Lydia—Hospitable Worshiper of God
FROM ancient times, servants of the true God have distinguished themselves for their hospitality. (Genesis 18:1-8; 19:1-3) Defined as “love of, fondness for, or kindness to strangers,” the hospitality that springs from a sincere heart is even today a sign of true Christianity. In fact, it is a requirement for all who would worship God acceptably.—Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9.
One person who displayed hospitality in an exemplary manner was Lydia. She “just made” the Christian missionaries visiting Philippi stay in her home. (Acts 16:15) Though Lydia is mentioned only briefly in the Scriptures, what little is said about her can be of encouragement to us. In what way? Who was Lydia? What do we know about her?
“Seller of Purple”
Lydia lived in Philippi, the principal city of Macedonia. However, she was from Thyatira, a city of the region of Lydia, in western Asia Minor. For this reason some suggest that “Lydia” was a nickname given to her in Philippi. In other words, she was “the Lydian,” much as the woman to whom Jesus Christ witnessed could be called “the Samaritan woman.” (John 4:9) Lydia sold “purple” or articles colored with this dye. (Acts 16:12, 14) The existence of dyemakers both in Thyatira and in Philippi is attested to by inscriptions unearthed by archaeologists. It is possible that Lydia had moved because of her job, either to carry on her own business or as a representative of a company of Thyatiran dyers.
Purple dye could come from various sources. The most expensive was extracted from certain kinds of marine mollusks. According to the first-century Roman poet Martial, a cloak of the best purple of Tyre (another center where this substance was produced) could cost up to 10,000 sesterces, or 2,500 denarii, the equivalent of a laborer’s pay for 2,500 days. Clearly, such garments were luxury items that only a few could afford. So Lydia may have been well-off economically. In any case, she was able to offer hospitality to the apostle Paul and his companions—Luke, Silas, Timothy, and perhaps others.
Paul’s Preaching in Philippi
About the year 50 C.E., Paul first set foot in Europe and began to preach in Philippi.a When he arrived in a new city, it was Paul’s custom to visit the synagogue to preach first to the Jews and proselytes who gathered there. (Compare Acts 13:4, 5, 13, 14; 14:1.) According to some, however, Roman law prohibited the Jews from practicing their religion within the “sacred confines” of Philippi. Therefore, after spending “some days” there, on the Sabbath day the missionaries found a place beside a river outside the city where ‘they thought there was a place of prayer.’ (Acts 16:12, 13) This was apparently the River Gangites. There the missionaries found only women, one of whom was Lydia.
“A Worshiper of God”
Lydia was “a worshiper of God,” but she probably was a proselyte to Judaism in search of religious truth. Though she had a good job, Lydia was not materialistic. Rather, she reserved time for spiritual matters. “Jehovah opened her heart wide to pay attention to the things being spoken by Paul,” and Lydia accepted the truth. In fact, “she and her household got baptized.”—Acts 16:14, 15.
The Bible does not specify who the other members of Lydia’s household were. Since there is no mention of a husband, she may have been single or widowed. Perhaps “her household” was composed of relatives, but the term could also imply slaves or servants. In any case, Lydia zealously shared the things she had learned with those who lived with her. And what joy she must have had when they believed and embraced the true faith!
“She Just Made Us Come”
Before meeting Lydia, perhaps the missionaries had to be content with lodgings obtained at their own expense. But she was happy to be able to offer alternative accommodations. The fact that she had to insist, though, implies that Paul and his companions put up certain resistance. Why? Paul wanted to ‘furnish the good news without cost, to the end of not abusing his authority’ and not becoming a burden to anyone. (1 Corinthians 9:18; 2 Corinthians 12:14) But Luke adds: “Now when she and her household got baptized, she said with entreaty: ‘If you men have judged me to be faithful to Jehovah, enter into my house and stay.’ And she just made us come.” (Acts 16:15) Lydia was most concerned about being faithful to Jehovah, and offering hospitality apparently was an evidence of her faith. (Compare 1 Peter 4:9.) What an excellent example! Do we too use our possessions to promote the interests of the good news?
The Brothers in Philippi
When Paul and Silas were freed from prison after the episode involving the demon-possessed slave girl, they returned to Lydia’s home, where they found some brothers. (Acts 16:40) Believers in the newly formed Philippian congregation may have used Lydia’s home as a regular meeting place. It is logical to think that her home continued to be a center of theocratic activity in the city.
The initial warm hospitality shown by Lydia proved to be a characteristic of the whole congregation. Despite their poverty, on several occasions the Philippians sent Paul the things he needed, and the apostle was grateful.—2 Corinthians 8:1, 2; 11:9; Philippians 4:10, 15, 16.
Lydia is not mentioned in the letter sent by Paul to the Philippians about 60-61 C.E. The Scriptures do not reveal what happened to her after the events narrated in Acts chapter 16. Nonetheless, the brief mention of this dynamic woman makes us want to “follow the course of hospitality.” (Romans 12:13) How thankful we are to have Christians like Lydia in our midst! Their spirit does much to make congregations warm and friendly, to the glory of Jehovah God.
a Among the most important cities of Macedonia, Philippi was a relatively prosperous military colony governed by jus italicum (Italic Law). This legislation guaranteed the Philippians rights comparable to those enjoyed by Roman citizens.—Acts 16:9, 12, 21.
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Jewish Life in Philippi
Life in Philippi must not have been easy for Jews and proselytes to Judaism. There may have been certain anti-Jewish sentiments, for shortly before Paul’s visit, Emperor Claudius had banished the Jews from Rome.—Compare Acts 18:2.
Significantly, Paul and Silas were dragged before the magistrates after healing the slave girl who had a spirit of divination. Her owners, now deprived of a lucrative source of income, exploited the prejudices of their fellow citizens by asserting: “These men are disturbing our city very much, they being Jews, and they are publishing customs that it is not lawful for us to take up or practice, seeing we are Romans.” As a result, Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and thrown into prison. (Acts 16:16-24) In such a climate, openly worshiping Jehovah, the God of the Jews, called for courage. But evidently Lydia did not mind being different.
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Ruins at Philippi