Acts 16:13-15 – Lydia of Thyatira

When Paul begins to work in a new location, he often visits a local synagogue first. But when Paul arrives in Philippi he visits worshipers by a river because there was no synagogue in the city. Access to water was an important factor for Diaspora Jews, so it is not unusual to find a group worshiping at a river. Since Luke calls this “a place of prayer,” Keener suggests this is not a group that would normally constitute a synagogue (3:2387). Since Paul talks to the women at the river, it is possible this is a group of Jewish women gathered to pray on the Sabbath. It is somewhat ironic Paul responds to a vision of a man calling him to preach in Macedonia by visiting a group of women praying on the Sabbath.

LydiaLydia was worshiping with the Jewish women outside of the city near a stream. She is identified as a “worshiper of God” (σεβομένη τὸν θεόν) from Thyatira, implying she was a Greek who was attracted to the practice of Judaism. Gentile women were often attracted to Judaism, so much so that Celsus could complain Christian spread through women (Keener 3:2391).

It is possible Lydia was a wealthy freedwoman and perhaps a widow. She invites Paul and his travelling companions to her home, which implies a larger than average home, Keener suggests a domus, a Roman house with an atrium with ample space to host a new church (3:2404). While she was probably not among the elite of the city, Luke does include several reports of prominent people accepting the gospel in the book. Since her husband is not mentioned in Acts 16, it is possible Lydia was widowed, giving her some wealth and independence.

Some have understood her job as a “seller of purple” is sometimes taken to imply a higher-than-average status. She ran an export business moving purple-dyed goods from Thyatira to Philippi. Purple goods were costly, so there is an implication that Lydia was wealthy. Sellers of purple are sometimes included in “Caesar’s household” (NewDocs, 2:26). Since Lydia is a Greek woman worshiping the God of Israel, she is a close parallel to Cornelius in status. This is another intentional parallel between Peter and Paul: both preach the gospel to a prominent God-fearer.

Luke says “the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to believe.” This is similar to Luke 24:45; Jesus opens the hearts of his disciples so that they could understand the scripture. Lydia believers because the Lord enables her to understand and accept the Gospel as Paul preached it. A similar usage appears in 2 Macc 1:4, may the Lord “open your hearts” (διανοίξαι τὴν καρδίαν ὑμῶν) to understand his commandments.

As a result of Lydia’s faith, her household comes to faith in Jesus and she offers hospitality to Paul and his ministry team. Keener considers this a potentially “scandalous hospitality” since teachers who attracted too many female followers were suspicious. But in the context of Luke 16, a male prison guard will also offer hospitality to Paul (16:34). Like the members of the Jerusalem church selling property to support community, Lydia opens her home and (apparently) hosts the growing church at Philippi.

There are several reasons the story of Lydia is important in Acts, but also as a point of application when reading the book of Acts. What does Paul reaching out to this particular woman say for “doing church” today? How can this story be a model for ministry?

23 thoughts on “Acts 16:13-15 – Lydia of Thyatira

  1. Acts 16:14 tells us that she was a “dealer of purple”. In this blog it mentions how a dealer of purple at that time meant that you had been blessed with wealth. In Acts 16:15 it says Lydia welcomed Paul and his companions into her home to minister to others.
    Matthew 25:35 Jesus us that we are to minister to each other with food, water, and shelter. I think Lydia demonstrated Christ’s character in her hospitality. It says in Acts 16:14 that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart. I believe that through Paul’s message to Lydia the Holy Spirit was not only open her heart but also many of those connected with her.

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  2. It was not the actions of Paul that saved Lydia. In verse 13 it says that they went to the location where the women were because they assumed there would be a synagogue. In verse 14 it explains that the Lord softened her heart toward the gospel. Both of these things were things that the Lord did using Paul’s obedience. I think that one thing we can see from this text is that obedience to God results in God using you to reach people with the gospel. Another is that it is the Lord that orchestrated that encounter. Paul did what he was told but ultimately is was the Lord who set up the encounter and opened Lydia’s heart to the gospel. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Paul understood that it was not his ministry that was doing the work of salvation.

