A common nursery ryhme I used to recite as a little girl was a finger play that went like this: “Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open the door and see all the people.” My sisters and I quoted that rhyme often. Somehow this simple little poem altered what I thought about church. You see, I grew up in church—it’s all I‘ve really ever known. In fact, until about five years ago, I had attended the same church all my life. I LOVED my church. The people were loving, the building was nice, the choir was great—it was everything you would picture a church to be. However, there was one thing missing from this church I so dearly loved—we didn’t have a steeple! I was convinced that every church was supposed to have a steeple because of that silly little rhyme I used to quote as a little girl. Churches have come a long way since then. The church I attend now looks even less like a church than the one I grew up in. In fact, the building doesn’t even resemble a church at all because it’s not a church building—It’s a high school.
When it comes to church, the fact of whether the church building is traditional, untraditional or modern doesn’t really matter. However, there are a few characteristics found in God’s Word that every church should possess. As we examine the life of a woman named Lydia and how she was involved with the start of the early Christian church, I pray we all will realize that the Lord’s church still has the same purpose today and we will be challenged to get involved by serving the Lord through HIS CHURCH.
The Great Priority of Prayer
“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…” (verse 13)
The Sabbath was a day set aside where all ordinary work stopped so that God’s people could serve and worship Him. Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke were looking for a place to worship on the Sabbath, and they couldn’t find any places of worship. Traditionally, if there were no synagogues, people would gather in the open air by the sea to meet and pray. Prayer was a priority in the early church. It was a foundational element in the life of every believer and thus, the church. Jesus himself said, “My house will be called a house of prayer” (Matthew 21:13). In our text, notice that Luke did not say they were expecting to find a church that had great music, or a church that had a lot of activities, or even a church that had a great preacher. It was quite the opposite. They were expecting to find one thing—a place of prayer. Many churches no longer make prayer a central element in their worship. Instead prayer is an afterthought. It’s used as time filler or a transition between the music, offering and the preaching. If our churches today followed the example of the early church and made prayer a priority, they would look much different than what they do today.
The Gathering of People with a Purpose
“… We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening.” (verse 14)
In our day and time the word “church” has several different meanings. It can mean an actual building where people meet to worship God. Church can also mean a local congregation of people who worship and serve the Lord together. It is also used in reference to the body and/or bride of Christ (the body of believers who have been redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross). Our text focuses on the second meaning listed. Remember the little poem I mentioned before about the church, the steeple and all the people? The women who had gathered by the river to pray, worship and recite the Old Testament Scriptures didn’t have a church or a steeple. All they had was a gathering of people. Yet, what they did have far outweighed what they didn’t have. They had a unified, single purpose which was the worship of the Lord. This single purpose resulted in the Lord’s presence among them. The Bible says: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). Notice what that verse says: “gathered in my name.” Most churches today have a lot to offer—amazing facilities, great programs for all ages, different types of music styles, and even different methods of preaching. Sadly, that is all many of them have to offer because that’s all they are focused on. They are just focused on what they can offer their people, and consequently – they neglect the church’s main purpose. When we are a part of a church we shouldn’t be concerned with what we get out of it or what the church can do for us. Rather, we should be concerned about whether or not the Lord’s presence is there and that He is pleased with our worship.
The Gospel was Presented
“…and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized…” (verse 14)
Our text says that Lydia was a worshiper of God. She knew about Him and even believed in who He said He was. However, she hadn’t fully put her trust in Him. The Lord used the teaching of Paul to open Lydia’s heart to the gospel. It is only through Christ’s death and resurrection that one is made alive in Him. Lydia was proof of that. She was the first European convert, and those in her household quickly followed suit. Their lives were forever changed by the gospel Paul proclaimed and immediately they were baptized, publically identifying themselves as followers of Christ. There are people today just like Lydia who are active in church (including some of the best churches around) that have not yet fully surrendered their lives to Christ and trusted Him as their Lord and Savior. That is why it is imperative that the church be proactive in sharing the gospel each and every time it meets. The gospel is central to all we are as followers of Christ. Jesus died so we could live, He suffered so we could be set free. He is the very foundation on which the church is built (1 Corinthians. 3:11; Ephesians 2:19-22). So why wouldn’t we lift high the name of Jesus and proclaim the gospel each and every Sunday?!
The Generosity of God’s People
“…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.” (verse 15)
We know from our text that Lydia was a businesswoman—she was a seller of purple. Purple material was hard to come by and very expensive. Typically, it was reserved for the wealthy and royalty. Because of this fact, Lydia had a great source of income, especially for a woman. She used the resources that God had given her to bless others, support the work of missionaries, and spread the gospel. Lydia gave generously and willingly to the Lord’s cause. As a church, we must not only take care of our needs, but also the needs of others. We should support missions, minister to the needy, etc., all for the sake of the gospel.
Upon examining the life of Lydia and how she was involved with the early Christian church, we have seen that the purpose of the church is to make prayer a priority, worship the Lord, proclaim the gospel, and give to the work of the Lord. So how do you measure up? (Yes, YOU, not your church—although I pray that these are also evident in your church.)
While the majority of our study has focused on the idea of the corporate church, you as a Christian, make up that church. I want to challenge you personally to examine your own life by answering the following questions:
- Is prayer a priority in your life?
- Do you surround yourself with God’s people?
- Do you worship God intimately and corporately?
- Do you value the teaching of God’s Word?
- Do you share the gospel?
- Do you give generously?
After all, you ARE the church.
Heavenly Father, I praise You for Your church and for being the solid foundation upon which it is built. Thank You that You loved the Church so much that you sent Your only Son to die for it. I recognize that many churches today have drifted from lifting high the name of Jesus and proclaiming the gospel. Help them to repent and turn back to You. Lord, help me to be a true representation of Your Church. Thank You for saving me and thank You for the local church You have allowed me to be a part of. Help us to always preach Christ.