"She Worketh Willingly With Her Hands" by Elspeth Young
Acts 16: 14-15, 40
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.
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?