WONDER WOMEN — LYDIA
by Pastor Mike Fortune
August 27, 2011
- Gather others to God (Acts 16:11-13; 1 Timothy 2:1-4)
- Incarnate themselves in the marketplace (Acts 16:14; 2 Timothy 2:23-25)
- Know influence is real (Acts 16:15; Acts 16:40; 2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
A birthday safari in Africa changed Rachel O’Neal’s life forever. She saw hundreds of little girls in old and tattered clothes. So, when she returned to her suburban Detroit home, even though she couldn't sew, she decided to sew 1,000 dresses for them! Her idea spread and just three years later, like a modern day Lydia who prepared the finest purple clothing reserved for the royalty of Acts 16, she sent over 100k dresses to 16 different countries including ours helping thousands of little girls know they are royalty too because they are children of the King of Kings! Amen? Rachael O’Neal is a 55 year old wonder woman that gathers others to God and knows influence is real. Turn with me to Acts 16:11-15 to learn more about Lydia—my favorite wonder woman of the Bible we named our daughter after.
Last week, I showed some pics of Josh when he was a baby and the mayor and Congressman came over to kiss him and shake our hands and talk about home ownership. This week, I told Lydia that I have to show some pics of her too! So I chose a few of my faves. Look at those cheeks!!! As soon as I held Lydia in the hospital, I fell in love. Immediatley Jackie and I knew we wanted to name her Lydia. We were hoping that whatever she does for a job, that some day she would use it like her Biblical namesake to gather others to God and use her beauty and influence for good. I think she is well on her way don’t you?
Please read along with me in Acts 16:11-15 which says, “11 We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. 12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days. 13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She was baptized along with other members of her household, and she asked us to be her guests. "If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my home." And she urged us until we agreed.”
Our passage this morning begins with an update from Paul and Silas and Cool Hand Luke (just joking) though Luke was there in addition to Timothy whom they picked up in Lystra on their 2nd missionary journey. The Bible says they went from town to town instructing the believers on how to make it easier for Gentiles far from God to come a little closer. Acts 15:28-29 says their message was, “Don’t worship idols or eat meat offered to idols. Eat kosher foods. And flee from sexual immorality.” This is how the Good News about Jesus could be good news even for Gentiles. I wonder how Paul would say the same thing today don’t you? Maybe he would say seek first the kingdom of God. Take care of your bodies because they were bought with a price. And be faithful and pure because Jesus is faithful and pure. Which is still pretty good advice IMO.
But then one night, Paul has a dream. Not unlike Martin Luther King’s. That one day, even in Macedonia, the children of slave owners and free, girls with pretty dresses and boys with pants with no holes in them, might play together and worship God together and probably eat kosher meat together not offered to idols down by the riverside. Which according to Isaiah 56 and Revelation 14 was God’s dream all along. That people far from God would come a little closer so that one day His house would be a house of prayer for all nations from every tribe, language and people.
And because God has a sense of humor, the first person Paul meets when he arrives in Macedonia in hot pursuit of this dream is not a man, but a woman. A wonder woman in fact originally from Thyatira—one of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation where Lydia was born and raised. But by Acts 16, she has moved to the affluent Roman colony named after Alexander the Great’s father Phillip known as Philippi. And it is here, down by the riverside, where Paul and his traveling companions meet Lydia and her group of wonder women on Sabbath.
They met down by the riverside because Phillipi was a thoroughly Gentile town. And there may not have been a synagogue. But even if there was, Jewish custom required a quorum of at least 10 Jewish men for a legitimate worship service to begin. The number was supposedly derived from the Biblical account of Sodom and Gomorrah in which God told Abraham He would spare those cities for the sake of ten righteous men (cf. Genesis 18:32-33). But ten righteous men were as hard to find back then as they are today . So Lydia gathered the women for prayer.
Which leads us to point number one. Wonder women gather others to God. When everyone sleeps in on Sabbath, wonder women get ready for church. When there’s no place to do church, they make their own. When everyone else says they can’t gather with God because there aren’t enough Godly men around, they gather anyway because they know, like the prophet Joel and the prophetess Anna, that it’s not about plumbing. God can call and does pour His Holy Spirit out on whoever He wants including women. Why? Because God has a dream! He wants everyone to be saved! 1 Timothy 2:1-4 says it this way. “1 I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. 2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. 3 This is good and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.”