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  3. I believe that this story in Acts can have many applications for our lives today. The story of Lydia in Acts 16 can help us see that we should keep an open heart and mind when sharing the gospel with others. We should not put a limit on what God is able to do. The fear of what others may think about you should not hinder you from sharing the gospel. Paul spoke to the women who were gathered at the stream. He could have disobeyed God and not go to talk to the women at the stream in fear of what people would think about him. If God calls you to do something, you should be obedient just as Paul was. There may be people who know of God but have not accepted Him as their Savior. If we are obedient to God and trust in His guidance, good things can come out of it. As Mary mentioned, it was not because of Paul that Lydia came to faith in Jesus but it was her faith that resulted in the Lord opening her heart to believe. Her household came to know Jesus and she offered hospitality to Paul and his ministry team (Acts 16:15).

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  4. Being that I did my major paper on this topic, I obviously think that this story is important for church today. In my paper, I said that I thought it was important to point out that the ministry of Paul is set up in Acts to mirror the ministry of Christ. You stated in your post, “Luke says “the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to believe.” This is similar to Luke 24:45; Jesus opens the hearts of his disciples so that they could understand the scripture.” I think that your statement and the way that Luke words what he says in this Scripture prove that point. Because I think that Luke is trying to highlight the similarities between Jesus and Paul, I feel the need to point out that I think Luke is trying to show that Jesus ministered to unlikely people and tried to see their potential. I think that this story is set to show that and encourage us as the church today to try to do the same.

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  5. There is very little written about Lydia. However, from the little we do know in the book of acts proves that she was a faith driven women. First we notices that she was a women who worshipped God. Secondly she mentioned that the Lord opened her heart to hear Paul’s message. Because she loved the Lord she opened to what Paul had to say. This is exactly what Jesus asked us to do in Mathew. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind’ Matt 22:37-38. Lydia is a perfect example we should consider when starting our ministry. Lydia listened to God and followed God’s plan. In ministry we must also listen to Gods plan and follow all his plans. Sometimes as humans we want to be in control and take over. Lydia submitted to God with all her heart. This is a perfect example for us to consider not only in ministry but throughout our lives.

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  6. I think that Paul reaching out to Lydia was important because of where she was at. From what I have learned regarding Lydia, like P. Long said is that she was decently wealthy and a widow. This gave her time to create garments with purple in them, worn mostly among the wealthy. Through this, Lydia has an impact on the other women in the area, some other widows maybe who were working under Lydia in her “business”. Because of her social status among the women, through Paul reaching out to her there was a greater impact in more people’s lives than just that of Lydia’s. I believe that in todays churches, we forget that one person can have a GREATER impact on those we might never come in contact with.

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  7. Paul’s practice when going to any new place was to find the Jews in the synagogue. It seems this is what he is doing in Philippi, looking for the Jews. This circumstance was clearly different since there don’t seem to be any men or Jewish leaders and it doesn’t appear to be a synagogue in place. Nevertheless Paul was so committed to the gospel of Jesus and telling the Jews first and then the Gentiles they way to really be saved he went to the Jews he could find. There is something to be said about his persistence and conviction in knowing that he could not simply know the truth but needed to share it with others. I think often times we make excuses about why we weren’t able to do what was asked of us when in reality it wasn’t enough of a priority to follow through. Paul is a good example of being convicted of one’s calling enough to deny excuses and reach anyone and everyone for the sake and name of Jesus.

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  8. I think the reason why Paul reached out to Lydia was because of two things. Frist, that in Acts 16:15 she seems to be a bold type of woman. My guess is that she was one of the leading examples to be baptized first which mean in my opinion that would make her a leader among the women of Philippi. Helping Paul to eventually bring more people into the folder of Christ. Second, the other item that makes her a leader in the community (sort of) is that she is wealthy, so my guess is if she follows Judaism and is a “worshiper of God” she gives to the needy and the women stop and take note of this. Also, that she invited the church into her home for a meal. That’s why I think that Paul reaches out to her.
    Lydia reminds me of a single woman in the U.S. and I think is the perfect example of how single Christian women should do hospitality. Being able to have the freedom to have people over and fellowship with them with food is an excellent way to do hospitality. There are always pros and cons to everything and single women also need to be smart when letting people through their door in this day and age. At the same time, it is an exciting opportunity to have when the means and opportunity are presented and one is able to bless others.

