Today: [Acts 16:] Detonation at Philippi. In Acts 16 Paul takes a young traveling companion by the name of Timothy after rejecting John Mark. Together with Silas, they travel to Philippi being led by a dream of a man in Macedonia asking for help. They don’t find the man, but they do encounter Lydia, and also a woman possessed with the Spirit of Divination. What happens next brings the city to its knees.
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[Act 16:1-21 KJV] 1 Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father [was] a Greek: 2 Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek. 4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. 5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily. 6 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, 7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. 8 And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. 10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them. 11 Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next [day] to Neapolis; 12 And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, [and] a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. 13 And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted [thither]. 14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard [us]: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought [us], saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide [there]. And she constrained us. 16 And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: 17 The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. 18 And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. 19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew [them] into the marketplace unto the rulers, 20 And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, 21 And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.
After Paul and Barnabas part ways, Paul goes again to visit Derbe and Lystra where he connects with a young man by the name of Timotheus. It is interesting that Barnabas had it in his mind to take young John Mark with them on their journey and when that doesn’t work out Paul seeks out another young man to accompany him even though Silas is his traveling companion. This is very different from the one-person ministry tradition in Christianity today. Was Paul seeking out a young man to assuage his thought that the controversy regarding young Mark shouldn’t have happened? The argument between Paul and Barnabas was very unfortunate, resulting in the break up of a very effective apostolic team that brought 1000’s to Christ. Paul never openly repents for his part of the John Mark controversy, but there are several indicators that he regretted it.
The choosing of Timothy even though Paul already had a traveling partner shows that the early apostles were committed to the example that Jesus gave of discipling, going out in teams and not trying to do the work of the ministry alone. How different would our churches and ministry efforts be if we followed this example?
When Paul chooses Timothy, he takes him and circumcises him to take away any potential difficulty with the Jewish believers that they will encounter in their work. Can you imagine a more intimate intrusion into your personal life than this? Here Paul and Barnabas have contented strongly to take away the demands of Jewish law from the Gentile believers and yet he is still struggling with the controversies of the law among his people. Additionally, in Acts 13 Paul stated unequivocally that he was turning from the Jews to focus the attention of his ministry on the Gentiles. Why would he have Timothy circumcised to appease people that he wasn’t focusing on as a target group for his efforts? Whatever the case may be Timothy doesn’t resist but compliantly without a word allows the circumcision to take place. Would you be this cooperative if you were in Timothy’s place? What of Timothy’s mother who by all accounts was very close to her son. Would you speak up in Timothy’s defense? After all, now Paul is conducting his ministry as he sees fit without the restraining hand of the more temperate Barnabas with him.
As Paul, Silas and Barnabas travel they continue to deliver the decrees of the Jerusalem church regarding Gentile believers, namely that they are to forego their pagan practices, cease from sexual impurity and observe minimal dietary laws such as abstaining from blood. Can you imagine a version of Christianity being preached to your church by a Christian minister as a requirement on your congregation? The early church, its people, and ministers were very different from the church as we know it today. Is that a problem? To what degree are we to look at these narratives as an example to us to follow, or do we read them as incidental history with nothing for us to learn as respects our Christian practice? Remember the words of Paul in 2 Tim:3:16
[2Ti 3:16 KJV] 16 All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
We need to be hesitant to read these accounts and gloss over them with religious thinking without careful examination and comparison to our own lives and the practice of our faith. Remember that for all their shortcomings these early church communities were offering up their lives daily. They were confronting the nations with the claims of Christ. They brought the known world to its knees at the foot of the cross and established Christianity that reaches down to us today. We want to be a people who will impact our generation, but that isn’t happening. We need to learn from these histories and find points of departure where we forsake our way and follow after the example of primitive Christianities as best we can.
[Acts 16:22-40 KJV]
22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat [them]. 23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast [them] into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: 24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. 25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. 26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. 29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. 32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed [their] stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. 34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. 35 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go. 36 And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace. 37 But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast [us] into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. 38 And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans. 39 And they came and besought them, and brought [them] out, and desired [them] to depart out of the city. 40 And they went out of the prison, and entered into [the house of] Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.
