Going Out

| Acts 16:6-15 | September 30, 2018

Week of October 7, 2018

The Point:  Engaging others with the gospel means going where they are.

Mission in Macedonia:  Acts 16:6-15.

[6] And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. [7] And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. [8] So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. [9] And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” [10] And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. [11] So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, [12] and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. [13] And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. [14] One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. [15] And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.   [ESV]

“Lydia: A Hospitable Heart Opened.  Lydia is best remembered as the original convert for the gospel in Europe. She was the first person on record ever to respond to the message of Christ during the apostle Paul’s original missionary journey into Europe. Her conversion marked the earliest foothold of the church on a continent that ultimately became the hub of the gospel’s witness worldwide. (Europe has only relinquished that distinction to North America in the past hundred years or so.) Ironically, however, Lydia herself was not European. Her name was also the name of a large Asian province, which was probably the region of her birth. In Roman times, the once-great land of Lydia was merely one of the provinces of Asia Minor. But by the end of the apostolic age, the province of Lydia was also a thriving center of Christianity. Lydia’s actual hometown was the city of Thyatira which was home to one of the seven churches of Revelation [2:18-29]. Significantly, Thyatira was located in the very region of Asia Minor where Luke tells us Paul, Silas, and Timothy were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word. Shortly after all doors were closed to Paul for any further church-planting in Asia Minor, God sovereignly led the missionary party into Europe by means of a dream in which a Macedonian man stood and urged Paul saying Come over to Macedonia and help us [16:9]. The ironies are many. Instead of reaching Lydia in the region she regarded as home, the gospel pursued her to Europe, where she was engaged in business. Although Paul saw a Macedonian man in his vision, an Asian woman became the first convert on record in Europe. Lydia was a remarkable woman who appeared suddenly and unexpectedly in the biblical narrative, reminding us that while God’s sovereign purposes usually remain hidden from our eyes, He is always at work in secret and surprising ways to call out a people for His name.

How the Gospel Came to Lydia.  Lydia’s story is brief but compelling. It is told in just a few verses near the start of Luke’s narrative about the apostle Paul’s second missionary journey. This was an extended missionary trip whose description spans Acts 15:36-18:22. Paul’s main companions on that long journey were Silas and Timothy. Luke apparently joined them just before they crossed the narrow strait from Troas into Macedonia. Luke’s enlistment in the missionary team was signaled by an abrupt change to second-person pronouns, starting in Acts 16:10. From that point on, Luke wrote as an eyewitness. It was at that very point Lydia’s story came into play. The sovereign hand of God’s providential guidance was evident to Paul’s entire group. Luke didn’t explain all the circumstances, but by some means they had been forbidden by the Spirit of God to journey into the heart of Asia Minor. Every other door of ministry in Asia was also closed to them [16:6-8]. That’s when Paul received a revelation calling him across to the European continent. God had made it perfectly clear to all that there was just one way ahead – Macedonia. They wasted no time crossing to the Greek mainland, where they headed for Philippi, the foremost city of that part of Macedonia. In Paul’s day, Philippi was a thriving, busy community at the crossroads of two trade routes, one by land and the other by sea. Philippi was a colony of Rome, with a Roman government and a large population of Roman citizens. So this was a prosperous and flourishing city, bustling with trade and commerce from all over the world. It was a strategic place for introducing the gospel to Europe. Paul’s normal evangelistic strategy was to take the gospel first to the local synagogue, because if he went to the Gentiles first, the Jews would never listen to anything he had to say. Philippi, however, was a thoroughly Gentile town with no synagogue. There were a few Jews in Philippi but not enough to support a synagogue. In order to start a synagogue in any community, Jewish custom required a quorum of at least ten Jewish men. According to the tradition, in communities without synagogues, Jewish women could pray together in groups if they liked, but men had to form a legitimate synagogue before they could partake in any kind of formal, public, communal worship. Finding no synagogue, Paul and his group learned the place where Jewish women gathered to pray on the Sabbath, and they went there instead. Apparently, the small group of women who gathered by the river constituted the only public gathering of Jews anywhere in Philippi on a typical Sabbath day. In keeping with his principle of bringing the gospel to the Jew first [Rom. 1:16], Paul went to the riverside to preach. Ironically, the one woman who responded most eagerly was not Jewish at all. Lydia was a worshiper of Yahweh, at least externally. But she was a Gentile, an active seeker of the true God who had not even yet become a formal Jewish proselyte. She was, in effect, a businesswoman. She sold purple dye and fancy purple cloth, manufactured by a famous guild in her hometown of Thyatira. The rare and expensive dye (actually more crimson than purple) was made from a spiny-shelled mollusk known as the murex. This royal purple dye was one of the most precious of all commodities in the ancient world. So Lydia must have been a woman of some means. The mention of a household in Acts 16:15 would indicate that she maintained a home in Philippi, most likely, with household servants. All of this confirms that she was a wealthy woman.

