Acts 16: 1-15Written by kathleen on Sep 20, 2015 in - No Comments
Expect the un-expected
Six ways in which God guides His people are: through Church unanimity, through gifted men and women in the body, through the gifts of the Spirit, through the desires we have personally, through concerns we feel internally, and through interpersonal difficulty.
Acts chapter 16 is about the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey. He and Silas have just set off to the city of Lystra when the chapter starts; Last time Paul was in Lystra they thought he was one of the Greek pagan gods because he healed a lame man, and they wanted to sacrifice a bull to him. Then some Jews from the nearby towns stirred up the crowd, and they stoned Paul, dragged him out of town, and left him for dead. He recovered from that, although he looked like a mess for a few weeks.. And yet here he is going to Lystra again.
Paul’s goal was to visit all the churches he’d started on his first trip, and see how they were doing. In spite of all the craziness and the stoning, Paul had managed to start a church in Lystra. So, like it or not, he was going to see how they were doing there.
God doesn’t always ask us to do what we’re comfortable with. He often asks us to do things that are the last thing on earth we’d ever want to do. But then He gives us the strength to do those things. That way, when wonderful things happen, nobody can point to us and say, “Look what he did! Look what she did!” All they can say is, “Look what God did!
1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.
Arriving in town wondering how the church is doing there; he was pleased because there was at least one disciple there who was growing strong in the Lord.
His name was Timothy, and all the other believers spoke well of him, not just in his home town of Lystra, but also in Iconium, the next town over. As Paul got to know him 3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. 4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.
Paul sensed that Timothy was ready for some serious missionary work. But there was a problem. Timothy’s mother was a believing Jew, but his father was a Greek, and apparently not a believer. Timothy’s father might have even been one of the men who tried to offer a sacrifice to Paul.
Timothy apparently had a non-Jewish upbringing, even though he had a Jewish mother. That would have been a big stumbling-block to any Jews whom Paul tried to preach to. So Paul fixed the situation, and made Timothy acceptable to the Jews. He circumcised him!
A good question might be; “How would the Jews know if Timothy was circumcised or not?” the only thing I can come up with is that they knew his father therefore they would assume that he wasn’t.
And because the Jews were so hung up on this circumcision thing that they would violate people’s privacy to find out who was and who wasn’t. We see this in the letter to the Galatians chpter 2:3-4
In doing this Paul wasn’t compromising his theology; rather he was conforming to the priority of love.
Paul didn’t want Timothy to be a stumbling block to the very people he sought to win. On the other hand, in Galatians 2, when the Judaizers wanted to circumcise Titus, Paul absolutely forbade it because Titus was a Gentile
So why would Paul, who was all about liberty and grace, place Timothy under this ritualistic burden?
Timothy, being half-Jewish, was a special case. And Paul didn’t circumcise him for salvation, but as part of his own convictions, which he later spelled out in 1 Cor 9:19-23 I am not bound to obey anyone just because he pays my salary; yet I have freely and happily become a servant of any and all so that I can win them to Christ. 20 When I am with the Jews I seem as one of them so that they will listen to the Gospel and I can win them to Christ. When I am with Gentiles who follow Jewish customs and ceremonies I don’t argue, even though I don’t agree, because I want to help them. 21 When with the heathen I agree with them as much as I can, except of course that I must always do what is right as a Christian. And so, by agreeing, I can win their confidence and help them too. 22 When I am with those whose consciences bother them easily, I don’t act as though I know it all and don’t say they are foolish; the result is that they are willing to let me help them. Yes, whatever a person is like, I try to find common ground with him so that he will let me tell him about Christ and let Christ save him. 23 I do this to get the Gospel to them and also for the blessing I myself receive when I see them come to Christ. TLB
Evidently Timothy felt the same way, or he wouldn’t have gone along with it. The point is this: how much are you willing to give up, how much are you willing to go through, for the Gospel? We have an example here of going through a lot, just for the sake of not offending some over-religious unbelievers and for the sake of love and effective ministry.
5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
They were established not in programs, or hype, but in faith. Later on, Paul would say to these very people, “O foolish Galatians having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?” If Paul were writing to the church in America, he would say the same thing. “O foolish American Christians, having begun in the Spirit are you now made perfect by programs & networking?”
