Welcome back to our Journey through Acts. For this second part, we will begin with Acts 16. Please feel free to read along and comment below. I look forward to your insights!
The Choice of Timothy, Acts 16:1-3
Early in Acts 16 we find Paul visiting Derbe and Lystra. As you may recall, he first went to them on previous missionary trip (Acts 14). This is also the place where Paul was beat and dragged out of the city. Yet, here he is returning to them. To God be the glory!
There, we are told, lived a disciple named Timothy.
What do we know about Timothy from the text? He was the son of a believing Jewish woman. His father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him.
Timothy’s reputation preceded him and, as a result of His Christian character, Paul chose him to join along on this missionary journey. Since Timothy’s father was a Greek and it was well-known throughout the region, Paul circumcised Timothy to prevent it from becoming a stumbling block to the Jews who were in those places (Acts 16:3).
As they traveled they shared the decision that the apostles and elders at Jerusalem reached. This news was met with glad hearts, the disciples were strengthened and the church grew as a result.
The Connection Between a Strengthened Church and Growth, Acts 16:4-5
Repeatedly we see this pattern in the Book of Acts:
1. The message is preached,
2. The believers are strengthened, and
3. The church grew.
When the believers are encouraged and strengthened, they carry out the mission of Christ and they extend their arms to the unbelieving world better. We saw earlier in Acts 2:42 that the church’s mission is not only to make converts, but also to teach the believers. Now we see a second aim of the church: to encourage the believers (each other), as we fulfill the great commission and walk toward heaven together.
The Restraint of the Holy Spirit, Acts 16:6-7
Acts 16:6 we see something new and intriguing happening. Throughout Acts we see the Holy Spirit leading the evangelism ministry of the church. Here for the first time, we see the restraining work of the Holy Spirit. The text says the Holy Spirit prevented them from speaking the message about Christ in Asia.
In the verses that followed, Paul had a vision that prompted he and the others to head to Macedonia and evangelize there. From Macedonia, Paul and his team traveled through many towns evangelizing.
Lydia’s Conversion and Hospitality, Acts 16:11-15
A particular encounter with the women of the city in Philippi is recorded for us. Paul went outside the city gates to teach, as there was not a synagogue in Philippi. The absence of a house of prayer likely meant that there was not a considerable Jewish population in the region, making this story another remarkable example of the gospel going to the Gentiles.
Among the women who gathered to listen to him was Lydia. Like tells us that 1) she was a dealer of purple cloth, making reference that she was a businesswoman who was likely well off; 2) she was from the city of Thyatira; 3) she worshipped God (Acts 16:14). Upon hearing Paul, the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to the message. Lydia believed and was baptized along with her household. As an outpouring of her faith in the Lord, Lydia opened her home in hospitality to Paul and the others.
Paul and Silas in Prison and the Lord’s Miraculous Deliverance, Acts 16:16-40
The story takes a turn in Acts 16:16 with Paul and Silas’s encounter with a girl possessed by a spirit of divination. The girl, we are told, made her owners a large profit by fortune-telling.
For several days she followed Paul and Silas, crying out:
…“These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are slaves of the Most High God.” Acts 16:18
Paul grew irritated by her proclamation and turned to the spirit, rebuking it and ordering that it leaves the girl in the name of Jesus Christ. The girl’s owners seized Paul and brought him before the officials, accusing him of proclaiming a message that was contrary to Roman practices.
Paul and Silas were then brought before the magistrate, who had them beaten and put in jail, with clear instructions that they needed to be securely guarded. Receiving these instructions, the jailer did as told, placed them in his inner prison and secured their feet. This gives an indication that he was assuring that a jail break would not be possible.
What do you do when you’re in jail for Christ?
Cry, mope around and be downcast. Pray and praise!
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns, loud enough for the other prisoners to hear. Then, the prison began to shake. A violent earthquake shook the prison, all the doors were opened and all of the chains came loose.
The jailer woke up to find the doors open. Knowing the outcome of this situation, he drew his sword to take his own life, thinking they had escaped.
“But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because all of us are here!” Acts 16:28
Why did they not flee?
