful the Holy Spirit is, and her heart was opened to hear Paul’s message. It is in this one part of this passage that we see the working of the Holy Spirit to prepare others to receive His good news. In God’s providence, seeing that Lydia was seeking with a pure heart to worship Him, He sent Paul to speak to Lydia.
Stop for a moment and think about this one sentence, the focal point of this division:
“The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
1) First, we see God preparing her to hear and internalize Paul’s message
- Isn’t it comforting to know that Salvation of people does not IN ANY WAY rely on us? It does not matter how eloquent we are, it does not matter how pretty we are. All that matters is that we obey God’s command and share His good news; God does the preparation for us.
2) Second, we see God’s planning for her response
- Nothing surprises God, and he divinely knew that she would respond to Paul’s message. It was her heart responding, but it was God opening that heart for His Word. It is very important that we remember that there is ALWAYS a response, either up or down; either the person hears the word and repents and is saved, or they turn their back on the message and walk away.
3) Third, we see that God ordained Paul to give her this message.
- God uses us in His own way. How awesome is it that the creator of the universe sees fit to use these broken clay vessels to share the good news of His son to each other. It was no accident that Paul and the boys were there. Look back at verse 9 of this chapter. Paul receives a vision asking him to come there. This visit, on this day, at this time, was ordained by the Holy Spirit, specifically so that Paul could share with Lydia.
So what is it that Paul may have said to these ladies? Acts 13:16-41 gives us his basic sermon outline. It’s a message of who Jesus is, certainly geared towards the average hearers of the day. In your preparation for today’s lesson, you were asked to rewrite this in your own words. Take a moment and share some of your ideas.
Regardless of our location, occupation, or social standing, Jesus wants our complete commitment.
Application Question: When have I seen a “God appointment” for what it was and shared His plan of Salvation? How can I constantly be looking for these on a daily and hourly basis?
Division #2: Missions affect Lydia.
15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
We do not know her social status from what we have been given. Was she single, married or widowed; did she have a big family or small, did she have servants? To these answers and others, again we do not have any answers. We looked in the first division about her occupation and wealth, and this ties in with that question, but let’s focus here on a few scenarios with her marital status, bearing in mind that all of this is very speculative:
1) She was Single: She MAY have been single. We know she was employed so she MAY have been unmarried and a career woman. If this was the case, the “members of her household” could have been servants or employees, and they may have heard the same sermon by Paul. In this scenario, she could have executed complete control (been able to invite people to stay at her house, etc.) since there was no husband in the picture.
2) She was a Widow: It is also possible that she could have been a widow, and she would also in this circumstance have the authority to not only run the house, but to invite people to it as well. If this was the case, she may have, like Aquila and Priscilla, been in business with her husband and upon his passing, took up the business and kept it going.
3) She was married: It is lastly possible that she was married. Like some men today, her husband could have been apathetic to her whole “faith” thing. He may have been home watching the game while she went off with her little “prayer group” down by the water. Or he could have been a real Renaissance man, letting her do her thing as he did his, and was brought to the faith by her after her conversion. This last scenario is not very likely, since Luke records this event as “her” household, “her” home and she said “my house” when she invited them to reside at her home.
The crux of this verse, however, is that her life was so radically changed, and her understanding of the Gospel was so complete, that her example led her entire household to Christ. Whether her entire household is comprised of a husband, children, servants, employees, houseguests, we do not know, but scripture is clear that everyone under her purview in her house came to know Jesus’ Salvation and was baptized. She had been worshipping to the fullness of her understanding, and when that understanding was completed with Paul’s inspired words regarding the knowledge of Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross, her witness was infectious to the people within her sphere of influence. When her heart was opened to the completed story of Old Testament prophesy, she couldn’t help but want to bring those most dear to her, to the same knowledge!
It also is very important to note the last part of this verse, where she begs them to stay at her house. She knew they did not have a place to stay, and was offering all that she had to these men who brought her the message of eternal life. How awesome is it when people use any means they have to further the kingdom of God!! We don’t know if she lived in a mansion on the lake with multiple guest rooms, in a one room shack, or in an office space in her purple textile warehouse; but whatever the case, she had been radically changed by the Gospel of Jesus, and was going to make herself available to help in any way she could.
By opening her home to these four missionaries, she accomplished a lot. She put feet to her Salvation! She was willing to forego her comfort, her schedule, her routine and the routine of her household, all for giving these guys a place to crash while they were in Philippi. And guess what else she and her family got? They had complete access to Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy. Can you imagine sitting around the dinner table and being able to pick the brains of these 4 guys? No wonder this church plant turned out the way it did!!!!!!
Christ’s Salvation brings radical change, no matter the age and stage of the believer.
Application Question: When have I seen radical change in my own life due to the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart, or in the life of someone I have shared Christ with?
Division #3: Lydia demonstrates missions.
40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.
Verse 16-39 in this chapter tell a story of something that happened in Philippi. One morning they were on their way from Lydia’s house to the “place of prayer” when a possessed slave woman began to follow them and shout at them. She then began to follow them and shout at them every day while they traveled. Finally Paul had had enough and cast out the demon from the slave woman. This event caused her owners to swear out a warrant for Paul and Silas. Paul and Silas were then arrested, beaten and thrown in jail without a trial, which was illegal to do to a Roman citizen, which Paul and Silas were. (Keep in mind this is happening in Philippi where Lydia and all the new believers live and work.) While in prison, because of a miraculous earthquake and events that followed, the jailer becomes a believer and, just like Lydia, his entire household believed in Jesus and was baptized. Once word was sent to the powers at be that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, the tune changed and the establishment released them, and they returned to Lydia’s home.
The important thing to see in this is that even during the persecution of Paul and Silas, their beating and imprisonment; the church was thriving. And of all places, its headquarters was at Lydia’s house! The church had moved from praying down by the river, and it was now meeting at the house of Lydia. She has now turned her house from the residence of a business woman and Jewish convert, to a boarding house for 4 missionaries, to finally a home to the church plant in Philippi. She had experienced Jesus love, and while she had “house room” for four guests, she had “heart room” for an entire church.
When Paul and Silas had been freed from prison, they returned to Lydia’s house to meet with the brothers and sisters and encourage them. What a picture of Paul and Silas, that after being beaten and wrongfully imprisoned, the first thing they wanted to do was go to their fellow believers, the body of Christ, and encourage them. One would think it was Paul and Silas who would need encouragement after their ordeal. But think of the story they got to tell. Sharing with this new church and new brothers and sisters about the earthquake in the middle of the night and about the jailer and his entire household coming to faith. I wonder if they brought the jailer along to introduce him to the church there. What an amazing time of fellowship they must have had. No wonder the church at Philippi loved Paul and the others so much!!
Another beautiful aspect of Lydia and this church is that this church went on to be a shining example of a church with a mission’s mindset. From its inception, it cared about missionaries and their care, and for the spread of the Gospel. We see this evidenced later in Paul’s letter to this church (Philippians) where he thanks them for supporting him throughout his ministry. Even in the opening of his letter, Paul thanks this church, and maybe Lydia is included in this group. Philippians 1:3-6 says, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Paul seems to include her as one who has been sharing the Gospel since the first day. Even Revelation 2:18-19 references this church saying “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.”
Believers who are active in the body of Christ are essential for the health and mission of the church.
Application Question: When have I joyfully opened up my wallet, my home, my talents or my schedule to further God’s kingdom or strengthen the church? How can I be more intentional doing this going forward?