Lydia was the richest woman in the richest city in her region. I am a Christian today because she became one 20 centuries ago.
On Friday our study tour visited Thessalonica before traveling to Philippi. In the first century, the latter was a Roman colony and the leading city of the district of Macedonia. Its great claim to fame was the battle that took place on its plains in 42 B.C. On one side stood Brutus and Cassius, fighting for Rome to stay a republic. On the other stood Marc Antony and Octavian, fighting for Rome to become an Empire. The forces of Antony and Octavian won; Octavian became the Emperor Augustus. In other words, the Roman Empire was born here.
So was Western Christianity. Around 50 A.D., a Jew from Tarsus named Saul came with a few friends to this thriving metropolis. The city contained so few Jews that it did not have even a single synagogue for him to visit in sharing the good news that Messiah had come. To meet with Jews and “God-fearers” (Gentiles who worshiped the God of Judaism), he went to the Zygaktis River outside the city. They would gather there, as they needed running water for their religious rituals. There Paul shared the gospel. Luke tells us that “one of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14).
Purple cloth was the most expensive possession in the ancient world. Purple dye was made from the root of the madder plant or from the shellfish murax; it took 8,000 of the latter to make a singe ounce of the dye. She was the Rolls Royce saleswoman of her day, with wealthy clients and contacts across her culture. Her conversion immediately established the gospel in her city. She became the first convert in Europe, the ancestor of every Christian in Western history since.
The picture beside this blog depicts the baptistry built at the tradition spot of Lydia’s baptism. Every time I come here I give thanks for a man who was willing to pay any price to share the gospel, and to a woman who was willing to pay any price to receive it. And I resolve to be like them today.