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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Acts 16

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The Second Missionary Journey Begins

A. From the city of Derbe to Troas.

1. (Act 16:1-5) At Derbe and Lystra.

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. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 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. 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. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.

a. Paul began this missionary journey having come from Antioch. First, he did the work of strengthening the churches through the regions of Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:40-41).

b. Then he came to Derbe and Lystra: Now he arrives in Derbe, where he had great success on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:20-21), and in Lystra, where a crowd tried to honor Paul and Barnabas as pagan gods on the first missionary journey (Acts 14:8-20).

i. The first missionary journey finished about five years before the events of this chapter. Paul was anxious to see for himself how the work of the Lord continued among these churches he founded five years before.

c. A certain disciple was there, named Timothy: In the time since Paul had been to Lystra, a young man named Timothy had been serving the Lord (He was well spoken of by the brethren). Timothy had a believing mother with a Jewish background (son of a certain Jewish woman who believed), but an unbelieving Greek father.

i. The last time Paul was in Lystra, they first worshipped him as a god and then tried to kill him by stoning (Acts 14:11-20). Paul's courage and wisdom in the face of these obstacles built a great legacy in people like Timothy.

d. Paul was impressed enough with Timothy that Paul wanted to have him go on with him. This shows God's provision, because John Mark and Barnabas just left Paul (Acts 15:36-41). 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.

e. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews in that region: Paul had Timothy circumcised, not for the sake of his salvation (Paul would never do so) but so there would be less to hinder ministry among the Jews.

i. "By Jewish law Timothy was a Jew, because he was the son of Jewish mother, but because he was uncircumcised he was technically an apostate Jew. If Paul wished to maintain his links with the synagogue, he could not be seen to countenance apostasy." (Bruce)

ii. In Acts 15, Paul argued strongly that it was not necessary for converts to come under the Law of Moses for salvation. At the time Paul met Timothy, he was delivering the news of this decree which came out of the Acts 15 council (as they went through the cities, the delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem). So why is Paul telling Timothy to be circumcised? Doesn't this contradict the decree which was determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem? Not at all. Paul would have never told Timothy to become circumcised for the sake of legalism. But Paul would do things for the sake of love that he would not do for the sake of trying to please God through legalism.

f. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily: Paul's work was successful because his first interest was in strengthening the churches. Strong churches will naturally increase in number daily, without relying on carnal and manipulative methods.

2. (Act 16:6-10) God directs Paul to the region of Macedonia.

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. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 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." 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.

a. They were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia: After strengthening the churches in the region, Paul seeks to go next to the immediate west, towards the important city of Ephesus. But Paul was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go there.

i. How could the Holy Spirit possibly forbid the preaching of the word in Asia? Because there 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. There was certainly nothing wrong with Paul's desire to preach the word in Asia; but it wasn't God's timing, so it was forbidden by the Holy Spirit.

ii. How exactly did the Holy Spirit forbid them? It is difficult to say exactly how the Holy Spirit said no; it may have been through a word of prophecy, or by an inward speaking of the Holy Spirit, or by circumstances. One way or another, Paul and his company got the message.

iii. Asia does not refer to the Far East as we know it today. It refers to the Roman Province of Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey.

b. They tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them: After the attempt to go to Asia, Paul sought to go north into Bithynia, but is again prevented by the Holy Spirit. So, they came down to Troas.

i. Paul didn't set out to go to Troas. It was at least the third choice for him. But it was the Holy Spirit's plan to lead him there. Paul, beautifully responsive to the Holy Spirit, is willing to lay down his will and plans for the direction that the Holy Spirit brings.

ii. Paul is being guided by hindrance. The Holy Spirit often guides as much by the closing of doors as He does by the opening of doors.

c. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: In Troas, God makes Paul's direction clear. In a vision, Paul is "invited" to the region of Macedonia, westward across the Agean Sea.

i. This moves Paul and his missionary team from the continent of Asia to the continent of Europe; this was the first missionary endeavor to Europe.

ii. The wisdom and greatness of God's plan is beginning to unfold. In Paul's mind, he wanted to reach a few cities in his region. But God wanted to give Paul a continent to win for Jesus Christ.

d. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." The Macedonian man wanted help. So Paul went to bring Macedonia the gospel!

