It can often feel like the local church is built mainly around married people or families, but interestingly enough, both Jesus and Paul were single, and so was one of my favorite women in Scripture, Lydia. We're not told much about Lydia's personal life, but we can infer many things about her from this passage in Acts:
And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. . . . So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed (16:13–15, 40).
One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is that it gives us exactly the information we need—no more, no less. Sometimes this means we have to extract meaning from its riches, and sometimes it means we trust that we don't have all the details for a reason.
In this passage, we're not told whether Lydia was married, but the implication (the fact that she leads her own household) is that she is not. Whether it's because she never married or was widowed, we aren't told—so we trust the specifics of her story to God.
This passage encouraged me deeply in my years of singleness and continues to encourage me less than a year into marriage. For years I felt thwarted of ministry opportunities because of my singleness. There seemed to be no place for me in the local church unless it was in children's ministry, to which I didn't feel a particular call. Lydia's story fueled me to believe that God did want me to exercise the gifts He'd given me and not wait until marriage to do so.
Within the story of Lydia are eight observations that may encourage both the Church and women to whom God hasn't yet given the gift of marriage. They encouraged me and set me on a course for continued ministry within marriage instead of waiting for marriage to magically set my ministry in motion.
1. Lydia was a woman of prayer.
This passage tells us that Paul and Silas came to the place of prayer on the Sabbath, and it was there they met Lydia. Lydia wasn't a woman who neglected the places of prayer and worship on the set days for it. She was faithful to show up and faithful to be present.
Within our singleness, it can feel like we aren't missed if we don't show up at church or other family gatherings. There's no one to nudge us out of bed or out of a Netflix binge. But if Lydia hadn't shown up, a very key piece in the planting of the church at Philippi would have been missing. Single women, your presence at places of prayer and worship matters. We cannot know what God is doing with our simple, faithful presence.
2. Lydia was a woman of work.
We're briefly told that Lydia was a seller of purple. In those days purple was a majestic color, and so it is implied that Lydia was a successful businesswoman. She grasped hold of opportunity and was faithful with it.
Too often in our singleness we can feel like putting off faithfulness in our occupation while we wait for a husband to come and care for us. Lydia didn't wait. She put her hands in the dye, she folded fabric, she cared for her employees, she worked hard, and she rose to a place of influence without the promise of marriage. Single women, be faithful with the occupation in front of you. There's no guarantee of a husband—or of a husband who will be able to provide in the way you envision. (I learned this very quickly after marriage when my husband was suddenly without a job for most of this first year.) Be faithful with the tools in your hand.
3. Lydia was a woman of worship.
Lydia was known as a worshiper of God. Philippi was a leading city outside of Macedonia and a Roman colony. It would have been a place of many thoughts and religious expressions. Worshiping many different gods would have been the norm, but we're told Lydia was a worshiper of the One True God. She wasn't a private worshiper, keeping her thoughts about God and to God in seclusion; rather, she was public about her worship in a time when it would have been difficult to worship only one God.
Singleness can feel like a prolonged time of loneliness and isolation. Privatizing our worship can be a form of protection, so we must make our worship known. Be the woman who is known as a worshiper of God in a time when we are tempted to worship self, men, ideals, and society.
4. Lydia was a woman of humility who listened.
Lydia's heart was opened by God, and she paid attention to what Paul said. Singleness can feel like a time when no one seems to understand our struggle, our unique desires, and our hearts can begin to fold into themselves. We want to self-protect what no man has deemed worthy of his interest.
Lydia did the opposite. She allowed her heart to be opened by God, and then she paid attention to what wiser teachers knew. She didn't posture herself in a protective way; she humbled herself and listened. Listen to the ones God has put in front of you. Singleness can feel isolating, but we can make it all the more so by backing out of community and ministry.
5. Lydia was a woman of obedience.
Immediately after she humbled herself and listened, Lydia obeyed and was baptized. She didn't listen for months and years, trying to see the gospel from every angle or determine if it would work for her; she listened and then obeyed immediately. It's not enough to simply listen to good teaching for years on end and plan on someday investing or someday ministering. Listen, and then obey. Immediately.
6. Lydia was a woman of influence.
After Lydia was baptized, her entire household—as was the custom—believed alongside her. Because of her position as the head of a household and a respected businesswoman, she had influence with those around her, and they believed the gospel!
This is a powerful statement on the implications of what faithful work within our occupation and with people can do. Lydia was surrounded by the first church in Philippi immediately. What an astounding picture of gospel growth through faithful influence! Be faithful with the smallest things, single sisters, and see what God might do with the people around you.
7. Lydia was a woman of faithfulness.
It wasn't just the people in her household who saw her faithfulness, though. So did Paul and Silas. Too often we get this backward, seeking the approval of those ahead of us in ministry and leadership instead of working hard with the people within our immediate sphere.
Paul saw her faithfulness only after her people saw her faithfulness, worship, thrift, and humility. Exercise faithfulness in the smallest places of your life, your home, your roommates, your job, your community, and your study of God's Word. Others ahead of you will eventually see that faithfulness, too.
8. Lydia was a woman of hospitality.
Lydia opened her home immediately to Paul and Silas, but further on in the chapter, we see her opening her home to other brothers after Paul and Silas are released from prison. I love these two verses (Acts 16:15, 40). Unmarried women aren't relegated to practicing hospitality only with younger single women. Open your home to couples and friends from every sphere of life. Practice the gift of hospitality, welcoming others just as God has welcomed you into His home through Christ.
God started a house church that very day in Philippi through the faithfulness of one single woman, and that church went on to thrive in the early days of the gospel's spread. Single women, you are very possibly a piece of something beautiful that would astound you if you already knew it. So for now, for today, practice these things, exercise faithfulness within the local church where God has put you, and trust Him to finish the work for which He has designed you.
Local churches, note the singles in your midst who are exhibiting these qualities, and put them into play. Don't be a church that relegates ministry positions only to those who are married or with families. Make these attributes the résumé you look for in faithful workers for ministry. Let God build His Church with the diversity with which He began it.