“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.” Acts 16: 14
If you are familiar with the Bible, chances are when you hear the name Lydia, you think “the purple lady”. Or maybe that’s just me. It probably is… blame it on the flannelgraph. It’s a story I’ve often glossed over, but on closer inspection, there’s a lot for us to glean from the account of Lydia’s conversion. Enter the purple lady…
She was a savvy businesswoman.
Lydia knew her stuff, and was clearly an intelligent, well-respected lady in the business world. Earlier translations don’t actually mention the word “cloth”, but her business was either purple cloth or purple dyes, available only to the ultra wealthy. Purple was an instant sign of status, as it was extremely difficult to come by (via juice from teeny-tiny shellfish- who knew?) To deal in “purple” meant schmoozing with upper-crust customers— think royalty and nobles and such. She was obviously able to hold her own in any social arena.
She was no slouch.
“She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks.
She sees that her trading is profitable,
and her lamp does not go out at night.”
(Proverbs 31: 17-18)
There is no mention of a husband at all (she may have been a widow), but Lydia is a great example of a virtuous Proverbs 31 woman. She spurs us on to want to make a difference in the workplace, going that extra mile, doing everything “as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23) so as to shine His light.
She worshipped God.
Even when she was super busy running a business. Even when she was far from her hometown and familiar practices. Even when there was no churchy building. She was passionate about worshipping the Living God, and gathered with women by the riverside to pray. And that’s where she met Paul on his mission trip… and where she ultimately met Jesus Christ.
She had a “normal” conversion.
Hear me out on this one— I know every single conversion to Christ is spectacular and precious and eternally glorious, what I mean is Lydia didn’t have a profoundly wild experience in coming to Jesus. It wasn’t like Paul’s experience with the bright light and the blindness and the scales and the whole thing. There were no lightening bots, whales, or physical healings involved. Lydia already loved God, she worshipped and believed, yet she knew nothing of Jesus— until Paul told her. At that point “the Lord opened her heart”, and she accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Entirely beautiful and entirely normal. I love how God puts this conversion in His Word for all generations to read, and that it’s something many of us can totally relate to.
She opened her home.
Boom. Lydia believed, was baptized right there, and then invited Paul and his posse to stay at her place. Hospitality at its finest. She hadn’t even had chance to pop out for groceries or throw fresh sheets on the sofa bed, but she was willing to serve in this way. It’s a way most us can serve, too. We may not be great with selling purple paraphernalia, but can’t we throw open the front door and find a little something in the fridge to set before guests now and then…?
I wonder how she shared her experience with her wealthy clients and the women at the riverside. And I’ll bet after encountering Jesus, her life was never the same again…
Oh, Lydia. That name is forever recorded by God, alongside other woman like Mary, Rahab, Deborah, and Ruth. She was a straight-up normal, industrious, independent, good woman, who came to know and love Jesus.
Breathtaking in its simplicity. Precious daughter to the Almighty.
More than just a purple lady.