During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. – Acts 16:9-15
In today’s passage we find Paul on the road with Silas, Timothy, and other believers. In a dream God called Paul to go to Macedonia. Paul parted ways with Barnabas a few chapters ago over a disagreement, and after the costly “leader lessson” they got in Iconium. The dream in which Paul is called to Macedonia involves a man begging Paul to “come over to Macedonia and help us”. Interestingly, it is not a man they will meet in this passage but a young woman named Lydia.
Reviewing the cities en-route to Philippi it appears Paul and his band of men left Troas and traveled by boat across the Aegean Sea to Neapolis on the coast, then traveled by land to Philippi. They stayed in Philippi for several days, presumably preaching the gospel and meeting with believers. While they were there they found a wondering soul, Lydia.
The encounter with Lydia begins with Paul and his travelling companions leaving the city on the sabbath to pray by the river. This may have been because there were no synagogues in this part of the world or it may have been that they just wanted a quiet “place of prayer”. I can relate to this desire to find a quiet place in nature to meet with God. As a true “river rat” myself I have affinity for rivers and the peaceful place they provide. What better place to meet with the One River, and receive the Living Water God offers than at a peaceful and life-giving river?
There were apparently several women along the river, presumably doing laundry or fetching water. I suspect this location of water was a community gathering place for local women and children in a similar way to the way a park or playground would function today. I imagine they were sharing news of their families, relatives, and the local gossip of the day, sort of like Facebook but without all the add placement.
Paul and his crew were praying and worshiping by the river. It does not seem like they were there “preaching”, but merely going about their worship in a public setting. Lydia was “listening in” to their activities. She is described as a “dealer in purple cloth” and a “worshiper of God”. She was seeking something just like the Ethiopian earlier in Acts. The Holy Spirit was hard at work in her heart long before these men decided to leave the city and worship by the river.
The Holy Spirit, Paul, and the other believers message and actions resonated in Lydia’s heart and she decides that she is ready to commit to this new way of knowing God. She and many members of her family are baptized, presumably in the river. Her seeking has led her to the only one who can help her cross the river that no on can cross. She immediately acts on her new commitment and invites Paul and the others to her house.
The take home message from this passage for me is that sometimes we should do our worshiping and praying in public near rivers, on the beach, and on the mountain tops. I think we should do this not in a grandstanding “in your face” way but in a simple and sincere way. How are curious God-seekers to find God if we are only sharing Him within the walls of a church? Seekers like Lydia may never enter a church or synagogue because of the doorkeepers and sheer intimidation of the doors. Had these men not practiced their love of God in a public place, with sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, Lydia may have missed the Messiah that they were meeting with at the river.
Prayer: God help us to worship and share our love for you in both public and private places so that those seeking to know you can see and believe.