Acts 16:1–15 . . .
“The Second Missionary Journey Begins”
Starting with 15:36 that we covered in last week's summary, Luke began his account of "The Second Missionary Journey." It's one of three that Paul had taken that spread the message of Christ to Asia Minor and Europe: First Missionary Journey — Acts 13 and 14; Second Missionary Journey — 15:36–18:22; Third Missionary Journey — 18:23–20:38. On all three separate missionary journeys — each several years in length — Paul preached the news of Jesus in many coastal cities and trade route towns. The purpose of all of Paul’s missionary journeys was the same: proclaiming God’s grace in forgiving sin through Christ. God used Paul’s ministry to bring the gospel to the Gentiles and establish the church. Paul’s letters to the churches, recorded in the New Testament, still support church life and doctrine.
It would be good to begin today's study and discussion by remembering where we left off in last week's summary. Paul and Barnabas were deadlocked over whether to bring John Mark with them on their journey to Antioch. The deadlock was eventually broken when Barnabas took John Mark and headed to Cyprus, which was Barnabas’s home town, while Paul chose Silas, heading off with him to Syria and Cilicia; Timothy would later join Paul's team. Thankfully, Paul and Barnabas have given us a model to deal with differences that are based upon our gifts, calling, and ministry. We should praise God that these two men never parted in spirit and in essential unity, only in ministry.
The Start of Missionary Journey #2 (16:1–5)
Taking Silas, with whom Paul and Barnabas had ministered in the past, Paul departed, going first to his own territory in Syria and Cilicia. His first objective was to revisit the churches he'd established during his previous missionary journey. While Tarsus, Paul’s home, was in this territory, it's not mentioned. Luke doesn't choose to emphasize this leg of the journey, but quickly passes it by. He moves on to the return of Paul, with Silas, to the cities of Derbe and Lystra, and to Paul’s choice of Timothy to accompany them.
Paul chose Timothy because he was already a disciple, not in order to make him one (v. 1). In contrast to Mark, Timothy had already been proven; he was “well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium” (v.2). And these were not easy cities in which to be a believer. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany them so that he could join in the ministry, as a colleague, which is well documented in this week's video clip linked below. Paul circumcised Timothy so as to enhance his ministry.
Yet there was one serious question about Timothy's suitability as a helper: He was a Jew, his father was a Greek, and his mother was Jewish; this made Timothy a Jew in the Jewish way of reckoning it, however, he hadn't yet been circumcised. To silence any possible objections to Timothy's presence on the missionary team, Paul had him circumcised, not because it was demanded by anyone, but simply because Timothy was a Jew. As a circumcised Jew, Timothy, too, could speak in the synagogues; as an uncircumcised Jew, his ministry wouldn't have been as readily received. Notice, too, that it wasn't Timothy choosing to be circumcised, but Paul making the decision for Timothy and having it done. While the Judaizers couldn't impose circumcision for "salvation," Paul was able to impose it for "service."
A Divinely Redirected Change of Course (vv. 6–10)
Before leaving Asia, Paul and Silas added an important new member to their team. In v. 10, Luke uses the pronoun "we." This is the first occurrence of a first-person pronoun in his Acts volume. In a humble way, calling as little attention to himself as possible, Luke revealed when he'd become Paul's faithful companion. Evidently he was in Troas when the missionary team arrived, and the hand of Providence brought him under their influence, so that he very soon decided to join them as another helper.
The Holy Spirit guided this missionary party, including Luke, to Macedonia. Initially, the guidance of the Spirit was prohibitive. They weren't permitted to speak the Word in Asia (v. 6). We have no clue as to how such "divine forbidding” took place. It might have been in the form of a vision or a prophetic utterance. By whatever means, it was recognized as the Holy Spirit's guidance. Apparently, it wasn't yet God’s time for Asia's evangelization, nor Bithynia's. For whatever reason, and by whatever means, they were prevented from entering Bithynia.
As a result, a more positive guidance was required. Having arrived at Troas was something like the Israelites reaching the Red Sea: They couldn't see how they could go back, and weren't sure they could go forward. In both cases, God acted in a way that made his direction and his will evident. Troas was a port city on the Aegean Sea, across from Macedonia. Since they couldn't preach in Asia or Bithynia, they had to either go forward or turn back.
