While Paul and Barnabas worked well together in spreading the gospel to the north-west of Israel, they disputed over working together with Mark (formerly known as John). Barnabas and Mark sailed to Cyprus but Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia.
- 1-15 The Spirit leads them to Lydia (gathering gospel partners along the way)
- 1-5 Paul picks up Timothy
- 6-10 Paul is led by the Spirit and picks up Luke
- 11-15 Paul meets Lydia
- 16-40 The Spirit leads them to the Jailer
- 16-18 Paul rebukes a spirit
- 19-24 Paul is imprisoned
- 25-34 Paul and Silas convert the jailer
- 35-40 Paul escorted out of jail
1-15 The Spirit leads them to Lydia (gathering gospel partners along the way)
1-5 Paul picks up Timothy
“…a disciple named Timothy…” This young man would become a very close and invaluable partner in the gospel for Paul. He is mentioned in almost all of Paul’s letters (excluding Galatians and Ephesians and Titus), two of which were written directly to him. Timothy was regarded as a son, a brother and a co-worker in the gospel to Paul. His mother was a believing Jew while his Father was a Greek. There is no mention of his father’s faith but his mother and grandmother taught him well from youth about the scriptures (2 Timothy 3). Paul met Timothy while travelling and found a young man who was already growing steadily in the faith and in good regard in his neighbourhood. These are two excellent agendas for life: to grow in love for the Lord and be respected in the community – particularly when the latter flows out of the former. Luke 2:52 says that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”
“…he circumcised him because of the Jews…” In light of the previous chapter, you may think this is a hypocritical decision. The point though is about being received by the Jewish community so that the gospel can be heard. The circumcision decision was not done for the purpose of religion. Remember 1 Corinthians 9:22 tells us to become all things to all people so that by all possible means (even circumcision) we might save some.
“…as they travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles…” Even while Timothy had been circumcised, they intended to continue the encouraging message that life in Christ brings freedom and unity between Jew and Gentile.
6-10 Paul is led by the Spirit and picks up Luke
“…kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching…” Who knows how the Spirit did this. The means are not really important (or else we might be told) but when doorways are closed to the disciples, they regarded this as a sign from the Spirit of Jesus (v6 and 7). When some doors are closed, others are opened and one town that received the gospel as a result is Galatia – the church there would receive the Epistle to the Galatians – a book filled with gospel truths and a strong argument against staying with the law now that Christ has come.
“…concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel [in Macedonia].” This conclusion was reached after Paul had a night vision. Some people claim to receive words from the Lord like Paul did here. I don’t wish to dismiss things too quickly. But the practice overall is that we walk by faith in the knowledge of the word of God. This is the norm. To expect anything else as the norm or more common is to regard the books of the bible as average and common stories. In the first century, the gospel is fresh and the mission of God was to take the name of Jesus to the nations (Acts 1:8). Some areas had been restricted in the wisdom of God but others were opened and Paul was being lead by God to go to Macedonia.
“…we got ready at once…” Notice the pronoun ‘we’. For the first time in the book of Acts, it is written in the first person. Introducing Dr Luke to the story. He doesn’t make note of his joining in the mission and he comes in and out of the narrative without further attention (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16).
11-15 Paul meets Lydia
“…we travelled to Philippi…of Macedonia. And we stayed…” Philippi is described as the major city of the area of Macedonia and we know that Paul founds a Christian church here which he will write to later in the New Testament. They stopped here since this is where God had directed them and this is where they planned. This is where the story unfolds and we meet Lydia.
“…to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” Interesting that they are further and further away from Jerusalem and the use of Synagogues is not as common. Fewer Jews means less money to build such things. But a river makes for a great meeting place to reflect on the creator. Remember that this is where the Israelite exiles met in Ezekiel – they were by the Kebar River and recall Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”
“…The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” A little reminder that it is not Paul’s persuasion but God’s pull to the gospel of grace. Many scholars have read the bible and discussed it thoroughly without seeing clearly that Jesus is Lord. It is with the mind and the Holy Spirit that we hear the good news and respond. Remember what Jesus said to Peter when he finally confessed that Jesus is the Christ, “Blesses are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matt 16:17)
“…her heart…” This is also a little reminder that the gospel ought to be felt. Tears of repentance, grief over sin, thankfulness for mercy and joy to be free.
“…When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home.” Paul invited her whole household to hear and respond to the gospel. She accepted and the household presumably followed her lead. Paul and Silas and Luke and Timothy had no place to stay, but when the gospel found a home in someone’s heart, a home was opened to them. Once they were strangers but now, through faith in Jesus, they are brothers.
16-40 The Spirit leads them to the Jailer
16-18 Paul rebukes a spirit
“…a spirit by which she predicted the future…” Who knows what access the spirit world has to future events? Who even knows what access the Almighty has to it? That’s not to suggest that the future is out of his control or takes him by surprise, but can we ever resolve the coexistence of God’s sovereignty with man’s free will? The spirit was in a slave girl and her owners were profiting from her apparent skill. Paul did not know the future, nor did the Spirit of Jesus reveal it to him (except that he should go to Macedonia), but the Spirit of God will lead Paul to the ears of a jailer. We don’t need to know the future to be sure that God has the future under his control. We walk by faith and obedience.
“…he turned and said to the spirit…” For some bizarre reason, the spirit which turned out to be an annoying spirit, was proclaiming the truth that Paul and co were working for the Most High God and are here to show the way to salvation! At first, this might have amused Paul since it was the truth. But even the truth said over and over with no purpose can be counterproductive. Paul cast out the spirit in the name of Jesus – apparently not a spirit ion the side of Jesus.
