Acts chapter 16      Next chapter            Back to Bible Studies   

Upon his return to Lystra, Paul decides to take the young man Timothy with him on his missionary journey. Timothy must have impressed Paul greatly, given Paul's high standards that we read about in an earlier chapter. We have a lovely reference in this regard in 2 Timothy 1:5 where Paul writes to Timothy later on: "I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also". (Great encouragement for parents and grandparents here). It is peculiar, given the events in chapter 15 regarding circumcision, that Paul decides to circumcise Timothy. To better undersatnd this action of Paul's we need to read 1 Corinthians 9: 20 - 22: 'To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings'. We know that Paul always went first into the Jewish synagogue whenever he arrived in a new city because it was an excellent place to meet with both Jews and gentiles who were seeking after God. He knew that Timothy would not be allowed to enter the synagogues if he were not circumcised. So, Paul is not returning to legalism - both Paul and Timothy were well aware that their salvation did not depend on circumcision - he was just wanting to clear any stumbling block or potential objection in the way of the Jews. Read also Romans 14:13-15.

In verse 6 we have and interesting turn of events as Paul and his companions are prevented from preaching the gospel both in the province of Asia and then in Bythinia, eventually continuing on to Troas. There Paul receives the clear vision of the man from Macedonia calling for help. This interesting section confirms again that God Himself was doing the work and as we will see later on in the chapter, there were specific reasons why God directed Paul and his companions to Macedonia at this time. We must also take note that the Gospel was indeed preached in Asia and Bythinia later on - refer 1 Peter 1:1 - 2.  It is further important for us to note that Paul was continously looking for opportunities to spread the Gospel as we read from verse 7 and tried to enter Bythinia. Of course, Paul had received his call and his ordination from Jesus Christ himself long before this. It is indeed  important to wait on God if that part is not clear in our own lives. Another interesting feature of this chapter is that the narration changes from the third person to the first person, indicating that the author of Acts (Luke) was now travelling with Paul, Silas and Timothy.

In Phillipi, the leading city in Macedonia there was no synagogue, so Paul and his companions looked for the place where worshippers gathered for prayer. Among those were Lydia - a dealer in purple cloth - and her being there in that meeting that day was nothing short of a divine appointment. We learn in verse 14 that she was actually from Thyathira, a city in Asia - the very region which Paul and his companions were prevented from entering earlier on! God had obviously been working in her heart for she received Paul's message gladly and her and her entire household were baptized. It was also Lydia's house in Phillipi which later became a house church as we gather from verse 40. It is clear from Scripture that Lydia remained a supporter of Paul's ministry throughout his life.

The situation of the slave girl in verses 16 - 19  has a number of important lessons for us. First of all we find that the girl (or the evil spirit within her) was actually uttering a 'truth'. This is a clever way in which satan often disguises himself - by telling some truth. Secondly we see that Paul took action after some days. We need to consider why Paul took this action, because what she was saying was certainly true and could therefore even have been beneficial to his work. However, we need to keep two things in mind: The area in which Paul was spreading the Gospel was pagan, with diviners and sorcerers aplenty and a superstitious populace . Paul did not want people to associate the Lord jesus Christ with those spiritualities. On the other hand, as is clear in the Old Testament, Jewish law strictly forbade sorcery and divination and Paul did not want to present the Jews with a possible reason to reject what he was saying. As a result of this incident, Paul and Silas (probably because they looked Jewish - Timothy obviously looked Greek and Luke was not of Jewish descent), lands in prison. This turns out to be part of yet another divine appointment - this time for the prison guard. After being severely flogged, Paul and Silas are put into stocks in prison and despite their ordeal finds the strength to pray and sing hymns. How would we react in this situation? How is it possible for them to react this way? I believe the answer, or at least part of it, is to be found in reference to Mark 4:35 - 41: 'That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” The emphasis in this passage from Mark is on the fact that Jesus was the one who said "Let us go over to the other side". This should have settled the issue for the disciples and is also the reason why Jesus asks them why they did not believe Him. In the passage in Acts before us we have already seen that Paul and his companions were in no doubt that they were to go to Macedonia. This explains their absolute trust even in frightful circumstances because they knew they were in the right place. How often do we hear of some missionaries going off into the great unknown and when obstacles are encountered, they falter and return to their home country. Others again weather the storms and have a fruitful ministry. The point is this: If we know for sure that we are in the exact place where God wants us to be, it alters the way we interpret obstacles. Paul and Silas here are a beautiful example of that.  

The conversion of the prison guard is very touching and one thing towers above all in this event - the absolute love that Paul and Silas displays - even to the point of them reassuring the guard after the quake that they were still present and that he should not take his own life. This display of love and concern seems to have been one of the main catalysts in the guard's conversion. This reminds us of 1 corinthians 13: 1 - 7: "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away..."

What a beautiful reminder of what we will display if the Spirit of Christ truly floods our hearts.   


© 2011 Werner Schreiber

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