Monday, March 7, 2011

Lydia

"She Worketh Willingly With Her Hands" by Elspeth Young

Acts 16: 14-15, 40

Background:

During Paul's third journey he and Silas are in Troas when Paul has a vision. In his vision Paul sees a man from Macedonia who pleads with Paul, "Come over to Macedonia, and help us." (vs. 9). Immediately after having this vision Paul and Silas travel to Phillipi, the capital city of Macedonia, and seek for people to teach (vs. 10-12). They find their first success among the women who are gathered at the river outside of Phillipi (vs. 13).

Facts About Her:
  • She is a "seller of purple" which has reference to her work as a merchant (and perhaps maker) of purple dye used to dye cloth (vs. 14);
  • She is from the city of Thyatria, which is located in the middle of modern day Turkey, but made her home in Phillipi which was a big trading city;

  • She gathers with other women outside of the city walls of Phillipi near the river side "where prayer was wont to be made." (vs. 13);
  • She is described as one who "worshiped God" and "whose heart the Lord opened" even before she heard Paul's message (vs. 14);
  • She hears Paul and Silas preaching to the women gathered at the river and "she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul." (vs.14);
  • She and her whole household are baptized, making her the first Christian convert on the European continent (vs. 15);
  • After she is baptized she opens her home to Paul and Silas and tells them "If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. (vs.15)"
  • Later, after Paul and Silas have been beaten (vs. 16-23), thrown in prison (vs. 24), survive an earthquake that opens the doors of their prison (vs. 25-28), and convert and baptize the prison keeper and his whole household (vs. 29-36) they return to Lydia's house before they continue on their journey to Thessalonica (vs.40).
Speculations About Her:
  • Ann N. Madsen in her article "Cameos: The Women of the New Testament" said this about Lydia,
    "A seller of purple, she may have been named Lydia because she came from Thyatira, a city in the district of Lydia in Asia Minor that was famous for its exports of purple dye, a highly prized item during this period. An inscription discovered in the ruins in Thyatira commemorates the Dyers' Guild. Perhaps Lydia had learned the proper use of purple dye as a member of that very guild."
  • Her home was most likely used as the meeting place for the church in Phillipi and perhaps Paul had Lydia in mind when later in his epistle to the Philippians he wrote, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you. Always in every prayer of mine for you making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now" (Philip. 1:3—5)
  • She was probably a very well-to-do woman, seeing as the author of Acts identifies by her trade as a "seller of purple" and that she has a "household". It may be that she was unmarried or a widow seeing as there is no mention of her husband.

My Thoughts:

The thing that stands out to me the most about Lydia's story is how she had been prepared, long before Paul and Silas arrived in Phillipi, to hear and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. The scriptures tell us that she "worshiped God" even before her conversion and that the Lord had opened her heart. I think she fits perfectly the description given in Doctrine and Covenants 123:32,
"For there are many yet on the earth... who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it..."
She was a seeker of truth and had prepared her heart and mind to receive it. In fact I can't help but wonder if it was her prayers and her desire for the truth that prompted the Lord to send Paul a vision of " a man in Macedonia... saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us." Even though the messenger of this vision was man I think it is very likely that Paul and Silas's appearance in Phillipi was in direct answer to Lydia's prayers. Especially seeing how quickly and readily she accepts the gospel. I don't think it was any coincidence that she was Paul and Silas' first convert on the European continent. Also her readiness to invite Paul and Silas into her home and her urge for them to "abide there" indicates that she had already made "room' in her heart and in her home for God and His messengers.

I think there is a great lesson to be learned from Lydia's example. She teaches us the value of cultivating our faith and having an inquiring mind and an open heart. She also shows us how being in the right place (like the river where women were praying) and being surrounded by the good people helps us be in the right place at the right time to hear God's messages. Her story also makes me wonder if I have made "room" in my heart and in my home for God's word and for His prophets. Like Lydia, am I quick to recognize truth and welcome it into my home and my life? Or do I wait for a huge tragedy, like the earthquake that converted Paul and Silas's prison keeper, before I am willing to accept God's message?

