Lydia is one of the many mothers of Christianity. Lydia was the first European convert to Christianity. Lydia was the founder of the church at Philippi. The Scriptures tell us that before Paul and Silias proclaimed the Gospel to Lydia, she was a “God Fearer”.
God Fearers, was the name given to people who were not Jewish but who were so intrigued with the God that the Jews worshipped that they lived their lives as if they were Jews.
Lydia is described in an unconventional way. We are told that Lydia was “a God fearer; a worshipper of God and a dealer in purple.” Remember, for that time period, a situation where, Paul and Silias, two strange men in town meet a woman, any woman was in and of itself unconventional. Women and men, especially strange men, simply didn’t have encounters in public.
And as for Lydia being a dealer in purple; well people hearing this story in the first century would have been amazed at the very idea of a women conducting business. And as for the colour purple: it took thousands of mollusks; mollusks are tiny little crustaceans…shellfish; and you’ve got to crush and treat thousands of the little suckers just to make enough dye to make a yard or two of purple cloth. So it was very expensive, worth its weight in silver. Wearing purple was a statement of status and wealth. Purple was the Gucci handbag or Rolex watch of the first century.
Lydia is selling purple; purple cloth, purple robes, the power of purple. She’s not local. Lydia’s is from Thyatira, a town well know for making purple cloth. Lydia seems to be the head of her household, there’s no man mentioned and that alone is remarkable, because Lydia is traveling in the public realm, to trade her wares. As a seller of purple, she’s not poor; a poor woman wouldn’t be able to afford that kind of stock. She’s not Jewish, but she believes in God.
According to the story, when Paul and Silias arrive in Philippi to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ, they begin by looking for a synagogue. They figure a synagogue is a good place to begin because that’s where the folks who already believe in God hang out. But to have a synagogue you need ten men who will meet together to say prayers. Philippi, it seems, didn’t have ten men to form a synagogue. So if there’s no synagogue, then any Jews or God Fearers that happen to be in the town or passing through know to meet down by the river on the Sabbath to pray.
So, Paul and Silias head down by the riverside, hoping to preach the gospel to the men; and down by the river they find only women. We’re told that, “The Lord, opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” And then we are told that Lydia and her household were baptized and Lydia invited Paul and Silias to come and stay with her.
Many scholars agree that the church that was formed in Philippi, the church to whom Paul address his letter to the Philippians; this church, the first church in Europe was in all likelihood founded and then led by the first European convert to Christianity; a woman named Lydia.
Looking back to a time when we have been lead to believe that conventions demanded that women stay out of the public realm, we see that Lydia was one of several women, who established the first congregations in their homes. Most of these women were wealthy women of means who saw to it that the church had what it needed to grow and flourish.