Monday, November 22, 2010

Mental Vitamins: Twelve Extraordinary Women Series - Lydia

We've come to the final chapter in the book Twelve Extraordinary Women by John MacArthur which means this is the last of the ladies to discuss. MacArthur ends with Lydia, who is best remembered as the original convert for the gospel in Europe. She was the first to respond to the message of Christ during the apostle Paul's original missionary journey to Europe.

image by Elspeth Young

Lydia's story is brief but compelling. Paul received a revelation that called him to travel to Europe and continue his ministry there. Paul and his group of missionaries went to Philippi (a Greek city-state) which proved to be a strategic place for introducing the gospel to Europe. Paul's typical evangelical strategy was to take the gospel first to the local synagogue, because if he went to straight to the Gentiles first, the Jews would never listen to anything he had to say. Philippi, however, was a thoroughly Gentile town with no synagogue.

According to tradition, in communities without synagogues, Jewish women could pray together in groups if they so chose, but men had to form a legitimate minyan (requiring a quorum of at least ten Jewish men) before they could partake in any kind of formal, public prayer or worship. Since Philippi's Jewish community was apparently not large enough to form a minyan, Paul and company learned of the place where Jewish women gathered to pray on the Sabbath and they went there instead (Acts 16:13). It was there that we are first introduced to Lydia. Luke describes his first meeting with her this way: A certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God" (Acts 16:14).

Luke describes Lydia as a woman who "worshiped God". She knew of God, and she apparently gathered with Jewish women to pray on the Sabbath but she had not yet converted to Judaism. Luke also records that Lydia "heard us"(Acts 16:14). She listened intently to Paul and his companions explain the gospel message. Her heart was truly open, she was a genuine seeker of God. But the emphasis Luke makes is that it was not Lydia who opened her own heart and ears to the truth. She was listening, but it was God who gave her ears to hear. She had an open heart but it was God who opened her heart. Luke affirms the sovereignty of God in Lydia's salvation: "The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul" (Acts 16:14).

Many of us struggle with this truth. If it were not for God's sovereign work drawing us to Christ and opening the hearts of we as sinners to believe, no one would ever be saved. We are powerless to change our own hearts or turn from evil in order to do good because the love of evil is part of our fallen nature. Our will is bent in accordance to what we love and that leaves us totally at the mercy of sinful lusts. But salvation - all of it - is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith is God's gift to the believer. We don't reach down into our own hearts and summon faith from within by sheer willpower. God is the one who opens our hearts to trust and believe.

I think all Christians  have some understanding of this truth. That is why we pray for the salvation of our loved ones. We also know in our hearts that we cannot boast of being wiser or more learned than those who still do not believe because we know that our salvation is completely the work of God's irresistible grace. Many non-believers view Christians as arrogant for our belief that there is only one way and one God but for those who fully understand salvation we are humbled because we know that it is not an award for intelligence or superiority. Salvation is not something that can be earned, it is a gift God freely gives to all those who humbly seek His grace. Salvation does not make Christians any more intelligent or righteous, it simply means we have humbly submitted to the One who has offered us true, incomparable freedom. Don't twist this significant language though. Grace doesn't force or coerce sinners against their wills toward Christ; it draws them willingly to Him - by first opening up their heart. It enables us to see our sin for what it is and empowers us to despise the sins we formerly loved. It also equips us to see Christ for who he truly is. Someone whose heart has been opened like that will inevitably find Christ Himself to be irresistible. The description of Lydia's converison is captured beautifully...the Lord simply opened her heart to believe - and she did.

Scripture shares that after Lydia's heart and mind had been opened to the truth of God's word she then began also opening her home to Paul and his missionary team and hosting what would be the first church ever established in Europe!

I hope you enjoyed the nuggets of truth and life lessons from this book. I believe it was written simply for deeper reflection on God's word and the extraordinary lives in it as well as for our own personal and spiritual growth. I hope that you were able to identify that all of these women had one thing thing in common and that was that their lives were made exceptional through the result of God's work in their heart. Christ is the common denominator in terms of living an extraordinary life. I hope that this dialogue has sparked a fire within you...a burning desire to learn more about our awe-inspiring Saviour and the purpose He has for your life. I pray that your heart will be opened.

NOTE: If you are interested in my reviews on the rest of this series you can read them *HERE*

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