We are studying Acts 16:11-15 and 40 (skipping the story in between!) for Sunday, February 28. This rounds out our five-week study of women in the New Testament with the story of Lydia, the “dealer in purple cloth” who is so responsive to Paul’s preaching of the gospel that she lodges Paul and his missionary companions at her house in Philippi for the rest of their time in that city. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are some questions we might want to consider or discuss in our study of this text:
Have we read about or heard about Lydia before? What do we already know about her? What impressions of her do we have? Where have those come from?
What associations do we have with the description of her in the text? [e.g., that she is “a dealer in purple”] Where do those associations come from, do we think?
How would we describe Lydia based on her behavior in this story? Why?
When we read of Lydia in v14 that “the Lord opened her heart,” what do we understand that to mean?
[More personal] Have we, ourselves, ever had an experience we would describe this way? What happened, and how did it feel? What were the consequences?
[More theological, possibly] How would we label an experience like that? “Grace”? “Call”? Something else? Why?
Is Lydia a “model Christian” in any way? How?
What does a model like Lydia have to teach Christians generally?
What does she teach us, personally?
[More focused on the gender theme, perhaps] Assuming Lydia is in some sense a model Christian, is she a model for men as well as for women, do we think? How? Why, or why not?
Does it make a difference if we encounter women like Lydia in scripture? What difference? Why?
Many treatments of Lydia, especially these days, focus in various ways on the importance of women either in Paul’s ministry, or in the early Christian movement, sometimes portraying that as “surprising” or even uniquely revealing of the Christian spirit. Whether all of that would stand up in a court where we really had the evidence we need seems a lot less certain than some authors make it out to be. Overall, it seems to me we are on firmer ground to focus as much of our attention as possible on the virtues Lydia indubitably demonstrates – her eager mind and heart, her generosity, and her hospitality.
Image: “Am Mittagstisch,” Hermann Groeber, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.