A Current Bible Study:
Acts 16
"Keeping Hope Alive"

     This great Bible chapter could be described as "bittersweet." It illustrates both the great pain and great beauty of the Christian life. On a personal note, I have found it difficult to study and write about this. There is something here for us, you and me, beloved, that our spiritual enemy definitely does not want us to obtain in our understanding, or to attain in our living. We will see Paul, the murderer, and Paul, the Great Apostle of Christ, setting the example for our lives today.
     Here are some things that set the scene for Acts 16. It was a "wild" time of activity in the Apostolic Church:
Acts 13-14 1. Gospel preached and Gentiles believe on Christ at Antioch
2. Paul and Barnabas threatened by Jews and dignitaries and must flee Antioch
3. In Iconium Paul and Barnabas do miracles of faith and preach the Gospel to many more
4. Eventually threatened with stoning by the unbelieving, they flee to Lystra
5. Paul sees the faith of God in a lame man's eyes and commands him to get up and walk
6. When the people at Lystra see the lame man walking around they misunderstand and begin to worship Paul and Barnabas as pagan gods
7. When Paul and Barnabas reject the people's attentions and persist with their Gospel preaching and teaching, Paul is taken away by a mob and stoned
8. Found by the disciples later, apparently dead, "he rose up," and they travel back to Antioch (Some preachers say God brought Paul back from the dead at this time.)
Acts 15 1. At Antioch the Church rejoices with Paul and Barnabas over the recent missionary successes among the Gentiles
2. Soon an argument arises within the Body over what rule of conduct the Jewish church should impose on the new Gentile believers
3. A great meeting is called at Jerusalem where Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and James propose total equality and freedom for the Gentile believers while the other faction advocates that they all be circumcised and keep the laws of the Old Covenant
4. The "freedom" faction wins out that day (As a Gentile believer, I praise the Lord for that!)
5. Now Paul and Barnabas proceed to re-visit their mission circuit
6. Judas and Silas, believing prophets from the Jerusalem Church accompany them
7. Paul and Barnabas have a dispute along the way over a disciple named John Mark
8. Paul questions his commitment to their mission and Barnabas defends him to the point where Barnabas and John Mark continue on to Cypress alone and Paul takes Silas and heads back to Lystra
     OK, I admit, this is a long introduction. But it's important to see the ups and downs of the Apostolic Church. If we ever wondered, now we can say for sure, the Christian life is not always steady and easy. There are great victories but also set-backs along the way to Heaven. In Acts 16 we will ultimately see, through Paul and Silas, how to live and hold on when the purposes of God must go beyond blessing us at that moment in time.

Calling of Timothy to the Ministry

Acts 16 :1-3- "Then came he (Paul) to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: Which (Timothy) was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek."
     The Gentiles were now part of the Body of Christ along with the Jews who had believed. In Timothy we see the first Gentile called by God, through His Apostle, into the ministry. But why would Paul circumcise Timothy? The Church had decided that a Gentile believer need NOT be circumcised in the flesh to be saved. Well, there is something beautiful being revealed here about the ministry. It requires extra commitments. Timothy could have raised a fuss about this circumcision and technically, maybe, he could have gotten out of it. But he listened to Paul, I believe, because he realized that he was being sanctified (set apart) by the Lord for His work. O that we all today, all believers, could see how God has separated us out from His creation. And that you and I, brother and sister, could remember to set Him apart in our lives! If you are an unbeliever today, I challenge you to believe and be healed, and if you are already a believer, I challenge you, as I do myself, to listen for God's calling on your life and sanctify the Lord Jesus within you. That's what happened with Timothy. And he was willing to do whatever it would take to accomplish the Father's will.

Led by the Holy Spirit

Verses 4-12- "And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that they were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily. Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we (Luke, the physician and earthly author of the Gospel of Luke, was possibly traveling with Paul and company and keeping a journal which became the Book of Acts) endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them. Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; and from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days."
    Notice how they answered to no man or committee, or even to their own opinions. They were sensitive to the Holy Spirit that dwelt in their hearts. You see to us, with our busy schedules and agendas and multi-task goals, this may not seem efficient. But friend, this is the way of Christ. When we in the ministry plan without consulting the Spirit, we may accomplish something, but it won't be anything like what these apostles were doing. We must be always listening when we pray and not just praying. It's hard to reign ourselves in. It takes patience. But the more we listen and obey the Father, the more we will come to trust His direction for the Work. In this way, when Paul went somewhere, he KNEW it was the Lord's will that he be there. And he rightfully expected the mercy and power of Christ to be at work along with him and his fellows. This is one reason Paul never lost hope, no matter what was going on around him. Remember, now, Paul isn't to be worshipped, but rather, he's our example. And we ALL can follow in his ways, for all believers are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit that was leading him!

