“Open Our Hearts!”
Acts 16:6-15 – August 30, 2015
Men, men, men! Here in the United States, men still take center place in many areas today. Look at most sports broadcasts. What you see is—men! Look at many industries and places of work, still, today. Firefighters? Mostly men. Police officers? Mostly men. Truckers? Construction workers? Mostly men here, too.
The sermon I have for you this morning is not the typical sermon. I would like us to consider the passage from Acts 16 that was read just now. This passage is interesting because of its highlight on women. Let’s take a closer look at the subject at hand.
We are looking at Acts, chapter 16, as part of our summer sermon series, Postcards from the Early Church. The events recorded in this book take place later in the first century after the birth of Christ, a long, long time ago. The concepts of welcoming and celebrating multi-culturalism—as we do today—were not even thought of.
The apostle Paul and his friends had a bit of a culture shock themselves. They had been itinerant preachers and missionaries throughout Asia Minor for the past several years. They were on the front lines, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ on the frontier, to people who had never heard that good news before. And now, at the beginning of Acts 16, they take the huge step of crossing into Europe. They are now in Philippi, in what is now northern Greece, in the region of Macedonia. So they are truly missionaries, bridging continents, crossing cultures, coming into a new situation with their good news.
Now, there was one structure Paul and his friends had to deal with, wherever they went: the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire embraced many different cultures, from western Europe to northern Africa, to the edges of what is Iraq today. But within that polyglot of cultures, one basic aspect remained constant: the pre-eminence of men, and the subordination of women.
We can still see this fact of life in certain societies and cultures today; in certain cultures, women are still subordinate, not allowed to do things or to be involved in activities that are normal and matter of course for both women and men today, in our culture and society here in the United States.
Let’s return to the scripture passage we are examining today. Dr. Luke is different from the other biblical authors, since he was a Gentile, and a doctor. He was used to dealing with women and children as a doctor, as a matter of course, and I believe they were important to him, professionally as well as personally. Thus, he mentions them more often in his writings. Here in Acts 16, almost the first thing that Dr. Luke tells us about Paul and his friends in Philippi is their encounter with a gathering of women outside of the city.
Let me say how unusual this is, for the Bible. In either the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament, the mention of a gathering of women, only, is almost unheard of. The mention of a woman, on her own, at all, is unusual.
Just think about it: women in the Bible are usually mentioned in reference to a man: Abraham’s wife, Sarah; Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar; Samuel’s mother, Hannah; Mordecai’s cousin, Esther; Aquila’s wife, Priscilla; Jesus’ mother, Mary.
Some women in the Bible are not even mentioned by name: the woman at the well from John 4, the woman with the flow of blood from Luke 8, and the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman from Mark 7—anonymous women, known only to God. But wherever they appear in the Bible, the women of the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament are clearly examples for anyone who reads the Bible today or has read the Bible, throughout the centuries.
Let’s look at this situation in Acts 16 from a different perspective, for a moment. Quite an odd occurrence, to be sure! Here we have a small group of men, strangers from out of town, coming and sitting down among a larger group of women. What is going on here?
I could mention the fascinating information I researched about Jewish synagogues among majority Gentile towns in the first centuries of this common era, or about the possibility that there was no synagogue in Philippi, which led the God-fearing people who wished to worship outside of the town. However, that is not where I wish to focus today. I would like to look at the rabbi Paul and his companions coming to pray and worship with this group of women. Rabbi Paul was probably the guest preacher for the morning, supported by his colleagues in ministry.
This prayer meeting was an open-air meeting outside the town, probably at a marginal location near the river. It was a meeting of God-fearing women, probably mostly Gentile in makeup. The amazing thing about this mention in Acts 16 is that Dr. Luke mentions the women.
Women are not mentioned often in the Bible, period. But without the active participation and support of women, and some of them of high standing, too, Paul and his companions would not have been able to accomplish half of what they did. Women, especially of high standing, were involved in local politics throughout the region, and economically involved, as well. Women were important to the ongoing life of the new church and to the spreading of the good news for several years before this occasion in Philippi. I believe Paul was acknowledging this through his willingness to talk with and preach for the women.
It is unusual for women to be mentioned on their own, self-sufficient, having their own accountability and standing in the city where they live. Yet here we have just that. Dr. Luke particularly mentions Lydia, and he gives us lots of personal information about her. We can tell by her name that she is a Gentile woman, and we are told she was born in a city called Thyatira, and is a dealer in purple cloth, which for that time was a luxury item, for sure. What we can compare this to is a dealer in high-end designer clothing in our culture and context, today. We can readily see that she not only owns her own business, but she also has her own house, and household servants and maybe even assistants and others in her entourage.
What did the Lord do? Here in verse 14, the passage says that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to the things Paul preached. And because of her attention to the message, she came to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. And as an expression of that sincere faith in the Lord, she went the next step, and was baptized, thereby making a public declaration of her realization of coming to faith. And not only Lydia, but also her whole household was baptized.
Then, after she was baptized, she offers her own house as a hotel, as a place for Paul and his companions to stay, a base of operations while they were in Philippi. She is hospitable, showing good character and a definite spiritual gift. She had been a God-fearer, a worshiper of God, and now she was a Christian, a believer in the good news.
That’s Lydia’s story. But, how about you? Lydia was a God-fearer. Lydia was a proselyte, probably coming faithfully to prayer and worship Sabbath after Sabbath. It could even have been for years, faithful in her attendance, faithful in her giving to others. But it took the Lord to open Lydia’s heart to listen eagerly to the message of the good news. It took the Lord to lead Lydia to faith in the good news of Jesus Christ.
What about you? Have you come to that point in your life where you accept what Jesus Christ has done for you? Have you come to believe in that good news that Paul preached? Paul’s answer from Acts 16 still stands today. It is still valid. “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
And if you are a believer in the Lord already, praise God! You can join Lydia and Dr. Luke and Paul and Silas and the rest of the saints, throughout the centuries.
And even if we do know the Lord, there may be some who have been far away from Him, and not as attentive to God’s will and God’s ways. I know I have sinned, often, and I think there may be others in the same circumstance. The Lord does not turn His back, and ignore us when we come to say we’re sorry, and we have sinned. No.
The Lord is ready to welcome us, to extend God’s mercy and grace to us. Each one of us.
Have you come to the Lord? Have you asked forgiveness for your sins, and thanked God for welcoming you to Him? See, today is the day of salvation. Let this day be the day when you open your heart to the Lord.