One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (verse 14)
“The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
What a winsome phrase. It opens up a number of avenues for reflection.
(1) The first has to do with where we focus. Surveying the scene at the river that day we’re immediately drawn to the human players. A group of women gathers for prayer – Lydia stands out, because she is listening attentively, receptively. Paul and his associates (Silas, Timothy, Luke, possibly others) come on the scene with purpose and eagerness, looking to share the gospel – Paul stands out because he’s the one doing the talking.
But this phrase shifts our focus entirely. It sets our sights on the Lord instead – “the Lord opened her heart.” Although unseen, it turns out he’s the key player in this unfolding drama. He’s the one who initiates. He’s the one who’s able – having previously saved Paul seemingly out of the blue, he now brings about salvation for Lydia, too. He’s got grace and compassion – all have sinned, Lydia included, yet because of his great love he brings her salvation nonetheless. He’s the one who paid the price, salvation itself only happening because Jesus gave his life as a ransom for hers.
This phrase gives us the clarity to see what’s really happening. The Lord has intervened. Wonderfully.
(2) What, then, about Lydia herself? What’s left for her? There are many scriptures we could look to for answers, but John’s Gospel gives three concise insights. First, it is in our own hands (Lydia’s included) to “receive” and “believe” (John 1:12). It’s not forced upon us – we need to take this action ourselves. Second, Jesus himself affirms that we can’t take this step on our own – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). We’re always dependent on the Father’s intervention. But third, we are entirely responsible for our own actions (including belief and unbelief). Jesus strongly rebukes the religious leaders, saying “you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:40), making it clear they bear responsibility – and guilt – for their lack of belief.
All of this plunges us into the mystery of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. But it’s clear that when “the Lord opened her heart”, Lydia needed to respond.
(3) What, then, about Paul? Did he actually have a role to play? Yes, absolutely. Ultimately he knew it was all the Lord’s work. But that didn’t stop him from earnestly entering right in. As he would say elsewhere, he served as an ambassador of the good news because the love of Christ compelled him (2 Corinthians 5:14). Indeed, he knew that all of his own efforts and energies were actually an extension of the Lord’s own work, saying, “I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:28-29). But even so, he was completely convinced his own role was crucial: “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” (Romans 10:14).
That’s why Paul preached passionately. That’s what led him to the river that day.
Stepping back, it’s always true that the Lord himself is the key player in salvation. It’s our responsibility to respond, but when we do, we discover he himself was there first. And then, we, too, are equipped as ambassadors of good news, engaging in the work of the Lord, empowered by him, compelled by his own love. It’s a glorious endeavour.
Father, you are the Sovereign God. I am wholly dependent on you. Thank you for life and salvation. Thank you that you have called me, too, as an ambassador of good news. Empower me in your work. For Jesus’ glory. Amen.
Pray: Thank the Lord for salvation. Thank him for his intervention. Ask him to use you to share good news with others.