I have always loved the story of Lydia, the busy entrepreneur of the first century. Always a rather exotic figure (clad in purple) in the Vacation Bible School pictures, she embodies receptivity to the Gospel as it made its way across the Mediterranean world and on into Macedonia. Scholars think of her as the first Christian in Europe, but have not given her sufficient attention, in my judgment. We have focused on Paul’s vision of a “man from Macedonia,” but not the woman who anchors the church at Philippi.
Paul’s mission to the Gentiles is well underway, and the Spirit continues to urge him to traverse boundaries as he proclaims the “unhindered Gospel,” as my teacher, Dr. Frank Stagg, described it. On the Sabbath the Apostle and his traveling companion, presumably Silas, sought a place of prayer by the river and there encountered Lydia and other Gentile women, who were worshippers of God.
Her conversion is straightforward:
The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
She receives the word and acts upon it, and exemplary expression of faithful response. Her home becomes the cradle for the church at Philippi because she prevailed!
It is well known that Paul’s relationship with this church surpassed others; there is an intimate and interdependent care demonstrated throughout. Perhaps it is because of the imprisonment and suffering he experiences there (referred to in the Epistle to the Philippians) or the way in which the congregation started through the generous hospitality of Lydia. We know that Paul is willing to receive financial support from this church.
It is also important to note the full participation of women and men as partners in Christ’s service. While Euodia and Syntyche get poor notice by some scholars and are treated in a stereotypical way (Paul and Barnabas had a major falling out also, you may recall), they are significant congregational leaders. I often hear church planters speak of imbedding the practice of gender equality in shared leadership at the very beginning of a new ministry; easier to start this way than try to change the ethos later, they contend. Evidently, Lydia’s leadership prevails in constructing this kind of church.
In the near future, Central will be launching a new initiative in leadership development for women. It is my vision that well-prepared entrepreneurial women will anchor many more ministries.
Molly T. Marshall
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