Lydia: God’s Businesswoman
September 25th, 1983 @ 7:30 PM
LYDIA, GOD’S BUSINESSWOMAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-25-83 7:30 p.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message. It is the last in the series on “The Bible’s Amazing Women.” And the message tonight is one that pleases me very, very much. I like to prepare a sermon like this. The reason for it is the Judeo-Christian religion is the only faith that has two things characterizing it. Number one, it is historically conditioned. It does not arise out of some man sitting over there in a chair or traveling over yonder, and then he just concocts all the things that he writes about, making it a religion. All the things of the Judeo-Christian faith come out of history. They are historically conditioned. The other tremendous unique characteristic of the faith to which we have given our lives is it has prophecy in it. It has an outline of the future in it. It reveals God’s purpose of grace to the end and the consummation of the age. There is no other faith and no other religion that has prophecy in it. It is unique to the Judeo-Christian religion. Now, the message tonight has in it many things, many references to the historical world in which Christianity was first promulgated and preached in the Roman Empire.
We are speaking tonight about Lydia, God’s Businesswoman. Now, instead of our first turning to the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts in which we have the story that we shall follow tonight, I want us rather to turn to the second chapter of the Apocalypse. Revelation number 2—Revelation chapter 2 and we are going to read the message of our Lord to the church at Thyatira [Revelation 2:18-29]. This is the city from which Lydia came. She was a merchant woman. She was a seller of purple goods [Acts 16:14]. And she came from Thyatira. And for our background, we are going to read the message of our Lord in the Revelation to the church at Thyatira. Now, on radio we invite you to get your Bible and read it out loud with us, Revelation chapter 2, beginning at verse 18 to the end of the chapter, now, together:
And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass;
I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce My servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and the hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.
But that which you have already hold fast till I come.
And he that overcometh, and keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of My Father.
And I will give unto him the morning star.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The message of our Lord to the church at Thyatira.
The background of that is very apparent when you study the history of those provinces and those cities in the Roman Empire. The organized life of the cities of the Mediterranean were around guilds. Thyatira was a commercial city. As such, it had a great population—colony of Jews in the city. And the social life, and the economic life, and the political life, the religious life, the domestic life, every facet of life in those cities was organized around the guilds; the potter’s guild, the brass guild, the silversmith guild, the gold guild, the fabric guild, the dyer’s guilds. Every kind of a merchandising effort and every kind of a toil and labor had its guilds.
Now, if you did not belong to the guild, you literally starved to death. You were an outcast. There was no social life. There was no political life. There was no economic life. You could not get a job. You could not work. And those guilds were organized along religious lines. There were gods and there were goddesses who were the patron saints of each one of those guild. And when they met, they were idolatrous and licentious in all of their assemblies.
Now when the Lord writes to the church at Thyatira, those Christians faced the exact thing that I see the Christians facing, say, in communist Russia or in the Hindu land of India. For example, I would talk to a Christian who belonged to our Baptist church, say, in Moscow, or in Leningrad, or in Krakow, or in Odessa, or in Kiev—just the same everywhere. And because they were Christians and not communists, they were denied an education. They were denied a good job. They lived in social ostracism. My heart goes out to them.
The same thing in India; I was speaking to the son of Haidar Ali, the pastor of our Baptist church in Agra where the Taj Mahal is located. And he was lamenting to me of the deprivations and the persecutions that he felt as a young man—not being able to be received, not being able to get an education. He didn’t have a job. “I cannot get one,” he said, “because I am a Christian.”
Now that was the background of all of the life in the commercial city of Thyatira. And because many of the Christians compromised in the message—He calls it fornicating with Jezebel [Revelation 2:20]—instead of the Christians being faithful, and true, and refusing to bow before idols, and to enter into the social licentious life of those guilds, why, they either suffered persecution, or they compromised and entered into the social life of the city. And that was the background of the Lord’s message to Thyatira [Revelation 2:18-29].
