And although it isn't stated explicitly in the Scriptures, we can assume—because we are not building a doctrine on this particular point—we can assume it was probably because of unbelieving Jews. What was it about the letter they carried that gives us a reason to assume these men were not yet followers of Christ? Well, who wrote the letter? The apostles. If these Jews were indeed Christian Jews, then the fact that this letter came from the apostles themselves would have been sufficient for them. If these were Christians Jews, these men would have said, “If the apostles said it, that’s good enough for us.” But it wasn’t good enough. So Paul takes Timothy, and he tells these men, “Fine. You want him circumcised, so be it. We’ll have him circumcised. But he will not be any more saved after you mutilate him than he is now.” In fact, these cities of Lystra and derbe and Iconium were part of a region called Galatia. And on his third journey, Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, probably about 6-7 years after all this took place. And what was the purpose of that letter? That Christ set us free from the curse of the law. Paul wrote Galatians as a way of asking them "Remember that young man those Jews had me circumcise? And I told you, showed you that letter saying it was not necessary? Didn’t you learn anything?"
Paul has Timothy circumcised, preaches the gospel to these people, and lets them know in no uncertain terms that they were no longer bound by the Law of Moses. In fact, one place in Galatians, he tells them as much. Galatians 5:6 (NLT)—For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, it makes no difference to God whether we are circumcised or not circumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love. He was no doubt reminding these people of what had happened the first time he came through and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, and how He has set us free from the Law of sin and death.
After all this, Paul wants to go to Asia, which was known at the time as Proconsular Asia, the western coast of what is now Turkey. The Holy Spirit wouldn’t let them. Then, Paul wants to go to Bithynia, on the southern coast of the Black Sea. But the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them. He says, “No, you go directly to Macedonia and take the gospel to the Gentiles.” God sends Paul a vision, a man from Macedonia, tells him “Come to Philippi.” So they go to Troas, a port on the Aegean Sea, which was formerly what famous historical city? Troy. At one time this was a grand city of the Greeks. It was the site of one of the most storied wars in all the world. Now it’s a bunch of fishing boats. So they hop a boat, and eventually wind up in Philippi. They meet Lydia, and some women she is praying with by the riverside, and they become charter members of First Baptist Church of Philippi. There weren’t any Methodists around at the time. Ha ha.
A little more background on the city. This is NOT the city of Caesarea Philippi that we read about in Matthew 16:13--When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi. The city of Philippi we are looking at here is simply called Philippi. It was named after King Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. This was a Greek city that had become a Roman colony after a decisive battle in 42 BC and the people in this city were considered to be citizens of Rome. By the time Paul and Silas and Timothy get there, this city had been under Roman authority for nearly 90 years. And as citizens of Rome, the people were--not only were they expected to worship the Caesar--it was the law. You were commanded, by law, to worship the Caesar as your god. Period, paragraph.
The title “Caesar” began as the name of a family of Roman emperors--the first being, of course, Julius Caesar-- and had become the title for the head of the Roman Empire. Caesar Augustus, Tiberius Caesar held the title during the years Christ walked the earth. John 19:12-15, Pontius Pilate is trying to decide what to do with this Jesus, it says Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, “If thou let this man go, thou art not amicus Caesaris—thou art not Caesar's friend. The title "friend of Caesar" was an important title to hold, because as long as you were a friend of Caesar, things were good for you. If you lost that distinction—things could get really ugly real quick. “If thou let this man go, thou art not amicus Caesaris: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar”…and [Pilate] saith unto the Jews, “Behold your King!” But they cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate saith unto them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, non habemus regem nisi Caesarem—“We have no king but Caesar.” When Paul went through Philippi the first time, “Christians” weren’t seen as being much of a threat. But once the church started to grow and grow and grow, that attitude changed drastically.
