God’s People, part 262: Lydia

Read Acts 16:11-14

“After leaving the prison they went to Lydia’s home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.”  (Acts 16:40, NRSV)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 262: Lydia. Now we get to a character that I’ve been longing to talk about. Lydia is the start of a pattern that comes to be an uncomfortable truth among Paul-loving misogynists throughout the history of Christianity. Lydia, who lived in Philippi at the time, was a gentile convert to Christianity. In Acts 16:11-14, we are told that Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia (aka Northern Greece). Lydia was originally from Thyatira, which was located in the western-most part of what is now modern day Turkey, on the coast of the Aegean Sea. The city is geographically situated in what was ancient Lydia (700-200 BC) and the name, Thyatira, was of Lydian origin.

While that may or may not be one gigantic historical/geographical coincidence, Lydia was a woman of prominence in Philippi, where she ended up settling down. In fact, we are told that she was a successful merchant of expensive purple cloth. Purple, of course, was the color of royalty and the reason the cloth was so expenisve was because of the dye used to make it.

Originally, from the city of Tyre, the dye that was used to make purple cloth averaged at an equivalent of what would today be $100,000 an ounce in U.S. American Dollars. The cloth was so expensive that, literally, only the ruling class could afford it, which is how purple became associated with royalty. Thus, it goes without saying that Lydia was extremely wealthy and powerful in her community.

Because of her wealth, she was a prominent figure in her community. This can be seen by the way she is written about in the book of Acts. She is the only one in her family that is named. The passage states that she was a “God Worshiper” or “God-fearer”, meaning that she was one of those Gentiles who believed in the Jewish God and worshipped in the synagogue, though she was not necessarily a full-on convert to Judaism.

Again, the passage states that LYDIA and her household were baptized by Paul into the Christian faith because the Lord opened her heart and she believed what Paul was teaching. The word household did not just mean her family; rather, it also includes any servants and/or slaves that might have been living and serving in her house. As a wealthy person, there is little down that Lydia had servants and/or slaves working for her. This was an accepted and common practice in the Roman Empire and ancient world. As we will see later on, Paul does challenge that common practice among Christians; however, that is not our focus here.

While we do not know Lydia’s exact role in the Philippian church, there can be no doubt that she certainly helped to support it financially and, more than likely, was a leader in that church. This, among other instances, is the reason that the modern “complementarian” view of the role of women in the church is not a Biblical view. Women, as well as men, were equally valued and treated in an egalitarian manner in the early church. Jesus treated women in the same way he treated men. Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of Jesus, were both instrumental figures in the earliest Church, and Paul was a benefactor and co-worker with women.

There are some verses in Paul’s writings that people might use to say otherwise; however, those writings may not have even been Paul’s and, even if they were, they were clearly specific to certain communities and not viewed by Paul as universal practice. All of this to say that it is long time that the church and, in particular, men in the church, look to women as co-workers in Christ just as Paul did. To do otherwise, is to fall away from Scripture and Biblical truth.

We ought to let this challenge us to see in what ways we discriminate agains women in ministry. As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many times I have had congregants tell me that they are glad to finally have a “male” pastor. Why is that? Why does my gender make me any more of a pastor than someone else who might be a female? God calls who God calls. Let us, once and for all, recognize that women and men alike are called by God to serve for God’s glory. Amen.

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  Apostle Paul (Galatians 3:28, NRSV)

Lord, help to steer clear of discrimination and to accept all of those you have called to serve the church. Amen.

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