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Acts 16:6-40

Paul's second missionary journey. Slave girl exorcised, Paul & Silas flogged and imprisoned. Earthquake, conversions, release.

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Lets read Acts 16 verses 6 to 8. (Maps are all extracts from Map120)

6 Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas (Probably another 200 miles!).

As we shall see shortly, the Holy Spirit now needed Paul and Timothy to get to Troas.

Why might there be far too many reasons for Paul to spend time among the people of Asia?

(Get people to turn to Revelation 2 and 3 and find which churches the Seven Letters were written to – and locate them on the map!

Now we will read Acts 16:9-15

9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’

It is sometimes easy to pass over some phrases in order to get to the next exciting part of the narrative, but we would do well to look again at verses 6, 7 and 9:

‘kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia’

‘they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to’

‘During the night Paul had a vision’

How do you think the Holy Spirit directed Paul?

Sadly we are not so quick these days to recognise or obey the inner promptings of the Spirit. We are taught to rely on our own wisdom and intelligence when making decisions. Paul however recognised the voice of the Lord only too well, and now he was quick to obey!

10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

‘We’ in this verse and from now on, is taken by many to suggest that Luke (who wrote this book) joined Paul and Timothy at Troas. Compare the description of the journey in verse 8 with the details in 11 and 12.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

Philippi was one of several European towns conquered by the Romans. Here land was then assigned to veteran soldiers, effectively ‘Romanising’ it, so Paul (a Roman citizen himself) could easily meet with other Romans. During the ‘several days’ they would probably have enquired where any Jews in the city might meet. As there was no Synagogue, they were directed to the river bank.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.

The women who gathered were not necessarily Jews, but were still true God-worshippers. Note they met ‘outside the city gate’ where there were few restrictions and the authorities would have been less concerned about why they were meeting together.

14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

What do you understand by the phrase: ‘The Lord opened her heart’ ?

The human heart is naturally resistant to the claims of Christ. Unless the Lord himself first opens our hearts to his claims, we could never be receptive. Whether we then choose to accept or reject him is down to us!

Thyatira stood on the border between the regions of Lydia and Mysia. It was a centre of the purple cloth trade. Lydia may have simply meant ‘Lady from Lydia’

Note that this lady was the first convert as a result of the call from the ‘Man of Macedonia’ ! But what was she doing hundreds of miles from her home town, in Philippi? We are told she was a dealer – a husband is not mentioned so perhaps as she travelled on business her household would have consisted of servants rather than other family members. She may have had children but we don’t know. It may be assumed that if she worshipped God, she would have employed people who were at least sympathetic too.

15 When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.

This passage has been used to justify infant baptism but I don’t think children were involved, rather adults who themselves believed too (but I may be wrong). But anyway, it would have been a joyful party that left the river bank and went back to her house that night.

The ‘place of prayer’ by the river obviously became the regular place for Paul and the others to go to preach:

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.

This girl did not have a life of her own. She had been bought as a slave by her ‘owners’, but she had already been taken over by an evil spirit.

17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’

Satan, the father of lies, will also use the truth if he thinks it will cause trouble. Here, by advertising the message of salvation, he hoped to stir up the same response the Apostles had experienced in Iconium and Lystra (Acts 14:5, 19)

18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned round and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.

It seems that Paul wasn’t so much concerned for his own well-being as simply annoyed by her continual shouting for ‘many days’. Notice that Paul did not address the girl, but spoke directly to the evil spirit within her.

19 When her owners realised that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place to face the authorities.

It is sad to see that no-one seemed concerned for the girl’s welfare; with their source of income gone, her owners had no further use for her and we hear no more of her. However, the change in her life was obvious and her owners were not going to let the matter rest.

20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, ‘These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practise.’

Legally, this ‘new religion’ would have been unauthorised by Roman law.

Did the girl’s owners care about religion, or even the law? Most unlikely – but they would not be the last who suddenly become pious or avid law-keepers when opposing Christ.

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.

(Roman prisons were rarely used as a punishment. They were only to hold prisoners awaiting trial, or execution. Consequently there were no comforts and no windows. Often prisoners were chained.)

24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

A roman flogging was a very painful punishment. To flog someone severely, could easily lead to death. To then be restrained with their feet in stocks meant that if they wished to lie down they could only do so on their backs.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

They had been in prison for many hours but it was unlikely they could sleep. Instead of cursing and coarse talk the Jail now was filled with prayers and hymns – no wonder the other prisoners were listening. For Paul and Silas it was the natural response of hearts in tune with God. And their prayers were to be answered in a miraculous way!

26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.

Probably the Jailer slept with a fixed light in the room next to the cell. The prisoners could now see him through the open door but he could not see into the blackness of the cell. The punishment for loosing prisoners was an unpleasant death – the jailor was well aware that to fall on his own sword would be far preferable.

28 But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

As in the case of Lydia, the Lord was already at work in the heart of the jailor. Maybe he too had heard the words of the demoniac servant girl: ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’

Instinctively he knew that Paul and Silas were his hope of salvation.

Not as some might suggest salvation from Roman punishment – all his prisoners were safe. Perhaps as he drew his sword he realised he was not ready to meet his God.

31 They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.’ 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptised. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole household.

Paul and Silas sensed that salvation would come to not only the jailor, but his whole household too, so they happily ‘spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house’.

What was the immediate response of these new Christians?

35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: ‘Release those men.’ 36 The jailer told Paul, ‘The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.’

The Magistrates realised that it was not worth the effort to charge the prisoners; a night in the cells was usually sufficient to deter troublemakers from re-offending, and they had already been severely flogged (v23).

37 But Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.’

38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.

Now the magistrates themselves were in trouble; Roman citizens were entitled to the protection of the law, not summary punishment without trial. So they quickly came to make their apologies and politely ask them to ‘move on’.

40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.

Paul and Silas were not to be driven out; they would go when they were ready. First they must meet the believers and tell them of their miraculous escape, encouraging them to be bold in their new-found faith. Then they left, heading further west.

Acts 15 Acts 17 NIV Copyright