Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy were traveling through Philippi and spreading the Gospel given to them by their Lord–Jesus. In obedience to the great commission that had been given to all Christians and their own particular call, they found themselves traveling through the known world and sharing the story of a crucified king and forgiveness and redemption for all who would request it.
As was their practice they went to the synagogue to speak to their people and share the news that Jesus had lived and died for their sins, been raised from the dead, ascended to the Father, and that Jesus would come back in judgment of both the living and dead. In their proclamation of the Gospel, they gathered the interest of Lydia and her friends.
Lydia was a wealthy widow who had gained some notoriety among the male-dominated society of Philippi. She made a living as a business-woman selling purple-dyed clothing and the purple dye, itself. Her husband had died and, yet, she was not ruined in the eyes of the merchant community. Instead, she had become a leader in the community and held the respect of people who may never have offered respect to a woman if it hadn’t been for her incredible success and head for business. She had not been given respect or assistance because of her status as a widow but she had purchased it through her commitment to business and the economy of the powers-that-be.
Not only was Lydia wealthy, she was spiritually sensitive and known to lead women in prayer and study. When Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy arrived she was the natural leader of the group of women and the first to step forward and convert to the life and calling that the men were offering. Lydia’s keen spiritual awareness prepared her for this experience but it was the Holy Spirit that drew her to the place of proclaiming Jesus–the crucified King–as Lord.
Upon her conversion, she said to the men, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” In doing this, Lydia grasped at the heart of the Kingdom. She offered hospitality to those in need of it and began to share her life and self with others regardless of familiarity. She opened her table and her home to the four men who guided her conversion but, also, would go on to be a pillar of the Church in Philippi. The hospitality she demonstrated would not only prove to be a mark of her conversion but, also, a mark of the early Church.
Lydia’s hospitality proclaimed the power of love and fellowship to a world that offered little help to widows and women. Though Lydia had earned respect and appreciation through her business-sense, she was part of a different economy of love and respect when she joined the Kingdom: love was the starting point, in the Kingdom, and not something you had to earn. Love was not something that had to be purchased or torn from people but, rather, something given freely and compassionately. In her commitment to hospitality, Lydia helped to advance the Kingdom in Philippi through merciful and compassionate use of the blessings God had given to her.