19-24 Paul is imprisoned
“…her owners realised that their hopes of making money was gone…” The love of money will take many people to hell. Paul’s message of salvation was, to them, a message of poverty and ruin. And they hated him for ruining their livelihood. Their idol was greed and wealth and wanted nothing to do with Paul’s message.
“…the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas…” Like some of the towns around Judea that rose up against Jesus, the apostle is up against crowd mentality.
“…and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.” So, they were locked up as public nuisances and found themselves with an audience ordered to be with them. God works in mysterious ways. Who could have planned for Paul to find his way to this jailer – but God worked all things out for good. Though the townsfolk meant their actions for evil, God intended it for good. They will still receive their condemnation for rejecting the gospel of life but their actions were used by God to bring the gospel to one who would respond.
25-34 Paul and Silas convert the jailer
“…praying and singing hymns to God…” The mission has come to a halt – or so it seems. Locked up in a prison cell with only themselves and a guard. Far away from their home church in Antioch where their friends would not know to be praying for their release. But Paul and Silas continued to trust in the Lord. Why not take the time to remind one another of God’s goodness and to praise Him from the heart. While many were safely sleeping in their beds, these missionaries were chained up, perhaps cold, probably uncomfortable, they were awake and praising God. We can’t help associate the earthquake as the intervention of God.
“…Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This is the sort of question every Christian longs to be asked. It’s really the most important question. Is God real? Is the bible God’s word? Why does God allow suffering to go on? These are all very good questions too but ought to lead everyone to the first question: what must I do to be saved? This question, of course, is answered with, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Both the question and the answer are loaded with side issues and questions, for sure. But this is the heart of importance. John’s entire gospel is aimed at answering this question. Romans 10:9 explains that “if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The difference between heaven and hell is this one decision: do you believe in the Lord Jesus. Not simply that a guy named Jesus lived – but that he is Lord. He is your Lord. He is the Lord of all. This is the difference between life and death. Perhaps the jailer understood that the Almighty took care of Paul and Silas and also that the prisoners were not desperate to preserve their own freedom. He may have witnessed the power of God over nature as well as the power of the gospel in the lives of these two men. Whatever he perceived, he was struck to ask these two men about salvation.
“…he was filled with joy…” Oh I wish that we could perpetuate that feeling. If only the church – all of us – would perceive the joy that it is to know Jesus. Our faith is one of knowledge of the truth. We can speak with philosophers who wonder and say that we know God. We can speak with scientists who study and say we know who did this. We can speak with the lost and say that we know the solid rock who gives us freedom from sin. We can speak to those burdened by religion and say that we know the mind of God and his invitation to come and find rest. We can speak to those who have sold themselves to money and say that we know the God of hope who has prepared an inheritance for all who turn to Jesus and believe the good news. We can also talk to God, the one whom we know in truth, and we can ask him to fill our hearts with joy – the joy that comes by faith in believing.
35-40 Paul escorted out of jail
“When it was daylight…” Between midnight and dawn, a man had been delivered from darkness to light. An earthquake had taken place and a man’s whole household had been baptised in response to the good news that Jesus is Lord. A man who previously only knew the fear of his Roman authorities, now was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God. He had opened his home to the prisoners and apparently lead them back to their cell before morning. When the morning came, officers of the magistrate may have thought they were bringing good news to Paul and Silas to release them. But that is no news at all compared to the release of the jailer from his bondage to sin and death.
“…No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” The boldness of Paul makes me smile. An earthquake came and opened the doors for him to be free, yet he stayed. The jailer took him home and fed him and yet Paul and Silas returned to their cell before morning. Now they are given permission to leave and yet they want to demand their rights as Roman citizens. It’s quirky of Paul. But it illustrates his co-citizenship of earth and heaven. The gospel that he preaches is ultimately about right and wrong. If you are on the wrong side of Jesus you are in the wrong, so turn to him and be saved. He has been dealt with wrongly as a citizen of Rome and he chooses to make an issue out of this too. Sure, he could have dismissed it and gone on with his mission. But he has an opportunity here to declare that they are in the wrong! According to their rules, they have wronged him and they need to make amends.
“…they went to Lydia’s house…” This had become a base in Philippi for the believers and Paul encouraged them with the news of what had happened to him and Silas just as Peter encouraged the believers in Jerusalem after his rescue from prison by the hand of God. He undoubtedly let them know about the jailer and his family. When he left the believers, they supported him financially in his mission and even sent money to him when he was abroad (Philippians 4:14-16)
Finding people and places to preach the gospel is as much a part of following the lead of the Spirit as it is setting an agenda and a plan. The plan will fail without the Spirit of God. But the plan must be to preach where the Spirit opens doors (or locks you in). The gospel itself is a work of the Spirit to open the hearts of the elect to respond. And our message must be directed to Jesus as Lord – this is the good news.
- Discuss ways in which you have seen the Spirit of God directing you in your life? How have you been aware of this? What principals must we follow to know whether it is the Spirit of God or not?
- Our plans do get changed and it is important to understand the sovereignty of God in all situations. Bad events in life are also used by God for his good purposes. Do you have examples of this in your life? How might you see your current situations (today, this week, a specific function) as an opportunity to spread the gospel and to glorify God?
- Would you describe your life as full of joy for knowing God? Would you use the word joy at all to describe your life? Why or why not? Discuss.