Conversion: The Conversion of Lydia

By Cecil Willis

This week we want to study the conversion of the woman, Lydia, found in Acts 16:5-15. This woman, Lydia, was a remarkable person. She has some very outstanding traits, which we must understand if we are to properly understand what follows. “And on the sabbath day we (that is, Paul, Silas and Luke) went forth without the gate by a river side, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down, and spake unto the women that were come together. And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one that worshiped God, heard us” (Acts 16:13, 14).

Paul and Silas were now in the city of Philippi. You will remember that Paul was now on his second great evangelistic tour. They had preached over the greater portion of Asia Minor, and now, by the direction of the Lord they had been brought over into the district of Macedonia, unto the city of Philippi. They had come there to preach, and when they arrived, they began seeking out those that might be receptive to their message of the gospel. So they went down to the riverside where there was a place of prayer, and there they met this woman, Lydia. Philippi, though, was not the home of Lydia. She was on a business trip, as we would say it. Actually, her home was in the city of Thyatira. “Thyatira, the home of Lydia, was a city of proconsular Asia (Rev. 1:11), situated on its northern border; and Paul’s company, in ‘passing by Mysia’ on their way to Troas, had probably passed near it. It was noted for the excellence of its purple dyes, and it is still a pleasantly situated town of about ten thousand inhabitants” (McGravey, Commentary on Acts, pg. 88). Lydia was on a business tour and had come over to Philippi to sell some of her goods. Her hometown, Thyatira, was almost three hundred miles away.

You will notice that the text says that she was a seller of “purple.” Purple, was not a material or a certain kind of cloth, but it was a dye. So expensive was the dye, that only the very best qualities of materials were dyed purple, and so instead of wearing the name of the material, the goods wore the name of the dye put in them. Rich kings were often described as being “wearers of purple.” In considering the very expensive product which she sold, the probability is that Lydia was at least comfortably fixed financially.

The outstanding trait of her character is that she was a faithful worshiper of God, as best she knew how. It is not often that one finds a successful, or wealthy business person that is a faithful servant of God. One frequently will find businessmen who attend the services of some church thinking that it might better their business prospects, but not very many of them are truly devoted to the Lord. But here we find this businesswoman, Lydia, in a city almost three hundred miles away from her home, and when the Sabbath day came, she put aside her business cares and went down by the riverside to pray. It was while she was by the side of the river praying that the apostle Paul, came to her with the message of God.

There are several incidentals regarding the conversion of this woman which has been used improperly to try to prove some doctrines that are not true. But before we notice some outstanding examples of this, let us call attention to one other point.

In this present series of studies, we have looked at what the Bible says about the conversion of Paul the Apostle, the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius the Gentile convert, and now of Lydia. If you will think back over the record of each of these individuals, you will remember that they were worshipers of God according to some manner before their conversion. In other words, they were religious people, yet unsaved people. Yet, in most cities, there are many, many preachers who will tell you that it does not matter how you worship, just so long as you worship God, yet here we have four Bible examples of where either men or women worshiped God, yet were not saved. If Lydia was alright in the eyes of God, why did Paul preach to her? There would have been nothing he could have told her if she was already doing what God would have her do. To worship God is not enough. It must be worship of God as He has commanded. You must worship as He said do it, or else it will be in vain.

The Lord Opened Lydia’s Heart

Many have misunderstood, and misapplied the teaching of Luke concerning the opening of the heart of Lydia by the Lord. The passage says, “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one that worshiped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened to give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Our problem is, “What does the expression, the Lord opened Lydia’s heart mean?” Does it mean what denominationalists say it means? They teach that one is so totally depraved that he cannot even so much as listen to the preaching of the gospel until there has been some miracle wrought upon his heart to open it in order that he might give heed to what is spoken. But this passage not only does not teach this; it denies it. Before any mention is made of the opening of the heart of Lydia by the Lord, she is said to have heard the preaching of the apostle. The opening of the heart of the woman was not to make her in such a condition so as to be able to hear the preaching of the Word, for she heard the preaching before her heart was opened.

