Lydia: A Business Woman Devoted To The LordFrom series Significant Biblical Women.
Lydia: name meaning 'from Lydia,' which was on the coast of Asia Minor
On Christmas Eve 2012, BBC1 broadcast a program narrated by David Suchet, called In The Footsteps of St Paul, exploring his theology, his travels and the early history of the Christian church. The program mentioned Lydia as the ‘first (known) European believer.' Suchet explains this is significant because of Lydia’s gender. Paul’s teaching was transformative for the times, especially as he appears to consider women equal with men. Suchet links this with the idea that Paul was so convinced the end of the world was coming that he was determined to save anyone, male or female while he still had the opportunity.
Putting the Lord first
The programme also made clear how prevalent pagan idols were, not just in temples but also in homes and in public places. For me, this makes Lydia’s conversion more remarkable. Surely there are parallels we can draw today. Idols are all around us, whether ours are money, material things, music, food, a particular celebrity… How do we, like Lydia, turn from idols and put the Lord first?
An influential woman
Lydia was a business woman of independent means, which was highly unusual for the times. 'At a time when women were considered inferior and had few rights, Lydia became a successful business woman, surprisingly able to compete in a male-dominated economic system' (Porter: 1998). Contemporary sources suggest Lydia was either widowed or unmarried. Widows or unmarried women were generally ill thought of and had no means to provide for themselves, especially if there were no sons or brothers to provide for them. Lydia, however, was an exception. She is described in the bible as a merchant (a dealer) in purple dye and cloth. Each colour of dye was unique to one particular part of a country, this area therefore being famous for purple dye.
Faith and business
Lydia is described in Acts as 'a merchant of expensive purple cloth who worshipped God' (Acts 16:14). Therefore one did not exclude the other, but rather both are part of her identity. Lydia was a proselyte, someone who was devoted to God, but didn't believe in the 'Messiah,' until the 'Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying' (Luke 16:14, NLT). What’s also interesting about Lydia, according to Marsh, is that her faith influenced her business to the extent that her client base was much smaller. She avoided Pagan worship and many rich clients, working harder to be successful and true to her faith (Porter: 1998).
Risking her personal safety
Lydia is also described as having a 'household.' This too is unusual as the household is hers, not her father’s or her husband’s. She is described as having ‘urged’ Paul and his companions to stay with her, until they agreed (Acts 16:15, NLT). Therefore she must have had a home large enough to accommodate them, and have been wealthy enough to provide for their needs. It is her home Paul and Silas escaped to when they were released from prison, something that would have put her safety at risk and her life in danger, just as meeting at the river, where she first met Paul could have put her safety at risk, too.
How do we cultivate Lydia’s devotion to the Lord? By following her example in:
-Porter, B ‘Lydia: Bought for eternity’ in S.Jones and L.Brumley (eds.) She Shall Be Called Woman (Powerful Insights From New Testament Women) Vol.2, 2nd edn. (Massachusetts: Discipleship Publications International, 1998).