Now, the woman that we are going to read about is a Lydian, a Lydian. The Greek description of her in the New Testament here in the King James Version: “and a certain woman named Lydia.” The Greek of it is “a Lydian woman,” a Lydian woman from the city of Thyatira [Acts 16:14]. Now let’s look at her; and it will be an interesting thing, that is to me, as we see the background of this first convert in Europe: Acts chapter 16, beginning at verse 9. The Holy Spirit has guided Paul and Silas on their second missionary journey through the Roman province of Mysia down to the sea [Acts 16:7]. The Holy Spirit wouldn’t let them go to the right, wouldn’t let them go to the left, wouldn’t let them go north or south or east. And so, following the leadership of the Spirit, they finally come down to the Aegean Sea where they cannot go any further. They are in Troas on the sea [Acts 16:8].
Now beginning at verse 9: “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Europe, come over into Macedonia,” on the other side of the Hellespont; Come over into Europe into Macedonia—”and help us [Acts 16:9]. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we”—now, there Luke joins this group, Dr. Luke for the first time appears in the story here at Troas. And after he had seen; Paul had seen the vision, “immediately we” [Acts 16:10]—that’s Dr. Luke, Paul, and Silas [Acts 15:40]—”endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them [Acts 16:10]. Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia,” that is an island, “and the next day to Neapolis” [Acts 16:11]; which is on the shore of Macedonia. “And from thence,” from the port city, they came “to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a Roman colony” [Acts 16:12]. It was settled by Roman soldiers.
And we were in that city abiding certain days.
And on the Sabbath we went out of the city by a riverside, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.
And a certain woman—a Lydian woman here translated—and a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.
And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful in the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
So they come into the house of Lydia. Now the last verse: “And after they were out of prison, they entered into the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren”—the church is meeting in her home—”they comforted them, and departed” [Acts 16:40]. In between is the story of the healing, the casting out of the demons of that soothsaying—that witch, that prophesying, that fortune-telling girl, and the riot that created the incarceration of Paul and Silas, and then the wonderful conversion of the jailer—and then after they were out of the jail [Acts 16:16-39], “they went out of prison, and entered into the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren there and were comforted, they went on their way” [Acts 16:40].
Now that’s the background story. When we look at it, there is something here that I think is unusual. In verse 9 it says, “There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us” [Acts 16:9]. And when he goes over there, what he finds is not a man but a woman. Her name is Lydia [Acts 16:14-15], the first convert in the Western world—the first convert in Europe. Well, I think the Lord knows what He is doing, don’t you? “Come over into Macedonia, and help us” [Acts 16:9], and it’s a woman. It’s a woman that answers the call of God. And she is described as a woman of Lydia from the city of Thyatira, and she is a sebomenē, sebomenē. Well, what is that? It is translated here a woman who “worshiped” God [Acts 16:14]. Sebomenē. means a proselyte. She is a proselyte of the gate.
There were two kinds of proselytes to the Jewish faith. There was a proselyte of the temple, like the Ethiopian eunuch, the treasurer of Ethiopia. He had become a Jew. He was circumcised. He kept the law of Moses. He had gone up to Jerusalem for to worship. He was a proselyte of the temple. He had become a full-fledged Jew [Acts 8:27]. Then there was another kind of a proselyte. They call them a proselyte of the gate. Cornelius at Caesarea was that kind of a proselyte [Acts 10:1-2]. He had forsaken the idolatry of the world around him with all of its immorality and licentiousness. And he had embraced the true God. He kept the law. He followed in the way of Moses and the prophets, but he did not become a Jew. Now that kind of a proselyte is this Lydian woman from Thyatira; she is a proselyte of the gate. She worshiped the true God [Acts 16:14].
Now it says that when Paul came to the prayer meeting of the women, it says the Lord opened her heart when she attended unto the things which were spoken of God [Acts 16:14]. Now there are two things in that, and they ought to characterize each one of us. First of all, we are to open our hearts. We are to open our minds, our ears. We are to listen. And when we do that, God does something for us. God does something in our hearts. Now God never will be able to do that if I don’t open my mind, my ears, my soul. I must listen. I must listen! And when I listen, the office work of the Holy Spirit immediately begins in our souls. God begins to speak to us. He begins to direct us, and to call us, and to convict us, and to woo us; all of the wonderful things that happen to us when we open our hearts to the Word of the Lord.