i. The greatest help we can bring anyone is the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ! It is good for us to bring other help along with the gospel, but without the gospel, what real help have you given them?

e. Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go: Paul did not hesitate to answer the call of the Macedonian man. Paul's missionary team did not hesitate to follow him on the basis of this call. This was a strong, godly man, leading a strong, godly team!

i. God still calls people to the mission field. Perhaps many today will encounter a "Macedonia man" who will call them out to the mission field. Would to God that those who hear a "Macedonian man" today will respond the way Paul and his team responded!

f. Immediately we sought to go: The shift from they (they came down to Troas, Acts 16:8) to we in this verse probably means that Luke joined the band of missionaries in Troas. Perhaps he even came as Paul's personal doctor.

i. Now we see another reason why they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. We see another reason why the Spirit did not permit them to go into Bithynia. God wanted Paul and his team to go to Troas and pick up a doctor named Luke. If God wouldn't have said "no" to Paul these two times, we would not have a gospel and a Book of Acts written by Luke!

ii. At the time, Paul probably had no idea of the greatness of God's purpose. God wanted to give him a continent for Jesus, to give him a personal doctor, and to give all of us the man whom God would use to write more of the New Testament than anyone else did. God knows what He is doing when he says, "No."

B. Paul's work in the Macedonian city of Philippi.

1. (Act 16:11-15) The conversion of Lydia.

Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 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. 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. 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. 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.

a. Sailing from Troas: Paul and his missionary team (now including Luke) had to sail across the Agean Sea, from the continent of Asia to the continent of Europe. This was a big step, perhaps bigger than Paul even knew!

b. From there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia: Paul's general strategy was to plant churches in the major cities. He knew that it was easier for the gospel to spread from these cities than to these cities.

c. On the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made: The fact that the Jews had no synagogue and met by the river means that there were not many Jewish men in Philippi.

i. "Had there been ten Jewish men, they would have sufficed to constitute a synagogue. No number of women would compensate for the absence of even one man necessary to make up the quorum of ten." (Bruce)

d. Lydia … was a seller of 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.

i. From the city of Thyatira: Thyatira was well known as a center for this 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).

e. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul: Before Lydia was converted (as demonstrated by her baptism), the Lord opened her heart. This is a work God must do in all who believe, because as Jesus said, no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (John 6:44).

i. Therefore, the most important element in evangelism is imploring God through prayer to open hearts, for without this there can be no genuine conversion.

f. She begged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." Immediately, Lydia set about doing good. Her hospitality is touching and wonderful example.

2. (16-18a) A demon-possessed slave girl follows Paul.

Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation." And this she did for many days.

a. A certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination … brought her masters much profit: This girl, through demon possessed, was a source of profit for her owners as a fortune teller, because demons would give her supernatural insight into the lives of others.

i. Today, much of what fortune-tellers and psychics do is only a money making sham. But when it is true and has a supernatural origin (as opposed to clever, insightful guessing), there is no doubt that it is inspired by demons. There are still those today who are possessed with a spirit of divination.

ii. But how can demons tell the future? Because demons are created beings, not "gods" themselves, we surmise that they can not read minds, nor actually foretell the future. But they can read and predict human behavior, and can attempt to steer events towards a previously predicted conclusion.

b. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation." The demon-possessed slave girl "preaches" for Paul, giving a demonic "testimony" to their divine credentials and the message that they preach, and this she did for many days.

3. (18b) Paul casts the demon out of the slave girl.

But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And he came out that very hour.

a. But Paul, greatly annoyed: Why was Paul greatly annoyed? Didn't he appreciate the free "advertising"? No, because he didn't appreciate the source, and could do quite nicely without demonic approval of his ministry.

i. Paul knew that a man will be identified by both his friends and his enemies, and could do without a demonic "letter of reference."

ii. In this, Paul is like Jesus, who often told demons to be silent, even when they were telling the truth about Him (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 3:11-12).

b. I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her: Jesus cast out demons with His own authority. Paul is careful to speak to demons only in the authority of Jesus Christ.

c. And he came out that very hour: The idea behind that very hour is that the demon came out immediately. But Jesus said that some demons would be more difficult to cast out than others would (Matthew 17:21).

i. Bruce translates the phrase with It came out there and then. He comments: "The words had scarcely left his lips when she was released from its power."

