Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LYDIA’S CONVERSION”

Acts 16.12-15

 The Philippian congregation was arguably that church of all those the apostle planted that he was most fond of and most intimate with. However, in the intervening weeks I want to bring several messages that will give you an idea how the Philippian church came into existence.

In Acts 16, we find a number of things occurring during Paul’s second missionary journey. Notably absent from Paul’s first trip are longtime sidekick Barnabas and his nephew John Mark. Notably present as Paul arrives into the city of Philippi, in addition to his Antioch colleague Silas, are two new coworkers picked up en route; Timothy and Luke, both of whom will serve God, faithful and true, standing with Paul until the end of his days. The party’s arrival in Philippi was also interesting. The city of Antioch is due south of the middle of what is modern Turkey, on the right side of the map I have provided, with the western half of Turkey extending into the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, the second missionary began from Antioch, and continued overland into the southern coast at the eastern end of the Asia Minor peninsula. Upon their arrival into the region where Derbe, Lystra and Iconium are located, then on to Antioch in Pisidia, Paul and his party intended to travel due west, but “were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,” the Roman province of Proconsular Asia that had Ephesus as its capital, Acts 16.6. Heading northwest for a while until they arrived to the region of Mysia, which I have located on the map below with a red X, they next attempted to head back to the east northeast to a region known as Bithynia, “but the Spirit suffered them not,” Acts 16.7. Therefore, they continued heading west until they ran out of road on the shore of the Aegean Sea, in the west coast city of Troas. In Acts 16.9-12, we discover what happened after Paul and his party had tucked in for the night at the Motel 6 in Troas:

9      And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.

10     And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

11     Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis;

12     And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days.

 You might notice that in verses 6, 7, and 8 the writer of Acts uses the word “they.” From verse 10, however, he uses the word “we.” It is, therefore, apparent that Paul, Timothy, and the rest of the church planting team had at this point picked up their new coworker, named Luke. To recapitulate, the new guys are Silas, who began with Paul in Antioch, Timothy, from the Derbe-Lystra region, with Luke joining the group in Troas. Once again looking at your Bible map, you will see that Paul and his colleagues crossed from what we call Asia to what we call Europe. The question is, why did Paul, after spending the night on the island of Samothracia, and then landing on the European coast at the city of Neapolis, continue on to Philippi? The answer is, Neapolis is in Thrace, and the vision Paul saw was very specific about Macedonia. Philippi was located in Macedonia. Notice, in verse 12, that Philippi is described as a colony. Owing to a great battle the Romans fought near there years earlier, the victory was commemorated by making Philippi, which had even earlier been named after Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedon, into a Roman colony. That meant Philippi was, for all intents and purposes, just like being in the city of Rome. Roman laws instead of provincial laws, direct Roman rule instead of provincial rule, and a city that was dominated by native Romans, who were extremely proud of their Roman connection.

Our focus is on a woman named Lydia. Upon arriving in Philippi, Paul and his fellows probably spent a few days taking stock of the city. According to verse 13, they went out of the city a ways to the river bank on a Sabbath day: “And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.” Of course, they did this to seek out the place where Jewish people typically assembled for worship. Ever since the Babylonian captivity and the development of the synagogue as a place for Jews to assemble and worship, it had been the habit of Jewish people to gather by the nearest source of running water in whatever city they happened to be in on the Sabbath to worship, if there was no synagogue in the city. That Paul did this in Philippi almost certainly meant that there was no synagogue in the city, and also suggests that there was a very small Jewish population in the city. Jewish tradition required ten Jewish men to establish a synagogue for worship. So, with either no Jewish men available or with them being non- religious Jewish men (which was unlikely in those days), Paul went to the place of prayer and spoke to those who had gathered for worship.

It is in verses 14-15 that we read of Paul’s first convert, the woman named Lydia:

 14     And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

15     And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

 We are informed that she was a seller of purple, from the city of Thyatira. That suggests that she was a successful and independent businesswomen, since purple dye was in great demand in those days, and since Thyatiran purple was the best money could buy. She was also a woman who worshipped God. Being from Thyatira, being named Lydia, and being a “worshipper of God,” suggests that she was a Gentile woman and not a Jewish woman. The phrase “worshipper of God” was used to describe God-fearing Gentiles. Luke records that Lydia “heard” them. That word “heard” is very important because it is an imperfect verb, meaning she “heard” Paul over a period of time. This is one of the first detailed examples in scripture of a Gentile conversion, and this verse gives evidence that Paul did not present the gospel to her for 30 minutes and then instantaneously lead her to Christ.

