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Acts 16:11-40

Wednesday Evening Home Bible Study
October 8, 2008

Theme: This portion of Acts describes key events in Paul's missionary efforts in the city of Philippi.

In our last study of Acts, we left off at the 'Macedonian call' (Acts 16:9-10) in the midst of Paul's second missionary journey. In this study, we begin to read of how that call was responded to by Paul and Silas.

This is, for a number of reasons, a significant portion of the book of Acts:

(1) It tells us of how the gospel of Jesus Christ first came to Europe—and of Europe's first converts.

(2) It gives us a feel for how the gospel preaching of Paul—though clearly blessed of God with fruit—was also accompanied by opposition. In most of the cities that Paul and Silas went to in this second missionary journey, the presentation of the gospel resulted in a city-wide disturbance. This was the case in Philippi (16:22), Thessalonica (17:5-6), Corinth (18:12-17), and Ephesus (19:21-41). Only in Berea (17:13-15) was a disturbance averted; and only in the philosophic center of Athens did the gospel meet with a peaceful—though somewhat indifferent—reception (17:16-34).

(3) It introduces to us some of the major churches that were established through Paul, and to which he carried on an ongoing written correspondence—resulting in many of the "letters" we have in the New Testament.

(4) It gives us marvelous details about how the gospel ministry was carried out to the salvation of souls.

I. THE SUPPORT OF LYDIA (vv. 11-15).

A. After having received the call of God to take the gospel to Macedonia (vv. 9-10), Paul and Silas (along with Luke, as is indicated by the "we" statements) sailed from the coastal city of Troas, and "ran a straight course to Samothrace" (v. 11) (a small island off the coast of Thrace). The original language suggests a surprisingly rapid transit. The next day, they came to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi (v. 12). Later, this two- day journey would take five days (20:6). The speed of their travel must have encouraged the missionaries that, after hitting so many walls (vv. 6-8), they were finally going to the place God wanted them to be. Note that we're told that Philippi was "the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony" (v. 12). Though it was a foreign city from Rome, it was a Roman "colony". This was an honor that was sometimes given to a city because of some outstanding act or service. The people in that city lived in Philippi; but they lived there with the honor of being considered "citizens of Rome". The believers of Philippi would have easily understood what Paul meant when he later wrote to them that, though we live on earth, "our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20).

B. It doesn't appear that there was a synagogue in Philippi. After staying several days (v. 12), it may be that the missionaries were beginning to wonder why God had called them there. Many missionaries since then, who have followed God's call, have had to wait in the place of God's calling and wondered the same thing. But finally, on the Sabbath, a wonderful and fascinating conversion occurred. The missionaries went out of the city to the riverside, "where prayer was customarily made" (v. 13). Apparently, some women who had a reverence toward the God of Israel had gathered there; and the missionaries struck up a conversation with them. One of the women who heard Paul was named Lydia. She was a "seller of purple" (v. 14), that is, a merchant in highly-valued purple fabric. This would suggest that she was a woman of means. She, as it turns out, was from the city of Thyatira (see Revelation 2:18-29)—a city of Phrygia; where Paul and Silas had previously been forbidden from preaching (v. 6). She, we're told, "worshiped God"—but probably in the same way that Cornelius had in Acts 10. As Paul and Silas spoke to her, the Lord "opened her heart to heed the things spoken" (v. 14); and as a result she and her household were baptized (v. 15). Thus, even though God had forbidden them to go to Asia, He nevertheless had a convert from Asia prepared—in Macedonia!

C. After her conversion, and the baptism of her household, Lydia begged Paul and Silas that they stay at her house—most likely, to use it as a base of operation. Luke writes, "So she persuaded us" (v. 15)—which may have been said with a bit of tongue-in-cheek; because as a merchant, her house was probably very large and comfortable. As we read on, we find that Paul and Silas later entered her house to see and encourage the brethren (v. 40). This may suggest that Lydia's home became the center of the first house-church in Europe—and that would mean that the letter that Paul wrote to the Philippians went to Lydia's home to the saints that met there! What a wonderful ministry supporter God provided to Paul and Silas through Lydia!


A. Luke goes on to say that as Paul and Silas went again to "prayer" (v. 16)—probably, to the same place of prayer by the riverside; making it the starting-point of the Philippian outreach—they encountered a "certain slave girl". We're told that she was possessed with a "spirit of divination". Literally, it was a pneuma pythona—a spirit that, supposedly, told the future through the Pythian god in relation to the worship of Apollo. In reality, she was a poor, demon-influence woman who was a mere tool to those who exploited her for "much profit". What particularly grieved Paul was that she followed the missionaries and shouted to the crowd, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation" (v. 17)—a profession that was certainly true on the face of it; but that was grievous to have come from the lips of one influenced by a demon. If Satan cannot persecute people away from the gospel, he will seek to lay claim to it and defile it with falsehood. This went on for many days; and it "greatly annoyed" Paul (v. 18). Finally, he turned and spoke directly to the spirit: "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And we're told that she was delivered of this demon "that very hour".