6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
Here is the seventh time in Acts 15 and 16 we see the Lord directing His people. This time it is through physical infirmity. Paul, wanting to go into Asia (present-day Turkey), was forbidden by the Holy Spirit. But Paul was one who didn’t take “no” easily. He was stoned in Lystra—but returned to the city the very next day. In Acts 21, the Spirit will say, “Don’t go to Jerusalem.” But Paul went anyway.
Once Paul decided to do something, nothing would deter him.
So how did the Spirit stop Paul from going into Turkey? Most Bible scholars believe Paul was struck at this time with a sickness, like an Asian fever so severe that his eyesight would be permanently damaged
Sometimes, to those of us who are stubborn and thick-headed like Paul, the Lord gives guidance through infirmities. I am not saying every illness is a word from the Lord. However, sometimes the Lord does, indeed, work though infirmities and during that time we begin a new understanding of who God is and what He may desire!
Paul is traveling with Silas, who was with him from the start of the trip, and now with Timothy, who has joined them. And something strange happens. The Holy Spirit doesn’t let them go into certain places to preach the Gospel. In verse 6, they can’t go into Asia. In verse 7, they can’t go into Bythinia. This must have been frustrating to Paul and his friends. Why would God not want the Asians and the Bythinians to hear about Jesus?
There was certainly nothing wrong with Paul’s desire to preach the word in Asia possibly because somebody else was already ministering there. It could have been Peter, or one of the other apostles, or any number of brothers whose names we don’t know.
1st This was a work being orchestrated by the Spirit of God, and Paul wasn’t the right person in the right place at the right time to begin bringing the gospel to the Roman Province of Asia Minor.
2nd The Holy Spirit often guides by the closing of doors as He does by the opening of doors
So Paul and his friends are at Troas, trying to figure out where they should go next. Apparently Luke joins them in Troas at this time.
Up to verse 8, when they got to Troas, Luke wrote “they went, / they had gone.” But then in verse 10, he writes, “we endeavored,” so now Luke is one of them on the journey.
9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Here is the eighth time in Acts 15 and 16 we see God guiding His people, as He directs through vision supernaturally.
Paul returned to the coast at Troas, on the Mediterranean Sea, forbidden to go into Turkey, where the environment was much healthier. Once there, he must have wondered, where do I go? What do I do now? Here I went out enthusiastically to serve the Lord—but nothing’s going right. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
So they sailed to Macedonia, which is southern Greece, in response to a dream Paul had where he saw a man from Macedonia telling him, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” and away they went, leaving the continent of Asia and taking the Gospel into Europe for the first time.
11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days.
13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.
14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.
15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.
Philippi wasn’t like the other cities Paul had visited before. It wasn’t an Asian city. It was founded by Greeks, and very heavily influenced by the Romans. It was on a major highway between Rome and Asia, and it must have had a very different “feel” than the Asian cities Paul was used to.
We tend to think of Paul as this experienced traveler who fit in wherever he went. But he must have had some culture-shock and found this Roman city a little overwhelming.
Upon entering the city of Philippi, Paul and his company must have looked for a synagogue, as was their custom. Apparently, Philippi didn’t have a synagogue.
So Paul was kind of off his stride from the word “go.” Finding none, they found women gathered on the bank of a river for their own Sabbath meeting.
The first convert in Macedonia is a woman named Lydia. The Bible says she was a seller of purple. She bought and sold cloth that had been dyed purple. Anyone who was a seller of purple dealt in a valued, luxurious product. The dyes used for making purple were expensive and highly regarded.
She was from the city of Thyatira that was well known as a center for purple dye and fabric made from it. Later, there was a church in Thyatira also, and it was one of the seven churches addressed in Revelation (Revelation 2:18-29).
Lydia was not a poor woman. She probably had a good business going, she was probably well-regarded in the community. But, like many wealthy people, she realized somewhere along the way that money and success couldn’t buy peace of mind and heart.
When Paul told her about Jesus, she was wide open, and so were the members of her household as threy believed and were baptized.
Then she talked Paul into using her house as his base of operations while he was in the city.
That house may have been the first church in Europe.
It is interesting to me that, although Paul heard the voice of a Macedonian man, when he arrived he found only women.
Sometimes I feel the Lord directing and guiding—but when I reach my destination I find it a whole lot different than I expected.