Luke indicates that there was a time factor leading up to her conversion, but we do not know for how long. It is apparent, however, that she was not saved the first time she heard the gospel. The Lord did, however, open her heart and “she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” That is, as a result of the Lord opening her heart, she hung on every word Paul said. Verse 15 provides more evidence that she was a woman of substance and influence. She was saved, and apparently her household was too, for they were baptized along with her. Enough time had passed for her to demonstrate to Paul that she was faithful, suggesting that she was not baptized immediately, and she had a large enough residence that the missionary party could stay with her. It may have been that Lydia, because of her wealth and position, was a leader of those God-fearing Gentile women who met with some few Jewish worshipers on Sabbath days. As well, is it not interesting that this woman was originally from a region where the Holy Spirit had earlier forbidden Paul to preach? The conversion of this woman who was moral and upright, this woman who had position, who had wealth, who had status as an entrepreneur, merits our attention. Lydia’s story demonstrates the need of even a religious and moral person to be saved. Three reasons show why even a religious and moral person needs to be saved, why the faith of the religious and the moral person is fiction if they do not know Jesus Christ.

Reason #1, her faith was fictional because it was based upon Judaism. From the gospels and other New Testament sources, we see that Judaism in those days was an apostate religion, bearing little resemblance to the Torah given by God through Moses. Judaism had, over time, replaced many Biblical truths with the traditions of men. To this some people would say, “So what?” People nowadays seem to think that what you believe is unimportant, but I must strongly emphasize that what you believe indicates whether you are really saved from your sins. What you believe distinguishes you from a pagan or an atheist. If Lydia believed in Judaism, she was lost and needed to be saved. How do we know this to be true? Paul, the greatest practitioner of Judaism who ever lived, still needed the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior to be saved. Before him Nicodemus, who as the teacher of Israel was the greatest practitioner of Judaism of his day, was told by the Savior, “ye must be born again.”

Reason #2, her faith was fictional because it was based solely on intellect. Look at verse 14. When Lydia heard the gospel, the Lord opened her heart and she was subsequently saved. My friends, it is with the heart that man believes unto righteousness. Prior to Paul’s arrival, Lydia knew about God intellectually, but did not truly know God until after the Lord opened her heart to the truth and she trusted Jesus Christ. Does this mean that genuine faith is anti-intellectual? Heavens no. The real problem with Southern California Christianity, in all its variations, is the utter lack of genuine intellectual content. A real relationship with God requires the engagement and the involvement of your mind. However, there can be no genuine faith that does not also involve the heart. Lydia’s heart was not receptive to the truth until the Lord opened it under the gospel preaching of the Apostle Paul.

Reason #3. Her faith was fictional because, prior to Paul’s arrival, it was not based on the gospel. No one is saved apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Paul stated in Romans 1.16, the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth. Three reasons, then, show conclusively that Lydia’s faith had been fictional until she was saved under the gospel preaching of the Apostle Paul.

Apply Lydia’s situation to your own. Suppose you are moral, successful, independent, entrepreneurial, and religious. You are ethical, upright; community involved, and lead a clean personal life. Guess what? You still need to be saved. What is your religion? Whatever it is, whether it is Catholicism, Pentecostalism, New-Evangelicalism, or if you happen to be a committed Baptist, Mormon, Adventist, or Protestant, it is not as good as Judaism as far as religions go. After all, Judaism traces its lineage back to Mount Sinai. That said, even practitioners of Judaism need to be saved from their sins. Ergo, you need to be saved from your sins. What about your intellect? Look back on the time you became what you today are. Was that event purely an intellectual decision? Was it the product of human reasoning, only? Then, like Lydia was, you are lost and need to be saved, though you can be saved once the Lord opens your heart to the truth of the gospel.

Speaking of the gospel, Lydia’s faith was fictional because it was not based upon the gospel. Is your faith based upon the gospel? Do you even know what the gospel is? Remember, what you believe is important. You can tell much about a person’s spiritual condition by what that person believes, because if that person believes wrongly about crucial matters then he does not believe in the Savior. Lydia had been perfectly happy meeting each Sabbath with those Jewish people on the shore of the river. After all, Judaism was a relatively clean, moral, respectable religion, without the debased behavior associated with the paganism and idolatry that she had grown up with in Thyatira. After all, the Jewish people had a religion given to them by God through His prophets. They were a people who could trace their lineage back 2000 years. They were a people not given over to the common Gentile vices of drunkenness, debauchery and gluttony, as were her people. Therefore, Lydia likely enjoyed and felt a measure of contentment while attending Sabbath worship with Jewish people.

