An area of Macedonia was to be visited with the gospel, and Philippi was the main city of that district. It was “a colony” (Acts 16:12), meaning that Roman laws and culture obtained an outpost of Rome in northern Greece. In writing to the Philippians, Paul employed that imagery, telling the believers that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20, RV). Every assembly ought to be a little bit of heaven on earth, maintaining heavenly laws, reflecting heavenly standards, and communicating heavenly news.
There was no synagogue at Philippi, but each Sabbath a group of pious women congregated at the riverside for prayer. Again, in his epistle, Paul emphasizes the importance of this vital exercise. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil 4:6). Prayer is crucial.
Among the congregation was Lydia, “of the city of Thyatira” (Acts 16:14), a businesswoman far from home. As noted in the previous article, this Asian lady would have missed salvation if the preachers had ignored the Spirit’s restraint and forged into her home territory (Acts 16:6). God’s planning and timing are perfect. The only other Biblical Thyatiran woman we know was the infamous Jezebel, a self-styled prophetess who exuded evil (Rev 2:20-24); she stands in contrast to the gentle, refined Lydia.
Lydia was one who “worshiped God,” another concept that is developed in the epistle. “We are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil 3:3 RV). Lydia, the proselyte, stood in awe of the God of Israel, the “living and true God,” but now saved, she was learning that worship revolves around the Lord Jesus. It is in Him that we glory, and worship is stirred by the Spirit of God, not stimulated by external religious paraphernalia that may appeal to the senses of sight, smell, or hearing.
Respectable people like Lydia, who pray and worship, still require salvation, and so she listened to the message; she “heard us” (Acts 16:14). “Faith cometh by hearing” (Rom 10:17), and faith was engendered. “She attended unto the things that were spoken of Paul.” The Lord was working in her heart, for no one naturally seeks after God (Rom 3:11). Divine activity precedes every conversion. In prayer meetings, we are constantly expressing the fact that we cannot raise an anxious thought in the hearts of sinners; we are dependent on the activity of the Holy Spirit. Attending to things spoken by Paul became the hallmark of the assembly at Philippi: “Ye have always obeyed” (Phil 2:12).
Immediately following her conversion she was baptized, as was “her household.” With her background, likely we too would have happily baptized her immediately; perhaps we would have been more reticent about the jailor! Probably he was coarse and likely he had “baggage,” but he too was baptized “the same hour of the night,” “straightway” (Acts 16:33). It is Biblical to baptize people as soon as they profess to be saved and desire that step of obedience. A cautious approach may be necessary in cases where applicants tell of having been saved some time back without any evidence in their lives.
Her “household” was baptized, as was the jailor’s (Acts 16:33) and that of Stephanas (1Cor 1:16). That has given rise to the idea that it is legitimate to baptize the families of believers as infants. There is no mention of Lydia having a husband or children. There were “brethren” in her home (Acts 16:40), and if inferences have to be drawn, it is likely that, with her status, these were servants rather than children. The jailor’s family was old enough to hear the Word (Acts 16:32), old enough to believe (v34) and hence old enough to be baptized (v33). The household of Stephanas was old enough to “(addict) themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1Cor 16:15). There is no Scriptural sanction for baptizing anyone who has never been saved, though they may have connections with believing families.
The reality of Lydia’s experience was seen in her immediate commitment to the work of showing hospitality to the preachers (Acts 16:15). “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). Shortly, Paul would exchange her comfortable, commodious home for a squalid prison cell, and so another link with the Philippian epistle is established. He knew “how to be abased” and “how to abound” (Phil 4:11-13). His contentment and ability to adapt to changing conditions were due to the fact that Christ strengthened him. That same strength is available to us in the shifting circumstances of life.
The demon-possessed fortune-teller disturbed the daily commute to the riverside as she hailed them as “servants of the most high God” (Acts 16:17). Once more, there is a connection with the epistle. In the first line, Paul described himself, and Timothy, as “servants of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:1). This girl was a slave who had “masters” (Acts 16:16). She recognized that these men owed allegiance to a higher authority, and obeyed the dictates of One Who is supreme in the universe.
There is no record of the girl being saved, but we presume that she was. She was certainly delivered from satanic power, and was thus deprived of her supernatural ability to predict impending events. The contrast between the girl and Lydia could hardly be greater. There was a massive social gulf. Lydia was well-to-do and involved in a respectable, lucrative business. The girl was a slave. There was a huge religious chasm: Lydia worshiped God and the girl was dominated by the devil. The contrasts are immense, yet the power of God touched these two extremities of the social scale, demonstrating the universal appeal of the gospel. At Jericho, the Lord Jesus blessed both Bartimaeus the beggar and the affluent Zacchaeus. The city chamberlain and slave number four were united in Christ (Rom 16:23). We thank God for a message that transcends every barrier created by man.
The girl’s masters were outraged, and dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities for a beating and imprisonment. “The hope of their gains was gone” (Acts 16:19). “Gain” is another theme in the epistle. “To die is gain,” said Paul (Phil 1:21) as he anticipated being “with Christ.” Things that he had counted “gain” were written off in his desire for Christ (Phil 3:7). May we have the right perspective, with scant regard for the gainful things of this life, but focused on gain that is eternal.