In this essay we are studying Acts 16:6-40. In verses 6-10 we see how the Holy Spirit led Paul and Silas in their missionary ministry. We will make many geographical references, so I believe you will want to consult the map of Paul’s journeys at the back of your Bible. As we saw in the last essay, this so-called second journey began when God led the two apostles to revisit the communities established on Paul’s first journey.
In verses 1-5 we saw their stops at Derbe and Lystra. Now in verse six we see them passing through Phyrgia and Galatia. You will recall that the cities of Iconium and Pisidian Antioch were in those regions. So the missionaries completed their first goal of encouraging the little communities founded on the first journey.
Their question now was, where do we go next? The natural answer to that would have been to head southwest to Ephesus from which they could evangelize the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea. But we are told that the Holy Spirit forbade them “to speak the word in Asia,” meaning of course, the Roman province of Asia, which we call Asia Minor, not the continent of Asia. Now we are not told how the Holy Spirit forbade them to preach in Asia. It could have been by an inward impression, or through a prophet, or through some other, more direct form of communication. We have no way of knowing.
The prohibition against preaching in Asia obviously was not permanent. Paul later had a great ministry in the area. But the Holy Spirit did not want them ministering there at this particular time.
Therefore they decided to go north and traveled to the border of the region of Mysia, which was not a Roman province, but a geographical region located at the northwestern tip of Asia Minor. From there Paul planned to go through Mysia northwest into the Roman province of Bithynia. But once again the Holy Spirit checked the missionaries and did not allow them to go there. `And once again Luke does not explain how the Holy Spirit did that. So they passed by Mysia to the Aegean coastal city of Troas.
At Troas Paul had a vision in the night of a man from Macedonia pleading that the missionaries come over to Macedonia to help them. Macedonia was the Roman province in the northern part of Greece. Here we have a case in which Luke does tell us how the Holy Spirit led the missionaries. He did it by means of a night vision. And in this case it was a positive leading, as opposed to the negative leadings they had been given not to go to certain places.
Verse ten is important, because it tells us that Luke himself had become part of the missionary team. Luke apparently was at Troas at the time. Perhaps he was practicing medicine there. We are not told about his conversion; but here in verse ten, he suddenly shifts from the third to the first person, indicating that he was now present at the events he was recording. This happen four times in the book. These so-called “we passages” are 16:10-17; 20:5-16; 21:1-18; and 27:1-28:16. The team clearly interpreted Paul’s vision as a call from God to go to Macedonia, and they immediately did so.
Moving on to verses 11-15, Samothrace was a little island not far from the coast of Macedonia, and Neapolis was the port city for the city of Philippi, which was located ten miles inland. Philippi was named for Philip of Macedon (fourth century BC), who was the father of Alexander the Great. As Luke tells us, Philippi was a Roman colony, which means that Rome had settled Roman citizens there, mostly retired military people.
The little group of missionaries stayed there for “some days,” which may have been several weeks. As we have learned from our studies, Paul’s missionary strategy was to begin his ministry at the local synagogue on the Sabbath. Apparently there was no synagogue in Philippi, because the tiny Jewish community there did not have the required ten adult males. But on the first Sabbath the missionaries did find “a place of prayer” “by the river,” where Jewish women, and apparently some God-fearers, gathered to pray. So they shared the story of Jesus with the women.
A businesswoman named Lydia, a God-fearer from Thyatira, was among those praying. You may recognize Thyatira as the location of one of the seven churches of the Revelation. The city was located in the Lycus valley of the province of Asia, from which the missionaries recently had come. Luke describes her as “a dealer in purple cloth.” That would have been cloth treated with very expensive purple dye, something for which Thyatira was famous. She probably was a regional sales representative for a Thyatiran manufacturer. At any rate, she was converted and baptized, along with her household. Then she invited the missionaries to stay at her hone, which would have been fairly large to accommodate so many guests. Presumably, the new Christian community also met there.
In verses 16-18 we see Paul’s encounter with a demon possessed slave girl. Because of the spirit, she was able to tell people their fortunes; and she was making a lot of money for her owners. For some unexplained reason she followed the missionaries around screaming that they were slaves of the Most High God and that they were offering salvation. After many days of this, Paul wearied of it and cast out the demonic spirit from her. Luke’s we passage ends here, which implies that he stayed in Philippi when the others moved on.
Turning to verse 19-24 we se that Paul’s action against the girl had unfortunate results for Paul and Silas. The owners of the girl saw immediately that their means of making money had departed with the demon. So they hauled Paul and Silas before the city magistrates and accused them of disturbing the city, of being Jews (some anti-Semitism there), and of advocating unlawful customs. Notice that none of these charges constituted the real reason for the complaint. The magistrates and the citizens of the city accepted the charges, and Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison. The jailer, who was instructed, “to keep them securely,” put them in the inner most cell with their feet in stocks.
The first thing we notice in verses 25-34 is the demeanor of the missionaries. They had been cruelly beaten, and they were locked into stocks, which limited their movement. Their pain surely was severe. But instead of moaning and cursing, they “were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” About midnight a sudden, violent earthquake shook the prison, opened all the doors and loosened the prisoners’ chains. All of them could have escaped. But they did not. The jailer, assuming that they did escape, was about to commit suicide, because he knew he would have been held responsible. But Paul assured him that the prisoners were still there.
The jailer was so impressed by what had happened, he fell down at the apostles’ feet and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they preached the word to the jailer’s household, and they were indeed saved.
Verses 35-40 tell us that the next morning the magistrates, who believed the punishment had taught the missionaries a lesson, ordered them released. But Paul made a surprising demand. Their rights as Roman citizens had been unjustly violated, and he insisted that the magistrates come down to the prison, apologize, and publicly escort them out of the prison. The magistrates, now realizing that they had made a mistake, did it, though they asked the two to leave town. Paul and Silas went to Lydia’s house to encourage the new, little Christian community; and then they moved on.