Every Lent I take part in Lent Madness. Instead of picking basketball teams to win a championship, we pit saints against each other to see who will win The Golden Halo. Today’s match-up includes one of my favorite women in the Bible: Lydia.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. [God] opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to [God], come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16:11-15, NRSV).
Lydia is a biblical woman you probably didn’t learn about in Sunday School. Lydia does not fit the “traditional Biblical woman” model that some claim a woman should be: married, at home with children, and submissive. Lydia was not married. She didn’t have kids. She was a business woman who had her own household which she managed and ran. She was the perfect person for God to lead Paul to for the start of the Christian mission in Europe.
When Paul and his traveling companions arrived in Philippi, there was no synagogue for them to attend for worship. They decided to go to the river on the Sabbath where there was a place of prayer. Lydia was at the river. She was “a worshiper of God,” and listened to Paul’s teachings. In fact, we are told God “opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” In the next verse she and her household were baptized, and she urged Paul and his travelers to stay in her home. Lydia was the first convert to Christianity in Europe.
Lydia was a businesswoman, “a dealer of purple cloth” from Thyatira. Purple dye was a symbol of power and honor in the ancient world, and it was the most expensive and sought after dye in the Roman world. Thyatira was the capitol of the industry and renowned for its purple dyes. One had to have plenty of capital to deal in purple dye and the making of purple garments for sale. Lydia was a career woman, rich, and the head of her household. She was also quick to show hospitality to Paul and his companions by inviting them into her home. By the end of Acts 16 a new church was meeting in Lydia’s home. In most New Testament home churches, the head of the household was the leader of the people who gathered under their roof for worship. This could mean that Lydia was the overseer or pastor of the first church plant in Europe. With her connections from her business in purple cloth, she probably carried a great deal of influence with those in the upper echelons of society, and could champion the Christian cause to them. She probably traveled quite a bit, which meant she could be a missionary in her travels as Paul was. God knew what she was doing when she led Paul to this hospitable, influential woman to further the cause of Christ in Europe and throughout the Roman Empire.
This month for my birthday I am going to give away a $25 Amazon.com gift card to a lucky person who buys my book, What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School by March 26 (my birthday!). Lydia isn’t the only woman who doesn’t fit the cookie cutter image of a “biblical woman” you probably didn’t learn about in Sunday School. There were the five sisters who stood up to Moses, the wise woman who saved her city from a besieging army, and the woman who didn’t take no for an answer–even from Jesus! Spend Lent (or Women’s History Month) getting to know your incredible foremothers of the faith. You can order What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock publishers or Amazon.com. After you’ve ordered email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) your order number, and I’ll put your name in the hat for the gift card. The lucky winner will be announced on March 26.
And join in the Lent Madness! It’s not too late to start learning about both our mothers and fathers in the faith, vote them to The Golden Halo and get to know some incredible people along the way. Read the comments! There is always a great discussion going on about the voting for that day.