Now that is why God will bless a congregation like this and I pray a preacher like you have who delivers the message of God. We’re not up here speaking about Shakespeare, or Milton, or Homer, or Dante. And we’re not talking about the economic life of the nation or current events. We are speaking of the Word of God. And when the people listen to the Word of God, God does something in our hearts, and that’s what happened to this Lydian woman in Thyatira.
Now, immediately, immediately—and there is no exception to this in the New Testament—immediately, she was baptized, immediately [Acts 16:15]. There is no time or instance in the New Testament when a convert was not immediately baptized, and she was, immediately. And then being an affluent woman, a merchandising woman, a house large with servants—she had a household—immediately having been won to the faith and having been baptized, she asked Paul and Silas if the church, the converts in Philippi, could meet in her house. So the church meets in the house of this Lydian woman from Thyatira. And it must have been a marvelous church. There is one book in the New Testament that is filled with gladness and love and appreciation. It just overflows with rejoicing and praise. And that is the letter of the apostle Paul to the church at Philippi that meets in the house of Lydia [Acts 16:14-15, 40].
Now let’s look at this in just a moment’s way. You all do not have anything to do tonight, do you, but just to go to bed sometime? So just sit there for a minute and let me speak of some of these things. She is a Lydian woman, a Lydian woman. We say her name is Lydia. She is a Lydian woman. Lydia was the ancient kingdom; a great and noble kingdom, and it was incorporated into the Roman province of Asia in the Roman Empire. But it was a noble and ancient kingdom.
Five of those seven churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22] were in Lydia. Ancient Lydia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis, and Philadelphia were in Lydia. There were only two of them that were not in Lydia. On the other side up there to the north and west is Pergamos. That was not in Lydia. And down here to the southeast was Laodicea. That was not in Lydia. But all the rest of them were in the ancient kingdom of Lydia.
Now the last king of Lydia is known to you. He began reigning in 560 BC. His name was Croesus; Croesus. He reigned in Sardis, the citadel, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. And right by Sardis flows the Pactolus River. And the Pactolus River brought grains of gold down from the highlands. And money was invented by Croesus, the king of Lydia in Sardis. And those silver and gold coins—the first time the world ever had money—those silver and gold coins of Lydia made by, minted by Croesus, was the first time the world ever saw or used money.
Now he became very wealthy, extremely wealthy, and had a marvelous kingdom. In the midst of his reign, there came to see him a glorious lawmaker named Solon, from Athens. And as Solon, the great Athenian lawgiver, talked to Croesus, the king of Lydia, why, the king asked Solon, “Who is the happiest man in the world?”—thinking that Solon would say he was, because of his great wealth and the wonderful kingdom over which he presided. And when Solon was asked that question, he replied, “The happiest man in the world”—and he named some inconsequential unknown who had a little bitty apologetic shop in Athens. Well, the king was greatly disappointed. And he said: “Well, who is the second of the happiest men in all the world?” And Solon named an inconsequential, insignificant farmer out there in Attica, just beyond the city of Athens. And Croesus, being very upset and disappointed in the reply of Solon said, “But what about me? Look at my wealth. And look at my kingdom and my city of Sardis. What about me?” And Solon replied, “Sir, never call a man happy until you see the last days of his life.”
Now when I was taught classical Greek, why, I am telling you the stories that I read out of Herodotus. And this is from Herodotus. Herodotus had the most interesting way of writing history. He didn’t write it like a chronicle—this, this, and this. He wrote it telling stories. And this is out of Herodotus that I read in Greek. Well, in those days in 546 [BC], Cyrus, the king of Persia, came conquering through the west and came to overrun the kingdom, Lydia, and finally to the citadel, the Acropolis of Sardis, where Croesus was shut up in his army. Now Sardis had never been conquered. It was an impregnable fortress. And Herodotus says that when Cyrus surrounded the city and was unable to storm it, to take it, that one of the soldiers of Cyrus saw a Lydian soldier drop his helmet over the wall on the top of the acropolis. And he watched that Lydian soldier climb over the wall and climb down the acropolis to retrieve the helmet that he had lost. And the [Persian] soldier, with two or three other men, that night marking how that Lydian soldier had climbed down and climbed back up in the darkness of the night, that Persian soldier followed the course of the ascent in the return of that Lydian soldier, and they came to the top of the wall. And in the darkness they opened the gates of the city, and the Persian army rushed in and conquered Lydia and conquered its citadel and capital of Sardis.
