The First Converts in Europe: Acts 16:12-15
“12) and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. 13) And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. 14) A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15) And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.” ‭‭Acts‬ ‭16‬:‭12-‭15‬ ‭
We now have the story of Christianity taking root in Europe. After arriving in the city of Philippi, Paul and his team spent some days in the city with nearly no traction. (Vs 12) Surprisingly, the man from his vision did not suddenly show up and say; “I’ve been waiting for you!” During this time, the team most likely paid for public lodging.
According to verse 13, on the Sabbath day they went outside the gate to a riverside. “The Sabbath” indicates they were looking for people with some Jewish bent. In places with no synagogue, Jewish people often gather by water sources that made ceremonial washings easier.
Sure enough, a group of women had gathered there and Paul and the team began sharing the Gospel with them. The scene is a bit reminiscent of Timothy’s grandmother Lois and mother Eunice who gave him biblical instruction as a boy even though his father was an unbelieving Greek. (See Acts 16:1-2; 2 Timothy 1:5) Such women in mixed marriages often met for prayer and mutual encouragement.
The strategy of the team was insightful. They looked for people who were already familiar with the God of the Old Testament and had some biblical background. They represented firtile ground for the seeds of the gospel.
Among them was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira. She was a business merchant who specialized in selling purple fabrics. Phillipi was known for its purple dye and fabrics. These fabrics were expensive and seldom owned by slaves or those of the lower class. Some fabrics were for clothing while others served as tapestries or furniture coverings.
She was undoubtedly successful and had an established household with extra lodging accommodations. The text does not mention her husband or children and any speculation of marital status is an argument from silence. However, Acts 16:31 uses the same word “household” when referring to the jailer and implies his whole family. The early church had a pattern of reaching entire families.
Even though she was a worshipper of God, she was not a believer. As the team was conversing with these women most likely about Jesus Christ and the gospel, “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” (Vs 13) The Holy Spirit was at work in her.
The text does not imply that Paul preached a formal message. The context makes is sound like they were casually speaking to the women and later with Lydia’s entire household.
Conversational evangelism is very effective. You do not have to be a preacher to share the gospel. I am an advocate of spontaneous conversational evangelism. It is casual, natural and very effective. The prayer meeting context was a great way to get to know the needs of the group. The team most likely listened as much as they talked.
The day ended with a baptism service and Lydia and her entire household were baptized. How long did it take? We don’t know, but it was most likely a full day. At some point her entire household were included in the conversation. Avoid putting a time limit on God! He is always at work. He is seldom in a rush.
The day ended with Lydia inviting the team into her house. This was consistent with the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 10:9-15 for the lodging of gospel workers. The Provider was at work on behalf of the ministry team even in the Roman Colony of Philippi. This is an example of the goodness and faithfulness of God. He takes care of His own.
This might be useless trivia, but it is interesting to track the lodging accommodations for Paul and Silas during their short stay in Philippi. They went from public lodging… to the household of Lydia… to the inner jail cell… to the jailers household. The moral of this story is to be content and flexible with lodging when on a short term mission trip!
God will providentially put you in places to meet new people and greatly enhance the spread of the gospel. It is not about you and your comfort… God has a much bigger plan. Think about this; it is likely that the start up church in Philippi had people from every lodging situation shared by the team!
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global