The conversion process of Lydia, Seller of Purple Cloth:
13 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. 14 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. 15 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.
38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.
.:: A Look At The Conversion Process ::.
The process of conversion has been weighing on my mind lately. The Calvinist will confidently tell you that unless God calls us, none would come. And we can hardly argue, because he stands on Scripture. But is that all there is to the process? Is there nothing else that can be said about how and why someone comes to Christ?
I say there is.
In order for the Divine and the created to competently dance with one another, each partner must participate. The Lover calls and the beloved responds. The Lover moves closer, the desire of His heart comes closer as well. They move, they respond, they act and react. The dance becomes so intertwined that you do not know where one stops and the other begins. And so we have this dance between the Lover and the beloved called conversion.
In anthropology, we look at the different societal, economic, and ecologic forces that come to bear in an individual’s decision. Whether you count these different forces as Divine Will or material agents, it does not matter. The fact is that they effect us. And in order to illuminate the different forces at work in conversion, Let us focus on one conversion – that of Lydia, the merchant of purple cloth. She is one that is only briefly mentioned in the book of Acts, but even her brief literary highlight shows her as someone who loomed large in the Philippian church. Let’s get started with the first descriptor the Bible uses:
“A Dealer In Purple Cloth”
Douglas Davies in his book Anthropology & Theology highlights the socio-economic factors involved in the conversion process. He quotes from David Martin when he describes a “horizon of hope” when it comes to conversion. He notes that someone must be “relatively independent” before they will be able to accept salvation and go contrary to the way they were raised and the prevailing culture. A person must not be so dependently bound to those in their “old way” of thinking – they must be able to entertain the thought of going it alone.
Lydia had this ability. As a dealer in purple cloth, a highly valuable commodity, she would have been able to envision a different life that involved new mores, morals, community, and religious tenets. In short, Lydia was most likely financially independent from others and therefore was able to grasp new horizons of hope. This is an important point. If someone is moribund in family ties, poverty, and cultural traditions – they most likely will not risk the alienation that Salvation might bring. Why? Because, if you are poor, conformity ensures the most direct route to your sole means of sustenance – the charity and support of your current network of friends and family. Therefore, in order to risk Salvation, you must feel that you will survive the risk of alienation.
“A Worshiper Of God”
Lydia already was attuned to the God of the Bible due to her Jewish neighbors. The term “worshiper of God” was given to those who were not of physical Israel but believed in God none-the-less. She was introduced to the One God, was shown His Way, and was taught how to live in a way pleasing to Him. I believe it was this introduction that paved the way for Lydia to understand her need for a Savior. By understanding God’s Law she understood her incapacity to achieve it’s high bar. She also came to know a merciful and loving God. So the message of Jesus would have made sense.
“The Lord Opened Her Heart”
God called. He exposed her heart to the light of His Love. The Lover moved towards the beloved. And because His light found fertile ground, the seeds of His Word began to grow.
Final Thoughts on The Conversion Process
So here we have three components that went into the conversion of Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth. Her story has been reproduced countless times through the ages. People are given hope, they understand their need of a Savior, and God calls to them and they accept. We as Christians are called to bring hope to the hurting. We are called to teach the world righteousness through our example. We are called to tell people about His Love.
Often the church overlooks the power of hope and righteous example. But if people cannot imagine a different life for themselves – they will stay where they are. If they only see dysfunction and chaos – they will never feel the pull of transcendent living. God calls us to live and give hope. God calls us to live and give a righteous example. He calls us to share the Good News. The Good News of a new life. The Good News of productive life. The Good News of Eternal Life.