How the Gospel Captured Lydia’s Heart.  The manner of Lydia’s conversion is a fine illustration of how God always redeems lost souls. From our human perspective, we may think we are seeking Him, that trusting Christ is merely a “decision” that lies within the power of our own will to choose, or that we are sovereign over our own hearts and affections. In reality, wherever you see a soul like Lydia’s truly seeking God, you can be certain God is drawing her. Whenever someone trusts Christ, it is God who opens the heart to believe. If God Himself did not draw us to Christ, we would never come at all. Jesus was quite clear about this: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him [John 6:44]. No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father [John 6:65]. The fallen human heart is in absolute bondage to sin. Romans 8:7-8 says, the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. We are powerless to change our own hearts or turn from evil in order to do good. The love of evil is part of our fallen nature, and it is the very thing that makes it impossible for us to choose good over evil. Our wills are bent in accordance with what we love. We are in bondage to our own corruption. Scripture portrays the condition of every fallen sinner as a state of hopeless enslavement to sin [Eph. 2:1-3]. Acts 16:14 describes Lydia as a woman who was a worshiper of God. Intellectually, at least, she already knew that Yahweh was the one true God. She apparently met regularly with the Jewish women who gathered to pray on the Sabbath, but she had not yet become a convert to Judaism. Luke recorded that Lydia heard us. He used a Greek word that meant she was listening intently. She listened with rapt attention and understanding as Paul and his companions explained the gospel message. Her heart was truly open. She was a genuine seeker of God. But notice Luke’s whole point: it was not that Lydia opened her own heart and ears to the truth. Yes, she was seeking, but even that was because God was drawing her. She was listening, but it was God who gave her ears to hear. She had an open heart, but it was God who opened her heart. Luke expressly affirms the sovereignty of God in Lydia’s salvation: The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul [16:14]. If it was not for God’s sovereign work drawing and opening the hearts of sinners to believe, no one would ever be saved. This is the very thing Paul has in mind in Ephesians 2, after stressing the utter spiritual deadness of sinners, when he says salvation – all of it – is a gift of God [Eph. 2:8-9]. We don’t reach down into our own hearts and summon faith from within by sheer willpower. God is the one who opens our hearts to believe. Repentance is something He graciously bestows [Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25]. This is why we pray for the salvation of our loved ones. (If salvation were solely dependent on our own free-will choice, what would be the point of praying to God about it?) We know in our hearts that our salvation is wholly and completely the work of God’s grace, and not in any sense our own doing. All believers, like Lydia, must confess that it was God who first opened our hearts to believe. The language is significant. A lot of people imagine that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty has Him somehow forcing people against their wills to believe. Don’t imagine for a moment that there is any kind of violent force or coercion involved when God draws people to Christ. Grace doesn’t push sinners against their wills toward Christ; it draws them willingly to Him – by first opening their hearts. It enables them to see their sin for what it is and empowers them to despise what they formerly loved. It also equips them to see Christ for who He truly is. Someone whose heart has been opened like that will inevitably find Christ Himself irresistible. Luke’s description of Lydia’s conversion captures it beautifully. The Lord simply opened her heart to believe – and she did. God’s sovereign hand is seen clearly in every aspect of Luke’s account. The Lord clearly orchestrated the circumstances that brought Paul to Macedonia. It was a similar providence that brought Lydia there and drew her to the riverside on a Sabbath morning with a seeking heart. It was the Spirit of God who sovereignly opened her heart, gave her spiritual ears to hear, and gave her spiritual eyes to see the irresistible appeal of Christ. For her part, she responded instantly. God’s sovereignty does not leave the sinner out of the process. Lydia heard and heeded. She willingly embraced the truth of the gospel and became a believer that very morning.

