The current judicial exercise in ensuring a hard separation between religion and the federal or state governments has a fairly short history. It really dates to the last century when Justice Hugo Black resurrected a comment that Thomas Jefferson had made in reply to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association. The Connecticut group had written to congratulate him upon his election to the Presidency in 1804. His use of the phrase â€œa wall of separationâ€ is its first occurrence in text in this land, and in its context it was used as part of his explanation as to why he had chosen not to call for a national day of fasting and thanksgiving as his two predecessors had done upon election. Justice Blackâ€™s appropriation of the remark was much more insidious.
Paul and Barnabas are about to leave Antioch on their second journey going to places they had previously been and made converts in establishing congregations. There is a disagreement among them as to where they might go. And they settle on Barnabas and John Mark going in one direction (starting in Cyprus), while Paul and Silas would go through Syria and Cilicia, ending in Asia Minor. On the way, Paul meets a young preacher named Timothy who becomes instrumental in his work from that point. Timothy joins the company and the text states: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.” Paul and companions were constrained by the Holy Spirit from going into Macedonia; and for awhile they continued moving through the Greco-Roman cities where they had recently been. But soon God’s plan allowed them to enter Macedonia; and what followed is the record of the first known conversions to the gospel on the European continent. The narrative also takes a turn as the writer and scribe, Luke, is now an eyewitness and the text from this point to the end of Acts is given in the first-person plural.
They came to Philippi, a prominent city of Macedonia and a Roman colony where they met a textile merchant of purple died cloth – Lydia of the city Thyatira. Nothing is said as to why Lydia was living in Philippi. Very few details are given. In fact, it only states she gathered with some other women at a place near a river where prayers were regularly made as there was no synagogue in the city. Lydia is a Persian name. An English transliteration of the feminized Greek form of “Lud” or “Ludim” (the fourth son of Shem), whose ancestors had settled the Tigris-Euphrates basin – then and now known as Persia. The possibilities are that either Lydia had become a proselyte, or that, as a Gentile, she too “worshipped God”as Cornelius and company.
The events of her and her household’s conversion are found in a single paragraph:
“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. 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. 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.” And she constrained us.”
She listened to the word of God. The record states, “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken…” Some assume from this statement that it is an intervention by the Holy Spirit. And that it is by the Spirit’s direct intervention that Lydia’s heart was opened to the Apostles’ message. Yet the text states only that Lydia was a godly person and she and some other women worshipped God on the Sabbath. After the preaching of Paul and the others, Luke wrote that the Lord had opened her heart, and that she and her household were baptized. Which understanding is correct? Did she have a revelation instructing her on the direction she should go? Or, did she act as Jesus would have anyone act? To the point, how did the Lord open her heart? Is this a different path than previously encountered in the other detailed conversions in Acts? Was her freedom of choice suspended, and does God “make” one person to be obedient and leave others on the outside? If this is true: isn’t God and Christ’s mercy arbitrary and capricious. Further, would this not be contrary to what is also written that, “God is no respecter of persons,” and “God is not willing that any should perish, but would that all men should come to repentance?” Some say this is a proof God “assigns” those who will be saved or lost, and we have no choice in the matter – per Aurelius Augustine and Jean Calvin, etc. etc. Yet these views are clearly mutually exclusive. Only one can be correct. And on identifying the correct answer hangs eternity. So, what is the truth?
If you have read essays, the weblogs and articles here previously, you should know that, based on the text here and elsewhere, Lydia’s heart had been opened by the same manner or process that Pharaoh’s heart had been hardened or closed by God. God offers up opportunities — and we can obey or we can throw it all off. I know of one “overwhelming”, or baptism of the Holy Spirit (on Pentecost as recorded in Acts two), and a second occurrence of the same signs at the conversions of Cornelius, his household and friends. And here there is no evidence of an intervention: no miracle, no sign, and no mystery was involved. Lydia’s heart was already prepped through her own openness; and she heard, listened, and was obedient to the apostle’s words. She and her household were baptized.
We all make decisions based on what we see and hear. That is how it happened with Pharaoh, Herod Agrippa, Paul, and everybody else. Why would it change with Lydia and her household?