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Acts 16

April 25th, 2010 by Vic

“Open Doors/Closed Doors/Open Doors…”

April 25, 2010

You can be in the center of God’s will and not know it.  You can be in the center of God’s will and not feel like it.  You can be in the center of God’s will and your best friends disagree with you.  As a Christian we learn to live by faith and not by sight, by feeling, nor by the counsel of friends, but by the clear Word of God.  When it looks like we made a mistake we still trust Him to bring good out of it.  When we find ourselves whipped and bleeding we still trust Him.  God’s general will for all of us is to be holy and produce the fruit of the Spirit.  God’s immediate will is not always clear.

In chapter 15 there were some unauthorized teachers saying that to be a Christian you have to believe in Jesus Christ and.  The Jerusalem Council took the ‘and’ out of any requirement for salvation.  Salvation is by faith through grace.  You do not have to be circumcised to be saved.  You do not have to be baptized to be saved.  The things that are seen are temporal.  The things that are not seen are eternal.  But in chapter 16, Paul circumcises Timothy and baptizes 2 families.

Paul has had a growing desire to visit his friends in Galatia.  God had used him and Barnabas in this ministry before.  Their first thought was to do what they had done before.  But God divides the team and chose Silas to go with Paul.  God’s immediate will is not always clear, but He makes it known.  Notice how God directs people and makes His will known, even in our disagreements and sharp words.

16:1-5 Timothy joins the team

Timothy had probably been converted under the ministry of Paul and Barnabas 5 years earlier.  He had seen Paul stoned to death.  Since then Timothy has developed a good reputation in the community.

The debate in the Jerusalem church settled the basic truth of the Gospel.  It did not discuss the training and the credentials required for missionaries.  Paul’s concern with Timothy was not his salvation, but his credibility for cross cultural ministry.  We used to say a man was not fit to minister if he had been divorced.  Paul knew that Timothy would be working with both Jews and Gentiles in the churches and it was important that he not be an offense.

It was not proper for a Jew to marry a Greek.  The rules were not as rigid outside of Palestine.  The faith of Timothy’s grandmother and mother was not hindered by his father.  In Jewish culture it was expected that the child would follow the religion of the mother.  Timothy was probably 16-18 years old at this time.  His father was well known but must have died.  Paul sees Timothy as a Jew rather than a half-breed like the Samaritans.  By Jewish law, Timothy was a Jew because his mother was a Jew, but he was technically an apostate Jew because he was uncircumcised.

The decision to circumcise or not is a practical or cultural decision not a requirement for salvation.  Paul is teaching that we should express our faith through the cultural forms we have inherited.

As they traveled from town to town (4) they shared the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in the Jerusalem church.  As the people obeyed, the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew in numbers (5).

16:6-10 Man from Macedonia

Paul apparently was intending to preach in all the cities of Asia, Galatia, Bithynia, and Phrygia.  As they traveled around the region, the Holy Spirit just kept saying no.  He did not quit and go back to Antioch.  He kept moving.  God will give us clear direction in His time if we keep being faithful.

Twice Paul was hindered from going where he wanted to go.  How he was hindered is not stated.  Maybe some circumstance or a word of prophecy from Silas directed him.  Some think it was illness because Luke joins the group in verse 10.  Paul was not discouraged.  Many men would have gone home.  Paul just kept moving.  He did not retreat to a remote mountain top to pray for a vision or a sign.  He did not have a dream while asleep.  During the quietness of the night he had a vision while awake.  Some think the man from Macedonia was Luke, his doctor.  Somehow he knew it was a God thing and he obeyed.

16:11-15 Lydia has an open heart

Lydia was a seller of purple cloth.  Most commentaries say this purple dye came from a shellfish, the murex.  But a couple said it came from the root of a madder plant.  She was a business woman with a large home big enough to host the missionary team in addition to her family and slaves.

Lydia would be a good woman to consider for a Mother’s Day sermon.  She regularly worshipped with the Jews near a small river about a mile from Philippi.  There were apparently not enough men (10) to support a synagogue so they had a place of prayer by running water to practice their ritual washing of the hands before prayer.  Maybe Paul saw the “praying place” there by the river on his walk to Philippi.  It would be a simple structure.

Lydia, a wealthy woman, a faithful God-fearer, a giver of hospitality, invited the mission team to stay at her home.  Paul may have been reluctant to take advantage of her generous offer.  He thought it was the enthusiasm of her new faith and freedom in Jesus.  But she insisted.

Philippi was a colony founded in 356 B.C.   It was famous for being the place where Mark Anthony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius in 42 B.C.  It had a school of medicine.  That may be why Luke stays here while Paul and Silas move on in the next chapter.  The people were proud of their Roman laws and Roman ways.  The year before Paul and Silas arrived here, the Jews had been kicked out of Rome so there was a new prejudice against the Jews.

Paul had seen a man in his vision, but here he is speaking to women.  Isn’t it interesting that the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection was a woman.  And here the first convert in Europe is a woman with her household, which may have included infants.

16:16-18 The girl with a python spirit.

