“A God-fearing woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16:14-15)
My wife Amanda and I anticipate the birth of our first child any day now. Lydia is her name. Over the past several weeks we have shared her name with dozens of people, and the reaction is almost always the same. “That’s such a pretty name! How did you choose that name?” It’s a fairly uncommon name. Neither of us have close family members named Lydia. To the best of our recollection we have only known one Lydia in our entire lives, and she was not the namesake. So why “Lydia”?
Lydia is named after a purple cloth dealer from Thyatira who lived and died in the first century. Strange, right? Lydia’s story is found in the Bible in Acts 16:11-15. She only appears in verses 14, 15, and 40, but we learn so much about her in these few verses. We can think of at least seven things we learn about Lydia from these verses, and these are exactly the reason we chose to name our daughter after her. We hope and pray that our Lydia will embody the same virtues we see in Lydia of Thyatira.
1. We pray Lydia loves Jesus Christ.
The first thing we learn about Lydia (Acts 16:14) is that she is “a God-fearing woman.” The same verse tells us that God opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. And the joy is immediately evident. She and her household are baptized, and she invites everyone back to her place to celebrate. Lydia heard about and met the risen Jesus Christ, and the Lord opened her heart to love him. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.
2. We pray Lydia is courageous.
Luke unfortunately gives us no back story for Lydia, but we can fill out some back story from what he does give us. What do we know about Lydia? We know she was from Thyatira but is now living in Philippi. We know she sells purple cloth. We know she was attending (and possibly leading) a prayer meeting of women by the river. It seems she was the head of her household (since her entire household follows suit in baptism, and since she invites the travelers to her home). The picture that we have of Lydia, then, is of an entrepreneurial woman (quite uncommon in her world) who was living what appears to be a fairly wealthy lifestyle (purple cloth was a lucrative business, and she appears to have had a large home) without a husband and in a foreign city, as the head of her household (which at the time would include servants in addition to family), and who takes the initiative to attend or lead a prayer gathering of God-worshiping women in this foreign city. Lydia was no damsel in distress. She was courageous. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.
3. We pray Lydia knows her worth as a woman created by God.
Lydia’s story would be uncommon but not exceptional if she were a man. But as a woman her story is remarkable. At every point of the story we find Lydia in a role we would expect to be filled by a man. To start with, Paul and Silas find her at a prayer gathering by the river. To the careful reader of Acts, this is actually an alarming detail. Paul has visited several cities up to this point, and his first stop is always the synagogue, the Jewish place of worship. But in Philippi there apparently is no synagogue. The reason for this would have been that Philippi did not have ten Jewish men as required by Jewish custom in order to form a synagogue. But it seems Philippi may have had ten at least ten God-worshiping women. And these women, including Lydia, faithfully meet by the river to pray. Lydia is also an entrepreneur, and a seemingly wealthy one in a lucrative industry. It was not unheard of for women to hold such roles, but it certainly would have been noteworthy. Lydia also seems to function as the head of her household. This was definitely a man’s job. In Roman custom the paterfamilias (“family father”) served as the master of the estate, overseeing the operations of his home. This would include farming, finances, daily operations like food preparation and water gathering, and possibly even overseeing small businesses run out of unused rooms. A large home at the time could look more like a modern office building than a modern house. And Lydia appears to serve as the paterfamilias of her home, where there likely is no authoritative male figure to hold the role. Lydia extends the invitation to her guests to stay in her estate. Again this would have been extremely common from a man, but highly unusual from a woman. And at the end of the story (Acts 16:40) we learn that the church is apparently meeting in Lydia’s home. At every point in her story, we find Lydia in situations where we would expect to find a strong male presence (Jewish religion, business, the paterfamilias, the church) but where there apparently is no such presence. But instead of a confused void, we find Lydia serving faithfully. In a society that believed women to be inferior to men, Lydia courageously steps up to fill the roles left vacant by the men around her. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.
4. We pray Lydia will lead when no one else will.
Not everyone is a natural-born leader. But this does not mean that only certain people are capable of leading. Lydia appears to have had something of an entrepreneurial spirit, but most of her leadership was forced on her. She was likely only involved in the business world because she had been widowed and left with no other option. This industry took her across the sea to another city. There were no men leading a synagogue service in this city, so she found or formed a group for the women. She had no husband to act as paterfamilias, so she did so herself. Maybe Lydia was a born leader. Maybe leadership was the last thing she ever wanted. Either way, when people around her when in need of a leader, Lydia was willing to lead. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.
5. We pray Lydia will be generous.
Lydia of Thyatira was a wealthy and successful woman. But neither of these are reasons we chose her as the namesake for our daughter. Her generosity is one of the reasons. After coming to faith in Jesus, Lydia urges Paul and his traveling companions to stay in her home. This is more than an invitation for a visit. This is an invitation for them to make her home their “headquarters” as they seek to preach the gospel in Philippi. In Acts 16:40 we learn that Lydia’s home has become the meeting place of the newly formed church. Lydia is extremely generous with the way she uses her resources to care for others. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.
6. We pray Lydia will be hospitable.
The Greek word that the Bible uses for “hospitality” is a compound word that literally means “love of the stranger” (philoxenia – “philo” means “love” and “xenia” means “stranger”). Hospitality in the ancient world wasn’t about Super Bowl parties with friends but about taking care of the stranger, the traveler, the “other” who was in need. God is the ultimate example of hospitable in his love for humans – an “other” to God. Jesus is hospitable in that he extends himself to “tax collectors and sinners,” to a Samaritan woman, to people with leprosy, to the demon-possessed. Lydia of Thyatira was hospitable. Paul, Silas, and Luke are traveling from region to region preaching the gospel, and they are without room and board in Philippi. But Lydia extends herself to make her home their home in Philippi, and later to make her home the church meeting place in Philippi. Lydia shows true hospitality to these people in need. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.
7. We pray Lydia will love the church.
Lydia of Thyatira values community. Without a synagogue to visit, she joins/forms a prayer group. When she comes to faith in Christ, she tells her entire household and they also are baptized. She invites Paul, Silas, and Luke to stay in her home. She opens up her home as the place where the new church gathers. Lydia values community. Lydia loves the church. We pray the same will be true of our Lydia.