Starting in about 60 AD—about 9-10 years after Acts 16—when Christians were brought before Roman officials, they had a choice. They could either declare, “Caesar est Dominus—Caesar is Lord!” Or they could be put to death. In about 155 AD, a man named Polycarp, who was discipled and taught about Christ by the apostle John himself, was brought before the Roman officials, and commanded “Swear, and I will release thee—reproach Christ.” His response? “Eighty-six years I have served my Lord and He has never done me wrong. How shall I now blaspheme my King, Who hath saved me?” Fox’s Book of Martyrs describes his death like this—“At the stake to which he was only tied, but not nailed as usual, he assured them he should stand immovable. The flames, on their kindling of the firewood, encircled his body…without touching him. The executioner, on seeing this, was ordered to pierce him with a sword, when so great a quantity of blood flowed out as extinguished the fire.” Such was the fate of those who dared to preach Christ in the glorious Roman Empire.
So this band of Jews comes into this city that proclaims “Caesar est Dominus—Caesar is Lord!” And they bring this religion that says, “You shall have no other god but God and His Christ shall be your Lord.” So we pick it up in Acts 16:13-15—13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.
Every time Paul entered into a new city, what did he always do on the Sabbath? Acts 17:1-2 says that they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his custom was, went in unto them, and three Sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures. So his normal habit on a Sabbath was to go into the synagogue and preach Christ from the Scriptures—did he have the New Testament yet? In fact, when these things are happening in Acts 16, he’s preaching Christ from—what? The OLD Testament. And this was his custom every Sabbath in every city he goes into. But what does he do on the Sabbath here? Verse 13. And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Why didn't he go into a synagogue? See, in those days—and it may still be true today, I’m not sure—in order for there to be a synagogue, there had to be ten Jewish men in that city, who were heads of their household. But, by not mentioning Paul going into a synagogue, and knowing how detailed Luke usually was in his writing, we can infer that there was not a synagogue here.
But there are some devout women who meet on the Sabbath for prayer. Isn’t it just like God to send these guys where the people need the gospel? He tells him, “Don’t go to Asia, don’t go to Bithynia.” And He sends him a vision that tells him to come to Macedonia, because there’s this little group of women who are faithful to God and will heed the call of the gospel. All through the gospels, and all through Acts, we find the gospel going to the people. Did people come seeking the gospel? No. Jesus took it out to the people. He sent people out with the gospel. In fact, there is a biblical word we use quite often that means “one who is sent out.” What is it? Apostle. Comes directly from the Greek word αποστολος (apostolos). What does this tell us about God? Does He just sit back and wait for us to come to Him? No. Jesus tells us in Luke 19:10, “I have come to seek and save that which was lost.” John 6:44—“No one can come to Me unless my Father draws him.” Christ sought out sinners—and He still does. He had to look for us. We don’t know enough to look for Him. It’s a good thing He came looking for me, because I sure didn’t know enough to look for Him. In John 4, did the woman at the well seek Him, or did He seek her? Do you think He knew Zacchaeus would be up in a sycamore tree? Here, the gospel is seeking those who will be saved.
So God sends Paul, Timothy, Silas to these women to bring them to Christ. And think about this: here was this little group of women. Paul and Timothy and Silas had travelled hundreds of miles, for many days. Just to speak to a little group of women? “Hah! Poor old Paul! Went all that way for what? A handful of women! What a maroon!” But see, that’s God. We don’t always know what God is going to do with what little He gives us. Matthew 13:31-32—31 “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, 32 which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.”
So many people think that in order for a church to be “successful” they have to have a huge building, and huge crowds, and fancy lighting and a rocking praise band. But in order to attract the big crowds to their
Verse 14. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. What facts do we have about Lydia from just this little snippet? There is a reason Luke mentioned these three things in the same sentence. When we are reading the Bible, we need to pay close attention to what is written, some authors more so than others. And we need to learn to not skip over “little things.” Even the “little things” are there for a reason. All the “begets and begats.” Who spoke the words to the men who wrote them down? If God puts something in there is it important? First we see that She was a seller of purple. Big deal, she sold purple fabric, right? In other words, she dyed fabrics and clothing materials. So what, that doesn’t mean much to us today.