And God’s dreams are often better than man’s! I love that about Lydia. She fulfilled God’s dreams. Though she had a popular name for a girl in Roman times, what made her a wonder woman is she did unpopular things for God regardless of what everyone else was doing. She fulfilled God’s dreams. If she and her friends were here today, we’d have to commend them for gathering others to God and give her a huge WTG for that. Amen?
But how else did she fulfill God’s dream? Verse 14 explains. “Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying.” Lydia was a businesswomen. But verse 14 says she was a businesswoman who also worshiped God. Yes, she sold expensive purple cloth (cf. Luke 16:19) made from the purple dye of mollusks to rich people manufactured by a famous guild that archaeologists have confirmed from inscriptions found in the district. But she also peddled the pearl of great of price! You don’t gather for prayer at the riverside instead of the mall if you don’t love God.
A woman of some means (she is listed as the head of her house in verse 15 which meant she probably had numerous servants), she moved to Philippi and embedded herself in a new city bustling with trade and commerce from all over the known world. What I love about Lydia is she lived her truth down by the riverside and at work. She moved into the marketplace and was the same person there that she was at church. And she treated the workplace as her mission field as well. I think I’ve shared this stat before but it’s worth repeating. The Barna Group says 78% of Americans will be having spiritual conversations this next week. But 71% of those conversations will be taking place at work because that's the number of Americans who will NOT be attending church this weekend. People are open to having spiritual conversations everywhere. But ironically, most of those conversations won’t take place at church. They are still taking place down by the riverside. They’re taking place at work. And at school.
Are we listening church? Are we prepared to share? What should we share? PRS! Pray. Read. Share. Share your prayer requests. Ask to prayer for theirs. If they ask, share what you read or listened to from God’s word that morning. Or share one thing you remember Pastor Mike said in church last Sabbath if you can actually remember one thing a week later. Whatever it is, be prepared! Because there are people all around you in your sphere of influence who already know you’re not like everyone else. So don’t disappoint them! Start out by straight out asking them sometime at an appropriate quiet moment if they have any prayer requests. Isaiah 12:4-5 says, “Tell the nations what he has done. Let them know how mighty he is! Sing to the LORD, for he has done wonderful things.” 2 Timothy 2:23-25 adds, “23 Again I say, don't get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. 24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth.”
Lydia apparently did this well. Yes, she kept her business clients. And sold a bunch of purple clothes to to a bunch of rich people. But she also kept worshiping God and fulfilled His dreams regardless of what everyone else was doing. She was a minister disguised as a businesswoman. She had a hope and a prayer and a dream and she was known for these things too. If we want to be as effective for God in our world, we too must learn to listen. For God has placed people all around us that are interested in having spiritual conversations. If you’re at all like Jesus, they already know you’re different. And weird in a good way. So listen for the people at work who could use your prayers. And ask them if they have any prayer requests. How many of you are willing to do that at least? Lydia was listening. Are you? Why is Craig Horvath the only one doing this? We are all minsters disguised as business men and women, mechanics, doctors, nurses, teachers, CPAs, pilots. When will we all see ourselves this way and actually start living this way?
Point number two: Wonder women incarnate themselves in the marketplace. But they’re not jerks about it. They don't get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. They don’t debate. They’re humble. And kind to everyone. They gently instruct. Because they know it’s not their job to change people’s hearts. That’s God’s job. What did 2 Timothy 2:25 say? “Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth.” But perhaps they won’t. Not because God doesn’t want to change their hearts. 1 Timothy 2 says God wants all people to be saved. It’s just that some people don’t want to be. Be kind to them anyway. Love them anyway. There are lots of Judas’ out there. That’s true. But there are lots of Lydias out there too willing to listen, open their hearts, and accept what God says. But you have to win the right to be heard by them. Some of them will never step inside the doors of a church until you ask them. But not if you’re a jerk about it.