How the Gospel Transformed Lydia’s Life.  Lydia’s faith immediately was evident in her actions. Almost incidentally, Luke said, And after she was baptized, and her household as well [16:15]. Remember, the meeting took place next to a river. Apparently, Lydia, like the Ethiopian eunuch, needed little encouragement to take that first step of obedience to Christ. She was baptized then and there. Notice also that Scripture mentioned her household. This could describe her actual family, but nothing in the context indicated she was married. It would have been highly unusual in that culture for a married woman with family responsibilities to be involved in an import-export business requiring her to travel from continent to continent. Besides, she was clearly the head of the household. It was, after all, her household, and my house [16:15]. Lydia may have been a widow. Her household most likely included servants. She may also have had grown children who lived and traveled with her. But whoever was included in the household, they all came to faith and were baptized right along with Lydia. She was already leading others to Christ. And God was graciously opening their hearts too. Lydia was also quick to show hospitality to the missionaries. According to Luke, she urged us to be her guests. If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay. Lydia’s hospitality to these strangers who had come in the name of the Lord was commendable. Again, her eagerness to host them reminds us that she was a woman of means. We know for sure that the group included Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke. In all likelihood there were others. This may have been a large team. It would be no easy task, even today, to host so many strangers. Since they had no plans for where to go next, she was offering to keep them indefinitely. Moreover, the real cost to Lydia was potentially much higher than the monetary value of room and board for a group of missionaries. Remember that Philippi was where Paul and Silas were beaten badly, thrown in jail, and clamped in stocks. They were ultimately freed by a miraculous earthquake, and the jailer and all his household became Christians in the process. But if preaching the gospel was deemed a jailable offense, Lydia was exposing herself to possible trouble – a loss of business, bad will in the community, and even a prison sentence for herself – by housing these strangers and thus giving them a base from which to evangelize. Her wonderful act of hospitality nevertheless opened the way for the church to penetrate Europe. Paul and the missionaries apparently stayed with Lydia for a long time. Acts 16:40 indicates that they had been in Philippi long enough to found a fledgling church. Apparently, a number of people had responded to the gospel. Naturally, their first meeting place was Lydia’s home. By opening her home to the apostle Paul, Lydia had the honor of hosting in her own living room the earliest meetings of the first church ever established in Europe! She gained that honor for herself by showing such warm hospitality to this team of missionaries whom she barely knew. She epitomized the kind of hospitality Scripture demands of all Christians. Lydia’s hospitality was as remarkable as her faith. Because of her generosity to Paul and his missionary team, the gospel obtained a solid foothold in Philippi. A few short years later, Paul penned the epistle that bears the name of that church. It is obvious from the tone of this epistle that opposition to the gospel was still strong in Philippi. But the gospel was more powerful yet, and from Philippi the testimony of Christ sounded out into all of Europe.”  [MacArthur, pp. 187-197].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Describe Lydia. Who was she? What did she do? How was she saved? What evidences of her salvation do you see in this passage? How did God use her in His church?
  2. What was ironic about Paul meeting Lydia in Philippi? How do we see God’s sovereign and providential work in this passage? How can you become more dependent upon and trusting in God’s providential work in your life?

References:

Twelve Extraordinary Women, John MacArthur, Nelson Books.

Acts, John Polhill, NAC, B & H Publishing.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter Varsity Press.

Acts, Derek Thomas, REC, P & R Publishing.