4. (Act 16:19-24) Paul and Silas are arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for delivering the slave-girl from her demonic possession.

But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, "These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe." Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

a. The whole mess was instigated because her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone. The masters care nothing for the girl herself, only for their ability to exploit her demonic possession for money. They were occultic "pimps," prostituting her spiritually.

b. They seized Paul and Silas: Paul and Silas were singled out not only because there were the leaders of the evangelistic group, but also, by their appearance, they were the most obviously Jewish. This is indicated by how they began their accusation: "These men, being Jews."

i. Luke was a Gentile, and Timothy was only half Jewish. Paul and Silas looked Jewish, and "Anti-Jewish sentiment lay very near the surface in pagan antiquity." (Bruce)

c. Exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe. Their charges are vague, simply accusing Paul and Silas of being troublemakers. But those vague charges were enough, because both the multitude and the magistrates were biased against Paul and Silas. They were biased because of their Jewish appearance, and because they assumed Paul and Silas were not Roman citizens.

i. In the Roman Empire, there were two very different laws: one for citizens of the Roman Empire, and one for those who were not citizens. Roman citizens had specific civil rights which were zealously guarded. Non-citizens had no civil rights, and were subject to the whims of both the multitude and the magistrates.

ii. Since they assumed Paul and Barnabas were not Roman citizens, they were offended that these obviously Jewish men would harass Roman citizens with their strange religion of a crucified Saviour. As well, the multitude and the magistrates felt free to abuse Paul and Silas because they assumed they were not Roman citizens.

iii. "There was great indignation that Roman citizens should be molested by strolling peddlers of an outlandish religion. Such people had to be taught to know their proper place and not trouble their betters." (Bruce)

d. When they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison: After being severely beaten, Paul and Silas are imprisoned in maximum-security conditions (commanding the jailer to keep them securely … the inner prison … fastened their feet in the stocks).

i. In Jewish legal tradition, there was a maximum number of blows that could be delivered when beating a person, but the Romans had no such limit. We can rest assured Paul and Silas were severely beaten. Paul would later write of his ministry: In labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. (2 Corinthians 11:23)

ii. After such a bad beating, they were put in uncomfortable conditions (fastened their feet in the stocks). "These stocks had more than two holes for legs, which could thus be forced apart in a such a way as to cause the utmost discomfort and cramping pain." (Bruce)

iii. Even in their pain, God was not far from Paul and Silas. Tertullian said, "The legs feel nothing in the stocks when the heart is in heaven."

5. (Act 16:25-32) The conversion of the Philippian jailer.

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here." Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.

a. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God: Though they have been arrested, beaten, and imprisoned for doing good, Paul and Silas are filled with joy, and sing praises to God. What will it take to make us stop praising God?

i. Anyone can be happy in pleasant circumstances, but real joy comes only from within, and is a gift available to Christians at all times.

ii. "Instead of cursing men, they blessed God." (Stott)

b. And the prisoners were listening to them: What a strange sound it must have been to the other prisoners! Prayers and praises unto God at midnight, in the midst of a brutal prison. Those prison walls had probably never heard such a sound!

c. Suddenly there was a great earthquake: This earthquake was clearly supernatural. This was not only because of its timing and location, but in the way that all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed.

d. The keeper of the prison … was about to kill himself: The jailer's reaction had good reason behind it. Guards who allowed their prisoners to escape had to bear the penalty of their escaped prisoners. Knowing this, Paul called with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here." He assures the jailer that no one has escaped.

i. It would have been easy for Paul and Silas to escape thinking God had instigated another miraculous jailbreak. But to them, the lives of others were more important than their own personal freedom and comfort.

ii. In not escaping, they showed tremendous discernment. The circumstances said, "escape." But love said, "Stay for the sake of this one soul." They were not guided merely by circumstances, but by what love compelled.

e. This hardened keeper of the prison fell down trembling. This is as dramatic as it sounds. This man was more affected by the love and grace in the lives of Paul and Silas than an earthquake. This may have even been the same guard who beat them a few hours earlier!

f. Sirs, what must I do be saved? The jailer was so impressed by Paul and Silas - by the love they showed to him, and from their ability to take joy even in misery - that he instantly wants the kind of life that Paul and Silas have.

i. This is how God wants our lives to be: Natural magnets drawing people to Him. Our Christianity should make others want what we have with God.

