WHO OPENED LYDIA'S HEART?
The hearts of all mankind are closed to the gospel, to the preaching
of the word, the beseechings and invitations of the Lord.
by Geoff Thomas
Lydia's home town was four hundred miles away in Thyatira a city famous
for its dyes (there is an early inscription to a guild of dyers there).
Lydia was a business woman and an entrepreneur. She traded in purple cloth,
up-market material because purple dye was expensive (she may have been
the agent for a Thyatiran manufacturer). We are also told that she was
also a worshipper of God, that is, she had been influenced by the Old
Testament Scriptures and come to believe and behave as the Jews did without
having become a Jew. So she was a godfearing woman. There was a place
a mile outside the city where she and other women like her met together
on the Sabbath day for prayer. So it seems that there was no synagogue
in Philippi (a quorum of ten men would be needed in order to have a synagogue
But the most significant truth we are told about Lydia is that her heart
was closed. In other words, it was closed to God and to Jesus Christ.
It was closed very effectively to the message of salvation. Before I became
a minister of the gospel I worked for a year for the National Coal Board
as a wages clerk in their south-west Wales headquarters. The miners in
the 20 collieries in the region were all being paid in cash in 1964, and
every Thursday we would fill their wage packets from a million pounds
in cash, and we would carry the metal cash-boxes for each pit into a strong
room for the night before paying the miners on Fridays. The strong room
had a mammoth door which two men would push closed and then turn a wheel
in the middle. A fly couldn't pass that door and a burglar would find
it a very considerable and lengthy challenge. That door was closed shut
on Thursday nights.
That closed door is a picture of Lydia's heart, and the heart of every
man and women outside of Christ, so of your heart too. The hearts of all
mankind are closed to the gospel, to the preaching of the word, the beseechings
and invitations of the Lord. This woman was a very capable women with
considerable responsibility in the world of commerce, and I am sure she
did her job with great competence and integrity, but her heart was closed.
There is no mention of her husband, simply the members of her household,
and she was working to support her children or her parents, and she seems
to have had their trust, but her heart was closed. She was a religious
person with some knowledge of the God of the Old Testament Scriptures,
and one day each week was different for her, but her heart was closed.
She was not simply 'dead orthodox' as the phrase puts it, but she believed
in prayer and met regularly with other women and prayed. She was deeply
devout, but still her heart was closed. With all her intelligence, and
respectability, and business acumen, and religion, and piety her heart
There were a number of women gathered there outside the city gate by
the river, and Paul spoke to every one of them with the same sincerity,
yearning that every one of them should come to know his Saviour for themselves.
Yet there was just one woman whose heart was opened. How solemn is this
matter of the sovereignty of Christ. Many fishermen lined the shores of
Galilee's lake but just two sets of brothers taken to follow Christ. You
yourself once went to a meeting and there the Lord opened your heart.
You thought the heart of your husband who was sitting alongside you would
have been opened too but he had nothing to say of the salvation of Christ.
Or you went with a gang of your friends, but afterwards they talked of
football and school and music. Jehovah Jesus meant as little to them after
the meeting as he had before, but you were changed. Your heart had been
opened. That is how it is in this solemn and humbling experience. It is
initiated by Christ. It is accomplished by the grace of Christ, and that
grace works sovereignly, and selectively. That grace falls with all its
particularity on favoured men and women as he determines. This is his
grand prerogative, and in that honour none shall share. Please don't presume
on that grace. Don't say as boys in school would say to me, "I'd
like to be religious. I want to taste what the world offers first, and
then when I'm older I might become religious." It is not in our power
to determine the time or place. The only moment we have is now. All the
years gone can never return, and all the future is unknown. We may soon
be dead. Now is the time to plead with the Lord to open our heart.
What happened when the Lord opened her heart? We are told that she was
able "to respond to Paul's message" (Acts 16:14). The message
demanded a response. It demanded repentance for her sins. It demanded
trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ. It demanded baptism and a
life of discipleship, and all this was possible once the Lord had opened
her heart. She heard Paul speaking and she thought, "I have never
heard anyone speak like this." She thought to herself, "What
an orator he is. He really believes what he says." She thought, "This
is all making sense." But it was not because of Paul's eloquence
or sincerity that his words were having such a transforming influence
in her life. It was all due to the Lord opening her heart. I once spoke
to a woman in hospital who had been involved in a minor accident outside
Aberystwyth and for fear she might have had concussion they were keeping
her in hospital for 24 hours. She was fed up with life, but I spoke to
her about the God who is in control of all our circumstances, even the
fall of the sparrow. "That God has come to this world in his Son
Jesus Christ to save us," I said. She looked back bleakly to me and
she said, "Words, only words." The gospel came to her, but in
word only. When the gospel came to the Thessalonians it did not come in
word only, but in power and with the Holy Spirit and with much assurance
so that the Thessalonians received the gospel of Paul not as the word
of men but as it is in truth the word of God. So it was when Lydia's heart
was opened she was able to respond to Paul's message.
Douglas MacMillan and his elders were interviewing two teenage boys who
had come to profess faith and were applying for church membership. "Tell
us what changes have taken place in your life that would lead us to believe
you have been converted," said Douglas. Their spokesman said, "Oh,
it was no change in us. The change was in you, about six months ago, when
your preaching got interesting." Of course it was no change in Douglas'
preaching. What had happened was that the Lord had opened their hearts
at that time and then the preaching seemed more relevant, and the worship
more enjoyable and Sunday was no longer a boring day. So as Paul opened
the Scriptures using the sword of the Spirit the same Spirit of Jesus
opened Lydia's heart so that she believed what Paul said to her. She became
the first convert of whom we know anything on European soil.
What an encouragement Lydia is to us all to go on praying for those whose
hearts have long been closed. We sometimes have the misfortune to hear
certain preachers inform us that God lacks the ability to open the heart.
"God can do no more. It is all up to you," they tell proud sinners
who are glad to hear that they are mightier than God, and that they can
keep the Lord wringing his hands in heaven wondering whether men will
condescend to accept him or not. Who would want to worship and follow
such a god? If that were really the way it is then prayer itself for loved
ones' salvation would be futile. Such a theology says so mournfully that
God has no power to open our loved ones' hearts. Man almighty: God impotent.
But that is not how it is! The Lord opened Lydia's heart and he can open
the hearts of the most obdurate sinners. Pray on!