Acts 16: 11 – 15 Lydia’s conversion in Philippi
From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
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. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptised, 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.
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Unlike the attempts by Paul and his party to enter Asia and Bithynia, where the Holy Spirit prevented them, the journey to Macedonia went very smoothly. They travelled a day’s sailing to the island of Samothrace, another day on the water to Neapolis, and then overland to Philippi.
The city of Philippi was a Roman colony. Many legionaries, veterans, had settled there, and it was run by a duumvirate (rule by two men) who were directly appointed by Rome. It was rich and important because there were gold mines in its territory, and because it was located on an important trade route, the Via Egnatia.
This meant firstly it was very pagan, and secondly there were many wealthy and powerful interests which would not want anybody to rock the boat. We’re given a measure of how pagan the city was by the implication in our passage that there was no synagogue. To meet the few people who believed in God, Paul and his team had to go outside the city gate to the river “to find a place of prayer”. It takes a minimum of ten men to legally start a synagogue; the absence of a synagogue in the city suggests that there were fewer than ten Jewish worshippers.
As usual, Paul seeks out those who believe in God to be the first to hear the good news of Jesus. He found out where they were likely to meet, and on the Sabbath, he went to their meeting place outside the city gates. The people who had gathered there were women, among them Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. Purple cloth was highly prized, and very expensive; Lydia would have been a wealthy and influential person. Luke reports that she was a worshipper of God and that “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
The first thing that Lydia did after she and her household were baptised was to invite Paul and his companions to her home. This was a very strong public statement that she was a follower of Jesus. The values of the Christians were very different from the pragmatic ethics of the Romans, and her support of the new faith could have cost her business, reputation and more. But she didn’t hesitate; she more or less coerced Paul into basing his ministry around her house.
And with that, the first church in Europe was planted. Despite the hostile environment, and despite the lack of a Jewish contingent as a starting point, the church thrived; so much so that in his letter to the church at Philippi many years later, Paul wrote “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.” (Philippians 1: 3 – 6).
Thank you for the direction and encouragement that you give us through your Holy Spirit. May our lives be fruitful in your service.
In Jesus name, Amen