“On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women gathered there. A God-fearing woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.” Acts 16:13-15
“After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia's house to see the brothers and encourage them. Then they left the city.” Acts 16:40
Meet Lydia: the woman who led her own home, convinced the Apostle Paul where to stay, and probably housed the first church in Europe! We are only given a few sentences about Lydia in Scripture, but they are packed with meaning and insight for us as Christian women.
When we are introduced to Lydia, we are told that she was a Gentile woman who was a seller of purple cloth. When she meets Paul, she is living in Philippi, which is about 240 miles from Tyatira. Her home city of Thyatira was known for it’s dyes and its trade, which means that there was a lot of competition in her business. In order for Lydia to have been in this trade, she had to have been an excellent business woman. She was no mediocre entrepreneur! She conducted her business in a way that set her apart in the market place.
What set her apart in her trade? Purple cloth was a luxury product. This was the finest kind of cloth, reserved for royalty and the most wealthy in society. This means Lydia sold a luxury item and charged luxury prices for it. As women, we often hold ourselves back from charging enough for our products and services. We can shrink from wanting to charge what we are actually worth, but Lydia shows us that we can! She appears to have been quite wealthy (she had a spacious home large enough to house Paul and his friends with no notice and allow the church to meet in her home.) We can assume her expansive business had taken her from her home in Thyatira to Phillipi where she now lived. She goes on to use her great wealth to further the gospel and serve others in ways that had a huge impact for the kingdom.
Paul and his companions meet Lydia at the river where she has gathered with others to pray. The Lord has already been working in her life, as she is described as a “God-fearer”. She was most likely raised to believe in many gods and had since come to believe in the one true God of the Jews, but she had not yet heard the good news of Jesus. She listens intently to the gospel Paul proclaims, the first time he did this in Europe. She comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus, resulting in her baptism and the baptism of her entire household. No man is mentioned in the text; she is the leader of her household, which would lead us to guess that she was probably widowed or divorced. Her large home soon becomes a hub of gospel ministry, and the first house church in Europe.
So what can we learn from this brief snapshot of Lydia? Well, a lot actually!
First, Lydia is portrayed positively in Scripture and her care and support of Paul and his missionary companions helped to further the gospel in significant ways. Lydia is an example to us as Christian women that shows we have permission to do business to the glory of God, and to build wealth that serves the kingdom. If you have been waiting for a permission slip to have a successful business as a Christian woman, you need look no further than our entrepreneurial example, Lydia. Lydia is also a woman of discernment. We see that she has been sorting through her beliefs about God, and has come to believe in the God of Scripture. She is also decisive about her faith when she hears the gospel preached by Paul. She is a keen and discerning woman. She was also multi-faceted. She was not so focused on her business that she was ignoring her mind or her beliefs. Lydia did not allow her business to take precedence over her soul.
We can imagine that it may have been costly for Lydia to become a Christian. Paul was not favored among the rich and powerful (Lydia’s client base). Later in the chapter, Lydia houses Paul and his companions after they are released from Jail and told to leave the city. They were not popular! Lydia does not let that stop her from serving them, even though it may have negatively affected her business. She must have trusted God with her business and not allowed fear to drive her decisions. Most likely, she used her business network and connections she had fostered in her church work for the furthering of the gospel and helping the apostles.
Additionally, to be a merchant, Lydia had to know how to negotiate skillfully. We see her assertive and bold character when she insists that Paul and his companions stay in her home. In other places of Scripture, Paul makes a point of not depending on others for lodging, but he accepts her invitation. Essentially, she gave them a sales pitch to come stay with her! While there is so little said about their interaction, the Bible takes a whole sentence to note that they were persuaded by her. Apparently, she knew how to read people, make a good sales pitch and close the deal!
Lastly, Lydia valued community. From the first snapshot of her life as she is gathering with other women at the river to pray, to the last snapshot of her home being a hub of the local church, we see that Lydia is a community generator. She did not try to do life on her own, she gathered and invited others into her life and home.. Lydia is an inspiring example of entrepreneurship to us! She helps us to see that we are given permission to run successful businesses and build wealth. More than that, we see that her successful business became something the Lord was able to use in a unique way to further the gospel.
We do not need to hold ourselves back from success. We do not need to hold ourselves back from bold negotiations and skillful sales. We do not need to hold ourselves back from creating luxury items and charging luxury prices. Ultimately, what frees us from holding ourselves back from these things is letting go of the fear of others and the fear of failure and leaning into our identity in Christ. Knowing that we are already accepted and beloved allows us to take risks, fail forward, and grow in excellence as entrepreneurs.