The Work in Philippi: Part 3 of 14
by John Lowe
Hospitality was probably the most notable thing about her. Hospitality has always been one of the human graces. Together with clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, and visiting the lonely, Jesus makes it one of the basic requirements of life in His kingdom: “I was a stranger, and ye took me in” (Matthew 25:35). When Paul and his friends were friendless in a hostile city Lydia gave them the hospitality of her home.
Lydia’s invitation to the four missionaries to stay in her home in itself indicates that she had considerable substance, such as guest rooms and servants to accommodate them adequately. The words “and she constrained us” seems to imply that they were reluctant, but she pressured them to accept her offer. Lydia made the missionaries’ acceptance of her hospitality the test of whether they really believed she had become a believer, “come and see for yourself if the Lord has come to rule in my life.” It was an offer they could not refuse. But she did not merely open her home to the missionaries; she allowed it to become the gathering place for the entire Christian community—“After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left” (Acts 16:40). Perhaps the wealthiest member of the Philippian church, Lydia embraced the ideal of the early church, not laying claim to what was hers but freely sharing it with her sisters and brothers in Christ—“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32). No doubt her home became the first “church” in Philippi (tradition places it in the village that has taken her name, not far from the ruins of Philippi). Of all the churches which Paul founded, this church was the closest to his heart. This was the church which loved him; and Paul loved this church. There were wonderful saints in this church, as we shall see.
Not only did Lydia share her goods, but she shared her faith as well. As the leader of her household, she led them to join her in commitment and baptism. This is the first time the baptism of a “household” is narrated in Acts. Another will follow shortly (vs. 33-48). There is no evidence whatsoever that this included infants, and it cannot be used in support of infant baptism. Previous references to Cornelius’s household indicates that those who were baptized both heard and believed the message (10:44; 11:4, 17). Throughout Acts, baptism is based on personal faith and commitment, and there is no reason to see otherwise in the household baptisms.
Of all Paul’s churches, the Philippians’ generosity stood out. They continued to send him support in his missionary endeavors elsewhere (Philippians 4:15-18; 2 Corinthians 11:8). One is tempted to see Lydia as a principal contributor. However, those who argue that Paul married Lydia and that she was the “loyal yokefellow” of Philippians 4:3, have certainly gone too far. Women like Lydia were particularly prominent in Paul’s missionary efforts in this portion of Acts—the women of Thessalonica (17:4) and of Berea (17:12), Damaris in Athens (17:34), and Priscilla in Corinth (18:2). Priscilla and Lydia took an active role in the ministry of their churches. This was in part due to the more elevated status of women in the contemporary Greek and Roman society. This was particularly true in the first century when women were given a number of legal privileges such as initiating divorce, signing legal documents, even holding honorary public titles. The prominent role of the women in Acts is perhaps due even more to the message Paul brought them: “in Christ Jesus, there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3: 28). God brought her all the way to Greece so that she might hear the Gospel and be converted.
Today, we are sometimes told that the Church is full of women, that there are no men going to Church. I can’t help but comment whenever I hear that statement made. But the extent to which it is true is the condemnation of men; and let the men who are becoming Christless and churchless lament if the hour should ever come when their women ceased to worship. The women whose hearts are opened, whose homes are ever Christ’s training grounds. Lydia was Paul’s first victory in Philippi.
This episode is a beautiful illustration of 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14: “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”NIV
1 Neapolis, on the Strymonian Gulf, is the modern Cavalla; it was a port second only to Thessalonica.
2 The territory is now known as the Balkan Peninsula and belongs partly to Greece and partly to Yugoslavia. Under the rule of Philip II of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great, this country rose to supremacy and became one of the mightiest empires in the world.
3 The problem is somewhat more complicated than the text would indicate. Some of the best manuscripts read “the first city of the history of Macedonia.” The Western text reads “the capital” of Macedonia. Only a couple of Latin manuscripts have the reading “a leading city of the first district of Macedonia,” but this reading fits the facts best.
4 At least Ten Males were required to form a synagogue, and no amount of women could make up for the lack if the required number of men was missing. Since only women are mentioned in the gathering outside Philippi, there were likely not sufficient Jewish Males to constitute a synagogue there.
5 “Place of prayer” is sometimes used to designate a synagogue, and some interpreters argue that there was an actual synagogue building in this instance. Synagogues were often, but not necessarily, located close to a water supply because of their needs for the rights of purification.
6 The ruins of an arched gateway stand outside the walls of Philippi. It has been suggested that this gateway is the one mentioned in verse 13 and served as a marker for the area within which no foreign cults could be observed.
7 There were evidently two methods for producing the expensive purple dyes. One was to extract the color from the glands of the murex shell. This is the known method employed in the extensive diet industry in Sidon. Another method still employed in the region of ancient Thyatira extracted the dye from the juice of the madder route.