sermon: Learning From Lydia (Acts 16:11-15)

Learning From Lydia

Acts 16:11-15

Introduction

Last time we looked together and saw all the things God had put into place to direct the missionaries to Troas.  In some cases they were led ahead and in some cases they were hindered and even prevented.  We also closed last week by looking to various examples of how God had worked throughout the Book of Acts to send, guide, call and connect the Apostles to those who needed the Gospel.

I want to further drive this point home because if we are going to understand today’s text rightly we must see God’s hand guiding His people and even enabling His people to accomplish what He commands.  Jesus gave us the command to go into the entire world and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to obey all He has commanded.  It is in our going coupled with God’s enablement to go and connect us to others and in Him causing faith to spring forth that anyone is saved.  Salvation is of the Lord.

We also saw last week the great mystery of how God works to cause us to do what He has decreed we will do.  So it is here in this passage and others to follow that we see the great mystery fleshed out before our eyes.

In our text today, notice with me…How God moved to convert Lydia.  It wasn’t Paul or his preaching that initial change but it was God who caused her to pay attention to the Gospel.

TT- Salvation occurs when God moves and opens the human heart to pay attention and believe.
Human need met by text

When we are led by God to speak to someone about Jesus Christ, we must realize that God is at work orchestrating the divine encounter.  He will help you to speak what He desires you to speak.  He will also be working in ways you may not see.  But He will be working.

Acts 16:11-15 (ESV)
11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis,
12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days.
13 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.
14 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.
15 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.

1.  Favorable Winds

11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis,
12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days.
God gave the missionaries favor in their travel.

It’s important to note that Luke, if you remember, is now part of Paul’s missionary team.  His account is quite remarkable as he simply writes the place where they sailed to.  What’s remarkable is the ease at which they sailed and the wind being in their favor carrying them across the sea.  This journey only took two days.  Coming back, the commentators note, took five days.  God was with them carrying them along with the wind.

Leaving the port city of Troas, they sailed to the small island of Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis,
They stayed the night on Samathrace and them set sail the next morning to Macedonia, Neapolis being the port city leading into Philippi.

12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days.
The missionaries traveled from Neapolis on foot about ten miles to the north to Macedonia’s chief city, Philippi.

What’s important to note here is that even though Philippi was the leading city (literally, the city of chief importance), It didn’t have a synagogue.  Traditionally a city had to have ten Jewish men to start a synagogue.  Because it doesn’t, we see just how pagan the city of Philippi and also the region of Macedonia was.  Romans were by far the overarching majority, Philippi being inhabited by retired Roman soldiers and those very much loyal to Rome.

We remember that it was Paul’s normal practice to seek out a synagogue to get a hearing in to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  Here in Philippi, there were no synagogues.  Where would the team go to share the Gospel?

2. Favorable Message

13 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.
14 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.
God gave the missionaries favor in their message.

There were no synagogues but there were a few worshippers.

Rome practiced toleration of religion.  When they conquered a people, they would allow the people the freedom to worship their gods if they agreed to also worship Caesar.  For Jews and for Christians this was not acceptable.  Sometimes Rome would allow exceptions if the religion was an established religion already being practiced.  That was the case with Judaism but not the case with Christianity.  It seems Philippi was different.  Most scholars believe that even Judaism was greatly frowned upon by the Romans in Macedonia, perhaps that is why the worshipers were found down by the river in a place outside the city limits.

So, they hear of some worshippers down by the Gangites River and Paul and the others head down to share the Gospel with these worshippers.  They arrive at the river and find a small group of women praying.

The women welcome Paul and the others and through the course of their conversation Paul begins an exposition of Scripture.  Perhaps he shares with them from the OT how Jesus is the Messiah.  He no doubt mentions the cross and the resurrection of Christ as was very typical for Paul to do.

Just as God’s favor was on their travel, His favor was on their message.  God moves and connects Paul’s words with the Holy Spirit then He excites faith within Lydia and she believes.

Luke describes Lydia as a businesswoman who dealt in purple cloth.  What made this cloth valuable was the fact that it was very much in high demand because purple was the color of royalty.  When queens and others were something then the common folks also want to be seen wearing similar things.  Much like today when an actress wears a certain band label or style then all America wants one.

Because purple was in fashion Lydia’s cloth was in high demand.  That was the first reason.  The second reason Lydia was very wealthy was that purple cloth was extremely rare because of the great cost involved to manufacture the die.  The purple dye came from shellfish living in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.  It took approximately 8,000 mollusks to produce 1 gram of dye, the dye and in turn the cloth was extremely valuable.  This is what Lydia marketed.

At some point in her travels, she had been introduced to Israel’s God.  She, as Luke explains, was a worshiper of God.

Much like Cornelius, who also worshipped God, she had a good foundation of who God is from the OT that she had been taught.  So now, Paul explains the rest to her.  Even though she was categorized as a worshipper, she still needed to hear the Gospel of Christ in order to be saved.