So Croesus was brought before Cyrus and condemned to death by burning. And when they took Croesus, the king of Lydia, to burn him—as they were setting fire to the brush and the wood, Croesus called out, “Oh, Solon, Solon, Solon!” And a soldier came to Cyrus and said, “He calls on some unknown god.” And it pricked the curiosity of Cyrus, the Persian general and king, and he had them take Croesus out of the fire and to bring him to him. And with an interpreter, Cyrus said to Croesus, “Who is that god Solon upon which you call? I have never heard of one called Solon. Who is Solon, the god you call on?” And Croesus related to him the story how Solon from Athens had come to see him and said to him, “‘Call no man happy until you come to the end of his days.’ And I remembered what Solon had said to me as I was being burned at the stake.” And the story so moved Cyrus, the king of Persia, that he granted life to Croesus and made him a fellow ruler in the ancient kingdom of Lydia.
Now when I read that—”a certain Lydian woman” [Acts 16:14]—I think about that—Lydian. Then, of course, Thyatira; Thyatira was world famous for its manufacture of textile goods—purple goods. Purple has been a kind of fabric that has been known for thousands and thousands of years. The dye was discovered first in a shellfish by the Thyatirans and then later in a madder root that grew around Thyatira. And those garments were sold throughout the thousands of years, called “purple.” The Babylonian dressed their gods in purple. And Romulus, the founder of Rome in the eighth century BC, dressed in purple, and all of the Roman kings thereafter dressed in purple.
It was a gift [from] the king to a visitor of distinguished and noble merit, like Meissen porcelain. When hard porcelain was discovered in the little town of Meissen, which is eighteen miles down the Elbe River from Dresden, in 1710—up until that time, the porcelain had been made in China, and they had kept that secret until 1710. Isn’t that a remarkable thing? Until 1710, the world did not know how to make hard porcelain, and it was called china because it was made in China. But in 1710, an alchemist in the king’s castle of Saxony—the castle is located at Meissen—he accidentally discovered how to make hard porcelain; later called Meissen, then called Dresden. And then the workmen escaped; the king tried to incarcerate them there so he could keep the secret to himself. And some went to France in the Sevres factory there. Some went to Vienna in the Royal Vienna factory there. Some went to Nymphenburg in the Bavarian factory there. And in those days, the porcelain was never sold, never. It was given by the king to a visitor of tremendous merit or nobility. You couldn’t buy it; it was a gift from the king.
Well, that’s the way with purple. These purple garments for years and years and years were gifts of the king to a noble visitor. Now, this woman, this Lydian woman from Thyatira is a merchant woman, and she is selling beautiful purple garments [Acts 16:14].
You remember in the tabernacle, one of the colors is purple [Exodus 26:1]. You remember Dives in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, the Lord describes him as a rich man; Dives, a Latin word for rich; Dives, and he is dressed in purple [Luke 16:19]. And in the trial of Jesus, they put upon Him an old cast-off purple robe [Matthew 27:28]. It was a mark of royalty. It was distinguished. It was beautiful. And this woman is a seller of purple garments, a very affluent and successful business woman who has a graciously expansive home with many servants. Now, this Thyatiran purple commercial woman listens to the Word of God and is wonderfully converted; and is baptized there with her household [Acts 16:14-15].
Now I must conclude. Do you notice she takes time for God? She takes time for God. When they went over there and to Philippi, they go to the river where prayer was wont to be made, and they spoke to the women resorted there, and a certain woman named Lydia; she takes time for God [Acts 16:13-14]. That’s the first appeal that I would make for all of us in our lives. However busy we are, however the assignments may be, however the strenuousness of our work, take time for God. Do it; do it. I could stand here and endlessly speak of those whose lives are consumed with other things, and they leave God out of it. Don’t! Take time for God. If it is possible for you to come on Wednesday night to prayer meeting, do it. If it is possible for you to keep the Sabbath day holy, do it. Come to church. Come to Sunday school. Come to the worship hour. Come to the evening hour like this. Take time for God. It will do something great for you. It will do something great for your heart, for your home, for your children. Take time for God.