Life had certainly been difficult for Lydia. However, there was a time when she had taken stock and realized some things. If she worked hard (much harder than men had to work), if she exercised rigid discipline, and if she used every bit of the wisdom and the cunning she had acquired watching others succeed in business, she thought she might make it. And make it she did. The other Gentile women who worshipped with her were also well off, but for a different reason. They were married to men of great wealth and power. Their station in life was owing to whom they were married to. Lydia’s station in life was the result of iron-willed tenacity and perseverance. It was only natural that she would gravitate to Judaism. After all, only the Jews had their beliefs written down for all to see, instead of being dependent upon charlatan priests who required that everyone take them at their word alone. Only Jews had incorporated into their religion safeguards for women, for children, and even for slaves. Only the Jews had a real and genuine reverence for the one true and living God. Her people, on the other hand, and the Romans as well, embraced religions of convenience and only pretended to pay homage to numerous gods who themselves were but little better then mortal men.

So, there she sat that Sabbath day when some men approach her and the others and introduced themselves. The little one who was the oldest wore the robes of the foremost Rabbinical school in Jerusalem; the Jews told her that later. He then began to speak to them all and her world began to crumble. Her perception of reality up to that point in time had been rather neat and tidy. She had a material need and she went out and became successful in business to meet that need. Then she had a spiritual need and she looked around, discovered the best religion in the world, and met that need . . . or so she thought. Now, in a matter of days, from that first Sabbath encounter with Paul, her confidence and satisfaction with religion was destroyed and Lydia’s life began anew. She had found life, eternal life, in Jesus Christ.

What happened to Lydia needs to happen to you, my friend. You sit here in church. You enjoy some modicum of contentment. You have found your spiritual niche and built yourself a rather comfortable nest. There is only one problem. Like Lydia, you too are lost. Like Lydia, you too need to be saved. The question remains whether or not like Lydia, you too will actually be saved. What won her over? She was a bright woman, so we know it was not some emotional trip. What won her over? She was a successful woman, so we know it was not some appeal to foolishness. When Paul began to speak to her, and as she listened intently on those several occasions, and as the Lord opened her heart, what won her over were two things:

 First, A RECOGNITION OF THE BARRENNESS OF RELIGION

My friend, you need to see the barrenness of religion. Perhaps you are like Lydia. She left paganism behind for Judaism, and you have left behind idolatry for the religion of God’s people. Perhaps you have also scorned debauchery in favor of piety. Your problem is still that what you have is religion, even the Baptist religion. However, religion is only, after all, barrenness and spiritual desolation. Oh, the songs you sing may be pretty. The clothes you wear to church may be nice. The accouterments that you accent your religion with may be perfect. Still, religion alone is spiritual barrenness. Your religion is barren, is it not? After all, what else could explain your lack of joy? What else could explain your lack of commitment? What else could explain your manner of life? What else could explain the fits of conviction you used to wrestle with and then subdued? All you have, after all, is just religion. Let me tell you why what you have is barren:

It is barren because, first, it is based upon the works of man. Perhaps your religion is not as obviously unscriptural as the religion of the Roman Catholics, the religion of the Mormons, and the religion of the Hindus, with their idols and their gods and their worship of things manufactured by human hands. Hindus and Catholics worship statutes made with hands and Mormons worship the Mormon Church, which too is made with human hands. Even if your religion is not as obviously the product of human effort as those examples, your religion is the product of human invention. It is the product of the conjurings of your own mind. How do I know? Look at you. Examine yourself. What have you been saved from? What good has your religion done you spiritually? Perhaps it gives you a sense of order and well-being in the world, but does it save you? Does your religion save you? No, it does not. Your religion, by whatever name you call it, Christianity, full gospel, evangelicalism, fundamental Baptist, or born again, does not save you. Titus 3.5 declares, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done” are we saved. Will you not admit that the key feature of religion, your religion and every other religion, is the works of righteousness that you have done? If you think you have to be a good boy or a good girl in order to get to heaven, what you have is religion. Since it is religion, dependent as religions are upon your ability to do good works, it cannot save you. Lydia realized at some point that her newly adopted religion, which was the best religion in the world, having not one smidgen of idolatry, and being of divine origin, still could not save her.