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  9. This is such an awesome story of Lydia, a Greek woman who is possibly a widow who practices Judaism due to a probable attraction to the love that the Lord brings to the hearts of those who believe. 1 Timothy 5:3 says to “honor widows who are truly widows” and I can’t help but to think the Jews in the area treated her with honor and respect that drew her in and “opened her heart” (Acts 16:14). The fact that Paul reached out to Lydia shows that the Gospel has no boundaries. With Lydia being able to worship “The God of Israel” as the article mentions, it gives Paul something to relate to and find common ground with when he presents the gospel. Similar to today with trying to witness to a Jewish person or even a Muslim person, there is common ground with being an Abrahamic religion that us Christians can learn to do.

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    • Troy, you are so right. Her story is able to show that the gospel has no boundaries in who it can touch. I think that during the time period that this story occurred, that was probably a foreign thing to them. Paul was able to reach out to her though and was able to fill her heart with the gospel. It also shows the power of God. His divine hand was throughout that entire story. He allowed Paul to be there the same time that Lydia was and he even opened the heart of Lydia so that she would be able to listen and pay attention to what Paul was teaching. This is the perfect story to show the greatness of God.

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  10. Lydia the purple people eater! Not really but she does sell purple goods, which we also know would make her well off. Thyatira is known for its expensive purple dyes (Polhill, 2118). Paul being directed to Macedonia because of a vision he received, makes his way to the main river because that is where worshiping, and prayer typically takes place. It truly is interesting that Paul’s vision was a man, but he ends up with a group of women instead. Lydia invites Paul and his companions, back to her house. We see this as a sign of wealth having a larger than a typical home. I appreciate the extended knowledge on what selling purple means, in which I now know it would be an export business and moving the expensive purple-dyed goods from Thyatira to Philippi (Long). The Bible tells us “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (16:14). I think this relates to the idea of praying for individuals today to receive the gospel, something I constantly strive to do while working in youth ministry. I think it also shows the power of the Lord and not the speaker, which is a reminder that it is not the speaker but truly the work of the Lord. Lydia’s heart opened, and she believed, not only this but she was on fire for the Lord and wanted everyone in her household to believe as well. She showed this heart change in opening up her house and being hospitable to Paul and his companions. She does not stop there either, as her house becomes a new gathering place for Christians (Polhill, 2118). Dr. Phil Long leaves us a question of how this story can be a model for ministry, I think it shows us a few things. The first relates more to their journey to reaching Macedonia. We may think we have plans of where we are going and our ideas or vision for a ministry, but God says, no you can’t go there and directs our paths elsewhere. We may not have expected it, but we need to obey. The second is that in ministry if we are the point person, it is easy to think of ourselves doing the work, but really it is the Lord and he has the power, we do not. Thirdly, new believers like Lydia have that child-like faith and on fire for the Lord, sharing it and serving the Lord. It is good that we are becoming mature Christians, but don’t forget the roots, don’t forget to relight the fire.
    Lastly, God can use anyone, particularly, Lydia is one that changes the idea of women’s role in ministry. Jesus’ whole ministry was about the people who were broken and criminals. God has the ultimate plan, we need to trust and obey.

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  11. The story of Lydia is actually quite the interesting one, especially since it is one of two females that are named in the book of Acts. Since she was living in a Roman city at the time and was a foreigner who was a business women, it made her more of an outsider. In the Roman culture it was very uncommon for a women to do business type things. The fact that we are aware that she was a “seller of purple goods” is something that would already have a bad look coming from the Roman culture that she was surrounded by (Acts 16:14). Then since she may have been a widow and was making religious decisions for her as well as her household was against the culture that she lived in, but she was not scared to do any of those things. Instead she opens up her house for Paul to stay at and allows it to be a safe place for Christians. Jipp states that “Paul’s acceptance of Lydia’s hospitality has significant social ramifications” but they both were willing to make those sacrifices (Jipp 90). I think that this story can be a model for doing ministry today in that we have to be willing to make sacrifices for the spreading of the gospel. Today the culture has become lazy and not really willing to make the sacrifices that are asked for us. But if we look at this story, Lydia was able to make sacrifices as well as Paul. God has things in control, we just have to trust in his plan, and part of that is giving up some of our comforts for the good of the gospel.

