|Topical Bible Study||March 1958|
The People of the Bible
Article XXXI—Acts, chapters 15 – 18:22
Paul’s Second Missionary Tour—Part 1
AFTER completing his first missionary tour, returning to Antioch from where he started, Paul and Barnabas his companion, remained for some time with the brethren in Antioch. Then this flourishing congregation of disciples was visited by immature brethren from Judea who said, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1) Paul and Barnabas withstood their teaching, and the brethren of the Antioch church sent them to Jerusalem “unto the apostles and elders about this question.”—vs. 2
On their way to Jerusalem they visited the brethren in Phenice and Samaria, and brought great rejoicing to them by reporting the fact that in many places Gentiles were now accepting Christ. Reaching Jerusalem they gave a full report to the brethren of the wonderful manner in which the Lord had blessed them on their first missionary journey, and in Antioch.
In Jerusalem, also, there appeared among the brethren “certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” (vs. 5) Then a conference of the elders and apostles was called to consider the question. The record speaks of there being “much disputing” over this subject. Probably some endeavored to deny that Gentile believers were being accepted by God at all, while others insisted that in any event they should be circumcised. Doubtless other viewpoints were also pressed at this assembly.
Finally Peter, who had been sent by the Lord to Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, gave his report of that experience. Then James asked to be heard, and stated, in keeping with Peter’s testimony, that God was indeed now visiting the Gentiles, the purpose being “to take out of them a people for his name.” James explained that this was in agreement with the words of the Prophet Amos.—ch. 9:11,12; Acts 15:13-17
After further deliberation it was decided to dispatch letters to the Gentile disciples asking them to “abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:20) It was further decided to commission two brethren —“Judas, surnamed Barsabas, and Silas”—to go to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, bearing the authorized letters of instructions to Gentile converts.
So now we find Paul and Barnabas back in Antioch, where the Lord continued to bless the general ministry of the brethren. Realizing that they were not specially needed in Antioch, where there were other capable brethren willing and ready to serve, Paul proposed to Barnabas that they start out on another journey, with the object particularly of visiting and confirming those who had become believers during their first missionary tour.—Acts 16:36-39
Barnabas was quite willing to do this, but he insisted that they take Mark as a helper. Paul did not agree with this. Mark had deserted them soon after they started their first missionary tour, so Paul was unwilling for him to accompany them the second time. The contention over this was sharp between Paul and Barnabas, so that they parted company, and Paul chose Silas instead to accompany him, the latter now being in Antioch at the behest of the elders and apostles of Jerusalem.
Luke, the historian, bridges over the first part of Paul’s second journey with the statement, “He went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches.” (Acts 15:41) “Then came he 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.”—ch. 16:1
It may be assumed that Timotheus, or Timothy, became a believer either directly or indirectly as a result of Paul’s first missionary tour, although we have no scriptural record of it. This young man, and believer, we are informed, was “well reported of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium.” (vs. 2) This confidence was justified, for Timothy was destined to become one of the outstanding servants in the Early Church.
He became a valuable co-worker with Paul. The apostle loved him dearly, and referred to him as his son Timothy. To Timothy Paul wrote two of his epistles, the last from prison in Rome where he expected soon to be executed.
It was on Paul’s second missionary tour that he invited this spiritual son to be a fellow-worker, and Timothy accepted the invitation. Paul was one who believed in giving as little cause as possible for offense among those with Jewish background and training, so he arranged to have Timothy circumcised. The Jews in “those quarters” knew that Timothy’s father was a Greek, and therefore had not had his son circumcised.
This detail attended to, the three, Paul, Silas, and Timothy now went forth together. As they went from city to city establishing the brethren in the faith, they also delivered the decree given to them by the elders and apostles at Jerusalem outlining the minimum requirements of Gentile believers so far as the law of Moses was concerned. (vss. 4,5) A brief summary of another part of this journey is presented in verses 6-8, with the information that they were forbidden to continue preaching the Gospel in Asia—Asia Minor, that is.
This was a temporary measure, and for a good purpose. There was another field which was, at the time, more important to serve. This was brought to Paul’s attention in a dream, or vision, in which he heard the voice of a “man” saying, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” (vs. 9) In verse 10 we read, “And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the Gospel unto them.”
This vision came to Paul at Troas, and hereafter an interesting sidelight appears in the record, through the use of the pronouns “we” and “us.” Luke is the historian, and it seems evident that he joined the party at Troas, and thus included himself in the record.
From Troas, Luke wrote, “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.” (vss. 11,12) This brief statement reveals the dispatch with which Paul responded to the call of the Holy Spirit to go into Macedonia. Thus did this great apostle always respond to the leadings of the Lord. He knew not what awaited him in Macedonia—how he would fare from a material standpoint, what persecutions he might encounter, or joys he would experience. He simply knew that the Lord wanted him to go to Macedonia to preach the Gospel of Christ and of the kingdom, so he went.
