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Women of the New Testament: Lydia
Part of Modern Greece, Showing Ancient Philippi and Samothrace
Paul's Second Missionary Journey
Paul's second missionary journey began in about 50 A.D. It was quite a marathon; he was really obeying Jesus' command to 'go and make disciples of all nations' (Matt. 28.19)
We can read about it in Acts. The team, which included Dr. Luke, Silas and possibly Timothy, set out from Palestine, and, visiting those who were already Christians, evangelising and setting up churches on the way, they passed through Syria, Cilicia, Cappadocia, Galatia, Lycia, Phrygia, Mysia to Troas, in Asia. From Troas they sailed straight across to Samothrace, an island in the Aegean, anchored there overnight and the next day sailed on, disembarking in the harbour at Neapolis in Macedonia (see Acts 16.11-12).
They had arrived in Europe.
Paul in Philippi
From Neapolis, Paul and his group followed the road for about fourteen kilometres and up the steep hill to the Roman colony of Philippi. They found lodgings in the walled, fortressed city, possibly with friends or relatives of Dr. Luke, as it is thought that this was his home-town. They settled in for a few days to recover from their long, arduous journey and to pray about their coming mission.
There were several temples in Philippi where the local people worshipped many different gods. There were not many Jews living here, so on the Sabbath Paul and his friends went out through one of the city gates down to an area in the valley beside the Angites River (now known as the Zygaktis River). It was a pretty spot, with trees. The river was fed by a number of springs that ran down the hillside, then it flowed through some flatter marshlands and on into the sea.
Perhaps Luke, knew about this peaceful, secluded place, told Paul about it and guided their little group there. It was where some Jewish women met together to pray and worship the one true God.
They found the women beside the river. As was the custom when preaching and explaining the Scriptures in the synagogues, Paul and his friends sat down with the women and told them the Good News about Jesus.
Lydia, the Wealthy Business Woman
A leader of the women meeting there was very devout and holy. She was known as Lydia and was a wealthy business woman who had originally come to live in Philippi from Thyatira, a place in Phrygia where there was a strong Jewish colony.
Thyatira was famous for its clothing trade, especially for its woollen garments made from the fine black wool of the local sheep that are now extinct. These garments were often decorated with purple and other colourful trimmings. The rich purple dye was made from a molusk and was so expensive that only royalty or the very wealthy could afford to purchase cloth like this.
Acts tells us that Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth; she was a rich woman of some influence.
Lydia, Paul's First European Convert
Lydia and the other women already knew the Old Testament Scriptures and the basic Jewish teachings. After listening to Paul's preaching, she became his first European convert to Christianity. She and all her household were baptised in the river.
Lydia began a house church in her large home and invited Paul, Silas and Luke to stay there with her. Paul accepted her invitation, but as his team was on its way to stay there, an incident occurred that incurred the wrath of some of the local people. They were really stirred up and Paul and Silas ended up being flogged and thrown into prison.
However, the event has a happy ending, as the Jailer and all his family were converted and then baptised by Paul.
Lydia, purple cloth seller, and devout
Women of God, by the river they met;
Quietly prayed on the Sabbath, and yet
Listened to Paul and they heard him right out.
Lydia's heart was warmed by his speech
She and her household all turned
Accepted the Good News, were concerned,
Asked for baptism, right there on the beach.
God gave them a future in Jesus adored,
Deeply they loved and we should love, too;
Women so giving as he calls us anew,
Gives us a future - eternal life with our Lord.
Lydia Was Leader of the First Christian Church in Europe
The flogging and imprisonment should never have occurred and Paul registered his indignation. Paul and Silas were released from prison and received an apology from the magistrates. They went to stay with Lydia (Acts 16.40) until their wounds were healed and they remained for a while to teach and encourage the new Christians.
Later Paul and his team continued their missionary journey, turning towards Thessalonica and then eventually returning to Jerusalem. He probably wrote them other letters that disappeared over time, but one he wrote ten years later has been preserved and can be found in the New Testament: The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians.
The first Christian church in Philippi was the first church to be founded on European soil - and it was founded by a woman, Lydia. Accepted as their leader, she was known for her holiness and generosity and was even referred to in the early church as a disciple. Later she came to be known as St. Lydia, the patron saint of dyers.