By Mike Willis
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thystim, which worshiped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 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. And she constrained us (Acts 16:14-15).
In these two short verses, the conversion of Lydia is recorded. She joins the few women mentioned in the Bible. Like most of the rest who are mentioned, she was a significant person. Among the women of the Bible are Deborah who led Israel in battle against Sisera, captain of the Canaanites, Esther who saved her nation from extinction under wicked Haman, Rahab who declared her faith in Jehovah’s ability to conquer Canaan by hiding the two spies, Mary who gave birth to Jesus, Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, and many others – all of whom are significant and important people.
Lydia’s Moral Character
Lydia was a princess in character, although not in station. She is described as a “seller of purple,” referring either to purple fabric or purple dye used to color the fabric. In either case, she was a business woman dealing with the upper class in her society; hence, she was a woman of some means. Like the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31, she sold her goods in the market place.
She is described as a “worshiper of God.” The significance of that might not impress us at first glance. She was not a native of Philippi where Paul met her; rather, she was from Thyatira, a city in the province of Asia listed among the seven churches of Asia later in the book of Revelation. Thyatira was approximately 300 miles from Philippi. Unlike many who claim to be Christians, Lydia took her worshiping habit with her when she traveled. Some Christians who worship God regularly while at home seem to leave their religion at home when they travel. They go away to some far city and neglect the worship of God. They are too caught up in their business or recreation to find time to worship God. Lydia was not of that character.
Lydia worshiped on the Sabbath day. Sometimes we forget that the Sabbath day was not universally set aside as a day of worship in New Testament times. The day was set aside for worship in Galilee, Judea, and Samaria. We have no reason or evidence for believing it was observed by the general populace in pagan cities during the first century. Hence, when Lydia closed her shop to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy,” she acted differently than was the common practice around her. Her business competitors sold on the Sabbath day. Yet, she did not let her desire for money cause her to forsake her obligations to God on the Sabbath day. Her job was not more important than the service of God. Some Christians excuse themselves from worshiping God on the Lord’s day by saying their obligations to their job take precedence over their obligations to Jehovah. Lydia was not of that character.
Lydia worshiped even though there was no synagogue. As Paul arrived in Philippi, he found no synagogue in which to preach. “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted ‘ thither” (Acts 16:13). These women worshiped by the river bank because they had no synagogue in Philippi,at which to worship. How many of us would have excused ourselves from our obligations to worship God we’re our business to take us to some far away city where there were no brethren worshiping? Some Christians move into an area where the church is meeting in a store front or old building on the wrong side of town (or even in a nice building at the corner of First and Main) but never worship God. Lydia was not of that character.
Lydia was a hospitable woman. This is shown by her inviting Silas, Timothy, Luke and Paul to stay in her house during their preaching stay in Philippi. How many of our readers are that hospitable? I have visited some congregations which have trouble getting enough members to sign the list to feed the preacher during a meeting. Some congregations with large memberships put the visiting preacher in a motel. There is -nothing sinful with this practice and some preachers prefer to stay in a motel. However, I hope this is not done because there is no one willing to open his home to a visiting preacher. Certainly Lydia was not of that character.
Sometimes we call attention to the moral character of Cornelius prior to his conversion (Acts 10:1-2). He was a devout man who feared God, gave much alms to the people and prayed to God always. Yet, he was a lost man. Friends, Lydia was not one whit behind Cornelius! She was a wonderful person – yet lost in her sins.
“Whose Heart The Lord Opened”
The Scriptures teach that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart (Acts 16:14). This implies that her heart was previously closed in some sense. Some imagine that Lydia’s heart was closed because of original sin – that she was totally depraved. The denominational doctrine of inherited depravity teaches that, as a result of original sin, man is “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.” Obviously, this is not the sense in which Lydia’s heart was closed. Her offering prayer and assembling with women on the Sabbath day to offer worship to God, demonstrates that she was not “utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil.” Whatever the explanation of this text may be, total inherited depravity will not explain the facts.
In what sense was Lydia’s heart closed? Her heart was closed in the same sense as every other Jewish person’s heart was closed toward Christ. Assembling to worship on the Sabbath day is evidence that Lydia was a Jew. As a Jew, she lived in expectation of the coming of the Messiah and, no doubt, shared the typical expectations that the Messiah would be a great military ruler over an earthly kingdom who would overthrow the Roman government and inaugurate the kingdom of Israel with political headquarters in Jerusalem. To such people, the preaching of Christ crucified was a stumbling block (1 Cor. 1:23).
How was Lydia’s heart opened? Lydia’s heart was opened the same way that every other Jew’s heart was opened – through the preaching of the gospel. Notice that Lydia heard Paul preaching before her heart was opened. Hence, Paul preached to Lydia, explaining how Jesus died on Calvary for the sins of mankind. He preached the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus to Lydia, even as he preached it to every other person. He preached the message of the, gospel, demonstrating that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies; he showed that Jesus was the Christ. The heart of Lydia which was closed through the mistaken concept of the Messiah was opened through the preaching of Paul which showed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ of prophecy.
If the Lord saves anyone without the preaching of the word of God, Lydia would have been a prime candidate. There is no evidence that there was a single preacher working on the entire continent of Europe. She was good, honest, and sincere in her devotion to God. She desired salvation. She prayed to God. God did not operate directly upon the heart of Lydia to save her from sin. In answer to her prayers, God sent Paul who told her how to be saved. God does not save anyone separate and apart from the word of God.