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  12. The story of Lydia really interests me. Your question about Paul reaching out to Lydia really got me thinking. I think that reaching out is a major part of ministry. So, this is a story of any great ministry. Everyone needs to be witnessed to and we all need to share the gospel.
    I think that this was a stepping stone for women in ministry. I also believe that it shows an example that anyone can be a witness no matter who you are.

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  13. Lydia is a significant to Paul’s ministry, but also the spreading of the Christian church. Lydia’s heart was opened by God to the life, ministry, and salvation of Jesus, and she believed in Him (Acts 16:14). This is important for many reasons. One reason is that it seems Lydia was a prominent character in her town, so reaching her probably reached many other, specifically the women. Which brings another important detail about this story. Lydia was a woman, who in biblical times were not regularly valued. However, Paul was led to speak to a group of women, and we see that some, notably Lydia, believed the message that was shared. After the sharing of the gospel and Lydia’s acceptance of it, she opened her home (Long). This was important because it was symbolic of her openness to the message and to the people sharing it with her, Paul and his crew. She opened her home, due to the openness in her heart. Going beyond the initial opening of her home, the readers of Acts can see that she continually opened her home to new believers. This is important for two reasons. One, is that we can see that more people in her town believed, which is amazing and shows the success of Paul’s ministry as well. The second, and perhaps more important, reason is that Lydia’s home became a place for these believers to meet outside of the synagogue (Jipp 90). Lydia became very fundamental to the mission of the church in Thyatira due to her openness. Perhaps the modern mission should keep in mind that sometimes openness is the best way to spread the mission, and in addition to that, sometimes it is the lesser valued people who can bring the most change.

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  14. Lydia is a character which demonstrates the movement of the gospel. We meet Cornelius who was a God fearing gentile, and we also come across a God fearing gentile woman. Society was different in those times and women did not always have the same status as men in the ancient culture. Thus, Lydia coming to faith continues to show that the gospel is for all people. Also, as for the possibility of Lydia being scandalous in showing hospitality to Paul’s ministry team, I think it is important to understand that the gospel in radical. There are many times when Jesus went against the gain of society in order to love those who were the outcast. I think Lydia is simply seeing that she has resources to be an excellent host, thus she invites them to her home. Applying this in today’s world, we need to understand that God is the one who moves people. We need to continually remind ourselves that we are the ones to carry and deliver the message, it is not up to us to turn their life around. If we are not thinking this way, it is easy for discouragement to creep in. Furthermore, Lydia was in the upper class of society, lets not forget that the people we often find ourselves frustrated with on the news, are souls in need of a savior. Just because they have it all in the world’s perspective, does not mean their soul isn’t still searching

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  15. I think the fact that the Lord opened her heart is a testament to the power of the Gospel. And it shows us that no one comes to Christ unless the Father leads them (John 6:44). As far as the application of this passage I think the first thing to pull away is that God has to do the work of softening the hearts of those we speak to. We should never cease preaching the Gospel, but understand it is the work of God that brings people to know Him. Another thing that we could use in ministry today is the hospitality response that Lydia has to her new friends. There is nothing like being invited over to someone’s house for a meal and good conversation. Food and a place to commune together is something that has transcended many many years. Although our time of hospitality looks different then what Lydia did, it is still an incredible tool to spread the Gospel and grow spiritually.

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    • I really like how you described the power of the Gospel here with this particular situation. I like the verse you referenced from the book of John and how no one in this world ever comes to Christ unless they are lead to him by the Father. Lydia was just simply doing something that she knew God would do in this situation, which this also, like you said, something that we as Christians should think more like.