B. Ordinarily, it would be a wonderful cause of celebration whenever anyone is delivered from a demon. But it wasn't greeted that way by those who were making making money off of her. The gospel is often resented because it ruins things for those who make a profit from sin! When they saw that their hope for profit was gone, her masters seized the missionaries and dragged them into the marketplace and accused them before the authorities (v. 19). Their accusation was that "These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe" (vv. 20-21). The accusation was not true—but it sounded much nobler than to say that the missionaries were delivering people of demons and spoiling their business.

C. With this news, the multitude in the marketplace—which also, possibly, shared to some degree in the profit from this poor woman's affliction—gathered together against the missionaries. The magistrates responded by humiliating them, beating them, and casting them into prison. These things didn't, perhaps, turn out the way someone would expect a successful missionary campaign into a city would go, but God's sovereign hand is manifest in the things that followed from it. And they were probably the things Paul was referring to when he wrote later to the Philippians that to them had been granted the privilege of suffering for Christ (Philippians 1:29); and spoke of "the same conflict which you saw in me" (v. 30).


A. The missionaries were turned over to the charge of a jailer. It was his responsibility, according to Roman law, to keep the prisoners at the cost of his own life. If one prisoner was ever to escape, it would mean his death. It would be hard to imagine that a man would actually want this job; but whether he wanted it or not, it was his. We're told that he fastened their feet in the stocks "having received such a charge" to keep them securely (v. 24). How many hours it was that the two missionaries were kept in the prison isn't told us. But what is told us is how they spent their time there. By midnight, they were "praying and singing hymns to God" (v. 25). All of the other prisoners—who must have been accustomed to hearing weeping and moans—were hearing all this. What a reminder this is that our testimony—even in times of trial—is being watched, and may be used by God to open doors to Him!

B. At midnight, a "great earthquake" occurred (v. 26). But it was no ordinary earthquake. Rather than being destructive, it was liberating; because it shook the foundations of the prison so that all the doors swung open and all the chains fell off the prisoners. The keeper of the prison awoke from his sleep; and seeing the doors opened, he assumed the worse and drew his sword to kill himself (v. 27). In this context, think of what grace Paul demonstrated toward the man who had beaten him! He could have remained silent; but instead, he shouted out to the man not to harm himself—assuring him that all were still present (v. 28).

C. This jailer must have heard the singing of hymns and the prayers too; and it must have had an impact on his heart. He called for a torch, ran in, fell down before the prisoner- missionaries, and asked the greatest question a man can ask: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (vv. 29-30). And they told him the best news a man could receive: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (vv. 31). The missionaries further taught him and the members of his household about the Lord Jesus he was being called to believe on (v. 32). True repentance was demonstrated by the fact that he washed the stripes he had put on the missionaries (v. 33); and by the fact that he himself was "washed" in the waters of baptism. The fact that his entire house was "baptized" doesn't argue for the idea of "infant baptism", as some have suggested; because we see in the next verse that his whole household believed (v. 34). Then, he brought them into his house and set food before them. Whose to say, then, that this jailer was not who God had in mind when he gave Paul a vision of a man in Macedonia saying, "Come over here to Macedonia and help us"?


A. What a night that must have been! But when morning came—for whatever reason—the magistrates sent officers to command that the jailer release the missionaries (v. 35). We see something of the missionaries' humble submissiveness by the fact that the jailer still had them and they were still under custody. He reported these words to Paul and said that the authorities had sent to let them go, and that they may depart in peace (v. 36).

B. There must have been some impropriety sensed on the part of the magistrates regarding the arrest; because they sent to have them released "secretly" (v. 37). It may be that they realized that the charges brought against them were false (see vv. 20-21). But whatever the motives for the release may have been, Paul would not allow this "secret release" to happen. He made the surprising announcement that the magistrates had arrested, beaten, and openly condemned "Romans". Paul himself was a Roman citizen by birth (see Acts 22:22-29); and he was not afraid to use his citizenship to the advantage of the gospel when he needed to. He demanded that the magistrates come and release him publicly. This may seem, at first appearance, to be a belligerent act on Paul's part; but it would result in the public recognition that he was a Roman citizen, and would thus afford him protection in his further work of the gospel.

C. The magistrates were deeply afraid when they heard that Paul was a Roman (v. 38). After all, their city had been awarded the standing of a Roman colony; and it would have been a very serious crime for them to have then abused a Roman! They came and pleaded with Paul to leave the city (v. 39); but it seems that Paul didn't feel obliged to do so until he saw fit. Instead, he left the prison and when to Lydia's house, encouraged the brethren there, and then left (v. 40).

* * * * * * * * * *

Paul's and Silas' experience in Philippi could be expressed in what he wrote to the Philippians while he sat in a Roman prison some years later: "But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel . . ." (Philippians 1:12). May we, too, learn to see God's hand in our troubles; and recognize how He uses them to advance the cause of His gospel.


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