We do not have much information about Lydia. But the little information which we have about Lydia in the Acts of the Apostles tells a lot about her.
Philippi, an important city of Macedonia, was a Roman colony founded by Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. In their missionary journey Paul and his companions spent several days in the city. As there was no synagogue in the city Paul and companions went to the riverside where they hoped to find a place of prayer and meet Jewish believers on the Sabbath day and speak to them about Christ.
But Paul could find only some women gathered on the riverside for prayer. Lydia, a business woman was among them. Paul and companions sat down with the women and talked about Jesus Christ and His way.
The author of the Acts, Luke tells us about the scene. From there we went inland to Philippi, a city of the first district of Macedonia; it is also a Roman colony. We spent several days there. On the Sabbath we went out of the city to the river-side, where we thought there would be a place where Jews gathered for prayer. We sat down and talked to the women who gathered there. One of those who heard us was Lydia from Thyatira, who was a dealer in purple cloth (Acts 16, 12-14).
Here Lydia is introduced as a business woman from Thyatira. We have no information about the family background of Lydia but we know that Thyatira was one of Macedonian colonies. As a dealer in purple cloth Lydia must have been a very rich woman. She is certainly a person with an open mind without any prejudice that she is able to pay attention to Pauls message about Jesus Christ. She is also a very generous person with a big house. So she invites Paul and his companions to stay in her house after she and all in her household received baptism from Paul.
Impressed by the message of Paul about Jesus, Lydia not only become the first one to receive baptism on the soil of Europe but she also became the first missionary in European soil by bringing her entire family for baptism by Paul.
But Lydias love and charity was not confined only to her family. She strongly invited Paul and his companions to come and stay in her house during their stay at Thyatria. Come and stay in my house if you have decided that I am a true believer in the Lord, Lydia said persuadingly to Paul and his companions.
While enjoying the hospitality of Lydia in her house, Paul and his companions regularly went to the place of prayer on the riverside where they met regularly with those people who were interested to hear Paul and pray with him.
On the way to this place of prayer, a slave girl used to follow Paul and his companions and shouted after them, These men are servants of the Most High God! They announce to you how you can be saved!
As Luke has noted, the slave girl did this for many days until Paul became upset with her. So one day Paul turned to her and said to the evil spirit in her, In the name of Jesus Christ I order you to come out of her! Instantly the evil spirit went out of her.
When the owner of the slave girl realized that he cannot make any more money through the slave girls fortune-telling, he seized Paul and Silas and brought them to the authorities with false accusations.
The authorities whipped Paul and Silas and put them in prison.
The unusual incidents in the prison led to the baptism of the jailor and his entire family by Paul. In turn the jailor nursed Paul and Silas and gave them food to eat. The next day before going out the prison at the insistence of Paul, the Roman authorities have had to come to the prison and apologize for ill-treating of Paul and Silas, Roman citizens.
After suffering the whipping and prison experiences Paul and companions went back to Lydias house. There they met the believers, spoke words of encouragement to them and left (Acts 16, 40).
The newly formed Christian community in Lydias house must have known what it means to follow Jesus Christ from the experiences of suffering of Paul and Silas as well as from the words of encouragement from Paul.
Pauls letter to the Philippians is addressed to this first Church on European soil. The letter proclaims Pauls love and affection for the Church at Philippi. Lydia, the hospitable business woman is certainly a key figure in the founding and the development of the new Christian community or the Church at Philippi in Europe, the Roman province of Macedonia.