The Businesswoman Lydia (Acts 16)
Our first story is about a woman in the northwest Turkish town of Thyatira, known for its guilds of craftsmen, especially the guild of the professionals knowledgeable in the production and sale of expensive purple dye. Lydia was a member of that guild. We don’t know how it was that a woman had become one of those professionals, but when we first meet her, she had crossed into northeastern Greece and had established her business base in the Roman city of Philippi. As a seller of rare and expensive purple dye, Lydia must have had enough wealth to buy into that franchise.
We learn in Acts 16 that, while born and reared to believe in the gods and goddesses of Thyatira, Lydia did not worship the pantheon of gods venerated in her hometown. Instead, she had become a “God-fearer.” She had already taken a major step away from her religious upbringing and had investigated Jewish claims of one God and wanted to know more. (Many God-fearers became Jewish proselytes.) We first meet her at Philippi’s riverside with a group of women who had come together there to pray. It was there that Paul and Silas met her and talked with her about Jesus, and there she became the first convert to Christianity in Greece.
Convinced of the truth of the Christian gospel and believing that it was for everyone, she bore witness to her entire household and with her, they were all baptized. The apostles stayed on with her for several weeks, instructing her and her household in what she needed as a new follower of Jesus. There in her large house she began the first Christian church on Greek soil, welcoming other new believers into the fellowship of faith.
Lydia was successful both in her professional work and in her social or spiritual work nurturing the nascent Greek church. Most likely the knowledge and connections she cultivated as a trader helped her in her church work, and vise versa. In Lydia we see a woman whose skill and interest is not confined to one limited area. Indeed, we see that both her position in commerce and her knowledge of faith made her uniquely qualified to spearhead the church in Greece.