The church in Philippi began with the conversion of a high-society businesswoman.
Lydia is from the city of Thyatira. This tells us that she is likely ethnically Asian. But she has a house in Philippi. So this tells us that economically she’s very wealthy. Both Thyatira and Philippi are major metropolitan areas. The portrait we see developing of Lydia is that of a woman who’s in the fashion industry—think “fashionista”—essentially the CEO of her own fashion empire. Thinking in today’s terms, she’d have a house in Los Angeles, a house in New York, and a house in Paris. This is a woman who has done very, very well for herself.
But Lydia is also what the Bible calls a God-fearer. Here’s what that means: She has rejected paganism and polytheism. She’s worshipping the Father, not Prada. Lydia has come to believe that there is one God. She listens to the teaching of the Jews, trying to grasp what it means to live a God-fearing life; she wants to live out her faith in the context of her family and her business.
This is an important point in the story of Lydia’s conversion: she is an intellect and, by all indications, a seeker. She has gathered with a group of women to hear the Scriptures explained. Lydia, by listening to the Torah, knows that God gave His people the law. She knows that God gave the Ten Commandments. She understands that she does some of those things well, but she also understands that she’s broken some of those laws and commandments too. She likely has some concept of the need for atonement. But without the good news of Jesus, she’s confused. It is into this setting that Paul shows up and starts to fill in the spiritual framework through which Lydia has operated up to this point.
Paul begins to explain to Lydia and the women’s Bible study that God gave us the law to reveal that we all have fallen short of God’s glory and that atonement was made only by Christ’s work on the cross.
Paul engages Lydia’s reason, engages her intellect—and it is through the impartation of this knowledge that she becomes a believer in Christ. In fact, she immediately believes and gets baptized, her whole household gets saved and baptized, and then she invites Paul to stay in her home.