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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Life BPC 10:45 am service, 2012-07-22

Text: Acts 16:13-15

Over the past three weeks we have been studying the lives of people who walked worthy of the Lord. You may notice that thus far we have only been talking about men – namely, Enoch, Noah and Stephen. How about women? Well, this morning’s sermon is the very first one in our series about a woman who walked worthy of the Lord – a woman whose name was Lydia.

And there are many other ‘firsts’ about this sermon, besides being the first one about a woman. Lydia happened to be the first soul to be saved in Macedonia. And this resulted from the first Gospel preaching of Paul after he had sailed there from Troas. After Lydia was saved, her home became the first place where the Christians of Philippi met regularly. And this then became the first church of Jesus Christ to be planted in Europe! Seeing that there are many ‘firsts’ things in this sermon, let us first read the passage from Acts 16, beginning at verse 6 and ending at v.15.

There are three parts in this passage, and each of them contains precious lessons for us to learn: Firstly we will learn from…

I. The Sabbath Praying of Philippi’s Women (v.13)

According to verse 13, Paul and his team found a group of women who met regularly at a river side to pray. Lydia happened to be one of them. But who were these women and why were they meeting at a river side outside the city? The key to answering this question is found at the beginning of v.13 – “And on the Sabbath…” This tells us that these women met together because it was the Sabbath day. Therefore they must either have been Jews, or perhaps more likely, a mixture of Jews and Gentiles who desired to worship the living and true God with the Jews. Why then were they not meeting at a local synagogue? The answer is that the city of Philippi had no synagogue as very few Jews lived there. Jewish law permits Jews to build a synagogue in a place only if they have a congregation with at least ten men. This regulation was observed very strictly. If there are less than ten, the only thing they were allowed to do each Sabbath is to have an open air meeting beside a river. Why conduct this Sabbath meeting at a place beside a river? Because the Jews need to have clean water for the ritual washing (mikveh) of their hands, face and feet before praying.

Some of us here may think, “How nice it is to worship God like that – out there in the open and very close to nature, and with cool waters flowing by!” Well, perhaps it may be good once in a while, but when people have to do that week after week, it can become quite tiring considering that thes women of Philippi had to walk about 2.4 km out of the city to the Gangites river and meet at a place that had no proper furniture or shelter from the elements. Now, v.14 mentions that Lydia had come from the city of Thyatira. This city had a proper synagogue which Lydia had probably worshipped in every Sabbath. And yet when she came to Philippi where there was no synagogue, she did not mind all the discomfort and inconvenience of attending that riverside prayer meeting every Sabbath.

Many Christians today have to worship in the most unconducive conditions every Sunday. This is especially so in the rural churches of third world countries. They don’t have what we all enjoy here – an aircon sanctuary, quiet atmosphere and a good sound system. Those of us who have gone on mission trips before may know what it’s like to join a worship service where everyone sits on mats on the ground under the sweltering heat, and dogs, cats, ants and kampong chickens are walking everywhere. Even though the preacher is speaking at the top of his voice, he can hardly be heard above all the surrounding noise. But the amazing thing is that despite such conditions the worshippers still love to come every Sunday. Why? Because their heart is set on worshipping God.

That was very true of Lydia. Her heart was set on worshipping God. We know this from v.14 where she is described as “a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God.” The phrase ‘which worshipped God’ here may also be translated as ‘a god-fearing woman.’ One significant detail in this verse that shows what a god-fearing woman Lydia was, is her occupation. It says here that she was a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira. Now, Thyatira was about 480 km east of Philippi in Asia Minor (Today it is known as the city of Akhissar in modern Turkey).

What made Thyatira so famous at that time, was an expensive cloth it produced which was dyed with the juice of a certain kind of shellfish which gave it a very rich reddish-purple colour. And this purple cloth was was claimed to be worth its weight in silver and it was worn only by kings, emperors and high-ranking officials. It was in great demand in Philippi, because Philippi was a Roman colony where many Roman nobles lived. Philippi was also a trading centre on a major highway known as the Via Egnatia which spanned acress the whole of Macedonia from east to west. This means that Lydia had excellent prospects to do a very profitable business at Philippi. She had come to a very strategic city to market the famous textile of her home city.