Lydia was at the top of the social scale.  This girl was at the bottom.  Luke describes her as having a pythian spirit.  The python was a mythical serpent or dragon that was killed by Apollo.  A demon possessed person is one through whom the python speaks.  Those who knew the girl did not label her as a fraud or insane.  She was a fortune teller and/or ventriloquist.  She was attracted to Paul and kept screaming out “these men are servants of the Most High God.”

She repeated this for several days.  It must have become known through out the city.  Satan may speak the truth one minute and the next minute tell a lie.  The title ‘The Most High God’ was used of pagan deities as well as the Jewish deity.  Beware when liars tell the truth.  Beware when Satan advertises the Lord’s business.

Paul was worn out.  He was grieved at the sad condition of the girl and annoyed at the screaming by the spirit that possessed her.  Paul, like Jesus, distinguished between the demon and the individual.  He just gently says (18), “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her.”  The spirit just left her.  There was no dramatic display.

16:19-24 The mob mentality

What Paul did for the slave girl was not appreciated by her masters.  They had callous disregard for the girl’s welfare.  When money is the focus, people are just objects.  I watched the OPB movie “Food Inc” on Wednesday night.  Man’s selfish greed has not changed.  People and animals are still being treated as objects by greedy employers.

This little corporation controlling the fortune teller got mad and wanted to put Paul and Silas out of business.  They just labeled them as Jews.  They did not distinguish Christians from Jews yet.  The anti-Semitism that was just under the surface broke out as a cry for patriotism.  “We are Romans.  Don’t let these men pollute our customs.”

Paul and Silas were not given time to make a defense which becomes an embarrassment to the magistrates.  If they told the magistrates that they were Roman citizens, no one heard.  They were persecuted for doing good.  They were beaten, flogged, and thrown in prison for being Jews and healing a girl.

Have you ever thought you were having a bad day?  How do you respond when you are being beaten up unjustly and not given a chance to defend yourself?  How did Paul and Silas respond?  Notice the result of a good attitude.

16:25-28 Singing in prison

It looked like the end of their witness in Philippi, but instead of complaining or calling on God to judge their enemies, they prayed singing hymns.  Their song was prayer.  Their prayer was song.  When you are hurting it is not easy to sing hymns.  Others are listening.  Some self-righteous people were probably saying that God was punishing Paul and Silas because they were preaching apostasy.

The Roman prison was commonly attached to government buildings.  It had a vestibule that had access to each cell in the main prison.  Each of the regular cells had an opening to the vestibule for ventilation.  The inner prison was back a hall behind the outer cells without windows or ventilation.  This is where the stocks were.

Paul and Silas were not comfortable, but they were praising God and all the prisoners were hearing them.  Then an interesting miracle happened.  A violent earthquake opened all the prison doors and everybody’s chains came loose.  The roof did not fall in.  The walls did not fall down.  These prisoners had heard about Paul and Silas and their Most High God.  They stayed in their cells.  They did not want to move or go anywhere.  This prison may be the safest place to be.

The prison warden woke up and saw the open doors.  From his open door Paul was able to see down the hall to the jailer although the jailer was not able to see him.  Suicide was honorable in Roman culture.  The jailer was aware of his responsibility and was ready to help the government avoid the extra expense of his execution.  A hard hearted person would have let this cruel jailer kill himself.

16:29-34 The jailer’s salvation

What did salvation mean to the jailer?  We don’t know.  He may have heard the possessed girl say that “these men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved (17).  Did he think the end of the world was coming?  Did he think the gods were about to strike him for treating Paul and Silas roughly?

For Paul salvation is a Jesus thing.  “This earthquake is not about us.  Silas and I can’t save you from anything.  Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved from the penalty of your sins and you will be saved from the bondage of your fears.  You don’t really ‘do’ anything.  The work of God is to believe.”

Paul and Silas spoke the word (32) to the jailer and his household.  His home may have been above the prison.  Everyone had waked up with the earthquake.  Immediately after hearing the word, the jailer washed their wounds and cleaned them up.  It is often necessary to wash the wounds that we have caused others.  Sometimes we need to apologize.  Sometimes we need to make restitution.

Then Paul and Silas washed the jailer and his family.  The words ‘baptize’ and ‘wash’ are the same word.  After the baptism, the jailer had a meal prepared for them and he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God.

16:35-40 An honorable release

The magistrates apparently felt that Paul and Silas have been punished enough.  There is no mention of the earthquake.  They sent officers to the jailer to release Paul and Silas.  The jailer thought that was good news, but Paul was unwilling to just leave town without clearing his name.  People would have assumed that they were guilty of some crime.  Paul wanted to leave behind a good reputation.  So he demanded that they be shown the courtesy due a citizen and be escorted out of prison by the magistrates themselves.

To beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial was a serious offense.  When the magistrates heard that Paul and Silas were citizens, they came to apologize for their illegal action and to escort them out of prison.  Paul’s insistence on an official apology may have helped to protect his converts from persecution.  The Philippians supported Paul on the rest of his missions.

Paul had an open door into Galatia then 2 closed doors in Asia then an open door to Philippi then a closed prison door then an open prison door.  How does God direct your life?  When you feel like you have made a mistake what could God do?  When God directs you with the vision of a man is it a mistake to minister to women?  What does this chapter tell you about God?

1. He cares about people

2. He makes His will known in different ways

3. He puts a song in our heart so our singing can be our prayer

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