And finally I think her story shows us the value of each soul to God and his willingness to answer our prayers. I don't doubt that Lydia's prayers were one of the reasons Paul and Silas were sent to Phillipi. Her soul was precious to God and her worth great in his eyes. The Lord heard the deepest desires of her heart and answered them, probably in ways greater than she ever imagined. I think her story is a beautiful testament of God's love for his children, especially his daughters, and the degree to which He is willing to go to save just one soul and bring truth to just one of his children who are ready and willing to hear truth.

Questions to Think About:
  • Why do you think that the women who were gathered at the river to pray are some of the first people Paul and Silas seek out to teach?
  • One can only imagine the anxiety and fear that Lydia must have felt when Paul and Silas were thrown in jail. How do you think their miraculous escape from prison and the conversion of the prison keeper strengthened her faith?
  • Have you made room in your home, like Lydia did, for the prophets of God? Do they "abide", figuratively, in your home? If not, what changes can you make in your life and in your home to give them room?
  • What similarities to you see between the story of Lydia and the Shunamaite woman in 2 Kings 4?

8 comments:

  1. How is it, no matter how many times I read the scriptures, I continue to learn something new every time. I don't remember ever reading this particular story before. I love the fact that the Lord prepared a woman to be able to help the apostles. I love the fact that she was ready and willing to listen.

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  2. Thank you for this post Heather, I have been studying the records of women and learning about their place in their society. What I have come away with is the awesomeness of the love our heavenly Father has for each of us. I agree about how the Lord prepares our minds and hearts to receive his gospel.
    My testimony is this, before I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS, I had visited various churches. I was brought up in Baptist churches as a kid, but I moved away from home due to college and work. I joined a church that seemed like a good idea at the time. I was searching for evidence that Jesus was real and to experiece that love I had heard about. This church was not a good church. My husband and I made a decison to leave with heavy hearts because we loved the Lord, we wanted a relationship with him. I remember us praying for a better church, and I remember feeling confident, that He woundn't let us down.My husband and I were newly married, but what he hadn't told me was that he was an inactive member of the Church. After that people started knocking at our door. They asked for Brother Gordy. Silly me, I thought they were his long lost family, and in a way they were. These people were his home teachers, and missionarys. They found us,and endeavored to "speak loving words to us". But, it wasn't going to be easy. It took about 10 years before I decided to listen to my husband, talk with the missionaries and give God an opportunity to heal my heart.I am glad I listened and my heart was prepared. I was baptized in 2008 and my husband and I were sealed for time and eternity in 2009. I can say that life is good, even better.

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  3. Thank you for this post! This was our FHE lesson last night :) This fine woman is who my dear little baby girl is named after.

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  4. I've been following your blog for a couple months now and have learned so much! I have so much enjoyed every single one of your posts. You have such a great writing style, and I love your views and opinions on things.
    We named our daughter Lydia, after the Lydia in the bible. I love what a strong and faithful example she is. I look forward to all of the talks I get to have with my Lydia in encouraging her to be like the other Lydia.

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  5. Lovely, as always. Thanks for sharing.

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  6. Yeah, I love all these little girls named Lydia! What a beautiful legacy to give your daughters.

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  7. My husband and I have planned on naming a daughter Lydia for years... but we keep having boys (we're on #4!) Thank you for this great post!

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  8. I remember learning somewhere (religion class maybe?) that being a dyer of purple also meant that she had connections to the royalty in Rome because wearing purple clothing was a symbol of royalty. I'll have to be on the lookout to see if I can find a source for this factoid but I'm pretty sure that was the case. I would think in those circumstances one of the most impressive things is that this woman who had such a high place in society and wasn't lacking for the blessings of this world was still able to humble herself and seek for the gospel.

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