ON TO EUROPE Acts 16
“During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ’Come over to Macedonia and help us’ ” (Acts 16:9).The course of history in many a region has been changed by the coming of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mission to Europe.
Paul’s second missionary journey penetrated Europe and many major cities of the Roman Empire. Many of his New Testament letters were later directed to the European churches of Thessalonica, Rome, Corinth, and Philippi. The foundation Paul laid led to the later Christianization of the Empire, and shaped the history of the West.
Timothy (16:1–5) and Luke (v. 11) joined Paul’s missionary team and sailed for Europe (vv. 6–12). Paul’s first convert in Europe was a woman named Lydia (vv. 13–15). He was later arrested, beaten, and thrown into prison (vv. 16–24). This led to the salvation of the Philippian jailer before Paul was released and left the area (vv. 25–40). The Roman Empire in the First Century
Understanding the Text
“Timothy . . . whose mother was a Jewess and a believer” Acts 16:1–5. The few details given here tell us much about young Timothy and his city. The Jewish community must have been small and weak there, for Timothy’s mother was allowed to marry a Gentile. Its weakness or laxness—is further emphasized by the fact that Timothy had not been circumcised. Any child of a Jewish mother was considered a Jew, and a strong Jewish community would have insisted on his circumcision. These few details enhance what Paul said in a later letter to Timothy: Timothy was taught the Scriptures by his grandmother and mother “from infancy” (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). It really is difficult for those who have to bring up children in a home where only one spouse is a believer. But Timothy serves as a beacon of hope. Despite difficulties, the sincere faith of his believing mother was shared effectively with her son. We will have to work “from infancy” at sharing our faith. But God can and will work in the children of divided homes. “Paul . . . circumcised [Timothy] because of the Jews who lived in that area” Acts 16:3. Paul’s decision to have Timothy circumcised was not, as some have thought, a compromise with his convictions. First-century Jewish believers did not abandon their heritage when they became Christians, but continued in it. As Timothy was known in the area as a Jew, it was appropriate for him to express his faith in Christ through his Jewishness. Paul had no quarrel with this. Paul’s quarrel was with those who tried to identify their way of life as “the” Christian way, and to impose it on others. Today messianic, or “completed,” Jews often form synagogue/churches, and worship Jesus in the traditional forms of Judaism. Not the form, but the faith, counts. “The Holy Spirit. . . . the Spirit of Jesus. . . . God” Acts 16:6–10. If you are ever challenged to prove that the early church really believed Jesus is God, here’s a good passage to turn to. Luke wasn’t teaching the doctrine. But in the most natural and unconscious way Luke used these names in the same paragraph, and so expressed the early church’s trinitarian faith. “We went outside the city gate to the river” Acts 16:11–15. It took 10 adult Jewish men for a minyam, the quorum needed to establish a synagogue. In cities where this was lacking, Jewish worship took place out under the open sky, often by a river’s edge. When Paul found the local Jewish “place of prayer” he reached Europe’s first convert: a woman named Lydia. From this beginning the Lord developed one of the strongest churches in Europe, and one dearly loved by the apostle. “These men are servants of the Most High God” Acts 16:17–18. The persistent shouting of the demon-possessed slave girl drew attention away from the message of the apostles to herself. Finally Paul, in the name of Jesus Christ, commanded the demon to leave. The situation reminds me of the instant celebrity that the church sometimes creates of murderers and movie stars. After a sudden conversion, the famous individual appears on Sunday TV, to give a testimony that draws more attention to him or her than to Jesus. And all too often the convert’s “faith” dissipates as soon as the appearances cease. The credibility of a witness is as important when speaking up for Jesus as in speaking up in a court of law. Let’s give new converts time to mature before pushing them forward, no matter how famous they may be. “These men are Jews” Acts 16:19–21. When Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl who had earned money for her owners by fortune-telling, the owners were furious. Their subsequent attack on Paul reflects an anti-Semitism which was already deeply rooted in first-century society. That accusation was enough to cause an uproar, which the two missionaries were then blamed for starting! Add the charge that they were preaching a religion illegal for “us Romans” to practice, and we sense the strong racial antagonism the slave girl’s owners consciously appealed to in order to get back at Paul. Today a similar kind of hostility toward Christians is found in news stories, and in media portrayals of believers and pastors. Those who speak out of Christian conviction are often labeled pejoratively as “fundamentalists,” in an attempt to have their views rejected before they are even heard. It’s wrong to victimize anyone by an appeal to prejudice rather than to the facts. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:23–34 After being beaten Paul and Silas were put in prison, only to be released from their chains by an earthquake. The jailer must have been somewhat familiar with Paul’s message, probably through the persistent shouting of the slave girl before her demon was exorcised. But now his terror at finding his prison doors open, and his narrow escape from suicide, created a readiness for salvation. Let’s recognize the earthquakes God brings into our lives as His gracious gifts, intended to turn our thoughts toward Him. “You and your household” Acts 16:31. In New Testament times the “house” or “household” of a person extended beyond spouse and children. Slaves, clients, and close friends were all part of one’s household. We need to understand Paul’s promise of salvation to “you and your household” not as blanket assurance that one’s children will someday be saved, but as assurance that they, like us, can find salvation through faith in the Lord. “Let them come themselves and escort us out” Acts 16:35–40. Roman citizens were under the protection of the Empire wherever they traveled. Even in a semi-independent colony like Philippi, no Roman citizen could legally be treated as Paul and Barnabas had been. Paul was always quick to assert his rights, and not just for personal reasons. Those rights of citizenship were guarantees that he could not be stopped from preaching simply because some mob disliked what he was saying. We Christians need to affirm our rights for the same reason. In demanding our rights we maintain the freedom of all to share the Gospel of Jesus without fear.
Relying on the Spirit (Acts 16:1–10)
When the great missionary pioneer and founder of the China Inland Mission, Hudson Taylor, came to Canada for a speaking tour, the first person he stayed with was excited. At last he was going to meet a true giant of the faith! He was also curious. How would this Spirit-led believer go about planning his itinerary? The next afternoon he was shocked when Taylor asked for railroad timetables, and simply sat down at the kitchen table to work out his schedule. Where was the prayer and fasting the host had expected? Hudson was surprised. God had already provided Canada’s railroads and the timetables. What more was there to ask? Paul’s approach to missions was similar. He had a strategy he used to select key cities, and to minister when he reached them. Like Hudson Taylor, Paul went about ministry in a practical way. But the lives of both men show that they also remained sensitive to the Spirit’s leading, ready to change plans or direction at the Spirit’s call, and relied on the Spirit fully. We don’t need to be mystical to rely on the Holy Spirit. We can rely on Him while using what God has provided for us—from timetables to our ability to plan and develop strategy. But relying on the Spirit also means remaining totally open to God, ready to change any plan when He says, “No,” or “Go.”
Mind and heart must cooperate as we rely on the Spirit to lead.
“When we rely on organization, we get what organization can do. When we rely upon education, we get what education can do. When we rely on eloquence, we get what eloquence can do. But when we rely on the Holy Spirit, we get what God can do.”—A.C. Dixon