But we are told in v.13 that instead of doing a thriving business in the city, Lydia spent every Sabbath attending a humble prayer meeting outside the city. Here was a woman who was willing to forego all the profits she could make on that particular day of the week just to worship God. We must remember that at that time, everyone except the Jews worked every day of the week and did business every day. There was no weekly day of rest in pagan culture or Roman culture. There were only a few public holidays a year when people stopped working for religious festivals. This means that the day when Lydia worshipped God was a regular working day – a day when she could easily have done a lot of cloth-selling business in Philippi.

Perhaps the Lord is using this example to speak to some of us about on our attitude to the Lord’s Day. How important is this day of the week to you? Is it important enough for you to come to church early and regularly for worship? Do you consider our worship of God on Sundays to be worthy enough to forego some business opportunities and personal gains? If you travel overseas frequently do you try to schedule your flights so that you can be in church on Sundays? If you own a retail shop or restaurant, do you close it on Sundays even though you may get many more customers on that day? If you are a student, do you try to complete your revision for Monday exams by Saturday? Parents, do you teach your children to put God first before their exams? We have noticed that the attendance at our Sunday School and Junior Worship service always drops during exam time. What does this show?

The London Olympics will be starting this week. Some of the events are played on Sundays. Perhaps you may have heard of the Paris Olympics in 1924 where a Scotsman by the name of Eric Liddell won the gold medal in the men’s 400m race. His best event was actually the 100m race, but because the heats for that race happened to fall on a Sunday, Liddell decided to forego the opportunity to win that race much to the disappointment of his own countrymen. No one expected him to win the finals of the 400m race, but just as he went to the starting blocks someone slipped a piece of paper into his hand with a quotation from 1 Samuel 2:30 – “them that honour me I will honour.” Liddell outran all the rest and completed that race in 47.6 seconds, breaking the world record!

What we need today are more Liddells and Lydias – we need men and women who choose to honour God and worship Him, even if it means foregoing all the greatest gains and pleasures this world can offer. Will you be one of them? I hope that we will all respond by saying, “Yes, I will be one of them.” But we must also look to God for grace to keep honouring Him, recognizing that we are only sinners saved by grace. We depend very much on God’s grace and mercy even to give us the will and desire to accomplish His will.

If it were not for God’s grace, Lydia could never have responded so readily when she heard the Gospel at that river side prayer meeting. This is what we will consider now in the second part of the passage where we learn about…

II. The Saving Power of God’s Word (v.14)

Lydia was not the only woman who heard the Gospel of Christ on that particular Sabbath. Verse 13 says that Paul and some others “sat down and spake unto the women which resorted thither.” But in v.14 we see that out of all those women who had gathered there for worship, only “a certain woman named Lydia” heard them and “attended unto those things which were spoken of Paul.” And the result of this was that she was saved. The next verse mentions that Lydia and her household were baptized, but this was probably a subsequent event which took place later.

Why is it that among all the women who heard the Gospel at the river side, only Lydia was saved? The answer is found in the words, “whose heart the Lord opened.” (v.14) This phrase really brings out the sovereignty of God in salvation, and it shows why all the glory for our salvation rightly belongs to God alone. Without God’s opening our hearts, we would never have turned to Christ for salvation. Why? Because according to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

In fact, in order to be saved, our hearts not only need to be opened but also to be regenerated or replaced with a new heart. Listen to what God says in Ezekiel 36:26 – “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” The only way we can ever be saved, is to have a heart transplant – in the spiritual sense of course, not physical. This refers to the inward change that takes place when we are saved. With this new heart, we now have the power to overcome sin, and we are able to live a life that is pleasing to God.

In the case of Lydia, having this new heart enabled her to understand the Gospel and to receive Jesus into her life. For even though she had been worshipping God faithfully with the other women and she was a religious god-fearing woman, that alone could not save her from sin. She still needed to personally put her trust in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Saviour.

