This post is a little more on the light-side. I presented this biography in my public speaking class while a student at Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, TX. I hope you enjoy it!
“The ‘What-opolis?'” You read it correctly…”Porphuropolis!” It is a Greek word meaning, “a female seller of purple or of fabrics dyed in purple.” I found this term on a website called “Colors in the Bible…and their meaning (www.biblebasics.info)” which gave explanations for the meaning of different colors mentioned in the Bible. I then sought to check out the definition of porphuropolis to be sure the article I was reading was accurate, and it was. The Greek Lexicon, in which I, also, found the definition, referenced the porphuropolis I will be speaking on – Lydia.
To begin with, what is so significant about being a porphuroplis? Anything dyed purple was considered to be expensive and only the elite or royalty could afford it. Purple is translated from the Hebrew word “argaman.” The purple color was derived from a species of shell-fish or mussel called porphura, which was a rare species so the dye was quite valuable. From Archeological findings of the area of Thyatira there were found Roman inscriptions from the first century referring to the guild of dyers, which Lydia would have been a member. Purple cloth was greatly prized in ancient times because it did not fade, especially Tyrian purple; rather it became brighter and more intense with weathering and sunlight. Purple dyed articles became symbols of status.
So, who was Lydia, the porphuropolis? She was a business woman from Thyatira, in the Roman province of Asia about 20 miles southeast of Pergamum. At first, Paul and his companions had intended to visit the area including Thyatira, but they were forbidden from going there by the Holy Spirit. Instead, Paul had a dream of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to come to them and speak. Macedonia would be what is now modern-day upper Greece. So instead of reaching Lydia in her home town of Thyatira, she heard and received the gospel in the town where she was living and conducting business in – Philippi. Philippi was also part of the Roman colony and originally named Crenides, meaning Fountains. It was renamed Philippi when it was over taken by Philip of Macedon. Lydia was quite successful in her chosen profession as demonstrated by the fact that she owned a spacious home and had household servants. We do not have any indication from the Bible that she was married, so our options are that she was either single – never married – or a widow.
We also know from the Bible that she was a devout woman. She may have been Jewish, but most Biblical scholars believe she was Gentile. Her name may mean either “bending” or “The Lydian,” since Thyatira was in the region of Lydia. However, if she was Gentile, she had or was being converted to Judaism because we are told in Acts 16:14 that she “was a worshiper of God.” Even though she was a successful business woman, she worshipped according to the Jewish faith, meeting daily by the riverside for prayer. This was done outside the city since there was not an established meeting place inside, and this was because there were not enough Jewish men of age in Philippi to warrant a synagogue; and they only needed 10.
At one of these prayer meetings that Lydia attended, with other devout women, something different happened. On this day, which was a Sabbath day, the ladies had a guest speaker – Paul. Paul and Silas had been traveling from Troas in Asia, to the Macedonia region when they stopped at Philippi where they stayed several days. The message Paul shared had a tremendous effect on Lydia. Although, Lydia was a worshipper of God, she was not a believer and follower of Christ; but on that day the Bible tells us, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” In Dr. Herbert Lockyer’s book, “All the Women of the Bible,” he quotes John Chrysostom who lived from 347-407 A.D. He was Archbishop of Constantinople, known after his death as the “Golden Mouthed,” and well-known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking. Chrysostom stated, “To open is the part of God, and to pay attention that of the woman.” Lydia was such a woman who paid attention and responded. She heard the truth of Jesus and believed. She was so convinced of the truth that she was able to convert her household as well. After they had all been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, Lydia was successful in persuading Paul and his companions to stay at her home.
Lydia was Paul’s first European convert. Her faith was born through hearing the Word of God. She surrendered to the claims of Christ by her public confession and baptism, then immediately began telling others, starting with her own household. She was eager to show hospitality by having Paul and other missionaries in her home. It is believed that a church met in her home at Philippi, or at the very least, her home was a meeting place. We know this because sometime later, Paul and Silas were publicly beaten and jailed after exorcising a spirit from a slave girl. That night in jail after singing praises to God and after an earthquake flung all cell doors open, they converted the Philippian jailer. He and his household became believers and were baptized. The next day, the officials gave orders for Paul and Silas to be released, but then Paul pulled the citizenship card, and when the officials heard that he and Silas were Roman citizens they were alarmed and went to the jail and personally escorted them out. From there, guess where they went? Yep! They went to the porphuropolis’ home – Lydia’s home! There Paul and Silas met with the brothers to encourage them. Lydia received Paul and Silas into her home after they had been discharged from prison – she was not ashamed of the Lord’s prisoners.
So what happened to our porphuropolis after she became a Christian? Did she give up her business and just live off the wealth she had accumulated? I don’t think so. I believe Lydia continued selling her cloth of purple. She was not lazy, but worked diligently. She now had a new motivation for her enterprising goals – to help God’s servants in their ministries. She sold her dyes and served her Savior. Lydia is a wonderful example to us women of today. She may have been the closest Biblical example of the Proverbs 31 Woman that we have. She was able to be industrious and manage a home faithfully. What we learn from Lydia is if we are diligent in our work, whether inside or outside of our homes, and if we faithfully honor God with our work, then God will honor our efforts and intentions and reward our lives with blessings and success.
(To read the complete story about Lydia, you can find it in Acts 16:11-40 of the Holy Bible.)