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Acts 16:11-16:40
Key Verse: 16:31

In the previous passage Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul and his companions accepted this vision as the sign of God’s calling and got ready to leave for Macedonia. Today’s passage is about how Paul pioneered Philippi, the leading city of that district of Macedonia. We will see how the good seed of the gospel is now for the first time planted in European soil. Especially, we will see how the gospel of Jesus saves various kinds of people and what kind of attitude gospel servants should have.

First, the saving of a woman Lydia (11-15). Look at verses 11-12. “From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia.” Philippi was given its name by Philip of Macedon in the 4th century B.C. After about two centuries as a Greek colony, it became part of the Roman Empire, and towards the end of the first century BC it was made a Roman colony. Luke also knew that the province of Macedonia had been divided into four districts, and called Philippi “the leading city of that district of Macedonia”. Luke is expressing his pride in what was probably his own city. In this city the missionary team stayed for several days.

What did they do? Look at verse 13. “On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.” There seems to have been no synagogue in Philippi. Since Luke adds that the congregation consisted of women, it is usually assumed that this explains the non-existence of a synagogue: a quorum (minimum number required for valid meeting) of ten men was necessary before a synagogue could be constituted. On the riverside they tried to find a place of prayer. Meanwhile they spoke to some women there. In Paul’s mind there must have been the man of Macedonia whom he had seen in his vision. Yet, Paul was not fixed to that Macedonian. He spoke to the people who were before him, whether they were men or women.

Then what happened? Look at verse 14. “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God.” One of the women, named Lydia, came from Thyatira which was situated in the Lycus Valley on the other side of the Aegean, within the province of Asia. Because that area was previously the ancient kingdom of Lydia, she may have been known as ‘the Lydian lady.’ Interstingly, Luke wrote that her name was Lydia. Thyatira had been famed for centuries for its dyes, and an early inscription refers to a guild of dyers in the town. Lydian herself specialized in cloth treated with an expensive purple manufacturer.

Here what Luke wrote draws our attention, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” We see this kind of expression in “all who were appointed for eternal life believed” in 13:48, and “how he (God) had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” in 14:27. It does not mean that God determined everything and so human effort was of no use. Rather it makes us humble and all the more seek for God’s help. The order is important. Paul and his companions began to speak to the women there and the Lord opened the heart of a woman, named Lydia among them. A gospel servant should be diligent, speak in season and out of season, and humble.

Lydia was most probably a successful business woman was attracted to Judaism and became a worshiper of God. But she was not satisfied with her riches or her religion. She was thirsty for the word of God and for the Lord, to whom she could commit her life. Through Paul’s message she met the Lord and put her faith in the Lord Jesus. She was so influential that all the members of her household also believed and were baptized. At the same time when God opened her heart, she opened her house for the servants of God and invited them to her house. Verse 15 says, “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” Her house became a house church of Philippi, a base camp for God’s ministry in Philippi.

From this part we learn that when Paul and his journey team did what they could do in the place they were, God worked in the heart of a woman Lydia and raised her as a leader of the church, an ancestor of faith in Philippi.

Second, the saving of a slave girl with a spirit (16-18). Look at verse 16. “Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.” Paul and his mission team were met by a slave girl. It was not their intention. How pitiful the slave girl was! She was not her own. Although she earned a great deal of money, the money would went to her owners. She was possessed by an evil sprit by which she could predict the future, but she must have been tormented by the evil spirit day and night. She was a slave both inwardly and outwardly. She followed Paul and the rest of them, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally, Paul became so troubled that he turned and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left. Paul had clear discernment to see a spirit in her and commanded the spirit to come out of her. The slave girl’s soul was set free.

What took place next? When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace (agora, which was not only the market-place but the centre of a city’s public life) to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. What a reward this was after freeing a soul from the evil spirit possession! Unexpected, and totally unreasonable.

But what is more surprising to us is Paul and Silas’ response to this awful treatment. Look at verse 25. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” This may be one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. How could they sing in that situation, being beaten and flogged and put in the deep prison? Nonetheless to say, their singing was the expression of their true joy and thanks and praise to God. For what could they be joyful? They might be joyful for one soul being set free by the power of Jesus’ name. We can imagine that they were joyful and thankful to God because they could participate in the suffering of Christ. Certainly, they praised God believing that their sufferings were not in vain. And they must have prayed for the slave girl to keep her new self and freedom in Christ and prayed for the powerful gospel work in Philippi with the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come.” We are reminded of 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It is difficult to think of any situation we could be in that would be worse that Paul and Silas’. We are inspired and challenged to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful in all circumstances. When we are thankful and give praise to God in any situation as his children, how pleased God will be! Then his power is released.

