Devotional # 56. 10/14/13. God uses Paul’s obedience to save Lydia & a Warden.
This week’s Reading: Acts 16:1-40.
Introduction. This week we have several eye opening accounts of the early church. Each of these fairly well known stories pack an important lesson that we should apply to our lives.
vv. 1-5. Paul and Silas go through Derbe and Lystra where, if you remember, in Acts 14:1-21 (Devotional 54) Paul had been worshipped as a god. Now he is checking up in those churches and he meets up with Timothy who was half Jewish and half Greek. I really like what David Guzik says here: “No single worker in God’s kingdom is irreplaceable. When a Barnabas leaves (for whatever reason), God has a Timothy to go on with him”(Source 1). So Timothy impresses Paul but his bloodline meant that he was uncircumcised which didn’t bother Paul but since they would be preaching to Jews (who would think it was a big deal) Paul circumcised Timothy. Paul also circumcised him to allow full access to the synagogues they would be preaching in (Source 3, p. 1662).
vv. 6-10. This section has always been interesting to me. Why would the Holy Spirit not allow Paul to preach the good news of Jesus? First, we need to realize this wasn’t all of Asia but “only so much of its western coast as constituted the Roman province of Asia” (Source 2) nowadays it would be Turkey (Source 1). Second, even if that wasn’t the case it wasn’t that God wasn’t letting these people know about Jesus but instead Paul wasn’t the right person and it wasn’t the right time (Source 1). He moves on but Paul is again stopped, this time from going to Bithynia. Finally he’s directed to Troas. So we see that although Paul didn’t set out for Troas that is where God wanted him. He was being led by “doors” being shut in his face. Who knows how the Holy Spirit told him not to go but it could be how God stops us from doing things against His will now. We need to be willing to be flexible. Often we’re frustrated when we’re doing something godly or for the gospel but then get shut down. It’s just as important to have a good, obedient and joyful attitude when we get shut down as it is when we are allowed and accepted in our ministry. Either way God is glorified and we’re allowed to be part of his plan!
Then Paul has a vision where a man asks him to go to Macedonia. We will talk more about this in a minute. Notice the “they” in v. 8 and the “we” and “us” in v. 10. Up until now in the book of Acts the author (Luke) had been told what had happened from witnesses. But now we’ll see where Luke includes himself into the stories since he saw them first hand.
vv. 11-15. So Paul, Silas, Timothy, Luke and possibly others go into Macedonia and on the Sabbath they visit the river. This is interesting because it doesn’t mention that they went to church or that they abided by the Hebrew rules of not walking far on the Sabbath. Instead they went to the local spot where prayers were usually made. But they didn’t just sit by themselves, they started a conversation with some of the ladies who were meeting there. One of the ladies, called “Lydia” probably because she was from “the Roman province of Lydia”, believed in the God of the Hebrews but didn’t know about Jesus. When Paul speaks to her about Jesus the “dots” are connected and it all makes sense. She is excited because she finally sees the bigger picture. She was rich (being the seller of “purple” garments made a good profit) so she was able to house the missionaries (Source 3, p. 1663).
It is interesting that Paul’s vision in order to go to Macedonia was of a man but the focus is this woman, Lydia. Who was the man? When I looked into it most commentators are silent; however Matthew Henry seems to think it was an angel appearing as “a man of Macedonia” that Paul would recognize as God’s call for the gospel to finally go into Europe (Source 4, p. 496).
vv. 16-19. Now the group goes to pray together and there is a girl who has a demon and she follows Paul around. The demon isn’t silent but yells that Paul and his friends are ambassadors of the One true God “for many days.” It’s interesting that angels, fallen or not, can’t help but proclaim God. Although what the girl says is true it finally annoys Paul so he casts the demon out. This angers the guys who had been making money with her because they don’t have an easy way of making money anymore. They go report what happened (with a little embellishment, v. 20-21) and get Paul and Silas arrested.
vv. 20-26. Paul and Silas are wrongfully put into prison but they rejoice by “praying and singing hymns to God.” These prisons were horrible places (http://www.scribd.com/doc/14354155/Life-in-Prison-in-1ad) and this specific one can still be visited (http://www.bibleplaces.com/philippi.htm, 5th picture down). But Paul shows that he lived what he said. The church of Philippi would develop in Macedonia (Source 5) and Paul would later encourage them: “I have suffered the loss of all things…that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8; also see 1 Peter 1:6-9, James 1:2-4). Notice this doesn’t just impact Paul and Silas’ disposition but “the prisoners were listening to them.” God sends a huge earthquake that opens all the cell doors.
vv. 27-34. The Warden wakes up, sees the doors open and assumes all of the prisoners have escaped. He gets ready to commit suicide since if Roman soldiers allowed prisoners to escape they would be executed. But no one has left and the Warden is so overjoyed, wondering what kept these honest men in their cells, that he doesn’t kill himself. He accepts Jesus’ salvation and brings his family in and they are saved also. Minutes before the Warden was going to kill himself but now he’s alive AND going to live forever!
vv. 35-41. Once dawn breaks the officials who imprisoned Paul and Silas send the orders to release them. But Paul denies the release. He basically says, ‘they made a big deal in front of everyone and illegally put us in jail and now they want to send us away secretly. No way! If they want us free they have to come release us themselves.’ Henry says it wasn’t so much a personal retaliation for Paul as it was about the importance of his cause (Source 4, p. 500). So Paul wasn’t worried about his personal liberties (although he always acknowledged legal stature) but that these people had stopped the holy gospel from going out. The officials weren’t scared to try and stand in God’s way but did get worried when they realized they had imprisoned legal citizens.
We saw the start of Timothy’s missionary career and what a great man he matured into (read 1 & 2 Timothy to see Paul’s lessons to him). We got to read what a great historical story Europe has for its official birth into the gospel! We got to see how the Holy Spirit guides us, often by stopping the very opportunity we think we’re supposed to take. We saw the importance of Paul’s journey to meet up with Lydia and then to get to be imprisoned. They witnessed a true act of God and more converts with the Warden and his family.
Also it is important to not fall into the same trap as the officials. Henry says, “if the repentance of these magistrates had been sincere, they would not have desired them to depart out of their city, but would have begged of them to continue in their city, to show them the way of salvation. But many are convinced that Christianity is not to be persecuted who yet are not convinced that it ought to be embraced” (Source 4, p. 500). Do you find yourself thinking that no one should be punished for how they want to believe? Do you take it a step further and think God is unfair if He punishes a person who is sincerely religious? This is a great lie the devil tells us every day (especially Americans). We think we know better than God. But God has called us to commit to embrace Him. Anything less is treason. Every person is responsible for what they have been given. If the officials never accepted Christ then they died in their sin. If we are unsure if someone has heard the gospel then it is our duty to pull a Paul and start a conversation with those Lydia’s…but it is up to the Lydia’s to answer!
Source 1: David Guzik, David Guzik Commentary, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/guzik_david/StudyGuide_Act/Act_16.cfm?a=1034001.
Source 2: David Brown, Jamieson, Fausset & Brown Commentary, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Act/Act_016.cfm?a=1034001
Source 3: John MacArthur, the John MacArthur Study Bible.
Source 4: Matthew Henry, the Matthew Henry Commentary, NT.
Source 5: J. Vernon McGee, Acts: Volume II, p. 196.