Well, what does it mean to open her heart? “The statement that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart implies that previously her heart was in some way closed. It was certainly not closed by the hardness of a sinful life, or by inherited depravity; for such a supposition is forbidden by the steadfastness with which, under great temptation, she had previously clung to the worship of God. It was closed in the sense in which the pious and earnest heart of a Jewish worshiper might be closed. Every Jew, and every Jewish proselyte, was at that time so wedded to the belief that the coming of Christ would establish an earthly kingdom, as to have the heart very tightly closed against the conception of a crucified Christ, whose reign as a king is purely spiritual. It was this that had caused the mass of the Jews to reject the Christ while he was still on earth, and it continued to be their ‘stumbling block’ (Jn. 5:44; 1 Cor. 1:23). Whether Lydia was a Jewess or a proselyte, this was ‘the home of Israel’ in which she had been instructed, and for which she had been taught to devoutly pray; and if the natural effect of it had not been removed from her heart, she must have rejected the gospel, as did the mass of those who bad been her teachers. The statement then that the Lord ‘opened her heart’ means that he removed this mistaken conception which would have prevented her from receiving Christ” (McGarvey, Commentary on Acts, pg. 90, 91). It simply means that the mistaken view that she had of Christ was taken away, so that she might receive him as Savior, and thereby be saved. The reason for her heart’s being opened, or cleared of mistaken conceptions of Christ was in order that she might “give heed unto the things which were spoken by Paul” (verse 14).

Not only have men been mistaken as to what was meant when the Bible says that the Lord opened her heart, but they have been mislead as to how the Lord opened her heart. This instance is often used to show how the Lord must perform some direct operation of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of the sinner in order that the sinner might hear the gospel sermon, but this is not what happened here. Truly, the Lord opened the heart of Lydia, but it was done through the word of this great preacher. If you will remember, Paul had been concentrating his efforts in preaching to Asia Minor, and had made no preparation to go over into Macedonia where Lydia was at the time, but the Lord sent him to Macedonia. “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they were come over against Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia; and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There was a man of Macedonia standing, beseeching him, and saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And when he had seen the vision, straightway we sought to go forth into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:6-10). So you see, Paul had not intended to go into Macedonia to preach, and therefore would not have contacted this notable woman, Lydia, but the Lord Jesus sent him there. It was by the work of the Lord that the preacher was instructed as to where to go preach, and consequently, it was the Lord that opened Lydia’s heart, through his chosen and sent messenger, the apostle Paul.

Our purpose in studying this case of conversion is to learn all that we can that pertains to one’s conversion today. Notice, this woman did the same things that every person who becomes a Christian today must do. Upon hearing the word of Paul, she must have believed them, even though it is not so stated, for she obeyed what he commanded. Certainly she would not have obeyed the commands that he gave had she not believed what he said. Second, she repented. In studying the important subject of repentance, it was seen that to-repent simply means to change one’s mind. It is a change of mind preceded by godly sorrow, and followed by a reformation of life. She must have repented also, for she changed her mind about living the life as did the Jew, and consequently she changed her action. She quit being a Jewish worshiper, and became a Christian. Then thirdly, she obeyed the gospel by being baptized. The Scripture says, “and when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, if ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there” (Acts 16:15). She did three things. She believed, she repented, and she was baptized. This is exactly the same thing that you and I must do in order to be saved from the sins of our past lives. If you are not willing to do these things, you do not have enough faith to be saved by obedience.

Lydia’s Household

But there is another matter with which we must concern ourselves for the remainder of our time this week. It is also related to the conversion of Lydia, and it is also a point on which many people are confused, and many more deceived. Verse 15 says, “And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us saying This passage says that Lydia and her household were baptized. There are many denominations who practice “baptizing” of infants, or at least they sprinkle babies. When called upon for proof for their action, they will cite this instance, and one or two other similar ones, in which a household is said to have been baptized, and they surmize from it, that therefore there must have been some babies baptized. It should be apparent from the very outset that this argument from this instance seeking to justify infant baptism is based wholly upon conjecture. The Bible says absolutely nothing about infants in this household.

In fact, one might have a household comprised wholly of servants or helpers, and Lydia might well have had this inasmuch as she was a business woman. We do not even know that she was married. Furthermore if she was married, we do not know that she had children. This must also be supposed to justify infant baptism. One must also assume that she had them with her. Remember, Philippi was not Lydia’s home, but a city almost three hundred miles away was her home, a city called Thyatira. It is hard to conceive a woman’s carrying an infant or several small children three hundred miles while on a business trip. But not only must one suppose that this woman was married, had children, had them with her, he must also assume that these children were infants. So you see, any argument drawn from this text seeking to prove that there were infants baptized in this household has to be read into the text. It says absolutely nothing about any infants. Men are very hard pressed when they make such an unfounded argument. The Bible plainly teaches that only penitent believers are fit subjects for baptism, and an infant can be neither a penitent, nor a believer. It cannot be penitent, for it had done no sin of which it needs to repent, and it cannot be a believer, for it has not yet acquired the mental strength to examine the testimony, and yield mental assent to the propositions stated in the word.

This conversion of Lydia, is but another instance in which God sent a preacher to preach to an individual, the preacher preached, the sinner believed and obeyed the commands sent of God by this messenger. You too can be saved by obeying the gospel. Resolve to do it immediately.

Truth Magazine XX: 46, pp. 723-725
November 18, 1976