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  16. I think this story was more significant to the people at the time it was written than to us today, or, rather, there is a different significance to it. From what I understand of the culture during the time of the early church, one common problem is that Jewish Christians had a difficult adapting to and accepting Gentiles. One thing mentioned in class was how the Jews didn’t eat food touched by Gentiles. This shows how significant the separation between these two groups was. One purpose of the book of Acts was to show that salvation was not only for the Jews, but also to the Greeks (or to everyone), and I think this passage may further push this mindset. (Correct me if I am wrong, but) Lydia was likely deemed not as important, but because Paul went directly to her and her group with the Gospel, this further shows how anyone can be saved.

    Another application for this passage is how, when doing ministry, one great place to start with sharing the Gospel is with people who are already receptive to it. Going to religious people who already believe in the same God as we do and sharing the Gospel with them will likely bring more to salvation than the alternative. Though ministry isn’t necessarily about numbers, it still is something to consider.

    One more application for how to do ministry is actually from Lydia’s perspective. Through reading some other comments a great point was made, that ministry should be done by every believer, not just those with the title of missionary. As soon as Lydia received salvation she was helping. This is an example of how we all should act. Even if we aren’t backed by many different churches to preach the Gospel overseas (or something similar) we can still be a benefit like Lydia was.

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  17. The story of Lydia is a great step forward for the Gospel, the implication that there are not that many Jewish people in Phillipi, means that Paul has to minister to mostly pagan people. Yet Phillipi is one of the more successful churches that Paul writes to later on in his life. So I think that the people that are mentioned here are key pieces to the success of the church in Phillipi. As for the ministry done here Lydia is someone that is wealthy enough to house a ministry team in her house and later house a small church. There are people that suggest that Lydia herself becomes the head of the in Phillipi and leads them. Using Lydia as an example of God using women in the “church” and in ministry in general.

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  18. The story of Lydia was very important to the church at Philippi and can be used as a model for ministry as well. The lesson to take away from this story is that it is important to reach out to everyone and try to tell them about God. Paul couldn’t just not preach to the group of people that were near the stream because he didn’t feel like it that day. And it would be a mistake for him to look at a group of people and assume that they wouldn’t receive his message well and it would be worthless. Instead he does the right thing and preach to everyone he comes into contact with because you never know the result of telling people about God. If all that it does is get someone curious about God and wanting to know more, then it was worth it.
    In the case of Lydia, Paul preached to a group of people and “the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to believe”. As a result, her whole household comes to faith in Jesus and she opens up her home to Paul and his team, and her home becomes the home of the growing church at Philippi. This implies that her house was rather large and was big enough to host a decent amount of additional people which was a perfect situation for them.

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  19. It never occurred to me to take the vision that Paul had of a man asking him to come to Macedonia, and the first group that he goes to is a group of women. Lydia is one of the women there that he meets with. Lydia is a woman who is called a worshiper of God and this meant that she was a Gentile that was attracted to the Jewish practices. In this time period, it was not uncommon for women to be attracted to the Jewish traditions because of the high moral standings, and the ideas behind it. It has even been said that because women were so attracted to these practices that Christianity actually spread through women. Lydia is considered to be a wealthier woman due to the fact that she was a seller of purple cloth, and she was able to host Paul and those traveling with him. When Paul speaks to the group, Lydia’s heart is opened to the Spirit of the Lord, and because of this both she and all of her household was baptized. The reason that she offers to host Paul and his traveling companions is because this is her way of responding to her new-found belief. Her asking Paul to say with her, and Paul actually accepting is a really key point in the story of Acts. It is of great significance because Paul stayed in the house of a Gentile, he is proclaiming through action that his mission is to be a witness to the Gentiles.

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  20. I notice both Paul and Lydia appear to be remembering to keep the Sabbath; as was Paul’s custom (Acts 17), Most of Christiandom today does not keep His Holy Sabbaths Which is not really a Jewish thing but made holy on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3 ) Jews are just reminded to remember it, It was made for mankind. Both Jew and Gentile were willing to to keep His commandments and show their love for God by being baptized for remission of their sins; we all have sinned. Then Lydia shows her love for Bro, Paul and his companion. May we all be willing to go into homes of those unlike ourselves and teach Christ.

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