Our first point is titled: “Re-Routed”. Before we see Lydia’s conversion we have to see once again how God was at work before it even happened. It happened when God re-routed Paul and his company West instead of East. Let’s look at Acts 16 verses 6-11.
Paul wanted to head East – in the opposite direction of where Lydia was. His plans were to go one way but God’s plans were for him to go the other.
How many times have we seen this? Philip had plans to stay in Samaria but he was re-routed south to the desert road near Gaza. Saul had plans to persecute Christians in Damascus but God re-routed his life to preach Christ. The early Jewish Christians had plans to stay in Jerusalem but through persecution God re-routed them – He scattered them away from Jerusalem and thus the Gospel went outward around the world.
Here we can see the direct superintendence of the Holy Spirit as He guided the Apostle and his band of missionaries according to His own plans. Verse 6 says the Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching in Asia and verse 7 also credits the Spirit with preventing them from entering certain lands. Paul wanted to go East, but, was re-routed to go West. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 that He would build His Church.
When it comes to the work of the Great Commission – evangelizing and discipleship – there is a certain synergistic relationship that goes on between God and Christians. Paul was leading but he was leading under the permission and direction of Jesus Christ. As he went along ambitiously preaching the cross of Christ to any and all Gentiles he encountered he was both free to make many decisions of his own and he was in fact leading a group of men who were travelling with him. But we can see here that the scope of Paul’s freedom had boundaries set by God. As he reached the border of Asia he reached the borders of his freedom and so God intervened to keep him going in the direction he wanted. Somehow God prevented them from going East.
It seems circumstantially they were prevented rather than being told in a vision or dream. Of course, then a vision was given to Paul and they deduce that West was God’s will. I like that in verse 10, “concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them [west in Macedonia].” It indicates that they had to think through their situation together. They couldn’t go East and they figured that the Holy Spirit was behind whatever roadblock had come up for that. Then the vision of a man begging them seemed to be from God so they added it all up and figured God was re-routing them West.
Application: We must be flexible enough to respond to God’s will. Paul could have said things like “Lord you told us to take the Gospel to the world, I’m trying to go to Asia, why won’t you let us go? Don’t you want them saved too?” But he didn’t. He humbly submitted to God’s will when it was opposite of his own. What a clear model of Jesus’ words, “Whoever would follow Me must deny himself, take up his cross and then follow me.”
What if the direction God wants you to go is not what you have wanted? Our will is not always God’s. Our emotions and ambitions actually may not be pointing us in the direction God is pointing. So, when our wants and God’s will come face to face the question is this: will I submit to God and sacrifice my own intentions, or, will I sacrifice God and go my own way? The real test of whether I am following God is not when it’s convenient and I like it – it’s when it’s hard on me – when it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient and comes at a personal cost. If I follow Him at those times, I’m truly following Him.
#2: A ROME AWAY FROM ROME (v12)
Philippi was like a “Rome away from Rome”. And for Paul, whose greatest ambition was to go to Rome and preach, arriving in Philippi was a special foretaste indeed. Notice how Luke, the author of Acts, describes Philippi in verse 12, “From there we travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia.”
If you were a Roman citizen who for whatever reason couldn’t live in Rome then you would want to live in Philippi. It was a Rome away from Rome. Roman colonies were like a piece of Rome transplanted. Colonies boasted privileges such as lower tax rates, the right to own land, Roman legal procedures and the right to self-government (MacArthur p91). “At strategic points on the map [Roman settlements were founded], where Roman citizens set up outposts for the Empire. Such colonies promoted the Roman way of life, gave Rome loyal bases abroad, provided secure locations for military, and enabled Rome to hold down the outlying areas. [Colonies] were transplants of Rome, patriotic and proud ambassadors of a way of life.” (Phillips, 321).
What can we draw from this? Well, the same thing Paul did. Paul looked at the Roman colony, with its Roman ways and privileges, setup throughout the world of the Roman Empire, and, he made it into an illustration for who Christians are in this world: heavenly colonies. We are little transplants of the heavenly empire established here on earth to promote the ways of heaven, to live by the laws of heaven, and provide bases from which heaven can advance. All of that was alluded to in Paul’s letter written later on to the Church that grew in Philippi when he told these privileged citizens: “For we are citizens of heaven” (Php 3:20).
Another application comes to mind: Someone may have the best this world has to offer yet before God have nothing to offer. Phillipi, though grand in the world, was utterly bankrupt, condemned, and corrupt in the eyes of God. They needed the wealth, the liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Never lose sight of the one need the rich have: salvation in Jesus Christ.
