Lydia: Willing service! – Acts 16:11-15; Philippians 1:3-11
By Pastor Lee Hemen
May 6, 2012 AM
Have you ever met someone for just a few moments and later wished you had more time to get to know them? The other day I met a young father who was delightfully playing with his daughter at the park. We struck up a conversation about the park, children, and the joy of watching them grow. My grandson and I had to leave, and afterwards I caught myself hoping to see him again. In the Bible there are several folks like that. We meet them briefly, they are only mentioned in a few verses, and then they are gone leaving us with the feeling we would like to get to know them better. Lydia is just such a person for me. In a world where membership or serving in Jesus body, His church, has fallen by the way, and getting a momentary spiritual high has become the norm for equating faith, Lydia and the church she helped start teach us a lot about willing service.
Interestingly, we discover that Scripture offers absolutely no encouragement for believers who attend worship erratically but never invest themselves in service to the Lord through His church. Scripture emphatically teaches that God saves people for both eternity and for service through His church. We find this in the life of Lydia. We know very little about her, but what we do know, reveals a life that was given to service of her Lord through His church. Let’s discover anew what the Scripture says concerning Lydia and her willing service!
Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke were setting sail from Troas and ran a straight course to Samothrace, a mountainous island in the Aegean Sea. Paul had dreamed that he and Silas should go to Macedonia (Acts 16:9-10), so they were well into the journey of obeying the Lord. The next day they sailed to Neapolis and walked the Via Egnatia, a main east-west highway through Macedonia, to Philippi, a distance of about 10 miles. Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, seized the city and to honor himself changed its name to Philippi. The city fell to Roman rule in 168 B.C. There, the missionaries meet Lydia a businesswoman who is an example of a godly woman who served God and His church. We can learn to do our part in God’s church by following her example of…
I. Getting started immediately! (Acts 16:11-15)
1. Service to Christ begins when you believe!
1) “On the Sabbath” day, Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke sought out places for sharing the gospel. His custom was to go to the local Jewish synagogue, but it appears there was none at Philippi. They had to go “outside the city gate to the river, where [they] expected to find a place of prayer.” The river lies about a mile from the city gates. They “sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.” Probably gentiles, non-Hebrews, and among the women gathered at the river’s edge was Lydia. She had brought her trade as a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira. Purple dyes were expensive as well as purple goods, and Lydia’s business in the purple dye trade marked her as a woman of means. We see that Lydia “was a worshiper of God.” And we find that the “Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” The Lord who created Lydia’s heart was also able to open her heart to His truth. And as a result of the inner working of God’s Spirit Lydia paid attention to what was spoken by Paul. The wonderful outcome was that she and her household trusted Christ and were baptized! Notice Lydia does not wait to serve the Lord; she gets started immediately by inviting them to her home! She boldly states, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” God uses those who are willing! Lydia’s willing service did not end there. According to verse 40, her home became a house church, a gathering place for a new and growing Christian community in Philippi. Lydia freely shared her abundance with her new Christian family because she had freely received God’s abundant grace in Christ. She was not a mere hearer but a doer of the Word (James 1:22). Even new believers, as exemplified by Lydia, can serve God by supporting those involved in doing God’s work! You can as well by getting started immediately!
EXAMPLE: Listen as Paul shares the gospel by the river’s edge. The murmur of the river is the only hymn being sung, the sky is an open cathedral, and the whole earth is the worship center. We listen as the man of God begins to share about Jesus. How He came to “seek and save the lost” and how we are those He came to save. He relates how Jesus proved who He was by His death, burial, and resurrection! The river sings of Jesus’ salvation, the sky speaks of His creation, and the world is breathlessly waiting for our response. To these women Paul spoke of Christ’s salvation. The ripples of this simple worship service would someday reach around the world. This particular Sabbath was a day of small beginnings, but God brought great blessings to the rest of the world as the gospel was first implanted on the European continent and eventually spread all the way to China and beyond! And Lydia did respond, but she did what all believers, new or old, are expected to do: She immediately got started in her service to Jesus and His church!
