The Conversion of Lydia
The book of Acts is a revelation from God of His will for the church through the inspired activities of first-century Christians. After Paul and Silas began Paul's second preaching trip, they came to Lystra where they found a young man named Timothy who joined them on their journey. Later, when they arrived at Troas, on the western coast of Asia Minor, Paul received a vision of a man of Macedonia saying, "Come over into Macedonia and help us." Immediately, they set sail across the Aegean Sea, landed at the port city of Neapolis, and went to Philippi which was the largest city of Macedonia.
While Paul and company were at Philippi, we read in Acts 16:13-15, "And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, 'If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.' So she persuaded us." Here we learn about the conversion of Lydia.
A worshipper of God
First, we see that she worshipped God. Wherever there was a large enough colony of Jews, a synagogue was established. However, it appears that there were very few Jews in Philippi because these women met for prayer by a riverside. The fact that Lydia worshipped God tells us that she was a religious woman, and that is commendable. However, just being religious is not enough to be saved. "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10.1-3). The people of whom Paul spoke were religious, and even zealous in their religion, but they were religiously wrong and thus not saved. We must make sure that our religion is right in God's sight
Yet, the fact that Lydia worshipped God also tells us that she did believe in God, and this is important. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Heb. 11.6). No one could be called a worshipper of God who did not first believe in God. Lydia was obviously a believer in God, and that's always a good place to start in teaching anyone the gospel.
Heard what Paul spoke
To "hear" in this sense means more than just to be aware of the noise or sound of something--it means to listen to or to pay attention. Jesus wants us to hear Him. He said of some in His day, "'And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says:
"Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them."'" Oh, they had heard what He said, but they just did not really listen to Him or pay Him attention. In contrast, others did. "But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it" (Matt. 13.14-17).
Why is hearing so important? "For 'whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?...So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10.13-17). The Bible teaches that we are saved by faith, and the only way to obtain true faith in Christ is by hearing His word. Lydia was willing to listen.
We need to stop and ask, how was her heart opened? Yes, the Lord is said to have opened her heart, but nowhere does the text imply that it was by some miraculous or direct act of God by the Holy Spirit; rather, the text indicates that it was by what she had heard in the preaching of Paul. Notice that the passage does not say that the Lord opened her heart to understand what Paul said, but that the Lord opened her heart to attend or to give heed to what she had heard from Paul. There is a big difference. The word "heart" here does not refer to the blood pump in our chests. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he...." (Prov. 23.7). Rather, it refers to that part of a person that is capable of thinking, or, in other words, the mind. The Lord opens our hearts in the sense that He calls to us through His word and we respond to His message by opening our minds to it.
Jesus wants us to open our hearts to Him. "Jesus said to him, '"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment" (Matt. 22.37-38). Compare Rev. 3.20 where Jesus is pictured as knocking at the door, asking that it be opened so that He can come in. So, while the Lord wants to open our hearts by means of the proclamation of His word, we have to do the actual opening up by responding to it. When Lydia heard the gospel preached by Paul, she allowed the Lord to open her heart by means of the message that Paul spoke.
Heeded the things spoken by Paul
The King James Version says "Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken by Paul." It is not enough just to hear the truth; we must act upon what we hear. The parable of the two builders illustrates this (Matt. 7.24-27). Later, Jesus said, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (Jn. 13.17). And other Bible writers remind us that it is not the hearer who forgets but the one who does the work who will be blessed (Jas. 1.22-25). Some people, even some who claim to be Christians, seem to think that they can go to church, or turn on a religious radio program, or read the Bible, or hear God's word preached on TV, yet go their way, live as they choose, and still be blessed just because they listened to the will of God. Friends, that simply will not cut it!
The word translated ""heed" or "attend" literally means "to turn to"--first to turn the mind to and then to apply oneself to. Obviously, then, it implies that she accepted the truthfulness of what Paul preached based on the evidence that he presented--same must be true with us (Jn. 20.30-31). But it also implies that she made a decision to do something about it. God has always demanded obedience of those who want to be saved (Heb. 5.8-9). What Lydia did in attending or giving heed to the things spoken by Paul is summed up in the words of a well-known gospel song--"Trust and obey, for there's no other way To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." She believed his message about Christ, or trusted, and then determined to follow Christ's will, or obeyed. Lydia was not satisfied with just listening to Paul; she truly believed what he said and did what Paul told her she must do to obey God.
Evidently, when Paul preached the gospel, he must have said something about baptism in order for Lydia and her household to know about it and comply with it. Why were she and her household baptized? One reason is because Jesus ordained and commanded it. "And He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mk. 16.15-16). Jesus Himself made baptism a necessary condition to be saved.
Also another reason is because inspired men revealed and taught it. On the day of Pentecost, when Peter and the other apostles were asked by their audience about what they must do, Peter commanded them to repent and be baptized (Acts 2.37-38. Saul of Tarsus, after seeing the Lord on the road to Damascus, asking what he must do, and being urged to go into the city where it would be told him what to do, was commanded by the preacher Ananias to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins (Acts 22.16). Later as the apostle Paul, this same person wrote that we are baptized into Christ and that only after being buried with Christ in baptism can we walk in newness of life (Rom. 6.3-4). Lydia's desire to attend or give heed to the things spoken by Paul led her to be baptized
Besought Paul to come into her house.
Here was a lady who was given to hospitality. "Above all things, have fervent love for one another, for 'love will cover a multitude of sins.' Be hospitable to one another without grumbling" (1 Pet. 4.8-9). Evidently thankful for her newfound faith, Lydia loved those who helped her become a child of God that she wanted them to stay in her home. As a new Christian, there maybe was not a whole lot else that she was able to do for the cause of Christ at that point, but one thing that she could do was to provide a place for these gospel preachers to stay and help meet their needs.
Lydia evidently understood that baptism is not the end of one's obedience to God but merely the beginning. God expects His people to be noted for good works in their lives (Eph. 2.8-10, Tit. 2.11-14). This woman did not stop with being baptized, but continued to follow God's will because it was evidently her desire to be judged faithful to the Lord. Likewise, all Christians are promised, "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2.10). We do not know what testings and tribulations she may have had to endure, but we can imagine that Lydia was the kind of person who was committed to be faithful to the Lord all the days of her life.
We really know very little about the life of Lydia. Nothing about her prior days is mentioned in previous scriptures. Nothing about her time after her conversion is recorded in later scriptures. However, in the simple snapshot of her that is found in this account there are lessons for all of us. Even as Christians, we need to have the same attitude towards spiritual things that Lydia obviously did. And those who are not Christians and want to be truly converted must submit to God's plan in the same way that Lydia did--listen to God's will, open their hearts to believe on Jesus Christ, obey his teachings by being baptized, and then continue to serve Him all the days of their lives.
By Wayne S. Walker
From Expository Files 14.9; September 2007