g. Paul's answer to the keeper of the prison is a classic statement of the essence of the gospel: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. This is salvation by grace alone, received by faith alone.

i. Some have worried that Paul's invitation to salvation here is too easy, and would promote an "easy-believism" and a "cheap grace." Others refuse to preach repentance, claiming that this text says that it is not necessary.

ii. Paul never specifically called the keeper of the prison to repent because he was already repenting. We see the humble repentance of the jailer in that he fell down trembling, in the full idea of the word believe (pistis, which means to trust in, rely on, and cling to), and in the command to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ).

h. You and your household seems to be a specific promise for that Philippian jailer. Paul was, under inspiration by the Holy Spirit, telling the keeper of the prison that his household would trust Jesus just as he did.

i. This was a promise made specifically to the keeper of the prison. But it is a promise that the Holy Spirit may well make alive to us, helping us to trust Him for the salvation of our families.

ii. However, the jailer's household was not saved merely because he was; Paul came spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. They were all saved because they all trust the word of God and the Jesus revealed to us through the word.

6. (Act 16:33-34) The Philippian jailer ministers to Paul and Silas.

And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

a. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes: The same jailer who had been punishing them was now ministering to Paul and Silas, caring for their wounds and he set food before them. This shows how repentant he was and how he followed the example of love shown by Paul and Silas.

b. And immediately he and all his family were baptized: The jailer and his family saw no reason to delay baptism; they were baptized that very night, and all this began around midnight (Acts 16:25).

c. And he rejoiced: This man was carried from suicidal fear to abounding joy in just a few minutes. All of it flowed from Paul and Silas' courageous praise to God in terrible adversity.

7. (Act 16:35-36) Paul and Silas return to the prison, and are set free by the magistrates the next day.

And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, "Let those men go." So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, "The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace."

a. Paul and Silas did leave the prison (in the protective custody of the jailer) to minister to the jailer's household. But Paul and Silas returned to the prison willingly to spare the jailer certain death.

b. Let those men go: To arrest, beat, and imprison someone; then to quickly release them is common in societies that recognize few rights for their citizens. This sort of treatment effectively terrorizes the population into submission.

c. The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace: If Paul and Silas were released the day after their beating, arrest, and imprisonment, why did God send the earthquake? We see that the earthquake had absolutely nothing to do with freeing Paul and Silas from prison. But it had everything to do with the salvation of a certain prison guard and his household.

8. (Act 16:37-39) Paul and Silas reveal their Roman citizenship.

But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out." And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city.

a. They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans: Because Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they had recognized civil rights, which were grievously violated by the Philippian magistrates.  Upon learning this, the magistrates are filled with fear, because it was a grave offense to treat Roman citizens as Paul and Silas had been treated.

b. Why didn't Paul and Silas reveal their Roman citizenship earlier? It is possible that they didn't have the opportunity, but it is more likely that the Holy Spirit was directing them to not reveal it until a certain time.

i. Our rights are not as important as our obedience to the will of God. God may ask us to lay down our rights for the good of another (in this case, for the good of the Philippian jailer).

ii. How could Paul and Silas have proved their Roman citizenship? "They may each have carried a copy of his professio or registration of birth, in which his Roman status would have been recorded. These were convenient in size … To claim Roman citizenship falsely was punishable by death." (Williams)

c. They came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city: The magistrates act like any politicians act by instinct. They try to make their problem go away quietly by sweeping them under the rug.

9. (Act 16:40) Paul and Silas leave Philippi on their own terms.

So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

a. They agree to go, but only after they had seen the brethren and encouraged them. Paul and Silas would not be hurried out of town until they had brought their work there to a conclusion.

b. In Philippi, Paul and Silas left behind two notable converts: Lydia and the prison guard. Each of these two had their lives touched by Jesus in very different ways.

i. Lydia was a churchgoer; the guard was not. Lydia was prospering in business; the guard was about to kill himself. Lydia's heart was gently opened; the guard's heart was violently confronted. The guard had a remarkable sign - an earthquake, but all Lydia had was the move of the Holy Spirit in her heart. Both heard the gospel and believed, and through each of them their whole families were touched!

c. The great missionary David Livingstone summarized the spirit of Paul when he said, "I am prepared to go anywhere, so long as it is forward." (Cited in Barclay)

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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