First Macedonian Convert
Arriving in Philippi, Paul and his companions remained there “certain days,” apparently to survey the situation, and to decide the best method of reaching those who would be likely to give a “hearing ear” to their message. They learned that there was a place outside the city by the side of the river, “where prayer was wont to be made.” They concluded that here they would find the truly devout people of the city, especially on the sabbath.
Their conclusions were right. They went to this place of prayer on the sabbath and “sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.” (vs. 13) “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshiped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”—vs. 14
A vital truth is expressed in this brief narrative which is often overlooked by those who proclaim the Gospel, It is contained in the statement, “whose heart the Lord opened,” referring to Lydia. Jesus said that no man could come unto him unless drawn by the Heavenly Father. (John 6:44) Even when the great Apostle Paul, with all his eloquence, was the speaker, he could convince none except those drawn by the Father, or, as Luke expressed it, whose hearts are opened by the Lord.
But the fact that the Lord did open Lydia’s heart to the message would encourage Paul, for it would help him to understand why he had heard the call, “Come over into Macedonia, and help us.” He could see from this experience that there were those in Macedonia whose hearts the Lord had prepared to receive the Gospel. Yes, the Lord was directing his work, and how Paul must have rejoiced.
Writing further concerning Lydia, Luke explains, “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.” Apparently those of Lydia’s household also accepted the Gospel. This was quite a common thing in those days. Seemingly in many instances the family and servants in a home held the head of the household in high esteem, and were greatly influenced thereby.
Paul and his companions accepted Lydia’s hospitality, and it was in her home that the church at Philippi was founded. This was the first congregation of Christian believers in Macedonia and, in fact, in Europe. Lydia was a Gentile who had been converted to the Jewish faith, hence the reason for her being at prayer on the Sabbath day.
When Paul was first converted the Lord said to Ananias concerning him, “I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:16) Paul experienced the reality of this forecast concerning him, for in practically every place he visited, suffering of one sort or another was inflicted upon him. It was so in Philippi.
With an ecclesia established in Lydia’s home, this little missionary group must have rejoiced. But they soon began to experience the “bitter” with the “sweet.” Luke writes, “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 show unto us the way of salvation.”—vss. 16,17
This happened, Luke reports, while they were on the way to prayer. It would seem that prayer meetings were being held in Lydia’s home, and daily, for in verse 18 we are told that the damsel with the spirit of divination repeated her performance “many days.” It was true enough, as the damsel announced day by day, that Paul and his companions were the “servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation.” However, with his miraculous insight Paul recognized that this was not actually the damsel speaking, but an evil spirit speaking through her.
Paul knew that no good could come from the proclamation made by an evil spirit; that, instead, some evil design had been plotted by Satan through this spirit, which was one of his “angels.” (Matt. 25:41) Recognizing it to be the work of Satan, Paul commanded that the spirit leave the damsel, “and he came out the same hour.”—vs. 18
The damsel was in the employ of “masters” who were using her divinations as a source of revenue. Naturally, when her powers were taken away their business was destroyed. So they “caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the market place [margin, court] 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.”—vss. 19-21
The customary mob was stirred up against these servants of God, and to satisfy the “popular” demand of the citizens, they were beaten and thrown into prison. The magistrates commanded 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.”—vss. 22-24
What was Paul’s reaction to this treatment? Did he begin to complain and question as to whether or not the Lord had really wanted him to serve in Macedonia? No, for he realized that the Lord had already placed his seal of approval upon the Macedonian ministry, for had not Lydia and her household accepted the Gospel? Also, an ecclesia had been established in her home. This blessed fruitage of their labor in Philippi was worth all the suffering that now might be heaped upon them.
So, instead of bemoaning their dreadful plight, at midnight they “prayed, and sang praises unto God.” There in the prison, with their feet locked in the stocks, and not knowing what fate awaited them in the morning, Paul and Silas had their own “prayer” and “praise” service. And we can well imagine that one of the things for which they praised the Heavenly Father was the opportunity he had given them, as he reminded the Philippian brethren later, not only of believing on Christ, but also of suffering for his sake.—Philippians 1:29,30
We know that the Lord heard the prayers and praise of these two beloved servants, “and the prisoners heard them” also. The prisoners were helpless to do anything about it, even if they had wanted to. But the Lord’s arm was not shortened, for “suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s hands were loosed.”—vss. 25,26
Then “the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, … drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.” (vs. 27) “But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.” (vs. 28) The jailer was greatly impressed, as anyone would have been under the circumstances. He fell down at the feet of Paul and Silas, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”—vs. 30
Paul’s answer to this question was brief and to the point—“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (vs. 31) This does not imply that the jailer’s household would be saved through his belief? No, the same conditions applied to them as applied to the jailer. They, too, must believe.