Lydia attended the prayer meeting and listened to the word of the apostle Paul. Do you notice that she is committed to the Lord completely? Now, by that I mean this: when the apostles came under persecution, and they were beat by the magistrates, and they were placed in stocks and in chains in the prison [Acts 16:19-24], what happened to this woman? What happened to Lydia?
Well, when the incident is over, and the thing is done, and these men are liberated [Acts 16:24-39], by that time there is a church in Lydia’s house [Acts 16:40]. Evidently this glorious woman, this businesswoman, not only had won her household to the Lord, her servants and all that belonged to her business; not only had she won them to the Lord, but she had won brothers and sisters in that Roman colony of Philippi. And when Paul and Silas are out of jail and go to the house of Lydia, there’s a church there. There are brethren who are named there. There is a communion of believers, and God’s people gathered there in Lydia’s house [Acts 16:40].
It’s a wonderful thing what a godly Christian woman can do. There’s hardly any limit to it. Haven’t you heard me say that I don’t try to win a man unless his wife is in sympathy with him? I just don’t try. There is no need to try. I can win that man, and the next morning when his wife is through with him and done with him, he’s back as he was before. And no matter what his commitment to the Lord, if his wife is not in sympathy with him, in no time at all he’s back into the world where he was. But if a woman is in sympathy with me, and will pray for me, and help me, I’ll rarely fail to win that man to Jesus and to the life of faith and to the love of God.
Now we think that the men run this world. And we think that they are the alpha and the omega of all that goes on and especially in the house of God. That’s just not so! Lying back of the Christian faith is that godly woman, that godly mother, that godly wife, that godly grandmother, that godly mother-in-law that I was preaching about this morning. And that’s what happened in Philippi. When those men got out of jail, that faithful woman, instead of renouncing her commitment to Christ because of the persecution that arose around Paul and Silas [Acts 16:19-39], that woman was just doubly given to the message of the faith. And when the preachers got out of jail and came to her home, there was a whole church there to greet and to gather and to bless [Acts 16:40].
Oh, it’s a wonderful thing what a woman can do! It’s a marvelous thing when a woman is a great Christian. Dear me, did you have a Christian mother like Catherine? God bless the memory of a wonderful mother. Are you married to a Christian woman? Praise God for it. And do your children have a Christian mother? It’s the most benedictory blessing that God could bestow upon them. And if there is a woman in the business world, who is a Christian woman, a professional woman, the influence that she has is immeasurable. It is illimitable. It’s from heaven. God bless that Christian woman. God bless that Christian merchant woman. God bless that Christian wife and mother. God bless that Christian maiden. God be praised for a Christian woman.
Well, I have enjoyed preaching this series more than most any I have ever attempted, “The Bible’s Amazing Women.” And I praise God and thank God for the Christian devoted women in our dear church. Well, thank you for listening. I say, this is the kind of a sermon I like. Christianity is not separated from human life and human experience and human history. It arises out of history. It arises out of our hearts and lives. It arises out of the work of our hands, and the love of our souls, and every dream and vision that we entertain for any better tomorrow. Now, may we stand together?
Our Lord, it is such a privilege, high and holy and heavenly, to stand here with this open Book, and to read out of it, and to see how God works in the human heart and in human history. What a gracious goodness that we live in the stream of that mercy and love of Jesus! The same gospel that Paul preached in Philippi, we’re preaching today. And the same response that the apostle found in the heart of Lydia [Acts 16:14-15], we find today. And the same gathering of the brethren in the church [Acts 16:40], in the household of faith, we find today. O bless the name of God for His wonderful goodnesses to us!
And while our people pray and wait, a family you to put your life with us in this dear church; a couple, or just one somebody you, “This is God’s time for me, pastor; we’re on the way.” Come, and welcome. To accept the Lord in your heart, “God has spoken to me, and here I stand.” Make that decision now in your soul. And in a moment when we sing our appeal, be the first down one of those stairways or down one of these aisles. “This is God’s time for me, pastor, and here I stand.” And our Lord, we bless Thy name for the sweet harvest You give us tonight. Lord, may the angels sing and rejoice with us in these who come [Luke 15:10], in Thy dear and wonderful name, amen. While we sing our appeal, welcome, a thousand times welcome as you come, as we sing.