The Mysterious Macedonian Man!

Verses 13-15- "And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.
     And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things that were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us."
    Paul's dream of a man in Macedonia was really just a call to go there and offer the Gospel to any who would listen. This woman, Lydia, listened, was touched by the Lord, and became a believer and a blessing to the missionaries. The older I get the more I realize that male or female, it means very little to God. He's looking for those who are willing to listen to His Word, and He is no respecter of persons.

The Cost of Living by the Spirit

Verses 16-24- "And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. And this she did many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.
     And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks."
    No wonder Paul hesitated before trying to free this unfortunate girl of the demon living in her. He suspected, I'm sure, that there might be consequences. But as God's man in the place Christ had called him to be, Paul could not just stand by while God was blasphemed by this demon day after day. I'm also certain that Paul and Silas, and the others did not enjoy suffering any more than you or I do today, beloved. But the sad facts are these, if we belong to Christ, His enemies are now our enemies, too. And sooner or later, you and I have to take a stand in the spiritual battles. At that point the world will turn it's back on us. Count on that, and don't be shocked!

Keeping Hope Alive

Verse 25- "And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them."
     Betrayed, beaten, abandoned. And now they were s-i-n-g-i-n-g? Now, to tell the truth, this whole idea is confusing. Is this what the Lord demands of us?  No wonder you don't hear much about this passage today. Had Paul and Silas gone mad? There is something unsettling here for me and I think I figured out what it is. It scares me that they weren't scared. How did they get to be so bold?
     Well, as we have seen, they were 100% SURE that God had led them to Macedonia. This is the great advantage of staying in His will. It brings assurance that He is WITH you. They had that.
     Also, when down and defeated like this, they chose to dwell on their faith, not their failure. Even a small faith, whatever God gives us at the time must become our focus! Paul and Silas did this and the Good Lord put a song of sincere hope into their broken hearts. Why, I believe I've gone from being scared to wishing I could have been there in chains beside them that night, just to partake of that precious Manna of hope that came down upon them in the darkness. But, we all have our own battles to face. And the times come when we all need to remember their example.

God is at Work, Even in the Dungeon

     We have seen the gifts of faith and hope. And, frankly, they have been so rewarding to witness and take in that I could end right here. But with God faith and hope are never an end in themselves. He always leads us, and it's always t-h-r-o-u-g-h faith and hope, ever onward to His final and greatest gift of all: love. Sure the demons were having their revenge for a while, and worldly men were indifferent to the Cause of Christ, but here at Philippi, right in this jailhouse, the most powerful force in all eternity was just about to explode on the scene:
Verses 26-40- "And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go. And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace. But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared when they heard that they were Romans. And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city. And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

     I believe the Lord started this love explosion with sparks in the hearts of Paul and Silas. They sang and prayed to witness to those other prisoners. Even in their stricken condition, through the eyes of Jesus, they had begun to look on those other men with compassion and genuine concern for their souls. Then God, in His own love, delivered Paul and Silas, even as He had delivered His loving (and faithful, and hopeful) Son from the tomb.
     And, Lydia wasn't the only one in Macedonia who had "ears to hear" the Gospel. Look at what happened with the Philippian jailer. A regular sermon wasn't ever going to touch him. But do you see how God can use even our apparent defeats and very real suffering to bring about a unique and marvelous good? Not that God causes the suffering, not by any means. Lydia, the jailer, their families, and soon others were saved and became the Church at Philippi. Later Paul, remembering all that had happened there, wrote and told them of the pathway to the faith and hope that he and Silas had been so blessed to find in that dark dungeon. And so we close, beloved:

Philippians 4:4-9- "Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."

May Jesus Christ richly bless you-JKD 9/30/03
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