Lydia, She’s One Tough Cookie!

St Paul visits Philippi

St Paul is the most famous evangelist in the New Testament. Acts 16 tells of some of his travels and how he preached in many places, cast an evil spirit out of a slave girl, was flogged, put in prison and ended up baptising the jailer. He shows courage, perseverance and faith in God. But in the middle of that chapter there is one person who told him what to do. She must have been a tough character and she shows us all what we can do when we follow Paul’s instruction in his letter to the people of Thessalonica “Never tire of doing what is right.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13)

Let’s look at Acts 16:12-15:

After a few days in Philippi we went outside the gates beside a river as it was the Sabbath and this was a customary place for prayer. We sat down and preached to the women who had come to the meeting. One of these women was called Lydia, a woman from the town of Thyatira who was in the purple-dye trade, and who revered God. She listened to us, and the Lord opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptised she kept urging us, ‘If you judge me a true believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay with us.’ And she would take no refusal. (or in another translation “…and she would not take ‘no’ for an answer.”) WOW!

Some people think Christians are wimps, despite so many people dying for their faith – even in horrible ways. The last few words of that passage show the real strength of Christians. They are people who will not take no for an answer. It needs some background to understand it fully.

Nothing Could Stop Paul in his Mission

Remember Paul was a pious Jew. He had been determined to stop the spread of Christianity. Then Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Paul was so determined that Almighty God had to strike him blind for three days to get him to realise that Jesus Christ was truly God. You can read that story in Acts 9. Once he was converted, nothing could stop Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11:24 he says “Five times at the hands of the Jews I received thirty nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day adrift at sea; went on many journeys, with dangers from rivers, from robbers, from the Jews, from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent periods of fasting, through cold and exposure.”

He wasn’t boasting, he was just telling the truth. He was not someone who gave up easily. He was a real fighter for the faith. And yet in Philippi, he meets his match. Someone other than Christ who makes him do as he is told! Who is this woman?

The First Century High Fashion Trade

We do not know much about Lydia, but she must have been a tough cookie. In those times women were not well treated, often they were “owned” by their husbands, with no rights to do anything. Yet she runs her own business. And it is obviously a really successful business because she has a “household”. That means she owns servants and slaves. She tells people what to do – including men! And it is no ordinary business. She is in the “purple dye trade”. Purple is what Roman Senators wore. It is the colour of the clothes worn by the rich and famous. This is high fashion. Think of Coco Chanel (The only fashion designer listed on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century), or Victoria Beckham. This woman was near the top in the high fashion trade and you don’t get there by being weak.

Lydia was Persistent

She “kept urging us.” She and her household had been baptised – would you have argued if she had been your boss? But this lady wants more. She tells Paul that he has to come and stay at her house because she wants to know more about Jesus Christ and how he was born, died, rose again and is seated at the right hand of the Father. She wants to know more about the Holy Spirit who brings life, peace and healing into our hearts. She wants to know more about the Sacraments – especially the Eucharist. And she is not going to let Paul go until he has told her.

Paul returns to her house

You can almost hear her saying. “Paul! You are to baptise all my workers and you must then tell us everything about Jesus Christ. And you are not to leave until you have done so.” It must have sounded like a royal command. So he went and stayed at her house. Paul the tough guy, did as he was told and went round for tea at the Palace. He “breaks bread” with her and her household. Later, while preaching in the city he was arrested and beaten and from verse 40 later in the same chapter we know that after Paul was released from jail he went back to her house and preached some more.

This is Christianity in action. It is God’s power at work in others that makes them desperate to know more about the God we believe in; the God who loves us and who wants us to tell others. Like Lydia we need to persevere in our search for knowledge about Christ. We must not let anything or anyone get in our way. We must not take “no” for an answer.

Evangelisation is fun!

When others ask us about Christ we must be ready to talk to them. Just like Paul did. As St Peter puts it “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, and do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Peter 3:15) Evangelisation is fun. I am sure that when Paul said goodbye to Lydia he knew that she would not only keep the faith, but also make sure others heard about it. Who knows, perhaps your great, great, great…grandparents heard about Christ from her and that’s how you came to be a Christian today. God bless.

Written by Deacon David Palmer