The exalted Christ prepared Lydia through the synagogue teaching of the OT.  Now he sent Paul and the other missionaries to Philippi so that Lydia was able to hear the message of salvation.  Luke ascribes to the Lord, not to Paul, the act of saving Lydia.  Salvation, then, is not man’s work but the Lord’s.  Not the word itself, but the Lord himself (Luke 24:45), opens the human heart.  The result is that Lydia responds to Paul’s message and accepts the Lord as her Savior. [1]

It’s important that we pause and look a little deeper into what took place in Lydia’s heart in order for her to be saved.

3. Learning Providence from Lydia

We learned last week that Paul and the others were prevent from speaking and going to the regions of Galatia and Bithynia.  Remembered we all wondered why the Holy Spirit would not want Paul to preach the Gospel in those areas?  By the providence of God, Paul had another divine appointment.  He had to be at the river on that Sabbath.  It was, as Spurgeon writes, the hour of Lydia’s salvation.

Not only did Paul have to be there at that moment but Lydia too had to be there.  In God’s wonderful plan, she sold purple cloth.  It was the business of selling cloth that she was in Philippi from Thyatira.  It was by Divine Providence that they were together on the riverbank that day.

But this I know—God will shake Heaven and earth sooner than suffer one elect soul to miss the predestined moment.[2]

we supposed there was a place of prayer…Have you ever thought that the prayer meeting was interrupted by missionaries who were sharing the Good News which no doubt was the very answer to the prayers the worshippers were praying?  That’s why they were hindered and prevented and directed.  God wanted the Gospel to go to Thyatira through the woman who sold purple cloth.

The garments she sold were for royalty and that day on the riverbank she met King Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

There is one more act of Providence spoken of here in this passage; The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
God had placed her at the right place at the right time, though she may have not even realized it.  Not only was she there at that moment but God also prepared her heart.  Almost like as Spurgeon comments, a plowed field waiting for the seed to be sown.  When Paul scattered the seed it found its way into Lydia’s prepared heart and it took root and sprouted and grew…the Devil did not snatch this seed away.  It immediately grew.

Did God know that there would be a prayer meeting on the river that day?  Did He know there would be a woman named Lydia who would pray for salvation?  Did God prevent Paul and then lead him to this riverbank?  Did God open her heart?  Isn’t the Providence of God astronomically amazing?  Isn’t His grace amazingly merciful?

Luke wants us to understand that it wasn’t the message of the Gospel that saved…it wasn’t the missionary that saved…It was the Lord who saved Lydia.  He opened her heart to believe.

You see, she could have been there and Paul could have preached the exact same message but is God had not worked; Lydia would have been condemned with the rest of the lost world.

4. Learning Conversion From Lydia

The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.

God is interested in full conversion.  It is the condition of the heart that God is seeking to change.

Until God worked to change Lydia’s heart, she was evil and wicked even though she may have done some seemingly good things.  You might be thinking that we’re told she was a worshipper of God and you’re right.  That happened only because God was already at work long before she met Paul.

When it comes to mankind God has one supreme focus.  He is in the process of forming for His glory worshippers.  Now if sinners are to be changed into worshippers then there is something God must change and that’s the human heart.

Psalm 84:1-2 (ESV)
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God…
10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
This is what God is doing as He saves people.  That’s also why human sin and rebellion is captured by Paul when he writes…

Romans 1:24-25 (ESV)
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

The essence of sin and evil is worshipping in your heart something or someone other than God.
In your personal sanctification, it is imperative that we seek heart change over behavioral change.  In our children too we must seek to impact their hearts not just get them to behave correctly.  Good behavior is important but that is just on the surface.  Good behavior that pleases God flows from a changed heart.  Evil people can occasionally do good things.  So, behavior alone is not enough.  This is one mistake Christian parents make.  They think that when my child is acting and behaving like I want him to then everything is good.  We must go even deeper to the very heart of our children.

We have an example of right behavior with wrong heart attitude…

Isaiah 29:13 (ESV)
13 And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men,
If God is going to save Lydia or anyone else for that matter then He first causes their heart to be affected by the message of the Gospel first, then their behavior follows.  So, the condition of our heart is foundational to our walk with Christ.  Once Lydia’s is changed notice what she does…her behavior falls in line with her heart attitude…

15 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.

The response she had once God had worked to convert her was to be obedient to Jesus’ command to get baptized.  Then her heart led her to open her home to the missionary team and she would not take no for an answer.

When God moves and opens or converts a heart the person is changed on the inside.  Their changed heart is what fuels godly behavior.

How is your heart attitude? 

How might you need to change the way you address your sanctification?

How might you need to change the way you teach and train your children?

Should you adjust your emphasis from right behavior to influencing them on a deeper level?


[1] Kistemacher, Simon New Testament Commentary: Acts. 590

[2] Spurgeon, Lessons from Lydia’s Conversion

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