Acts Chapter Sixteen by Rev. Dr. Nadine Burton

“The Whole Answer to the Question”

Paul and Silas continued their trips around the country, strengthening the churches. On his trip to Lystra, he met Timothy. Timothy was the son of a Jewish Christian mother, and Greek father.   He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted to take Timothy with him on his missionary journey. So, he took him and had him circumcised for fear of the Jews in those places. As they went from town to town, they took the decision that had been made by the Apostles and Elders at the Jerusalem Church. Boring and Craddock reminds us that “Though originally in a letter addressed to the churches in Syria and Cilicia, the decision for Luke was now relevant for the whole church.”[i] In addition, “Paul could be seen as compromising the very principle for which he had fought. Luke wants to portray that Paul does not want to put any stumbling blocks in the way of those who might come to faith, and is willing to be misunderstood for the sake of the gospel.”[ii] 

The churches were strengthened and increased in numbers on a daily basis. “The churches that Paul founded were evangelistic in nature, proclaiming the message of the gospel of good news. Paul was clear that his mission was winning converts to the Christian faith.”[iii]  It was God’s acts in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the whole world. Looking at mission today, I wonder and ponder if we have lost our way as the church. 

They went on to Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit had forbidden them to visit Asia. “The origins of Christianity and its earliest communities were all in Asia; the mission of the new community will only now cross the Aegean to Europe.”[iv]  They bypassed Mysia and wanted to go into Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. They ended up in Troas. While there, Paul had a vision about a man asking him to come to Macedonia and help them. “Luke frequently portrays communication from the heavenly world as a vision…in his understanding, such visions are objectively real (see 2:17; 9-:10-12; 10:3; 17-19; 11:5; 18:9; 26:19; 12:9).”[v] They were obedient and convinced that God wanted them to spread the good news there.

They sailed to Philippi, which is a leading city in Macedonia, a Roman province to the North of Greece. They stayed there for some days. On the Sabbath, they went by the river, where they supposed was a place of prayer. “Paul and his companions continue to worship as observant Jews and continue to go to the Jews first. There are yet no specific references in Acts to Sunday, the first day of the week, which was to become the Christian holy day (see 20:7).[vi]  There they met Lydia. Lydia was from Thyatira, and a dealer in purply cloth (significant for royalty). She was with a group of women who gathered there. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what Paul shared. We don’t know why the Lord did not open the hearts of the other women – he opened Lydia’s heart. She and her household (watch that word). “Household could mean that Lydia was not married, that she was widowed, had children and or slaves.”[vii] She invited them to her house, saying, “if you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my house.” Lydia becomes the model of that minority of early Christians who were wealthy and whose homes functioned as meeting places for the church and provided hospitality for traveling missionaries.”[viii]

While going to the place of prayer, one day, they met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination. She made her owners a great deal of money by fortune telling. She followed Paul and his companions, crying “These men are slaves of the most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.”  From her pagan perspective, “the most high god is Zeus, and the missionaries message proclaims a way of salvation. Luke and his readers understand the ‘Most High God’ to be the one God, the Creator, the Father of Jesus Christ. And the way of salvation to be the one way revealed in Christ.”[ix]  After a while, Paul became annoyed with her and cast the spirit out of her. He said, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”  Understanding in Luke’s sense, “what the girl said is true, but Paul is angered by its association with an evil spirit. The Christian faith is not a matter of magic and belief in spiritual phenomena, of which the Hellenists (and modern) world was full, but of the good news of God’s act in Christ.”[x]

When her owners realized that they could not make any more money with her gifts, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them off to the authorities. The authorities brought them before the magistrates and said, “these men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt and observe.”[xi] At this point, the crowd joined in, attacking them. It is important to note that “the opponents of Christianity understand themselves to be advocates of public order, defending it against new Eastern superstitious movements.”[xii] The magistrates stripped them of their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After that, they threw them in prison. They were put in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in stocks.

About midnight, Paul and Silas were singing hymns and praying to God, and the prisoners were listening. “Paul and Silas did not speak to their captive audience, but the way they respond to their troubles becomes a testimony to the Christian faith to other prisoners.”[xiii]  Suddenly, there was an earthquake, so violent that the doors of the prison were opened, and their chains were unfastened (for everyone in the jail). The jailer woke up and saw what happened. He was about to kill himself as he thought the prisoners had escaped (the penalty for allowing prisoners to escape was death). Paul shouted, “do not harm yourself, for we are all here.”  The jailer called for the lights, rushed in, and fell down before Paul trembling. He brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household (there is that word again).” They spoke the word of God to him and his whole household. “This is Luke’s comprehensive summary of what is required of human beings in response to God’s act in Christ. It is not a first step in a plan of salvation but contains the whole answer to the jailer’s question.”[xiv]  In addition, it is critical to note: “Many modern readers of the Bible, especially in the mainline churches, are uncomfortable with the language of salvation. But the language is all throughout the New Testament, where the Greek word for ‘Savior’ ‘save,’ and ‘salvation,’ occur 176 times of which 44 are in Luke-Acts.” (For more reading, see Excursus:  What Must I Do to Be Saved).”[xv]

At the same time, he (the jailer) took them, washed their wounds, then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. After that, he took them to his house, fed them, and his entire family rejoiced that he had become a believer in God. His acts of service showed gratitude, hospitality, and vulnerability to this new faith that he said “Yes” to.  

The next morning, the magistrates sent word to let them go. When the jailer brought the message to them, Paul said after all they had done to them (stripped and beaten them), while they were uncondemned and Roman citizens, “now they are going to discharge us in secret? Certainly not, let them come and take us out themselves.”  The police reported Paul’s message. The magistrates were afraid when they found out they were Roman citizens. They came and apologized, took them out, and asked them to leave the city. After leaving the prison, they went to Lydia’s home, encouraged the brothers and sisters there, and then departed.

Prayers: Dear Lord: In this text, we read of salvation in households, in jails, and we see hospitality to strangers. We read of prayer gatherings, miracles, the casting out of spirits, and the intent to use political threats to intersect and interfere with the beginnings of a new religious community. We see a desire for Christian communities to live in peace, harmony, and unity. While this is what salvation means for the early Christian community, help us to want an abiding relationship with you, which leads us into peace, unity, and strong spiritual churches and communities.    

[i] Ibid., pg. 423.

[ii] Craddock and Boring, pg. 423.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibd.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid., pg. 424.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid., pg. 425.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ibid., pg. 427.

[xv] Ibid.