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  • Jeff Kent

What About Lydia?

Acts 16:11-15

We tend to avoid “sticky” texts. By that I mean those texts which don’t easily allow a straight forward explanation, and may even seem to contradict other texts and some of our own interpretations of other parts of scripture. Lydia’s story is one such.

We find her among the women in Philippi who met on the Sabbath to pray. The text says she was “a worshiper of God” which means she was a Gentile who had come to believe in and worship the Lord God. Paul and his companions who were looking for the usual place of prayer down by the river found themselves among this assembly of women. Paul begins speaking to them, and from the context we conclude that his subject turned to the gospel of Christ. The text tells us that Lydia was listening to Paul’s teaching. So far, so good. This is the usual way things happen with the gospel. A person hears it taught, believes and makes the decision to obey (or not). But there is a “sticky” part to Lydia’s story.

We are told by Luke that “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” All of the major translations have “opened.” What do we make of this? Did this violate Lydia’s free will? Was this the direct operation of the Holy Spirit apart from the word of God? What actually did the Lord do with her heart?

To seek an answer, let’s look at Luke 24:45. After Jesus’ resurrection, the Lord was trying to explain what had happened with Him, but the disciples are having a hard time “getting it.” So we read that “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures...” They wanted to understand but were having trouble doing so. So Jesus provides help for them to understand. No overriding of free will here. The key is that they wanted to understand and needed help to do so.

Lydia evidently is trying to grasp the gospel presented by Paul but can’t quite understand it. So the Lord supplies the understanding which is needed. She then makes the decision to be baptized.

This explanation seems to fit. What do you think?

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