Early in Paul’s second missionary journey, he had a vision, “A certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, Come over to Macedonia and help us (Acts 16:9).
Clearly, God wanted Paul to push the gospel message across the Aegean, into European lands such as Macedonia and Greece. Paul and Silas immediately went. Soon, they made the first convert.
On the Sabbath day, we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she had her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay” (Acts 16:13–15).
If I were Paul, I would be looking to preach first to a Macedonian man, but it turns out that God led him to preach to an Asian woman! Eventually, Paul would speak to soldiers and government officials and Gentile idolaters in Philippi and beyond. But Paul’s first audience was a little prayer meeting of Jewish women.
God presents us all kinds of vital opportunities; we just need to get better at recognizing them. Keep your eyes open and your Bible with you! Take out your earbuds, and pay attention to the needs of people next to you! We don’t need to book a concert hall to preach the gospel; we can start with the grocery store clerk or our neighbor.
I also learn from Lydia that God rewards diligent faith. God’s grace is often found by those looking for it. Lydia was “a worshiper of God,” a term for a Jewish proselyte or a Gentile who attends synagogue (Acts 10:2, 13:43, 17:4).
Lydia was a porphyropolis, a fabric seller traveling on business, whose main home was in Thyatira, famous for purple murex dye. It’s not hard to imagine impediments to her worship. She could have focused on her business. Time is money, and surely the markets were open. Also, it was probably disheartening that there was no real synagogue in town. Why bother at all?
What great faith Lydia showed in unfavorable circumstances, to take the time observe the Sabbath, and join herself with whatever little group was meeting to pray and read. Those who make time for worship often find they receive a greater blessing than they expected! Because she came, she heard the gospel. This was not a chance encounter. God heard her prayers, as clearly as he heard Cornelius praying devoutly and saw the Ethiopian reading his scroll, and sent the messenger.
God opened her heart to respond to the gospel. Now, Calvinism misunderstands the role of man in God’s plan of salvation. Being saved is not a passive process. When the word, “the power of God for salvation,” enters a person’s mind, he doesn’t wait to see what God will do next; instead, he leaps at the opportunity to be saved!
But we go too far if we believe that God is absent from this process. The word prosecho may be translated “give heed, turn one’s mind to” Vine’s (Give, #16; Attend, #1). It may be that God opened her heart to listen, which is less forceful an idea than grabbing her by the neck and compelling her to be saved. The New Testament does not teach that God overrides the human conscience.
In any case, let’s recognize God’s work in opening hearts. Let’s pray that God will “open doors” for the gospel (Colossians 4:3). God will often bring together a seeker and a preacher, if both are diligent. Let’s pray that God will grant wisdom (James 1:5). Let’s pray for God to touch the hearts of individual people with whom we are studying (Romans 10:1). We must plant and water, but God gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6). When someone is particularly closed-minded to the gospel, let’s pray that God will send the kind of circumstances that will cause them to focus on spiritual things.
When Lydia stands before God, she will not smugly pat herself on the back and remember how she achieved salvation, but will collapse in unending thanksgiving that God secured, recorded, and communicated salvation to her (see Philippians 1:3–6)!
There’s one more thing I learn from Lydia. She immediately put her new-found faith in Jesus to work. She brought the evangelists to her home to speak to her “household” and they were converted to Christ. She opened her home to the evangelists to use it as a base of operations. Apparently, her home soon became the meeting place for the church, for it is there that Paul and Silas returned after their arrest, where they “saw the brethren … encouraged them and departed” (Acts 16:40).
When Paul writes his letter to the Philippian church, maybe 8–10 years later, it’s addressed to a very active and faithful congregation. Surely, Lydia’s instant and ongoing work had a big hand in the success of the gospel in Philippi. –John Guzzetta