#3: REACHED EVEN AT THE RIVER (v13)
Our third act in this play is titled: reached even at the river. Notice verse 13, “…”
What’s going on here? Well, if you’ve read Acts you know Paul’s habit is to start out in a new city by going to the local Jewish synagogue to preach the Gospel. Usually he is thrown out, chased out, stoned out or otherwise rejected. However, in order for a synagogue to be setup Jewish law required at least 10 Jewish males to be present in the city. Typically, if there were not, then those few worshippers would gather outside the city each Sabbath day to pray. This is related to us by the words “we expected to find a place of prayer”.
So what we have here is a group of all women praying. No male leadership, just faithful God-fearing female worshippers observing the Sabbath and waiting on the LORD in prayer. They probably prayed for many of the same things we pray for: good health or recovery when one of them is sick; provision of food, clothes, housing, employment; wayward children, proselytizing their pagan Greek neighbors to the ways of Jehovah; since they were all women there may have been some widows in need, or younger women who were praying for husbands. Certainly they were praying for 10 Jewish men to come to Phillippi so a a synagogue could be built and they could worship indoors.
Well, God did send a group of men, and they were godly men, but certainly not what the women expected that typical Sabbath day prayer meeting. These men came to inform them about God’s Son, Jesus Christ. And they didn’t come so a synagogue could be built, they came to start a new thing called a church.
How often does God work through prayer? Think of how often this happens: Cornelious and Peter were both praying when God went to work; Saul was blind and spent 3 days praying when God sent Ananias to him; Paul and Barnabus were praying with the whole church in Acts 13 when the Holy Spirit spoke and sent them off on their missions; Daniel’s whole life was one of prayer and God responding to his prayers. Now, this little band of women down by the river discovers that Yes, God is hearing them pray and He is answering them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What did that Ladies Prayer Group turn into? Well, you can read Acts 16 and the letter to the Philippians to find out. But it’s worth mentioning briefly that a vital local church sprung up, with mature elders and deacons in leadership, a prayer-saturated congregation that was full of joy amidst difficult persecution, and believers who were eager to show generosity in any way possible.
Application: The Gospel teaches us that God loves everyone and we are too as well. How do I get that application? This scene brings up something very important: God loves women too. You are thinking, “Duh”. No, not “duh”, not back then. Women, as far as Jews were concerned, were inferior to men, unable to testify in court, unable to own property, and basically considered property. Jewish rabbis had a saying: “Better to burn the Law than teach it to a woman.” If you had a choice to be a woman or a man back then – be a man. If anyone understood this misogyny it was Paul. He was formerly a Pharisee and no doubt would have looked down on women. Yet, when he arrives down at the river and finds only a group of women he doesn’t keep going and leave the city. He sits down and tells them the Gospel with as much zeal and hope for their repentance as if he were speaking to the Sanhedrin. So the Gospel reached them, reached women even down at the river.
LYDIA RECEIVES CHRIST (14-15)
Finally, we make it to Lydia, the woman whose story we are telling. In verses 14-15 we see how Lydia Receives Christ. Read “…”
Lydia was an entrepreneur from Thyatira. Her business was exactly what you would expect someone from Thyatira to sell: something purple. The people of Thyatira were famous for their ability to make and use purple dye. Lydia was spreading that famous reputation all the way to Phillipi with her purple cloth business. Apparently she was a good businesswoman in that she had a home with many people and still she was able to house Paul and his companions.
But she was also, it says, “a worshiper of God”. This implies she may have been a Gentile as this term is typically used for Gentiles who worship the God of Israel (Cornelius in Acts 10:2). She was a woman who did not worship the pagan idols that surrounded her in Philippi. She was devoted to gathering with other worshipers of God every week and to pray. But notice also that she paid attention to the preaching of God’s word, verse 14 says, “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia…” She was listening to God’s word. What a great picture of a devout woman. Boy a single guy with his act together would be wise to start showing up for prayer meeting every week.
Then it says that the Lord opened her heart to receive Paul’s message. She was worshipping God, seeking Him, John 6 says God was drawing her, John 16 says the Holy Spirit was convicting her –God’s fingerprints are all over this story. First He works by heading Paul in her direction and then He works in her heart. He gets the message to her then gets it in her.
See how she behaves after her salvation: she gets baptized, following the command of Jesus and the pattern of all new converts. Then she wants to do for the missionaries what she can so she not only offers them a place to stay, but, apparently they were hesitant and she did all she could to finally persuade them to lodge at her home.
Lydia’s story is actually another one of God’s stories. It’s a story of God’s love for lost mankind – even the lowest and least of us. He sent His Son to die for the sins of the world. Then He sent His Apostles to go to the world and preach His Son’s Name. Even today, His love for lost people is still as fervent as ever and still He uses those who belong to Him to reach more so that more may belong to Him.