Because, being the works of man, your religion is also tainted with the wickedness of man. What can you do to commend yourself to God? How can you overcome the sinfulness of your soul? What can you possibly do to recover an innocence that you have never, in your entire lifetime, had? You have been conceived in sin, according to Psalm 51.5. You have been shapen in iniquity, also according to Psalm 51.5. You are unclean in the sight of a holy God, and all your righteousnesses are as filthy rags to Him, Isaiah 64.6. So foul are you to God that you are a stench in His nostrils. So abhorrent are your sins that He has hid His face from you, and your prayers to Him will go unheard and unanswered, Isaiah 59.2. “But why has God done this?” you might ask. Because your hands are defiled. Because your lips have spoken lies. Your tongue has muttered perverseness. You conceive mischief and you bring forth iniquity, Isaiah 59.3. My friend, your sinfulness has so depraved your nature that if you wanted to do good you could not, and if you could do good you would not, Romans 3.11 and 5.6. The fact of the matter is, exacerbated by your wicked heart’s capacity for self-deception, Jeremiah 17.9, you neither seek after God nor are you capable of reconciling yourself to Him. So you see, no matter what religious enterprise you engage in, it cannot change or alter your basic wicked nature. Therefore, because of your sinful nature that can only express itself in sinful deeds, you are doomed to religious practices which can do your soul no eternal good, leaving you, finally, inevitably, as tares waiting to be gathered and thrown into the fires of judgment.

 RECOGNIZING THE BARRENNESS OF RELIGION, AS WAS THE CASE WITH LYDIA, YOU NEED TO BE SHOWN THE BEAUTY OF THE REDEEMER

My friend, salvation is not in a religion, but in the Redeemer. How shall you be drawn to Him and for what reason will you trust Him but for His glorious beauty? Admittedly, in my own ministry I have not spent enough time studying God’s Word or preparing sermons devoted to the beauty of the Savior. However, it had to be the Apostle Paul’s verbal picture of the altogether lovely Savior that appealed to so many, Lydia not the least among them, to flee to Christ for salvation from sin. This being true, let me spend just a few more minutes talking to you about His beauty.

Did you know that He is beautiful for who He is? When Isaiah wrote of our suffering Savior, he commented, “He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him,” Isaiah 53.2. I do not mean to disagree with scripture at all, but Isaiah was describing, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what the Savior physically looked like. Friends, I do not really care what He looked like. It is not that beauty that I seek to describe. The beauty I refer to owes to the fact that He is the Son of God, owes to the fact that He is the Pearl of great price, owes to the fact that He is the holy One of Israel, and owes to the fact that He is the Second Person of the triune Godhead. For no other reason than because of Who He is, He should be recognized as beautiful, precious, and sublime, worthy of our adoration, worship, and praise.

However, the glorious Lord Jesus Christ is also beautiful for what He has done. The plainest woman who has given birth to you, who has nursed you, who has bathed and clothed you, who has spent her youth, her health, and her strength to raise you, is beautiful in your eyes beyond description, unless you are the most obnoxious of creatures. How much more beautiful, then, is the most beautiful Person in existence, Who has added to His luster in your eyes by condescending to leave heaven’s glory and become a man like you, Who has suffered the agony of living amongst sinners like you, and Who has suffered death for you, even the death of the cross for you? How beautiful is this One Who paid for your sins and for mine, Who died like a thief for you and for me, Who did so after He had suffered unspeakable indignities for you and for me, Who rose after three days and three nights for you and for me, and Who now sits at the right hand of the Father, ready to make intercession for you? Oh, my friend, how lovely does One become in your eyes Who offers to wash away your sins in His Own precious blood, shed for you? How lovely does One become Who gives life to you when before there was only death? How lovely does One become Who makes you a new creature by virtue of His Own doing and His Own dying for you? How beautiful is the Lord Jesus Christ, when you look to Him with the eyes of faith and you see His nail-scarred hands and feet, when you see the wound in His side from which His blood was spilt for the remission of your sins? Such a Savior as this looks glorious to me, and such a Savior was the Jesus whose beauty opened Lydia’s heart to His gospel advances.

 

Now do you know what lured Lydia away from the best religion in the world? It was the realization that even the best religion is still only a religion, and religion does not; will not, religion cannot save. Where is a sinner to turn if religion is but barrenness? Sinner, you are invited to turn to the Redeemer, to the Lord Jesus Christ. See Him for Who He is and you will be attracted to Him, for He is altogether lovely. See Him for what He has in love done for you and you will rush to Him eagerly. Only trust Him for your soul’s salvation, and He will save you, just as He saved the woman named Lydia.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org