Every servant of God needs support, whether the support is big or small. Even little acts of ministry involving practical help serve others and bring God glory. Serving God is not merely done by the “professional.” Ministry is done by any believer who brings a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus (Mark 9:41). And even new believers, as exemplified by Lydia, can serve God by supporting those involved in doing God’s work. How about you? We discover that service continues by…
II. Partnering with other believers! (Acts 16:40; Philippians 1:3-8)
1. There are no “Lone Rangers” in Christ’s churches!
1) We discovered that Acts 16:40 reveals the church gathered at Lydia’s house, the first home church in Philippi. Paul and Silas leaving the “prison” refers back to their earlier experience recorded in Acts 16:16-34. Freed from shackles and bars, they made their way to Lydia’s house and to the believers who had gathered there. After being encouraged by the new church, they leave to continue their work! Later, while in a distant place, his heart connects with the believers in Philippi. It must have brought great joy to the Philippians’ hearts as they read how the apostle often thanked God for them. Here was a letter of approval and praise from one who was in Roman chains some 800 miles away! About 10 years had passed since Paul had first worked among them. Paul knew that it was Jesus who had begun a good work in them, who would carry it out to its completion! The passing of time had not diminished his love or his interest in them. Every time Paul thought of them he thanked God for them. The Greek word translated partnership is “koinonia”, and this fellowship or partnership was the reason Paul was always joyful as he prayed for the believers at Philippi. He tells them, “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.” Paul knew he could never have done his ministry alone. He depended upon the prayers, encouragement, and support of fellow believers. It was because of their partnership with him that he could propagate God’s grace. Paul was glad in partnering with other believers and Lydia was part of that partnership!
EXAMPLE: It is kind of wonderful to think that Paul’s Letter to the Philippians may have been first read as believers gathered and filled Lydia’s home. Gathered near the hearth, church family and friends, Lydia and others listened as Paul’s letter to them expressed his heartfelt joy over their partnership with him in the Lord. Can you imagine how excited they felt as they heard his encouraging words to them? Paul wrote, “God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Christ’s love had so overwhelmed Paul that His affection was Paul’s very own! The fact that Paul told this to the Philippians demonstrates the reality and intensity of his praise for them as they partnered with him for the gospel’s sake. There should not be ‘Lone Rangers” in Christ’s church. Partnering with other believers as a church is the greatest business a church can be about! Lydia was part and parcel of this early partnership just as each of us can be a partner in the gospel today!
No preacher or teacher anywhere in the world or in any place in Christian history ever succeeded alone. Partnering with other believers enhances and improves our service with God. Olympic athletes may compete and win gold medals as individuals, but it takes a team effort behind them to do it. Coaches, trainers, parents, and other athletes all contributed to their success. It is the same with the church. Christians can reach their higher calling only in the context of partnership with other believers. Lydia and the church she helped start teaches us it is a part of…
III. Doing what really matters! (Philippians 1:9-11)
1. It not only makes a difference how believers play the game, it matters how they finish the race!
1) “What is my purpose in life?” is one of life’s most important questions. Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life is a bestseller. Perhaps the reason for its widespread appeal is that the book seeks to answer the question “What on earth am I here for?” Warren states that purpose is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ and His church. Paul began the original purpose-driven church by praying that the believers in Philippi determine what really mattered in life. He prayed that their “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God!” To Paul, Christian love should intelligently appraise reality and should rest on sensitivity to God’s truth. Such discerning Christian love will advance the gospel. A believer who has intelligent, discerning love can approve of things that have greatest value and importance and conversely disapprove of things lesser in value and importance. As we love this way, choosing the best over the good, we will be pure and blameless. In the long run, the things that really matter are the people we have loved, the Word we have obeyed, and, most importantly, the God we have served. I believe Lydia as the founding member of the Philippian church knew what mattered in life. Our age is often known for its selfishness and self-centered convenience. But a life that only serves self will eventually kill, steal, and destroy life’s true purpose. As Christ’s church we are to be about doing what really matters!
EXAMPLE: During the last Passover in the upper room, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-11) for the obvious reason—their feet were dirty. Jesus assumed a servant’s responsibility because His disciples had ignored one another’s need. From that moment, the towel of service has both symbolized and memorialized a simple act of Christian service. Believers should exercise discernment in doing what really matters in their lives so they will not allow superficial matters to interfere with their willing service to God and His church. Sadly, sometimes, people’s tendency today is to become so involved in their busy lives that they either fail to notice or simply do not do what really matters. Without meaning to, in pursuit of life’s goodness, they allow their service to God and His church to fall by the wayside and ignore life’s best. The kind of life Paul described for ancient Philippi is a worthy pursuit for us today. Lydia was about what truly mattered in life. The choices between living a busy life or a purposeful one are not always easy. Yet, as Jesus’ body in this world believers are to be about what really matters! Towel anyone?
Godly devotion reveals itself in willing service to God and His church. Like Lydia we do that by: 1) Getting started immediately! 2) Partnering with other believers! And 3) Doing what really matters!
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Pastor Lee Hemen has been the outspoken pastor of the same church for 25 years in Vancouver, WA. He writes regularly on spirituality and conservative causes and maintains several web blogs. This article is copyrighted © 2012 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.