Lydia literally moved from Thyatira to Philippi to incarnate herself in her community just like Jesus left heaven to incarnate himself on earth. We can do the same things by embedding ourselves in the marketplace and living our faith there. We can fulfill God’s dream by praying offering to pray for our co-workers down by the riverside. And in the marketplace. And while Larry Crabb in his excellent book The Pressure’s Off says control is an illusion. What is also true is influence is real. And Lydia’s story reminds us of this take home truth as well. Look at verse 15. “She was baptized along with other members of her household, and she asked us to be her guests. "If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my home." And she urged us until we agreed.” I’m reading another book right now called Leadership is Dead: How Influence is Reviving It. Proof of this can be seen in Lydia’s life because after the Lord opened her heart and she accepted what Paul was saying, she was baptized. This is the normal response of people whose hearts have been opened by the Lord. After you know you’re loved like crazy, you get baptized and you start living like crazy. That’s the way it works. I know some of you are still thinking about it. Is there anyone else here who wants to get baptized as well? Lydia thought about it as well. But then she actually did it. Probably down by the riverside right beside the place she was praying.
But the coolest part about baptism is that when people make that decision, their decision encourages other people to get baptized as well. Acts 16:15 says Lydia was baptized along with other members of her household probably her servants. Hopefully, this wasn’t a baptism like Constantine’s where he marched his whole army through a river to convert them to Christianity and considered that their baptism. Hopefully, they weren’t coerced or manipulated into that decision by peer pressure or emotionalism. Lydia was a very persuasive woman as the rest of verse 15 implies. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my home." And she urged us until we agreed.”
Mercy! She sounds a little like the godfather, or godmother, making them an offer they cannot refuse! I don’t think that’s the way God works though. Jesus said in Matthew 10:8, “Freely you have received, freely give.” In other words, get baptized. But get baptized for the right reasons. Not to impress others. But because God has opened your heart. Not to be saved. But because you are saved. And because you want to follow Jesus who emphasized the significance of baptism by beginning his ministry with baptism. His followers do likewise. So if you’ve never done that, please see me afterward or shoot me an email and we can get started on that sooner than later.
Control is an illusion. That’s why God doesn’t work that way. But influence is real. When Lydia said yes, so did many members of her household. Remember a few years ago on April 5, 2008 when Craig Rieger got baptized? On that same Sabbath, his sons Cody and Chad got baptized with the rest of the Riegers all cheering them on stage gathered around the baptistry back there? I will never forget that day. It was one of the highlights of my pastoral ministry so far. There’s something about baptism that just moves me. When a father models for his sons what following Jesus looks like, that moves me. Getting that family pic with all of them in the tank together was awesome.
Remember a few months ago this April 2011 when Bobby helped me baptize Bobby and Kay’s daughter Phyllis? I remember after in the foyer Bev came up to me and said I introduced Phyllis wrong. Because she is really Kay’s daughter not Bobby’s. And biologically, she’s right. And I knew that. But that’s not the way God looks at it. And that’s not the Bobby looks at it either. So that’s not the way I introduced her. Phyllis is a child of the King of Kings. She is God’s daughter. And that makes her Bobby’s daughter as well. Just like those little girls in Malawi, Africa, wearing pretty little dresses made by Rachael O’Neal.
Point number three: Wonder women know that control is an illusion. But they also know that influence is real. And I’m glad leadership is dead. If the kind of leadership we’re talking about is the egotistical, proud, and self-serving kind the business world and even the church has had enough of already. We don’t need any more of that. What we do need more of is more men and women who pray and read and share. What we do need is more followers of Jesus who aren’t jerks at work. Because influence is real. It still moves mountains and changes hearts. In fathers and sons and in mothers and daughters. We know this is true because Acts 16:40 says, “When Paul and Silas left, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.”
But after they left, a church grew up in Philippi. Lydia planted it. Paul would later write his epistle entitled Philippians to that church of believers planted by Lydia and her household. May God help us gather others to God. May God help us incarnate ourselves in the workplace in winsome ways. May God help us remember that influence is real. Would you repeat out loud with me our memory verse one more time from 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (NIV)? “9 My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” For more info, see John MacArthur’s book Twelve Extraordinary Women pp.187-197.