Perhaps some of us here are just as religious and as god-fearing as Lydia was before she was saved. Perhaps you have been attending church services very regularly. But up till now, you still have not put your trust in the Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour to save you from your sins and from eternal death. Somehow, your heart has not been opened yet. But even though God is the only One who can open your heart, please don’t use this as an excuse. You are still responsible to give your full attention to the Word of God whenever it is preached or taught. You must listen to it diligently, not just with your mind, but with your heart. You must be keen to learn from it. Why? Because the Word of God is the very means that God uses to open your heart. As Romans 10:17 tells us, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The Word of God is the sharp sword which the Lord uses to open your heart. It is “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12).

Now that you know that the Word of God is the means that God uses to open the hearts of sinners and bring them to salvation, please make use of every opportunity to bring the Word to them. Next Sunday is Gospel Sunday, the day when the Word of God concerning salvation will be preached here at both of our morning services, as well as at our Chinese service. It may be that God will open the hearts of people when His Word is preached and some souls will be saved. But how can they be saved unless we do our part in bringing them here to hear the Word of God?

In the case of Lydia, God used the apostle Paul to bring the Gospel to her. And it is interesting to see how God used various circumstances to bring both of them to the same place. You may remember that Lydia was not from Philippi. She was from Thyatira which is located in the province of Asia on the western part of Turkey. If Lydia had remained in Thyatira, perhaps she would never have heard the Gospel, because according to v.6, Paul and his mission team were forbidden to preach the Word in Asia where Thyatira was located. But Lydia went to Philippi for economic reasons, and that’s where she heard the Gospel. But this could never have happened if Paul had not also gone to Philippi.

So what made Paul go there? According to v.9 God gave Paul a vision in which he saw a man of Macedonia saying to him, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” Taking this to be God’s directive, Paul and his team immediately went to the port at Troas and they found a ship all ready to sail to Macedonia. Verse 11 says,“We came with a straight course to Samothracia.” This means that there happened to be a favourable wind that day which blew the ship all the way to their destination.

When they reached Philippi, Paul may have spent a few days looking for a synagogue, since his modus operandi in any new place was to preach to the Jews first before going to the Gentiles. But here for the very first time in all his missionary travels, he was told that there was no synagogue in that city. Where then could he find Jews to preach the Gospel to? One of the citizens of Philippi may have told him, “I heard that there are some Jews who meet every sabbath at a river somewhere outside the city. Perhaps you can try to look for them there.” And so Paul went out of the city to look for these Jews, and when he reached the place, lo and behold, what he found was not the man of Macedonia who had appeared to him in his vision, but a group of women who had gone there to pray.

It was only after he had preached to them that Paul found out that the only woman who responded to his preaching was not from Philippi but from Thyatira in Asia – the very place that he could not enter earlier on (v.6)! Later on, Lydia may have brought the gospel back to her home city, and through that a church was formed at Thyatira. We know from Revelation 2:18-25 that this church became one of the seven churches of Asia. Doesn’t God work in marvelous ways?

I am sure that from all this we see how God specially orders the circumstances of our life to bring us into contact with His Word, because it is by His Word alone that we can be saved. And as we listen diligently to the preaching of the Word, God opens our heart so that we are able to understand it and to respond by receiving Jesus Christ into our life.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that the circumstances which led to your salvation were all carefully planned by God? The fact that I stand before you today as a Christian is a testimony to this wonderful truth. Both of my parents were not Christians when they were married and living in Singapore in the 1950s. And it is unlikely that they would have been saved if they had remained here because they were staying with my maternal aunts and uncles who were steeped in ancestor worship.

But after my father was retrenched during a recession he moved the family up to Malaysia where he found a job. It so happened that a Christian relative came to visit my parents there and introduced them to a Canadian missionary who had just started a new church. This missionary and his wife had been preparing to do mission work in China and they could speak perfect Chinese. However the door to China was closed then, and so they were deployed to do church planting work in Malaysia instead. When my parents received the Word of God from this missionary the Lord opened their hearts and they were soundly converted and baptised. A few years later, my father decided to move the family back to Singapore, now as a Christian family. And through this my maternal aunts and uncles in Singapore eventually gave up their ancestor worship and came to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ!

God works in marvelous ways to bring people in contact with His Word. And when they hear it, He is the One who opens their hearts to receive it. If God has already done this for you, perhaps He will also use you now as a means to bring others into contact with His Word. Each of us has to determine the Lord’s direction of our lives. Who does He want you to reach with the Gospel now? Perhaps it may even be those who live with you in your own home.