The Lord Opened Lydia’s Heart
Some teach that the Lord operates directly upon the hearts of men to make them willing and able to receive and obey the gospel. They find comfort in Acts 16:14, supposing that the Lord directly operated on the heart of Lydia to enable her to obey the gospel.
To understand why Luke would record, “whose heart the Lord opened,” we need to carefully consider the context. In Acts 15:40, Paul and Silas began their second missionary journey from Antioch of Syria. When they came to Derbe and Lystra, Timothy joined them (Acts 16:1). After going throughout Phrygia and Galatia, they wanted to go to Asia, but the Holy Spirit forbade them (Acts 16:6). They traveled to Mysia, intending to preach in Bithynia “but the Spirit suffered them not” (Acts 16.7). From thence, they came to Troas where Luke joined them and Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia crying, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:9). Concluding that the Lord wanted them to preach in Macedonia (the first recorded instance of preaching in Europe), they sought a ship to travel to Macedonia. They found one which left for Macedonia that very day. They sailed a straight course to Macedonia. The reference to a “straight” course indicates that the ship did not have to “tack” (take a zigzag course); they had a favorable wind which enabled them to cross the Aegean Sea in two days (a return trip in Acts 20:6 took five days).
I can imagine the conversation of the four preachers, Luke, Silas, Timothy, and Paul, as they sailed the Aegean. “We surely were lucky to rind a ship sailing for Macedonia in port at Troas. Who can believe that it just happened to be sailing today and that they had room for us on board? And now, just look at this favorable wind which is blowing! ” Luck and fate had nothing to do with it. The hand of God was working providentially to bring them to Philippi in answer to the prayers of these godly women. When Luke looked back on the circumstances which led to the conversion of Lydia, he wrote, “whose heart the Lord opened.”
Lydia’s Obedience To The Gospel
The Scriptures report that Lydia “attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized. . . ” (Acts 16:14-15). The preaching of the gospel leaves. man with things to attend; the preaching which produces faith (Rom. 10:17) directs man to the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:26).
Why was Lydia baptized? The most obvious answer is that Paul’s preaching demanded baptism. Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:15-16). When Lydia heard Paul preaching, she attended to her need for baptism. Lydia is not like that group of men who make excuses for not being baptized. She did not put off to the indefinite tomorrow her obligations to God which should be met today. When she heard the conditions for salvation, she attended to them, being baptized. Her faith led her to obey the gospel.
A Case Of Infant Baptism?
Luke said, “And when she was baptized, and her household. . . ” (Acts 16:15). Some think they see in the household conversions an evidence for infant baptism. The Presbyterian, Albert Barnes wrote,
No mention is made of their having believed, and the case is one that affords a strong presumptive proof that this was an instance of household or infant baptism. . . . It is just such an account as would now be given of the household or family that were baptized on the faith of the parent (Notes on the New Testament: Acts, p. 241).
John Albert Bengel said, “Who can believe that in so many families there was no infant? And that the Jews, who were wont to circumcise, and the Gentiles, who purified them by washings, did not also present them for baptism? (New Testament Word Studies, Vol. 1, p. 860).
The other “household conversions” do not offer as strong evidence for infant baptism as does the household of Lydia. At Cornelius’ household, those who were baptized believed and spoke in tongues (Acts 10:44-48). The household of the Philippian jailor believed and rejoiced in the Lord (Acts 16:34). The household of Stephanus (1 Cor. 1:16) was addicted to the ministry of the word (1 Cor. 16:15). None of these things can infants do. Hence, the records of these household conversions contain statements which exclude infants from the conversion.
Lydia’s household does not constitute evidence that infants were baptized in New Testament times. The word “household” (oikos) means “the inmates of a house, all the persons forming one family, a household.” It would include Lydia and those who worked with her in her trade, including her servants, In order for Acts 16:15 to be evidence for infant baptism, notice the assumptions which must be made:
1. One must assume that Lydia was married. Some business women are unmarried.
2. One must assume that Lydia had children. Some married people do not have children.
3. One must assume that these children were infants. Many children of married people are well past the age of accountability and fully able to make a decision to obey the gospel. If Lydia was married and had children, her children might have been old enough to become Christians.
4. One must assume that Lydia had her children with her in Philippi. She was from Thyatira. Many traveling business people leave their children at home when they make a business trip. Assuming that Lydia was married, she had children, and her children were infants, we still have to assume that she had her children with her.
5. Having granted all of these assumptions, we still have to assume that these infants were baptized. There is nothing in the text that says they were.
Nevertheless, this is the strongest evidence that is available to support infant baptism. Seeing the insufficiency of the evidence, we conclude that infant baptism was not authorized in the New Testament. The truth of the matter is that infant baptism was devised by man because he concluded that infants inherited the sin of Adam and were in need of salvation at birth. Recognizing that man had to be baptized in order to be saved, they concluded that infants also needed to be baptized. Hence, the practice of infant baptism was devised to answer the needs of the unscriptural doctrine of inherited total depravity.
There are many lessons to be learned from Lydia. May her example inspire each of us to attend to the things which God would have us to do. What reason can you offer, which God will accept, for not obeying the gospel? Do not be deceived by Satan into postponing till the future what you know you need to do today!
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 4, pp. 98, 118-119
February 19, 1987