Outside the city of Philippi, the apostles sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered at a place of prayer. One of those listening was named Lydia. She was a worshiper of God and the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message….Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here! (Acts 16:13-15; 2 Cor 5:17)
Transformation is Necessary
Psychiatrist Robert Coles told of a man who had been doing psychotherapy for 15 years. Yet he was still as angry, self-centered, and mean as the first day he walked into the counselor’s office. Dr. Coles said that the man received insight as to how his childhood emotional wounding had affected his adult dysfunction, but he still hadn’t changed. The man needed transformation, not just information.1
Thankfully, God is in the transformation business. He loves to work in our lives in new ways. Becoming a Christian is not making a new start in life; it is receiving a new life from the Lord to start with. We cannot be changed by altering a few bad habits. Reformation will not do, for the disease of sin has captured our very life system. We need regeneration and renewal from God. We need new hearts.2
We read of Lydia in Acts 16 of the New Testament. She was head of her household, maybe containing children and/or servants. No husband is mentioned, so maybe she was a widow. She was an entrepreneur trading in purple cloth. Her home city was famous as a center for indigo dye and it was a very lucrative business. Lydia was also a God-worshiper and when Paul met her she was honoring the Lord on His Sabbath Day. She may have been a Gentile who was drawn to the Lord of the Bible, repulsed by the foolishness of paganism. “God-fearers” were Gentiles who trusted and obeyed some of the Old Testament without becoming full converts to Judaism. Proverbs 1:7 says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” On that Sabbath Day, Lydia gathered with a group of other women at a place of prayer near the river outside of Philippi.
Change of Heart, Mind, and Life
When Lydia heard Jesus Christ’s good news, the Lord opened her heart and mind to respond in faith. She received information for her mind; she was convinced in her heart it was true; and she entrusted herself to Christ as her Lord and Savior. She called on Jesus in prayer to save her.3 Then she and the members of her household were baptized and she said, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” The apostles stayed with Lydia and later on the Philippian church met at her house.4 She was generous and hospitable. These virtues show that we have been born again and now imitate our big-hearted and welcoming God.
See God’s sovereign grace in action in this story! Jesus said: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day….And I, when I am lifted up on the cross, and in my resurrection and ascension, I will draw all kinds of people to myself.5 The Lord loved Lydia with His everlasting love and drew her to Himself with unfailing kindness.6
The Lord Loves Women Too (Of Course!)
During Christ’s earthly ministry and now, He shows particular interest in saving overlooked and marginalized people. He came to seek and to save the lost and the lowly. Jesus is a liberator and life-giver. And that contrasted sharply with the Rabbinic Judaism of His day. There was a Jewish morning prayer in the first century A.D. that is still used today. It says: “Blessed are you, Lord, King of the universe, For not having made me a Gentile, For not having made me a slave, And for not having made me a woman.”7
The Lord’s plan of salvation is radically better: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s children, and heirs according to the promise.”8 Believers’ unity in Christ transcends ethnic, social and gender differences.
I pointed out this contrast in class at Belhaven University and one student had an “aha moment.” She saw the Lord in a new light and commented, “Wow! I am a Gentile, my ancestors were enslaved people, and I am a woman. How amazing that Jesus comes to love us, save us, bless us. What a Wonderful Savior He is!”
The apostles came to Philippi because Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia begging, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” But when the missions team arrived in Philippi, they found a group of women praying, honoring the Lord’s Day, and God prepared Lydia to respond to His message. Maybe Euodia and Syntyche mentioned in Philippians 4 were also present at that same prayer meeting and converted also.9 Spurgeon said, “It’s wonderful that the Lord can open a human heart. Because He who made the lock knows well what key will fit in.”10
Christ Transforms Us
- He saves us, gives us His perfect righteousness through faith in Him, and adopts us.
- Because we are His “workmanship,” He carries on His sanctifying work in us all through this life.
- And because the Lord finishes what He starts, He will return for us to transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body.11
Now glory be to God, who by His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. May He be given glory forever and ever through endless ages because of His master plan of salvation for the Church through Jesus Christ.12
To be continued
Notes (various translations): 1 Rebecca Manley Pippert, Stay Salt, p. 137-138. 2 Will Metzer, Tell the Truth. 3 Romans 10:9-13; Matt 7:7-8; Luke 11:9-13; John 1:12, 3:16-17; 9:31; 1 Cor 1:2; Heb 11:6; James 4:8, 1 John 3:22, 5:14 4 Acts 16:40. 5 John 6:44, 12:32. 6 Jer 31:3; Hosea 11:4. 7 Siddur Tehillat Hashem Nusach ha-Ari Zal, According to the Text of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (Merkos L’inyon Chinuch; Reprint edition, 1982). 8 Gal 3:28-29. 9 Let’s Study Philippians by Sinclair Ferguson, p. xiii. 10 Spurgeon’s Sermons Volume 37 (1891), p. 489. 11 Phil 3:9; Eph 2:10; Phil 1:6; Phil 3:21. 12 Eph 3:20-21 TLB.