But what can we do today that people could not do back then? Today, if I want a Minnesota Vikings jersey, what do I have to do? I can go to Champs Sports, or Hibbett's or Sports Seasons. I can call or go online. I can get all the Minnesota Vikings stuff I want. And what color do the Minnesota Vikings wear? But back then if you wanted to wear purple, you had to be ready to pay. Purple was the color worn by authorities and royalty. The rich man we studied in Luke 16:19—“There was a certain rich man, who was clothed in purple.” The Roman soldiers in John 19:2 twisted a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. So who would come to buy purple from this woman? The rich. Roman officials. Princes. Rich folks need the gospel too. Kings and princes and authorities need the gospel. And what better way to get the gospel to those in positions of power and authority than the women who sell them their clothes.
What city was she from? Thyatira. Thyatira was known for its many trade guilds, which were kinda like early labor unions. A bunch of sculptors would get together, pool their resources, form a guild. Weavers would form guilds. Blacksmiths, coppersmiths, carpenters. The city of Thyatira was known for its skilled tradesmen. Another famous trade guild was known as the “dyers,” those who dyed clothing. Each guild had a different pagan “god” that was kinda like their “protector.” One of those “gods” was named Tyrimnaeus, who they believed had power over the sun, sunshine. They built large bronze statues of him. Knowing that clarifies what we find in the letter that Jesus told John to write to the church at Thyatira in Revelation 2:18—“These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass.” What would a bronze statue look like in direct sunlight? Would it not look like the eyes were on fire? Jesus was telling John to write to this city that He Himself has eyes that were truly filled with fire. Now, I’m not sure which “god” was “protector” over the dyers, but we do know this: whatever it was, she didn’t worship it. She worshipped God.
She worshipped God. YHVH. She was no doubt looking for the Savior, the Messiah, and here was Paul preaching to her the good news of salvation through that Messiah, Jesus Christ. She took it back to her home city, and from there the church at Thyatira grew. Some think that Paul preached there on one of his trips, perhaps in Acts 19. At any rate, for many years, the church at Thyatira was a model church. Listen to what Jesus tells them in Revelation 2:19—“I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.” These people had grown in their service to the Lord. What was His complaint against Ephesus? They had left their first love. The first works in Ephesus were greater than their last works. They had gone downhill. But Thyatira was just the opposite. They were getting better at doing things. But listen to what He says next. Revelation 2:20—“Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” See, a church can “do” all the “right things.” They can serve dinner at the shelter, they can give to the homeless, and they can read and study their Bibles. And they can still be on God’s bad side.
What was it about the church at Thyatira that made the Lord Jesus so upset that he would personally dictate a letter to these people? The prophetess that Jesus is talking about was probably one named Sambatha. There was a temple in Thyatira dedicated to this Sambatha, and what Jesus was getting at was that even though the church there was doing “all the right things,” they were not correcting the people that were still worshipping this Sambatha. They were still having feasts in her honor, and Jesus told them, “If you don’t stop, things are going to get real ugly.” In fact, in Revelation 2:21-23, He says, “21 And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. 22 Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. 23 I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.”
So what does this tell us about the environment Lydia was living in? She was surrounded by paganism, idol worship, temple prostitution, a cesspool of sin. Yet who did she worship? We're going to see more of that next week. And how, by coming to Philippi, she has kind of gone from the frying pan into the fire. But God knows how to send people to our rescue. 1st Corinthians 16:17-18—I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus…For they have refreshed my spirit and yours. Just imagine what missionaries go through when they first get to a country where they don’t know anybody. and they get a letter, or a phone call, or especially a visit from someone they know and love. That’s why God sends Paul to Philippi to preach to this little group of women.