On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. -Acts 16:13-15
Paul and his companions traveled to Philippi, the chief city of the region in Macedonia, north of Greece. If you have access to a map, you’ll see Philippi is a long way from Jerusalem. When Paul came to any new city, he first found the local synagogue of the Jews. There was no synagogue in Philippi. To organize a synagogue, ten Jewish men are required. There might be one hundred women, but a synagogue cannot be formed without ten men.
So, lacking a synagogue as a launching point for his ministry, Paul went to the riverside. In places without a synagogue, it was customary for the local Jews, predominantly women, to gather at the river. There, at a peaceful spot on the riverbank, they prayed and shared a Psalm or other scripture together. This was the situation in Philippi.
We can imagine that Paul and his companions very gently and politely introduced themselves to the women gathered. It appears that the women willingly invited Paul to speak what was on his heart and mind. One woman, Lydia, took great interest in what Paul was saying. We learn that Lydia was a “seller of purple” from the city of Thyatira.
Anyone who was a seller of purple dealt in a valued, luxurious product. The dyes used for making purple were expensive and highly regarded. This woman was the first convert in Europe. Thyatira was well known as a center for this purple dye and fabric made from it. Later, there was a church organized in Thyatira also, and it was one of the seven churches addressed in Revelation (Revelation 2:18-29).
Earlier, when Paul was still in Asia (modern-day Turkey) he had a vision of a man calling to him from Macedonia, “Come and help us.” As it turns out, that man was the woman Lydia. She was the one God had in mind. It was God’s plan that Paul should come to Philippi, sit down with Lydia, and share the Gospel with her. She listened, she believed, and she and her whole household were baptized that day. She was a gracious and appreciative woman, inviting Paul and his companions to stay with her. That they did and launched the ministry of the Gospel in Macedonia.
Every lost soul is important. God has not indicated that he will send you a vision of where to go and who to speak to. But God will certainly give you opportunities in your life to speak to people about Jesus. Who knows the final result of speaking to just one person about Jesus?
We read many painful stories about Paul in the book of Acts. At other places he was whipped, beaten, stoned, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and bitten by poisonous snakes. This is a particularly lovely story about Paul and his work. No violence, no abuse, no bloodshed, no angry mobs. Just a heart-touching story of sharing the Gospel, resulting in the baptism of a notable woman and her entire household.
God gives you lovely experiences in the midst of your tribulation. I hope one of those experiences might be the sheer joy of sharing the Gospel with someone and then seeing them blossom into faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.