Select Wisdom Brand
(Acts 16:11–21) A Tale of Two Women

(Acts 16:11–21) A Tale of Two Women

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Acts
Ref: Acts 16:11–21

What does a wealthy business woman and a poor, demon-possessed girl have in common? Both are slaves to sin. Both need the Savior.

CLICK HERE to access all of the messages in this series.



Eighty-five years ago, the “floating city” set sail on its maiden voyage from England to New York City.  It was the most luxurious vessel ever built by man.  Because of it’s double hull and 16 watertight compartments, it was considered unsinkable.  It was Sunday, April 14th, when the Titanic approached the North Atlantic ice fields.  At 11:00 p.m. the crew spotted an iceberg the size of a small mountain dead ahead.  Frantic orders were given to steer the massive liner to port to avoid a collision.  They succeeded.   Contrary to popular belief, the Titanic did not collide head-on with the iceberg.  But that was unfortunate; for the ice beneath the surface of the water treated the ships hull like a knife cutting warm butter.  The ice sliced an opening that was no more than a quarter of an inch wide but more than 300 feet long.  Eva Hart was 7 years old at the time and was interviewed by Bob Garner, whose article I read recently.  She talked about the horror of that night when she and her mother were among the lucky ones to make it into one of only 20 lifeboats.  Why have lifeboats for everyone when you’re unsinkable?!  Her father was left behind.  She talked of how the character of people became evident.  Some were courageous.  Most of the men and teenage boys helped women and children into the lifeboats as the command was given that women and children only were to board them.  Some men, however, slipped back into staterooms and put on women’s clothing in order to get aboard a lifeboat.  The Titanic sank, claiming over 1,500 lives.

The tragic though often untold story about that night actually involved another vessel less than 20 miles away from the Titanic.  The vessel was the Californian, and it could have rescued many, if not all, those who would soon drown in the icy water; if only someone had been listening to the distress signals sent out by the Titanic.  But no one was listening on the Californian, because the radio operator had fallen asleep on duty.  Because of that, help would not come until it was too late to save more than a few.  The one who could have rescued them never heard their cry for help.

In Acts chapter 16, a cry for help came across the Aegean Sea from Europe, a continent darkened by savagery, ruled by barbarians who roamed the forests of Germany, drowning in idolatry.  From that continent came a cry for help that landed on the shores of Asia Minor.  But this cry for help was heard.  The man from Macedonia appears in a vision to Paul in verse 9...he’s standing and appealing to Paul, and saying, Come over to Macedonia and help us.

“Come over and help us” is a spiritual s.o.s., like a flare shot into the night sky.  Paul receives this vision from God  and immediately knows that God wants them to form a rescue party and head to Europe.

Now notice verse 10.  And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.  11.  Therefore putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis;  12.  and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.  13.  And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.

These verses, by the way, tell us a lot about the spiritual condition of Philippi.  Jewish law required the establishment of a synagogue in any town or village where there were at least 10 Jewish men.  The fact that the place of prayer was by the river, out in the open, reveals that there are less than 10 men faithful to Israel’s God in the entire city of Philippi.  Furthermore, once you arrive at the place of prayer, there aren’t even any men present, only women have assembled.  Which then sends us a strong message about Paul, a former Pharisee, and his attitude toward the female gender.  It is significant that the first people Paul ever preached to in Europe were women.

It seems, as J.Vernon McGee quipped, “The man from Macedonia was actually a woman.”  But you need to understand that in this culture women were not ministered to with the scriptures as men were.  In fact, the rabbis of Paul’s day actually wrote, “It is better that the words of the law be burned than be delivered  to a woman.”  The Pharisees would rise each morning and pray, as Paul himself must have prayed when he was a Pharisee, “Lord, I thank thee that I was not born a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.”

What changed Paul’s attitude toward women?   The gospel of Jesus Christ.  Later Paul will publicly write of his appreciation for women who faithfully served the Lord with him.

Our country, which is saturated with the gospel, has given the role of women dignity and respect.  Just compare us to other countries without the gospel where women are slaves and beasts of burden.

As Paul arrives in Europe and goes down to the riverside, he does not repack his bags and walk away once he discovers that only women are in attendance as any Pharisee or Rabbi would have done.  Instead, he delivers the gospel.  The Gospel has changed Paul’s view of women.  They are now given the same chance as men to hear the wonderful truths of God’s new revelation.

And isn’t it fascinating that women, not men, will become the first audience of the Apostle Paul as he arrives in Europe to spread the gospel.

Led By The Spirit

Notice verse 14.  And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening;

We’re now given some details concerning one of the women at that prayer meeting.  First, we’re told about her career.  You need to understand that her job was as lucrative as any successful business in America.  Having the ability to sell fine linen that had been dyed purple was like owning the microchip patent for fine computers.

The purple dye was obtained from the secretion of shellfish.  Approximately 8,000 shellfish were required to produce one gram of purple dye.  So purple cloth was the “Lexus” of clothing.  Purple garments were worn by the emperors.  Each Roman senator wore a white outer garment trimmed with purple cloth.  Private citizens wore purple clothing as proof of their wealth. 

Lydia was the middleman, the broker, in this operation that began on the coast and worked its way into Europe.

She was enormously wealthy indicated as we’ll see by her ability to invite 4 men to stay on her estate with the servants, food and accommodations to meet their needs.  The text also informs us that she was a worshipper of God.  In other words, she, a Gentile, had abandoned the idolatry of her countrymen.  She had chosen to follow the O.T. and it’s introduction of Yahweh, the one and only true God.

