I wish Luke gave us more information about this gracious hostess and resident of Philippi, so for some fifth Friday fun, I imagined a back story for her. Catch the real story in Acts 16 and a study on the same chapter (from Paul’s point-of-view) coming soon to Not About Me.
It was a business move. Nothing more. And yet Lydia relished the freedom of her new hometown. In Philippi, women were treated better—not exactly like men, but at least her neighbors weren’t surprised when they learned she kept her own books and made her own purchasing decisions. At first, she rented a small store front with an even smaller apartment in the back. It was enough for her and her two apprentices.
Everyone knew Thyatira had the best purple cloth in the Roman Empire, so she made sure people knew she came from there: “Lydia from Lydia;” she always smiled when she said it. If people looked at her blankly, she would explain that the Romans called that region Asia, but the area surrounding the city of Thyatira was known to the Greeks as Lydia. Stone markers and old writings still reflected the previous name.
Besides the reputation she brought with her as a citizen of Thyatira, Lydia’s work was exceptional. Before long, the store front wasn’t big enough for all the customers who somehow found their way to her tiny shop. She moved to a broader street in a better part of town and hired a couple of locals to help in the shop. Within a couple of years, the most influential people in Philippi proudly wore her purple. She converted the apartment above her store into a workshop and bought a large home on the outskirts of town. She invited her widowed sister to come live with her, filling a gap she didn’t know existed with the laughter of nieces and nephews.
Of course, she missed the rest of her family and friends, especially on the Sabbath. Back in Thyatira, she had grown up worshipping the same gods as her neighbors. But when a Jewish family indentured themselves to her for seven years, she saw how their faith established order in their lives and gave them peace instead of stress. Shortly before they completed their indenture, she began attending synagogue with them. The habit stuck. She loved the ancient songs and saw the wisdom of living according to the commandments of the Torah.
Then she moved to Philippi. There was no synagogue in Philippi. She always closed her shop on the Sabbath, taking the day for rest and reflection, but only by accident did she discover the small band of God-fearers on the banks of the Gangites River outside town on that random Sabbath. Now she looked forward to the weekly gathering: the conversations, the readings, the prayers. These were her people even though they came from different regions and spoke with different accents.
Because God had blessed her so abundantly, Lydia and her sister made sure the other God-fearers had the necessities of life. Sometimes she paid for medical treatments or invited a couple of extra children into her home for a few months. Sometimes she brought a big meal (prepared the day before) to share with everyone, and over the years, she taught several young people the art of dying cloth.
Lydia’s life had relaxed into a steady, comfortable rhythm. Until she met Paul.
She and most of the other Sabbath “usuals” were already sitting on cloths, spread on the ground a few feet from the muddy bank of the river. Their conversation died as three men and a teenage boy walked toward them. The four sat down, then the one called Paul began to talk. Something about his demeanor reminded Lydia of the Pharisees from Jerusalem who sometimes attended synagogue in Thyatira. Except Paul’s words and tone were nothing like those stuffy men. She realized he wasn’t there to tell them what they were doing wrong, as the Pharisees always did, but to reveal the end of the story God had been writing since history began. He had Good News, and as he talked, the other three nodded enthusiastically.
Lydia was more educated than most of her peers, and she had more than a few years of experience to lean on as well, but those facts didn’t explain why she was absolutely certain Paul’s words were true. The more he spoke, the more she felt her heart opening and Truth resonating through both her emotions and her intellect.
Lydia had seen a few crucifixions in the Roman city of Philippi. So when Paul said the “Lord Jesus Christ”—a man Lydia had never met—was crucified in her place to redeem her from all religious obligations and secure her relationship with God, she cried.
Then Paul explained baptism as an outward sign of an inward transformation, as a declaration of one’s intent to follow Jesus’ way. Lydia was the first to stand up and walk toward the river. She sensed more than saw her sister, servants, and friends following her, and she wasn’t surprised. Lydia knew Paul’s words were true more surely than she knew her own name!
The water was cold. In all those years of attending synagogue and being a God-fearer, she had never felt the need to convert to Judaism. Yet here she was, having heard about Jesus’ Way for the first time…and now she was soaking wet!
A cloud covered the sun, and Lydia saw her niece shiver in her wet clothes. The day had passed quickly. It was long past time to return home. Lydia didn’t think twice. After whispering to a servant, she spoke to the men, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house” (Acts 16:15). They protested briefly, but Lydia could be very convincing.
We know so little about Lydia. Here’s a #flashfiction backstory for this gracious hostess of Philippi, who met Paul on the banks of a river. Because my #backstory is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks.Tweet
This is complete fiction, but I have wondered why Lydia was a God-fearer and what compelled her to invite Paul and his friends into her home. What person in the Bible do you wish we knew more about? Leave me a short note in the comments!