Nor was this simple statement of fact all that Paul said to the jailer and his household. Versa 32 informs us that Paul spoke the word of the Lord both to the jailer and to his household. The Word of the Lord concerning man’s sinful state, his condemnation to death and his redemption through the blood of Christ, can he clearly set forth in a short time. This blessed theme of salvation through Jesus can be amplified, and its details set forth in harmonious array at great lengths. But all the beautiful details of the divine plan do not need to be understood in order to believe on Christ, and, through him, receive justification to life.
Full belief includes surrender to the Lord and obedience to his will. This is revealed in the account of the jailer and his household by the fact that that they were all baptized, or immersed in water, as a symbol of their dedication to the Lord, the burial of their will into his will. The genuineness of the jailer’s belief is further attested by the fact that he took Paul and Silas into his home, dressed their wounds, and fed them. He did all he could to make amends for his part in the suffering which had been inflicted upon these two soldiers of the cross.
Release and Departure
The next morning, the magistrates, having heard what happened in the prison during the night, became fearful, and sent their “sergeants” to the jailer with message, “Let those men go.” This message was relayed to Paul and Silas, and they were told to “depart, and go in peace.”—vss. 35,36
Imagine the surprise of the jailer, and more especially of the magistrates, when Paul refused to leave the prison unless escorted by those who had been responsible for his arrest. He took this stand because of being a Roman citizen. Paul, being a lawyer, knew his rights under the Roman law, so the magistrates were obligated to do as they were requested.
It was a brief, but trying experience for Paul and Silas. Actually, they were in the prison only the one night. But while much physical suffering was involved, and humiliation, the results were glorious, for out of that experience came the conversion of the jailer and his household. The cost of every true conversion throughout the age has been high. That is one reason every saint of God is as a precious jewel to him; and we also should esteem them very highly.
The magistrates in Philippi had been placed in a very embarrassing position, which probably would have continued, and perhaps have become even more humiliating had Paul and Silas remained in the city. So, while they publicly escorted these two servants of the Lord out of the prison, as demanded by the apostle, they, nevertheless, requested—for they knew that they could not command—them to leave the city.
In this situation we again see the magnificent nobility of the great Apostle Paul. It was probably on behalf of the brethren in the new ecclesia in Philippi that he insisted on vindication for himself and Silas. Had he not done this, every believer in Christ in that territory might well have been considered an outlaw, and treated as such. Now it would be different, at least for a while, for the first converts would be looked upon as the followers of a Roman citizen, even though, as doubtless many would conclude, a deluded one.
But having accomplished his purpose in this respect, Paul did not insist on further embarrassing the magistrates, so he willingly complied with their request to leave the city. Before doing so, however, they went to the home of Lydia and enjoyed a farewell meeting with the brethren assembled there. The hymn, “God Be with You till We Meet Again,” had not yet been composed; but we can well imagine that this was the sentiment of their hearts as they prayed and sang praises together.
An interesting sidelight appears in connection with this farewell gathering of the brethren in Philippi. Concerning Paul and Silas, Luke wrote, “When they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.” (vs. 40) We might well suppose that, under the circumstances, Paul and Silas would be the ones who needed to be comforted, but not so. These two faithful ambassadors of Christ, who had been beaten and jailed, and now were requested to leave the city, comforted the other brethren who had not suffered, except in the sense of being the “companions” of those who were so used.—Hebrews 10:33
So Paul’s first visit to Philippi came suddenly to an end. Many years later, while a prisoner in Rome, he wrote a letter to this little group of faithful brethren and reminded them of this “day” of sweet fellowship, and of how much it had continued to mean to him. “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,” he wrote, “always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, for your fellowship in the Gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”—Phil. 1:3-6
What sweet memories Paul must have held of his experience on the river bank where Lydia heard and believed the Gospel! Just as Luke reported that the Lord had opened her heart, so now Paul wrote that it was the Lord who had begun the good work in the hearts of all the Philippian brethren. He knew that this was true of Lydia, and of the others as well.
We may not know just what experiences the Lord may permit, or even direct, in order to open the hearts of those whom he calls by the Gospel. The record does not reveal how it was accomplished in the case of Lydia, but doubtless the earthquake which shook the prison in Philippi and released the prisoners that night when Paul and Silas were praying and praising the Lord, had much to do with preparing the jailer to be receptive to the Gospel.
Paul realized at all times that the fruitage of his labor depended on the Lord; and this is one of the most important lessons for every ambassador of Christ to learn. Without this knowledge, success may well lead to pride and vain-glory, and failure to discouragement. But, fortified with the knowledge that it is God “who giveth the increase,” we can continue to sow the seeds of truth knowing that the God of all wisdom will bless our efforts as seems good to him, which, in turn, will be the very best for us.