For Lydia, "a seller of purple fabric", this was the ideal place to live. Not only did the Via Egnatia run right through Philippi's market, its port was relatively close too; an ideal location for a businesswoman such as Lydia. Like many of the women we read about in the Bible, we don't know much about Lydia's background or how she became wealthy. It's unlikely that she came into her money and business by the death of her husband since Roman law only allowed a widow to collect 10% of her husband's wealth. Women were entitled to inherit more from their fathers, but there is nothing in the Acts passage to indicate that Lydia received her money any other way than by earning it herself. Many times a person in a trade such as this was a freed slave, who continued to work for their former master by becoming an agent or manager of the master's business. But again, there is nothing that points to Lydia and says this was her story. All we know is that she was wealthy enough to own her own business and maintain a household with servants.
What we do know about Lydia is that she was a "worshipper of God". This description was used of Gentile people who attended services and took part in reciting prayers but did not adhere to the "rules" of Pharisaic Judaism. Paul meets Lydia at an informal meeting place where she and several other people have gathered for prayer on the Sabbath. It was customary to have a visiting rabbi speak during a gathering such as this, so an invitation is given to Paul and he presents the Gospel. And Lydia responds. She is the first European non-Jewish convert to Christianity (Cornelius was the first Gentile convert but he lived in Joppa, Israel). The interesting thing about her response is that it very Jewish! She extends the same hospitality to Paul and his fellow travelers that a Bedouin like Abraham would give to a fellow traveler in the desert. Lydia's generosity becomes the seed which grows into the church of Philippi, one of Paul's favorite places (see Philippians 1:1-8).
Lydia has two prominent characteristics- heart and hospitality. She has a heart for fellowship and prayer (Acts 16:13), an open heart to receive the Gospel message (Acts 16:14) and a devoted heart demonstrated in her baptism (Acts 16:15). Hospitality is demonstrated in her immediate offer to house Paul and his friends. When Paul described Christian character in Rom. 12:13, he said that the Christian should be "given to hospitality". When Peter urged Christian duty among his converts he told them, "Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another" (1 Pet. 4:9). Lydia's hospitality was a result of her heart for the Lord.
I have to say something about hospitality, just to clarify a misconception about this attribute. Some say hospitality is a gift- a spiritual gift. I counted six verses in my concordance concerning this word, and none of them spoke of hospitality as a gift. Four out of the six verses were commands to practice hospitality. What does the word practice imply? We have to do that which is being spoken of over and over again. Not so we get it down pat, but that we get better and better at it and it comes to us naturally. Michael Jordan, one of basketball's greatest athletes, still practiced his jump shot 2 to 3 hours a day at the top of his game. It kept his skill sharp. Hospitality is to be practiced the same way. My friend JoAnn (who lives in Saint Louis) claims she is domestically challenged, especially in the kitchen. Though she says she can't really cook, she has served me some pretty good meals! JoAnn says she has four recipes which she has practiced over and over again and those are the ones she serves to guests. It may be a rather humorous way to approach the art of being a hostess, but it is a great example of how practicing hospitality is to be a part of our Christian walk. You don't have to become a master of it, but you do have to practice it. And truthfully, I think those who practice hospitality, like Lydia did and JoAnn does, reveal what's truly in their heart. So...start practicing!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/annhlefevre;