The Conversion of Lydia
Acts 16:13-15 "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 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." Here is another of many accounts given in the book of Acts concerning the reception of the gospel by an individual honestly seeking to do the will of God. One fact that is noted about Lydia is that she was a seller of purple. Purple was a very expensive dye, and was only used on items of great value1. The fact that Lydia was a seller of purple certainly implies that she was a woman of means. She had enough materially to be able to offer housing for Paul and his companions. Later in Acts 16, specifically in verse 40, Paul and his friends were able to reside there again. While there, they were able to see other brethren as well!
Why would the fact that she was a seller of purple be of any circumstance? Much money was made from the selling of this dye. In spite of the money she could have made, she forsook the selling of it on the Sabbath to worship God! The text indicates that Lydia was one that "worshipped God." This was her habit, her way of life. She could have made more money on that day, but she chose to worship instead. This is indicative of what kind of heart she had. There are many warnings against the love of money. Jesus said, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Luke 18:24-25). Jesus made this statement in regards to the rich young ruler who would not sell all that he had to inherit eternal life! A person must be willing to give all, even his own life, for God (Matthew 10:37-38). The young ruler had done many good things, but Jesus knew that he had high regard for his riches. The ruler could not inherit eternal life while loving his riches more than doing the will of God! Paul instructed Timothy, "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted after, they have pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things..." (1 Timothy 6:6-11a). Having money is not sinful, but many stumble in loving it more than loving to do the will of God. Also, those who are more mindful to be rich, rather than seeking godliness, fall into this snare as well (1 Timothy 6:9, 11). Her worshipping at the riverside on the Sabbath instead of selling is indicative of what was her top priority. The Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius, and other converts mentioned in Acts were seeking to worship and please God. They sought to do His will. God provided a way for them to know! As with the aforementioned, God provided Lydia, who had an honest heart, the opportunity to know what she must do to be found acceptable before Him.
Along with the apostles' preaching, signs were performed to confirm that their message was from God (Mark 16:20 — these signs accompanied Paul --2 Corinthians 12:12). The text states that Lydia heard their preaching. The word "heard" used here indicates her giving complete attention to the things being said. She was not merely just giving a polite ear, and then forgetting what was being said. As evidenced by the accompanying signs, she knew that these word were from God. She desired to know the will of God! She wanted to do what was right. Her hearing the word of the Lord was necessary before she could be saved. Hebrews 11:6 reads, "But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." It was necessary for Lydia to have faith in order to be pleasing to God. Paul wrote, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). It was not enough that she sought to please God, she had to hear His word, believe His word, and obey His word before she could please her God. After Lydia gave attention to the preaching of the word of the Lord, the text states that the Lord opened her heart. When did the Lord do this? After she heard the word. How did the Lord do this? Many assume by a direct operation of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit definitely was involved, but one must understand how, whether He did it directly or indirectly. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17). The word is the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to pierce someone. Hebrews 4:12 says this concerning the word: "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Notice that the verse says that this sword is sharper than any sword used by man! It can pierce objects no physical weapon could ever be designed to touch! Who wields this great weapon? Who uses this magnificent sword in combating evil? As stated earlier, the bearer of this mighty weapon is the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). It is by the preaching of the word that the Holy Spirit cuts into a person's heart, leaving it open to obey or reject the truth of God's word! In Acts 2, it is recorded that the Jews assembled in Jerusalem on Pentecost had their hearts pricked! By what? The sword of the Spirit — the word of God! Acts 2:37 says, "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart...". What they heard? The preaching of the word of God! Many will say all one has to do is call on Jesus to be saved! Though one must call on Jesus to be saved, much more is involved before a person can be saved. There is a lot involved before a person can call on the Lord acceptably. "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Romans 10:13-14). Lydia was receiving one of the greatest blessings of her life — she was having the privilege of being instructed by God! The Lord opened her heart by the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word. God certainly was involved in Lydia's conversion!
It was not enough for Lydia to just hear and believe the word. The Bible says, "...she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul." Lydia put into practice the things that were commanded. One of things that she did was be baptized. Why did she do this so promptly? Jesus said to His apostles, "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature…" (Mark 16:15). There was more to their mission than just preaching. Jesus further said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" (Mark 16:16). In order for the preaching of the gospel to have had any eternal benefits for Lydia, she had to believe it and be baptized. Some may object and say, "but Jesus only said that those who did not believe would be damned." While that is true, Hebrews 11:6 must be remembered, "But without faith it impossible to please Him..." Paul said, "...for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). The person who is baptized, but does not believe (lacks faith), cannot be saved. Therefore, Jesus emphasized the believing. If the honest person believes, they will be baptized. Peter said baptism was "...for the remission of sins..."(Acts 2:38). Paul was instructed, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). When Philip went to Samaria and preached Christ unto them, baptism was included in the preaching of Christ (Acts 8:5, 12)! Baptism is an essential part of the gospel message! Lydia understood what she must to do to receive the washing away of her sins, and she immediately complied. So many believe the doctrine of faith only for salvation. However, that is not a doctrine taught in the scriptures. James wrote, "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only...For as the body without the spirt is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:24, 26). Just as believing is a work (John 6:28-29) that is necessary for salvation, so is baptism.
Not only was Lydia affected by the soul-stirring preaching of the Gospel, but also those of her household! They must have heard and believed the preaching of the gospel (Hebrews 11:6; Romans 10:17; Romans 14:23; Mark 16:15-16) before they were baptized. Otherwise, it would have been in vain. Sadly, there are those who take passages in the Bible and try to support their doctrines that did not originate from the Bible. One of these man-made doctrines is infant baptism. The claim is made in this passage that since her household was baptized, they must have baptized all the infants in it as well! Though a lot of households have babies, there are also many that do not. To say that Lydia's household had infants is to say too much. It is an assumption, nothing more. And, even if her household did have infants, they could not have been baptized properly? Could they hear, understand, believe, confess, and repent (Romans 10:17; John 3:16; Acts 8:37; Matthew 10:32-33; Acts 2:38)? If not, then there would not have been any acceptable purpose to do so. Infants are hardly capable of fulfilling any of the requirements necessary before baptism. Therefore, if there were infants in her household, they were not baptized. But, to say that there were infants involved is adding to what the word has said! What sin would an infant have to be repented of and washed away, since sin is transgression of the law (I John 3:4), and an infant cannot understand law?
After Lydia and her household obeyed the gospel, Lydia pleaded for Paul and his companions to stay with her while they were there. She had such a burning desire to do good things! Such is the state of the new convert being released from the bondage of sin. Such should always be the state of the Christian, no matter how long one has been in the church. The conversion of Lydia is just one of many of the inspiring conversion accounts given in the book of Acts. As the scriptures are profitable to make the man of God perfect (2 Timothy 3:16-17), it is of great benefit to carefully contemplate the conversion accounts in Acts. As has been noted in this article, many have taken the conversion account of Lydia and have used it to "support" their error (i.e. direct operation of the Holy Spirit necessary before one can obey the gospel; infant baptism, etc.). May all men be more careful with how they handle the scriptures, lest by wresting the scriptures, they lead to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).
1 J. W. McGarvey, A.M., New Commentary on Acts Of Apostles, (Delight, AR: Gospel Light Publishing Company), p. 88.
©2001 by James M. Jones. This may be freely distributed as long as there is no cost to others and no changes to the content of this paper.