The Story of Lydia From Thyatira in the Bible

Details about the life of Lydia of Thyatira are scarce. In fact, there are only three short verses in the book of Acts that mention her. So why did Luke include the story of Lydia in the Bible?

the story of lydia in the Bible- dark purple robe and crown with gems lying on a wooden table

Lydia in Acts

You’ll find Lydia’s story in Acts 16:13-15 and 40. But to understand it, we need to back up a few verses to set the stage for the meeting between Paul and Lydia.

Paul was on his second missionary journey when he saw a vision from the Holy Spirit of a man who pleaded with Paul to “Come to Macedonia and help us” Acts 16:9. Paul left at once, bringing Luke, Silas, and Timothy with him. 

When they arrived, they headed straight to the city of Philippi, “a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia.” Acts 16:12.

Paul probably was looking for this man, but his first ministry encounter was with a group of women! 

Here’s is Paul’s version of the encounter:

“On the Sabbath, we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.” v13.

Did you notice they were meeting outside the city? Inscribed on the arch at the city limits of Philippi was a prohibition against bringing any unrecognized religion into the city.

They considered Christianity an impure religion and therefore prohibited its establishment.¹

Since a synagogue typically had a water source nearby (to facilitate ritual washings), it makes sense that they would go outside the city to the river to worship and pray.

Lydia and Paul

According to Jewish law, there had to be 10 Jewish men who were heads of households and regularly attend services to establish a synagogue. Apparently, there were not even 10 of these men in all of Philippi.

So it was here by the river that Paul and Lydia meet at a Sabbath prayer meeting.

“One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” v14.

There is quite a bit of information packed into that sentence, which makes her a significant part of Scripture. Let’s look at the information we have.

Bible Character Lydia

Lydia was originally from Thyatira, a western province of Lydia, in Asia Minor. It was a city famous for making purple dye and textiles.

Lydia was a successful and probably wealthy business woman who came to Philippi to carry on her trade. 

Was Lydia in the Bible married? There is no mention of her marital status, but it is clear it was her business and her household.

Lydia produced and was a seller of purple fabric worn by the wealthy elite. In the Bible, clothing dyed purple is often associated with priests and royalty, including Kings David and Solomon.

Lydia’s Conversion

The translation of “God-worshiper” tells us that Lydia was a Gentile who was following Judaism. She had faith in God, and a desire to follow and worship him. 

When Lydia heard the word of God on that Sabbath day, her heart was opened to believe in Jesus as her Savior. Once she heard, the Holy Spirit drew her close and she trusted in Him.

What a beautiful example of Romans 10:17-

“Faith comes from hearing the message, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.” NLT.

How amazing is it that Christianity would be introduced to Europe in such a humble way?

Lydia was worshiping at the river with her entire household.  

“When she and the rest of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” v15

What is Special about Lydia in the Bible?

Lydia’s story is the documentation of the first convert to the Christian faith on the European continent.

She shows herself to be an intelligent and successful businesswoman and dealer of purple cloth.

The fact she was a woman makes both these distinctions quite remarkable, considering women were rarely held in high esteem in Biblical times.

Lydia’s Household

The Greek word for household does not refer to a home as a building, but an extended family under Lydia’s leadership and care. A household could include servants, laborers, business associates and even renters.

The members were bound by many factors- economic, social, and/or religious. Belonging to a household gave its members a sense of extended family and security.

The head of the household had authority over members and took care of them. Lydia shows her authority by leading the members of her household into baptism and offering a place for Paul and his early church ministry team to stay.

the story of lydia of thyatira- bible times woman dressed in purple, working with purple cloth
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Characteristics of Lydia in the Bible

Lydia didn’t just open her heart, she also opened her home to missionary work.

She was not only the first person in Philippi to convert to Christianity, but she also created the first church in her own home! That’s some pretty big “firsts” for a woman in Bible times.

Lydia becomes a woman energized, motivated, and changed by her faith.

She invites and persuades a group of men she just met to stay at her house. She didn’t let the fear of recriminations (remember the prohibition against new religions?) stop her from embracing her new life in Christ.

Lydia wasn’t just a wealthy business woman anymore, but a follower of Jesus and a model for Christian leadership.

●It took courage for Lydia to respond as she did.

Having a group of foreign men staying in her house could have caused a scandal. Hosting Christian meetings in her home could have put her and her business in danger. 

Acts 16: 16-39 tells of local authorities who had Paul and Silas flogged and imprisoned without justification. Their miraculous release came by divine intervention. A violent earthquake shook the foundations of the prison; opening all the prison doors. 

After their release, they went to Lydia’s house, “where they were met with the brothers and encouraged them.” v 40. 

Despite being requested to leave the city, Paul and Silas were warmly welcomed by Lydia when they were released from prison.

Lessons from Lydia in the Bible

Do you have the courage of Lydia?

Lydia was a true believer and a pioneer in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If she was fearful, her faith overcame it to spread the Good News to her household, and possibly her business clients and neighbors.

What are your fears of sharing Jesus?

Rejection or ridicule?

Other people’s reactions?

God doesn’t ask us to save others; that is his job. He does, however, ask us to know his truth and present it to others. God will take it from there.

We can’t control other people’s reactions, but we have control of our actions. For myself, I’m praying to be more aware of the promptings of the Holy Spirit as to whom and when I should share.

Do you have the generosity of Lydia?

She had a great deal of money and a comfortable home. Lydia shared both with an open and generous heart.  

Because of her actions, the small beginnings of the house church in Lydia’s home grew to become a church that was the center of Christian outreach and worship.

In what ways do you use your time, money, and God-given talents to meet the needs of others? Sometimes even the smallest things can make a big impact on someone in need.

Do you have the hospitality of Lydia?

Lydia demonstrated the spiritual gift of hospitality. It was one of the first things she did upon conversion.

Her home became the first church. It was one of her first steps on her spiritual journey. She offered her own home as a meeting place.

The hospitality of Lydia established the church in Philippi. It then grew because of her involvement in its ministry.

What do We Learn from Lydia in the Bible?

Don’t lose track of the fact that Lydia was an ordinary businesswoman before she met Jesus. But just as Jesus came calling for her, He comes for you.

Lydia’s open heart and strong faith led her to facilitate the spread of the Gospel throughout all of Europe.

Be a Lydia

Be a Lydia in your world!

Belief and worship of God are not the end of our faith journey. He uses us as channels to work out his plan. We just need to yield our life to him. 

Pray for those who don’t know Jesus yet and pray for opportunities to reach out to them. 

Thank you, God, for showing us how you can use us “ordinary” people for your glory.

“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Romans 10:13-14.

Abundant blessings!

AnnMarie

All Scripture is taken from the NIV unless specified otherwise.

¹ Encyclopedia of the Bible-P-Philippi- Biblegateway.com

Would you like to go deeper into this story? Click on the image below for immediate access to a printable reflection questions worksheet.

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Photo Credit: Canva

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