Francis Bourdillon, 1881
"One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart, to pay attention to what was said by Paul."
Philippi, where this happened, was a heathen city — but there were some Jews in it; not all of them Jews by birth, but probably a considerable number Jews by religion only — proselytes, as they were called; that is, people of other nations who had embraced the Jewish religion.
The Jewish women of Philippi were accustomed to go out of the city on the Sabbath and to resort to the river-side for prayer. There they were out of hearing of the din and bustle of the city. There they might worship the one true God undisturbed.
When Paul and his companions were at Philippi, they went on the Sabbath to the river-side, and sat down there and spoke to the women. Among them that day, was Lydia. She was not one of the inhabitants of Philippi. Her home was at Thyatira, a town in Asia Minor, a long way off; but she was staying at Philippi at that time, most likely for purposes of trade, for she was "a seller of purple goods," that is, a dealer either in purple dye or in the garments of that color, then much worn. She was a Jewess by religion, though not perhaps by birth; and probably she was a serious and devout one, being among these praying women.
She heard Paul's words with the rest. There was much in them that was new to her, much that was contrary to her old opinions and prejudices; nevertheless she listened with attention, and the words of Paul reached her heart. The Lord opened her heart, "to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul." She was convinced of the truth of the gospel, believed in Jesus Christ whom Paul preached, and was baptized in His name with her household. She then at once joined herself to the Christians and begged Paul and his companions to take up their abode in her house. Perhaps they were unwilling at first to burden her, for it is said that she "prevailed upon" them. She would take no denial — so anxious was she to do them honor and to help them in their work for their Master's sake. This is the story of Lydia. It is very short and simple — yet it contains important lessons:
1. Let us observe first, that though she was both engaged in business and also at this time away from home — yet she did not neglect religious duties.Some people make both these things, an excuse for doing so.
One person says that when business presses upon him less heavily — then he will begin to attend to religion; but that at present, he has neither time nor thought for it; business must be minded.
Another, who pays a decent attention to religion when he is at home, so far at least as not to neglect its outward ordinances — seems to leave his religion behind him when he goes abroad. At home he has a character to maintain — abroad, he need not, he thinks, be so particular.
Lydia's religion, even before she was a Christian, was not of this sort. Here we find her, though far from home and though she had come to this very place on business — yet meeting with the other women for prayer on the Sabbath.
2. It was while she was thus employed, that a spiritual blessing came to her.If she had not been there, she would have missed that opportunity of hearing Paul's message. If she had not heard him then — perhaps she would not have heard him at all. And if she had never heard him — she might not have heard the gospel from any other lips and might never have had her heart opened to receive the truth. In was in the use of means — that she received the blessing.
In the same way, we are never so likely to receive a blessing — as when we are using the means which God has given us. God can bless at any time, and even neglecters of the means of grace do sometimes receive grace notwithstanding. But these are cases which it would be dangerous and presumptuous to follow, for we have no reason to expect a blessing which we do not seek. Generally God, who gives us the means of grace and bids us use them — blesses us in their use. He who prays, reads his Bible, frequents the house of God, and seeks Him in every appointed way — he is the person who is likely to be taught and blessed by God.
3. The Lord opened her heart.But for this, Lydia would have gone out to the place of prayer and listened attentively to what Paul said — and yet have returned in just the same state as that in which she went.
"The Lord opened her heart." What a striking expression! The door of her heart was closed before, fast locked against the admittance of the truth. The word might be heard, and heard with interest and pleasure; but it could not reach the heart because the heart was shut against it. But the Lord opened her heart — and then all was changed; then light and truth found entrance; then she drank in eagerly what she heard, and every word seemed true; then came conviction of sin; then she began to apply the preaching to herself; then she saw in Jesus one mighty to save. Not only was she convinced in her mind that Jesus was the Christ — but she believed on Him with the heart and received Him as a Savior for herself. Happy Lydia, to hear "the joyful sound"! Happy to have her heart opened to receive the glad tidings!
It was not for nothing that she went out that day to the river-side. Perhaps many a past prayer was answered that day — many a doubt cleared up — and many a longing desire satisfied — when her heart was opened to know Christ as her Savior. Never could she forget that place and that day.
We all stand in need of this opening of the heart. Many hear the preaching of the gospel for years, and hear it with interest and pleasure — and yet remain unchanged in heart. There they sit, Sunday after Sunday, in the accustomed seat. They are seldom absent when the house of prayer is open — they are constant hearers. How is it that so little effect is produced? How is it that they are still unchanged? Perhaps they have never even seen the need of the Lord opening their hearts and of the Holy Spirit bringing home to them what they hear. We do not know whether Lydia had ever felt this need; but, even if not, we enjoy more light than she had. We have been taught again and again the absolute necessity of the Spirit's work in the heart; whereas she probably, like the disciples at Ephesus, had "not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit" (Acts 19:2).
Have we felt this need? Have we asked the Lord to open our hearts? Have we prayed for the gift of the Holy Spirit? No sermon should ever be heard without some such prayer. If we would hear or read with profit to our souls, never let us open the Bible or go up to the house of God, without beseeching Him to open our hearts to receive His word.
The Lord alone can do this. It was He who opened Lydia's heart — and it is to Him we must look to open ours. But for this, even Paul might have preached in vain. It is not the eloquence of the preacher, his clear statements, convincing arguments, and touching appeals, that can really cause the truth to reach the heart. This is the work of the Spirit alone. Gifts are valuable; powers of mind and a persuasive tongue may be made highly useful in God's service; but preachers and hearers should never forget that all real success depends on the Lord opening the heart. Those are but outward means and instruments — the power is His alone.
How differently does one hear, when the heart has thus been unlocked! He attends perhaps the same church and hears the same preacher. Yet all seems changed. It is as though a veil had been removed from his eyes. Now he sees things which were all dark to him before. Now his heart and conscience feel deeply the very truths which used to have no meaning to him. Now the words of scripture seem as if addressed to him in person. He is the sinner who is declared to be truly guilty. He is the person to whom the promise of pardon through the blood of Jesus is made. The comforts, the encouragements, the hopes and assurances of the gospel — seem now just suited to his need, and sent expressly to cheer him. What is it that makes this change? The Bible is unaltered; the ministry is the same. The change is in himself. The Lord has opened his heart!
Lastly, this was not a mere passing feeling in Lydia — but a real change. She was a Christian from that day — a true Christian, believing and showing the fruits of faith. She was at once baptized and became at once a zealous friend of Paul and his companions.
With what humility she speaks! "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord." Here is no loud profession — but a humble, almost timid, claim to be owned as a believer, just suited to one only lately brought to the knowledge of Christ. What kindness and love she shows to those who have been the means of bringing her so great a blessing! She felt what she owed to them, and would take no denial; they must lodge with her while they stayed at Philippi. She loved them for the good news they had brought her; she loved them for their Master's sake; and in helping them, she did what she could to further the gospel. Surely her kindness was accepted by Him who will say hereafter, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40). She was not afraid of taking part with Paul and the other Christians, even in the face of danger.