The account of the conversion of Lydia and her household is confined to three short verses. “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped 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 to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying” (Acts 16:14-16). After Paul heard the Macedonian call (Acts 16:9) he and his companions went to Philippi, “which is a city of Macedonia” (Acts 16:12). On the Sabbath day they went down to the riverside. The America Standard Version says they “supposed” there would be a prayer meeting there. There was no synagogue in Philippi. Boles said, “The rule is the Rabbi required ten men to constitute a synagogue, but here had gathered only a group of women” (Boles 256).
One of those women was Lydia. She was a successful businesswoman, “a seller of purple” (Acts 16:14). She was from Thyatira, a city well known for its purple dye. God was worshipped by Lydia (Acts 16:14). Boles explained, “She was either a Jewess or a proselyte to the Jewish religion” (Boles 257). She was a woman of deep religious character.
Her heart was open to the gospel (Acts 16:14). Some suppose this opening of her heart was a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. The notion that the Holy Spirit operates directly on a sinner’s heart eliminates the inspired word of God (1 Peter 1:23; 1 Corinthians 4:1; James 1:18, 21; John 15:3; Romans 1:16). Lydia’s heart was opened by the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:17; John 6:44-45). “She attended unto the things, which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14).
Lydia and her household were baptized (Acts 16:15). Then, she constrained Paul and his company to accept an invitation to be entertained in her home. She said, “Come into my house and abide there” (Acts 18:15). “Peter’s reception at the house of Simon, the tanner, and the entertainment of Lydia are instances of the hospitality which was characteristic of early Christians” (Boles 258). (All Women 85).
Christian hospitality, as practiced by Lydia, is almost a lost art in our day. What older preacher among us, who in his early preaching days, was not a welcome guest in the homes of the brethren? Being a guest in a spare room was just a normal thing. The children in that home had the delightful opportunity of spending the week with the visiting preacher. Now he is put in a motel without much contact with the brethren. Times have changed since Lydia’s day.
Lydia practiced the hospitality as taught in the bible. “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13-1-2). “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging” 1 Peter 4:8-9). There is an example of hospitality in the Old Testament that can serve as an example for us today. It is the story of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:8-26). She is called a “great woman” (2 Kings 4:8). There are three reasons she is called “great”.
First, she was perceptive. She told her husband, “I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually (2 Kings 4:9). She recognized that Elisha was a godly man. Second, she was humble. When she was asked what could be done for her she replied, “I dwell among my own people” (2 Kings 4:13). She wanted nothing in return for helping the prophet. Third, she was hospitable. Since Elisha came to their home “continually” (2 Kings 4:9) she told her husband, “Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither” (2 Kings 4:10). They built a spare room to entertain the prophet when he came to their home.
A godly, Christian couple in Linden, Alabama, Mr. and Mrs. Conway, did something quite similar. Since there was no suitable place for visiting preachers to stay, they built a special room onto their house. They called it the Elisha Room. This writer has had the privilege of enjoying their hospitality by staying in that room.
What blessings are being missed by failing to imitate Lydia and the woman from Shunem in this regard. No excuses were offered. They just opened their homes to others. When you think about it, Lydia had two open things: An open mind to the gospel and an open home to strangers.
One does not have to have all the finery of the latest fashions before one can practice hospitality. One does not have to have the most expensive of foods to set before one’s guests. The late Gus Nichols was invited into the home of a poor woman. All that was on the table was cornbread and peas. She asked brother Nichols to offer thanks. She said, “If you are a Christian, it’s good enough for you. If you are not a Christian, it’s too good for you.”