Paul's “Macedonian vision,” as highlighted well in the video clip, made the answer clear. Paul alone, it would seem, had the vision of a certain Macedonian man who plead for him to “come over to Macedonia and help us” (v. 9). The meaning of the vision was apparent, and Paul’s report of it was all that was needed for the whole group to conclude that God wanted them to go immediately to Macedonia; thus they proceeded to travel across the sea from Troas to the island of Samothrace, then on to the port city of Neapolis on the other side, and finally inland to Philippi, a principal city of Macedonia.
Luke's coming alongside Paul just before Paul’s departure for Europe was the beginning of a long and very productive relationship. For many years at the end of Paul’s ministry, Luke would accompany Paul and serve as his helper in the work of God. Doctor Luke was God’s perfect provision for Apostle Paul. Because of all the abuse his body suffered (2 Corinthians 11:23–28), Paul needed an attending physician perpetually.
Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi (vv. 11–15)
Immediately after receiving the “Macedonian vision,” this missionary band sailed directly to the Island of Samothrace, and then on to Neapolis, the port city of Philippi, some ten miles inland. Finding a place to stay, Paul and the others no doubt looked first for a synagogue, which apparently didn't exist. This would suggest that there were either few Jews living in this city, or that they found it unwise to publicly worship the God of Israel. The attitude of the Gentile residents of the city, as revealed shortly in response to the charges brought against Paul and Silas, must have been anti-Jewish, and would explain Luke's non-mention of a synagogue. The second best option would have been a “place of prayer” located outside of town, beside the river. Such places of prayer were centuries old.
It would seem from v. 13's “where we expected to find a place of prayer," that they weren't sure of finding a place of prayer in Philippi. They found such a place, however, where only a few women seem to have gathered, among whom was Lydia, from Thyatira, a “seller of purple fabrics” (v. 14). The Lord opened her heart to receive the gospel spoken by Paul. She, along with the other members of her household, believed and were baptized, probably in the river beside which they'd gathered. In addition to receiving the gospel, she received these missionaries into her home. It was at her initiative, in fact by her insistence, that they accepted her hospitality. Her profession of faith in baptism and her provision of hospitality were outward evidences of the faith that God had given her and that she'd exercised.
Let's look more closely at Lydia. We see how v. 14 begins: "One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia." Thyatira (which today is the city in Turkey called Akhisar) was in Asia Minor, the very region Paul was forbidden to enter. The Lord wouldn't permit Paul to go to Asia, but he'd bring him to a women from Asia. She was “a seller of purple fabrics,” which were expensive because the purple dye named "Tyrian purple" was made from a rare shellfish. Thyatira was famous for this purple dye. Only the very wealthy could afford to buy purple-dyed garments, which signified royalty. Evidently she was doing pretty well for herself; she'd moved to Philippi, perhaps as the sales agent for a fabric company in Thyatira; and she owned a home that was large enough to host four missionaries. Her ability to furnish the entire team with a place to stay suggests that she was wealthy.
Thankfully, "She was a worshiper of God" (v. 14b). This probably means that she was a proselyte to the Jewish faith, a converted Gentile. She likely believed in and worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Seeing that "The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message" (v. 14c), it was clearly the gospel of Christ that Paul preached to her, i.e., the good news of what God has done and provided through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, regarding the Lord having opened Lydia's heart, no one today can or will respond to the gospel unless the Lord enables his or her heart to be responsive.
Evidently she was baptized that very day. Notice too that her household was also baptized. A person’s household would include spouse, children, extended family, and servants. Since there's no mention of a husband, it's presumed that she was unmarried. So she took the initiative, as head of this household, and exercised considerable influence over those who lived with her, "persuading" the missionary band to be her guest. (Note: This is the first of two household conversions we'll see in this chapter. Come back next week to learn about the second household conversion that resulted following hearty jail-house singing, an earthquake, and a suicide threat. It's drama level will be high!)
- Q. 1 Have you ever had a "Macedonian vision"? If so, did you act on it? Were you effective?
- Q. 2 Which word(s) best describe Lydia: persuasive, hospitable, spiritual, impulsive, trusting, intuitive?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 16.]
† Watch this "Visual Bible" video clip: Acts 15:22–16:34, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke.
Timothy Joins Paul and Silas
16 Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. 2The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. 5So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia
6Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi
11From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
13On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.