A Tale of Conversion and Commitment

Now the last part of verse 14 tells us that she was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

 The verb tense informs us that this happened over a period of time.  She didn’t just hear Paul once but on several occasions, and God opened her heart with each new discussion until she finally responded in faith.  This is a marvelous verse of God’s sovereign grace;  He is taking a person who is dead in trespasses and sins and bringing about the miracle of an awakened conscience. 

The ability to believe the gospel was not generated by you.  You were dead, and a dead person cannot generate anything.  It was generated by God.  And the proof of that supernatural regeneration is that your heart responded to the gospel.  This verse tells us that, before Lydia ever believed, God was behind it all opening her heart in order that she might believe.

My friend, if your heart does not respond to the word, if there isn’t any impulse within you that finds interest in the words spoken by Paul, the sacred scriptures, if you can take God or leave Him. if you can take His church or leave it, if there is no sense of obligation to serve Him and honor Him, you may very well be spiritually dead.  You should be terrified enough to get on your knees and beg God to perform the miracle of regeneration, because you have no sign of spiritual life.

Now notice the first phrase of  verse 15.  And when she and her household had been baptized,

Now stop.  There are those who see infants in here.  If you see a baby being baptized in this passage, you can read in between the lines better than most preachers I know.

The term household could refer to her servants and staff.  In fact, if you want to argue from silence, you could say that she wasn’t even married.  There’s never a mention of Mr. Lydia and certainly no mention of children.

Since baptism, baptizo, immerse, is the public step of obedience and identification with Christ and his church, and, since Jesus Christ Himself commanded it be done to disciples (Matt. 28), what transpired was that her household had also believed the gospel message that Paul delivered.  That argument, also from silence, is at least consistent with other scripture.

A Tale of a Warm Welcome

Now notice, 15b. she urged us, saying, If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay. And she prevailed upon us.

In other words, if you’ve been able to determine that I have been committed to Jesus Christ, please use my house to base your ministry.  Let my business resources be used to further the gospel of Christ.

I find it interesting that this woman was willing to connect her business success with the propagation of the gospel.  Her home, which was the headquarters of her thriving corporation, became part and parcel of Paul’s ministry. 

Where, today, is the president of a company, the owner of a business, the CEO of a company with the proposition that some of their corporate profits be given to their church and ministry with the idea that their company could financially advance the gospel through year end profits?

Lydia saw the connection, and her business became the base of operations for reaching Philippi with the Gospel.   May her tribe increase among us as God blesses us.

Led By The Serpent

Now the text introduces us to another woman involved in a lucrative business;  only this time her business is involved with the underworld, literally the world of demons and divination.

A Tale of Spiritual Slavery

Now on to  verse 16.   And it happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a certain slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortunetelling.

Many expositors believe that her masters were actually priests from the nearby Temple of Apollo.  I’ll throw my hat in the ring with them.  The reason for that conclusion is the word “divination.”  It comes from the Greek word puthona, which transliterated gives us our word python.  “The Spirit of divination” can also be rendered “the spirit of python.”

This particular religion was part of Greek mythology.  The stories vary.  Some say that Apollo killed the python that once guarded a famous sanctuary in Delphi.  Others retell the story so the serpent actually lived; and Apollo, the god of prophecy, spoke through the serpent foretelling the future.  We do know, conclusively, that the priestess of Apollo, whose symbolism involved a serpent, was supposedly capable of predicting the future.

Fascinating isn’t it to remember that the first creature to supposedly tell the future was the serpent in the garden, who was the mouthpiece of Lucifer, who predicted to Eve that, if she ate of the fruit that God had forbidden, she would not die but become as wise as God.

How the heart hungers for the knowledge of the future.  Anyone in Paul’s day who was considered capable of telling the future, was described as led by the python, led by the serpent.

A Tale of Callous Corruption

Now notice what she’s doing in verse 17.   Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you a way of salvation.

What’s wrong with that?  Sounds like free advertising.  Why would it bother Paul?  Well, put a jeer in your voice and a cynical sneer on your face, and then say it.  “These men are bond-servants of the  Most High God, yea,right.”

Take the sneer out, and say the last phrase.  “Listen to them, they are proclaiming to you a way of salvation.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.  It wasn’t a way to add to the numerous ways of the Greek idolaters.  Jesus Christ was the way, the truth, and the life.  No one would be saved unless they came to Christ.

She’s running around saying, “Hey, they have another way; you need to add their way to yours.”

Finally Paul had enough -  18.  And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment.  19.  But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities,

Luke uses his dry sense of humor here in verse 18 he says, the demon came out, literally exited; and he uses the same word in verse 19  her masters saw that their hope of profit exited too.

Everything was allright until Paul and Silas messed with the bottom line.  These men are agitated only after their profit exited.

Let’s take a careful look at this story and make application by way of studying the contrast between those in this story who were led by the Spirit and those who were led by the Serpent.

In the final chapter to this Philippian church Paul writes, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is gracious, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, ponder these things. . .practice these things!

He writes this to believers!

Make up your mind Christian!  Will you act as a citizen of earth or as a citizen of heaven?  Will you be led by the alluring, entrancing system of the serpent?  Or will you be led by the truth of the Spirit?

Add a Comment

We hope this resource blessed you. Our ministry is EMPOWERED by your prayer and ENABLED by your financial support.
CLICK HERE to make a difference.