Summary: It’s tempting to make one’s business one’s religion. God delivered businesswoman Lydia from bondage, and can deliver us as well.
Conversions in the Book of Acts> “Rescued from Idolatry” Acts 16:11-15 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Though most of my life I’ve served in the military, in the past four years I’ve been involved with the Saugus Rotary and Business Networking International. There I’ve seen up close the struggles and dreams of business men and women. Running your own business is a daunting task and takes a great deal of fortitude.
The Apostle Paul had received a vision to travel to Macedonia. He was compelled to bring the Gospel to this former region of Greece, now part of the Roman Empire. Paul set off by boat across the Aegean Sea and arrived at the city of Philipi, ten miles inland, a Roman colony and military outpost. His reception wasn’t too friendly; on the entrance to the city was a posted a sign barring any unauthorized religions. So outside the city gates Paul found a group of people gathering for prayer beside a riverbank.
I know this sermon is of special interest to our woman’s group, the Lydians. Lydia was a wealthy business woman, a dealer in purple cloth. She was originally from Thyatira, and Lydia may not be her actual name; we might translate this as “a Lydian woman”, since the city of Thyatira was located in the nation of Lydia, in modern-day Turkey (also the destination of one of the 7 letters of Rev 2-3). The purple cloth she manufactured and distributed was a valuable and expensive material, often worn as a sign of nobility. The purple dyes were extracted from various shells and roots. In fact, it’s thought that Lydia was also the trade/brand name of her company product, similar to Sarah Lee or Calvin Klein. In spite of competing in a male-oriented society, Lydia was likely a leader in her community, and perhaps a key member of the Philipi Chamber of Commerce! She manufactured a popular, successful product. When we lived in San Antonio, we often went to the famous downtown River Walk, near the Alamo, lined with restaurants and shops. There we passed a store called Things Purple--everything you could imagine, but in purple.
Paul shared the Good News, but he was only the messenger. The Holy Spirit did the saving. We’re told in verse 14, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” God does the work, removing our spiritual blindness, giving us trusting hearts, enabling us to see the truth of God’s word and believe. The Spirit effectively draws us to salvation. Paul had no qualms about telling women about Jesus, though he’d been taught: “It is better that the words of the Law be burned than be delivered to a woman”. Obviously Paul had a much higher view of women, and did not let gender differences pose an obstacle. Lydia and her household are led to saving faith in Christ. Lydia becomes the first European convert to Christianity.
Lydia was saved from idolatry; she was delivered from what often can be the idolatry of business. As I’ve said, I have great respect for business people, but running a business also runs the risk of idolatry. Business people are hard working, and they can be tempted to trust in their own efforts. They’re tempted to make their business their religion.
You know your work is becoming idolatrous…
>When your Bible is the Wall Street Journal and Business Week Magazine.
>When economic indicators become more important than spiritual growth.
>When you become so self-focused and self-centered that you stop caring about the needs of others. In effect, you become Ebenezer Scrooge.
>When success becomes an obsession. You may get to the top of the ladder of success, only to discover you’re on the wrong ladder!
>When it consumes you. Many business people are driven. They become workaholics. In Japan, the pace of work is having a physical toll. There’s a new Japanese word, “karosh”, meaning “death from overwork.” Doctors in Japan have found a significant connection between high job stress and cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, i.e. high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. The high-pressure demands of one’s workload can kill. Over-work is part of a competitive, zero-defect mentality. Job insecurity in our volatile economy contributes to work distress. The result is an unhealthy work environment. An example is the corporate “fight song” of a Japanese Pharmaceutical firm titled, "Can you fight 24 hours for your corporation?"
I recently received an email comparing work to prison: “In prison, you get time off for good behavior…at work you get more work for good behavior.” We work like crazy to get promoted, and with each promotion comes increased responsibilities. Having a strong work ethic is admirable, but work can begin to take over your life; it can even take your life! We need to learn to work smarter, not harder. Instead of doing more with less, we may need to do less more effectively.