The Israelites once confronted a vast army of three allied nations that was coming against them. The king and his people were alarmed. But, in prayer, King Jehoshaphat depended on the God who is in heaven and rules over all the kingdoms of the world. He appointed singers to sing to the LORD and praise him for his holiness and forever enduring love. Then a miracle happened. The soldiers of the vast army fought between themselves and the army was completely defeated. God himself fought for the Israelites, when they prayed to and praised God (2 Chro 20:21-22). Merlin Carothers wrote about the power of praise in his book, “Prison to Praise.” He wanted his readers to be aware of the power of praise. A disheartened and scared soldier came to him, the chaplain, and explained that if he would go to Vietnam to fight, his lonely wife would commit suicide. Then the chaplain told him to thank God and praise him for this situation, and they prayed. Afterward the soldier received a letter from his wife that she repented to depend on him so much in her loneliness and decided to turn to God. The soldier experienced the power of thanks and praise. In the book he wrote many other cases of life-problems being solved, such as husbands’ drinking problem, wives’ divorce problem, health problems, etc. It is understandable that various kinds of life problems can be solved when we turn our eyes to God who is absolutely good and sovereign, and thank and praise him.

It is God’s will in Christ Jesus that we thank and praise him in any circumstances, when we are sick, when are misunderstood, when our feelings are hurt and pride offended, when we fail to do certain things, when we feel hopeless, when we suffer unjustly, etc. It is because nothing happens by chance. He is sovereign and in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Ro 8:28). He wants us to experience the power of praising and prayer.

While Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, what happened? Their singing was so beautiful that the other prisoners were listening although it was a midnight. Then suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once the prison doors flew open and everyone’s chains came loose. Surely it was the power of God. The power of praise displayed the power of God. More importantly the power of their praise would be shown in the saving of another soul, the jailer and his whole family.

In this part, Paul and Silas, after saving one pitiful soul, were beaten and flogged and put in prison, but they praised God in such a situation, and God exhibited his power. May we learn such an attitude as gospel servants.

Third, the saving of the jailer (27-40). The story does not go this way: when at the earthquake the prison doors flew open and everyone’ chains came loose, Paul and Silas were set free and the jailer was executed. No. Here comes another beautiful story of soul-saving. Look at verse 27. “The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.” At that moment Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” It was contrary to what the jailer thought. Paul and Silas were different and unusual prisoners. They were prisoners for Christ and of Christ. At Paul’s shouting, the jailer must have relieved taking away the sword from himself. At the same time, the fear of God came to him. He called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This is a right response of human beings when the fear of God comes to them.

We remember that at the Pentecost when Peter delivered the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, those who heard the message were cut to the heart and said, “What shall we do?” (Ac 2:37). Also in the gospel story a certain ruler who was rich and young came to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Lk 18:18; Mt 19:16,22; Mk 10:17,22). And then here the jailer asked, “What must I do to be saved?” These are all same fundamental questions of human beings who desperately need God’s salvation. To this young, rich ruler Jesus said, “You know the commandments…” Jesus said this at first so that the man might recognize his limitation and helplessness as a sinner before God. And then Jesus said, “…come, follow me.” Surely Jesus is the way of salvation and eternal life. At the Pentecost Peter replied to the people who said, “What shall we do?”, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38). This was the crystal clear and uncompromising answer to the way of salvation. To the jailer Paul and Silas replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Paul and Silas knew that this jailer was already repentant being trembled before God, so replied in this way, giving him the sure and concise message of salvation, even promising the salvation of his household. Paul and Silas were ready gospel servants who could present promptly and clearly the message of salvation in Jesus to a desperate soul. Then they spoke the word of the Lord to the jailer and to all the others in his house.

What happened next? At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds, surely out of thanks for them and also to comfort Paul and Silas. Then immediately the jailer and all his family were baptized as the expression of their faith in the Lord Jesus. The jailer brought Paul and Silas to his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family. This jailer became a truly blessed man with the blessing of his whole family being saved. The blessing of the gospel of salvation came to him through the gospel servants who willingly suffered much for the gospel.

We have seen the salvation of three different kinds of people. Lydia was an Asiatic, wealthy and converted to Judaism but in the need of hearing the word of God. The slave girl was presumably Greek and a resident and in the need of being set from a spirit. The jailor was doubtless a Roman himself (retired soldier or an army veteran) and desperately needed salvation from his sins. The gospel of Jesus saved them all, filling the intellectual need, psychological need and moral need, showing its unifying power. The needs of human beings do not change much with the changing years, but Jesus Christ can meet them and fulfill our aspirations.

The rest of the passage is about Paul and Silas taking initiative. Usually people of high authorities are escorted, but here prisoners were escorted when they came out of the prison. This also showed the superiority of the gospel and the gospel servants. They went to Lydia’s house and encouraged the people there.

May we be the gospel servants who can do what they can do with faith, who can always be joyful and thankful and praising and praying in any circumstances and who can clearly present the message of salvation in Jesus to those in desperate need so that the gospel be planted and advanced in our campus and in this land.

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