Read the Passage: Acts 16
In Acts 13–14 we studied Paul’s first missionary journey, which occurred in AD 46–48. Paul’s second missionary journey, which occurred in AD 50–52, is recorded in Acts 16–18. In Acts 15:36–41, after delivering the news from the Jerusalem council, Paul and Barnabas planned to embark upon a second missionary journey, in order to strengthen the churches they had planted earlier. However, Paul and Barnabas disagreed about the participation of John Mark on the missions journey, for he had deserted them on their first missions trip, shortly after its commencement (cf. Acts 13:13). This dispute resulted in Barnabas and John Mark sailing for Cyprus, and Paul and Silas heading to Syria and Cilicia. We do not know the details of Barnabas and John Mark’s journey; however, we do know the parties later reconciled (cf. 1 Cor. 9:6; Col. 4:10; 2 Tim. 4:11).
Since it was Paul’s intent to re-visit the churches he had earlier birthed, he and Silas first went to Derbe and Lysra in the province of Galatia. In Lystra Paul added Timothy, whom he had likely met on his first missionary journey (cf. Acts 14:8–18), to the mission team. Interestingly, Paul had Timothy, who had a Gentile father, circumcised, something that he had earlier refused to do to Titus (cf. Gal. 2:3). This is interesting, for the Jerusalem Council had just ruled that Christians did not need to keep the ceremonial law. Clearly, Paul was willing to adapt his practices, but not his doctrine, in order to reach people with the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 9:22). Although he intended to minister in the region of Bithynia, near the Black Sea, while in Troas Paul received a vision from God calling him to Macedonia. Thus, the mission team sailed for Macedonia and eventually arrived in Neapolis and Philippi.
Once in Macedonia Paul and Silas came to Philippi, which was “the foremost city of that part of Macedonia” (16:12). This arrival is significant, for it is the first time that the gospel formally came from Asia to Europe. Note that Acts 16:10–17 is one of the three so-called “we” sections of the book of Acts (cf. Acts 20:5–21:18; 27:1–28:16), which signifies Luke’s presence on the mission team. Once in Philippi, on the Sabbath, Paul went to share with some Jews who were gathered to pray on the banks of the river. Evidently, there was no synagogue in Philippi. Luke notes a woman named Lydia, who was a seller of purple cloth, came to faith in Christ, for “the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Apparently, Lydia was wealthy, for she had a home large enough to house the mission team. Later the church would meet at Lydia’s home (cf. Acts 16:40).
Following the conversion of Lydia, Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl who had been following the mission team, announcing their presence to the people of the city, saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). While at face value this message may have seemed like a benefit to the mission team, it was actually a distraction, for it would have attracted superficial crowds and/or engendered persecution. This exorcism, however, angered the owners of the girl, for their hope of profit, via the girl’s divination, was gone. This resulted in Paul and Silas—however, not Timothy and Luke, for they were Gentiles—being falsely accused and imprisoned. The arrest of Paul and Silas was carried out, in part, by the authorities, for the emperor had recently cast Jews out of Rome (cf. Acts 18:2).
While many believers would likely lament unjust imprisonment, Luke writes that “at midnight Paul and Silas were singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Suddenly, an earthquake freed the prisoners from their chains; yet, they did not flee (cf. Acts 16:26). Given this earthquake was surely a divine event (cf. Acts 4:31), it is remarkable the prisoners did not flee. The reason Paul and Silas did not flee is that they knew their escape would lead to the warden’s death (cf. Acts 16:27–28). This decision to stay, resulted in the warden’s conversion, along with the salvation of his entire family (cf. Acts 16:29–34). The next day, the authorities freed Paul and Silas, who made their release a spectacle (cf. Acts 16:35–40). After encouraging the believers in Philippi, the mission team would travel to Thessalonica and to Berea (cf. Acts 17:1–15).
- Why did God give the institution of missions to mankind? Why not just send angels, or use some other supernatural means, to spread the gospel?
- Who do you think was correct in the dispute over the participation of John Mark in the mission work? How can we best resolve dissension in the church?
- What can we learn from Luke’s teaching that, in response to Paul’s preaching, “the Lord opened Lydia’s heart” (Acts 16:14)?
- What would you do if you were falsely accused and imprisoned on account of your beliefs and ministerial service?
- What was so attractive about Paul and Silas’ example that the other prisoners listened to them and the warden came to faith in Christ?