Well, this turned out to be the case with Lydia. Verse 15 tells us that she was baptized together with her household. True saving faith will always be a productive faith. Over time, it is bound to produce good works. Lydia’s faith was no exception. This takes us now to the third and last part of our passage in which we will see the…

III. The Sincere Products of Lydia’s Worship (v.15)

The first product was Lydia’s own baptism. Baptism is not necessary for salvation, but every true believer will surely obey the Lord’s command to be baptised as given in the Great Commission. He or she will not be ashamed to confess Christ publicly. Last Sunday we witnessed the baptism of a sister who turned to Christ only 4 months ago. You may have read her testimony of salvation in the weekly last week where she testified, “While I knew something wonderful was happening to me when God’s Word was first shared with me, I did not know exactly what was happening. Now I know that God had in His own timing blessed me with a powerful mental and spiritual transformation so that I could understand and accept His Word in good faith.”A few weeks after she was saved, this sister asked me whether she can be baptized before she leaves for a 3-year overseas assignment.

All the pastoral staff gladly took her through the catechism course over 9 weeks so that she could be baptized last Sunday. And just a few days ago she told me that she is now praying for the salvation of her loved ones and how she hoped that her mother would come for next week’s Gospel Sunday at the Chinese service.

All true believers who have experienced the Lord’s great mercy and grace in salvation will naturally want to see their loved ones saved as well. In v.15 of our text we see Lydia’s entire household being baptized with her. This probably included her husband, her children and her servants. What a wonderful occasion it must have been! In v.33 of the same chapter we see another household baptism – the family of a Philippian jailer. How about you, dearly beloved? Do you have an earnest desire and hope to see your loved ones saved? What are you doing about it then? Do you pray frequently for their salvation? Do you look out for opportunities to bring the gospel to them in some form? There are plenty of evangelistic resources available – e.g. gospel tracts, books, and videos in our Library. Make good use of them!

Besides baptism, another product of Lydia’s worship was her hospitality to Paul and his team. This is what she said in v.15, “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there.” In order to do this Lydia had to have enough rooms in her house to accommodate four men – Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke. This would not have been easy for anyone to do. But perhaps Lydia was convinced that the Lord had given her the ministry of hospitality.

And she did not merely say to them, “If you ever need a place to stay in Philippi, please let me know and I will see what I can do for you.” The words, “And she constrained us” at the end of the verse implies that she would not take “No” for an answer. Lydia persuaded them to stay in her house even though they may have politely declined her offer. Doesn’t this reveal her deep sincerity in wanting to serve God with her gift of hospitality and to enjoy blessed fellowship with God’s servants? And doesn’t this show that she was beginning to develop Christian virtues of brotherly love, generosity, humility and the willingness to help bear the burdens of others?

Since the time you came to know Christ until now, has there been a similar change in your life? Are you more willing than before to give of yourself for others? Have you become more serious about wanting to serve the Lord and His people with your spiritual gifts? And do you find joy in sharing good fellowship with other Christians? If you have your own house, perhaps you may want to consider opening it for Christian fellowship meeting, or for NBC or for Family worship which is held on every 4th Friday of the month.

Lydia apparently opened her house for such a purpose. We can see this in v.40 of our passage – “And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.” By this time, the number of believers in Philippi had increased to at least nine, including the families of Lydia and of the Philippian jailer, and also a slave girl who had been delivered from demon-possession. Lydia’s home became the very first place in Philippi where Christians met together regularly, and thus it was the very first house church to be planted in the whole of Europe. Later on, that congregation at Philippi grew large enough to have its own elders (bishops) and deacons (Philippians 1:1), and it was able to give generously to support Paul’s ministry (Philippians 4:15,16).

And all this was possible because God used an ordinary woman called Lydia. Nothing more is mentioned in the Bible about Lydia after Acts 16. But what a great impact was made by her encounter with the Word of God at a humble river side prayer meeting. Because the Lord opened her heart, it produced results in her life, in her family and in Philippi that neither Paul nor Lydia could ever have imagined.

Who knows what results may be produced by your encounter with the Word of God here. May the Lord also open your heart through His Word.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25