After attempting to go into the nation of Bythnia, Paul has a dream about a man calling him to Macedonia. Have you ever allowed God to lead you through dreams or visions? Paul doesn’t wait long but immediately verse 10 tells us moves in that direction knowing that God was speaking to him in the vision. He winds up in a city of , but he never encounters or runs into the man of Macedonia that he saw in his dream. Where is this man? He sure was an actual person who was praying for Paul to come and spread the gospel there. Paul doesn’t find the man, but he does find an influential woman in a public place of prayer by the name of Lydia. Here is a lesson to learn. Whoever the man of Macedonia was, he didn’t show up when Paul arrived. Just because one person who is part of a vision or a promise God gives fails to follow through doesn’t mean that there is no plan for you to move ahead. Paul was seeking a man but finds a woman who is fulfilling the mandate that the man in his vision had failed to follow through on. Paul doesn’t change his mind but accepts things as he finds them. Don’t get dogmatic on a dream, vision or prophecy. Just keep moving forward in obedience, and you will be successful whether any other person connected with your assignment in God does what they are supposed to do. This is a fundamental lesson for those of us who aspire to be led by the Spirit of God.
Paul then is staying in the home of Lydia which in our day would be questionable because Lydia is a single woman entertaining Paul, Silas, and Timothy as her long-term house guests. Can you imagine what the breakfast table would have been like? Wouldn’t you like to share the atmosphere of this home while Paul was there?
After Paul commences his preaching in Philippi, a young woman who is part of the cult of the oracle at Delphi begins to follow after them. She is possessed by a spirit of divination which in the original language is “pythos” or “python.” The Delphic oracles when they prophesied were hung suspended over a fissure in a cave that noxious gasses believed to come from the decaying body of a mythical snake were emanating. The Delphi cult was very well known as kings, and emperors consulted these soothsayers for centuries. This woman was spiritual, but she wasn’t godly. She was promoting Paul’s ministry but from the wrong spirit. Just because someone is on your side and doing all they can to promote you doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. The spirit of Python is a very dangerous enemy. Pythons wrap their tentacles around their prey and squeeze them until their hearts stop. This woman is attempting to bring a stop to Paul’s ministry efforts in Philippi through her vain and false praise for his ministry. Paul puts up with it for a time and then turns to cast the demon out.
When the woman with the spirit of Divination is delivered, those who profited from her false gifts bring Paul and Silas up on charges. Where is Timothy? He is nowhere to be found. Has he disappeared like John Mark who went not with Paul and Barnabas to the work? God is dealing with Paul regarding his dismissal of John Mark. The magistrates are extremely angry with Paul and throw him in prison after beating him with many stripes. This is a big problem because Paul is a Roman citizen and in so doing these men could bring great trouble upon themselves and their city.
While Paul and Silas are in irons in the inner recesses of the prison how do they respond? They sing praises. They sing praises so loud that the entire inmate population hears them. Not only do men hear them but heaven hears them, and the jail is shaken by an earthquake, and all the prison cells are burst open, and everyone’s chains fall off their ankles. What is the lesson?
Sometimes praise is a weapon of war. Sometimes praise is called for in opposing circumstances. Do you praise God in the midnight hour when everything is going wrong in your life? Do you praise God openly even so as to cause strangers and people who don’t believe to hear? Maybe if you did things would be different. These people knew that Christian believers would praise in their gatherings. This is something different. This was public and conspicuous. We need to be aggressive in our praise. Angels get involved when we publically affirm and follow our faith.
After the prison doors open, the warden of the jail draws his sword to take his own life. Paul calls out to him not to do this, and the jailer comes trembling to wash their wounds and bring them out. Now, who is in charge? Be ready when you praise at the midnight hour to see those who are oppressing you to come and bow down at your feet. Be prepared to preach the gospel and share your faith with those that have hurt you deeply.
When the magistrates and enemies of Paul hear what has happened at the jail, they send word to the jailer to let them go quietly. Paul refuses and now stands his ground as a Roman citizen. The magistrates take a very different tone now and come humbly and ask Paul and Barnabas to leave. They consent and after some final words to the believers and to Lydia they depart. Do you think Lydia hated to see them go? Are you a Lydia? Would you entertain such traveling representatives of the kingdom in your house? There were roadhouses and inns that Paul could have stayed at. God wanted them to stay at Lydia’s house. Do you think she took good care of them? We have stayed in people’s homes and slept in dog beds with the bugs in the basement. What would you be prepared to do to see your city impacted for the gospel?
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