Paul and Silas were men on mission. As a result, the jailer was moved to seek salvation. Paul and Silas shared the good news with them, the simple message of salvation:
So they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Acts 16:31
The jailer and his entire household believed and they were baptized. He took Paul and Silas into his home, cleaned their wounds, fed them and rejoiced with them over the salvation that he now found in Christ.
Paul and Silas are Released, Acts 16:35-40
The story of Paul and Silas’s arrest takes another interesting turn. The jailer now receives word that he could release Paul and Silas.
However Paul refused to leave quietly after the humiliating treatment that he and Silas endured, in spite of being Roman citizens.
Paul stood his ground and asked that they, who treated them unjustly, would come themselves and escort them out. This news reached the magistrates who grew afraid upon finding out that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, as Roman citizens were entitled to due process, and protected from public humiliation and imprisonment without a trial.
The magistrates came and apologized to Paul and Silas, escorted them out and urged them to leave the city.
Paul and Silas visited Lydia and the believers in her home before leaving the city.
What an eventful 24 hours for Paul and Silas! In the span of a day, they cast out an evil spirit, were beaten and publicly humiliated, thrown in prison, miraculously delivered from prison, led a family to salvation in Christ, baptized them and were now released from jail with a public apology from the officials who threw them in jail the day before.
It is amazing to see the power of God at work in this chapter. The message about Christ is spreading and we are seeing the objections that the apostle Paul and his missionary team are encountering.
There is so much good mixed with so much pain in one chapter.
But in it all, we see the glory of God!
I believe Paul and Silas had a grasp of this work being much bigger than the two of them. They showed it in their actions while imprisoned and wounded. They prayed and sang hymns to God.
Really! They were in jail worshipping God!
Do we worship in the eye of the storm? We should!
Do we sing hymns when the wounds are still fresh and we can feel every sting? We should!
God is worthy of our praise at all times. No matter where we are. No matter what is happening around us. No matter what is happening to us.
Know Your Rights! The Public Apology, Acts 16:37-40
Paul and Silas were not rebels, but they were not fools either. We can be knowledgeable about how we should be treated without ruining our witness for Christ. Their Roman citizenship entitled them to a certain treatment, and when their rights were violated, they demanded a public apology.
Why did this matter? My thought is that Paul and Silas did not want there to be a misunderstanding. After there was a prison break. Their release could have been mistaken for an evasion of the law.
I also think of the possibility that Paul wanted to establish that Christians maintained their rights and legal protection, even as they proclaim the message of Jesus Christ. In setting this example, he would help to protect the rights of all Roman believers. I can see how this too would help the church grow.
Application to Us
- Let us be men and women of Christian character. Our good and godly reputation should precede us, not for appearances sake, but because it is honoring to God.
- Listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We can become overzealous in speaking the message of Christ that we ignore the restraint of the Holy Spirit. But, we must heed God’s call to silence when He prompts.
- Be hospitable. I struggle so much with this, so reading this chapter, I felt the sting of conviction tugging at my heart string. My husband is far more hospitable than I am and I stand to learn from him. All of the dishes don’t have to be done, and the laundry doesn’t all have to be folded neatly before we can invite a friend into our home. Lydia and the jailer are both remarkable examples here. Both met Paul and his team at their need. They opened their homes to them and helped in the measure that they could. Hospitality isn’t about a home that is always perfectly arranged, but about having a heart that is ready to receive others. I will be working on this and making every effort to let my home be a ministry to others.
- Worship God at all times. Life is not always made of a bed of roses, but our faith in God means knowing that He is in control in spite of our circumstances. Worship at all times and under all circumstances. Our attitude and actions in the midst of our trials becomes a part of our testimony. Paul and Silas had an impact on all of the prisoners in the jail, as well as the guard, by their actions
- Be informed and be wise. This chapter encourages me to think of Christianity and justice in practical terms. We know that God will right all wrong, yet Paul did not leave the issue unresolved here. He addressed the authorities and used his Roman citizenship to establish the protection that Christians had under the law. There seems to be so many issues where this very thing would apply on the American landscape today, from upholding our rights to religious freedom at school and in the workplace, to advocating for the rights and treatment of others.
- What was your biggest takeaway from this chapter?
- We will encounter many trials on the road to evangelism. How are you encouraged by the account of Acts 16?