Acts Lesson Thirty-three: Acts 16:6-15 The Holy Spirit Leads Paul to Macedonia

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia and were prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message in Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, bypassing Mysia, they came down to Troas. During the night a vision appeared to Paul: A Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to evangelize them. 

11 Then, setting sail from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, a Roman colony, which is a leading city of that district of Macedonia. We stayed in that city for a number of days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we thought there was a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women gathered there. 14 A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (HCSB)

As we continue our journey through Acts, I’ll break this lesson into two parts.

  • The Holy Spirit leads Paul and the team into Europe – verses 6-10.
  • The conversion of Lydia and her household – verses 11-15.

The Holy Spirit Leading Paul and the Team into Europe

Paul’s team visited the churches established on the first missionary journey. As they were traveling, Paul decided to move into Bithynia, but the Lord closed the door to evangelism in that area. Paul likely experienced a mix of emotions when this occurred. On the one hand, it would be  a disappointment that they were prevented from moving into that area. On the other hand, this meant that the Lord would lead them in another direction. The path they now took led them to the port city of Troas. 

During the night, Paul had a vision of a man pleading for help. Scholars have speculated and debated on the identity of the person in the vision. One of the most popular choices is the writer of Acts, Luke. This is based on the text, which uses the phrase “we” for the first time in verse ten, which indicates Luke’s presence with the team. However, tradition connects Luke with Antioch and not Macedonia, and the Philippian narrative gives no indication that Macedonia was Luke’s home stomping ground. There are even some who believe the man in the vision was Alexander the Great since he had a vision of a “one world,” and Paul would attempt to realize that dream through the Gospel. However, we must conclude that there is no definitive position on the identity of the man in the vision. Rather, he was from Macedonia and requested assistance, prompting Paul’s team to begin the journey to Macedonia.

We can conclude from the context of this section that Paul shared the vision he had received with Timothy and Silas, who agreed with Paul that the team should cross over to Macedonia. In the previous paragraph, I highlighted the significance of the term “we.” It would be safe to assume that Luke joined the team at this point as they headed to Macedonia. 

Troas could be viewed as the last port between two major landmasses of the ancient world, Asia Minor and Europe. The two areas were separated by two major bodies of water, The Aegean and Black Seas. The evangelism of Europe would now begin. 

The Conversion of Lydia and Her Household

Paul and his team now set sail from Troas, heading to Macedonia. They sailed northwest from Troas, stopping first at the island of Samothrace, almost halfway to the port of Neapolis. After spending the night at Samothrace, they left for Neapolis, which was the port for the city of Philippi. The distance from Troas to Neapolis was approximately 150 miles, taking two days to make the journey. The city of Philippi was about ten miles inland from the port of Neapolis. Let’s look at some information about the city of Philippi.

  • It was a Roman colony, meaning it was a “Rome away from Rome.”
    • The emperor organized the colonies by ordering Roman citizens, especially retired military personnel, to live in them to establish and maintain a strong pro-Roman presence.
    • Although they were living on foreign land, they were expected to remain loyal to Rome, obey Roman laws, and give honor to the emperor.
    • In return for their loyalty, they were given various political privileges, one being an exemption from taxes.
  • There was an abundance of copper and gold deposits in the region.
  • It came under Roman control in 168 b.c. and was expanded in 42 b.c.
  • It was known for its agricultural industry.
  • The location was of strategic commercial importance to Rome.
  • A famous medical school was located there.

It is interesting to note that the team didn’t begin their evangelism efforts as soon as they arrived. Although they knew that God had sent them to the region, they weren’t ready yet to begin their work. This is likely due to several reasons.

  • They needed some rest after their journey.
  • They needed to spend some time in prayer and make their plans for this new area of evangelism.
    • It isn’t enough to know where God wants us.
    • We also need to know when and how He wants us to work.

Now let’s consider some facts as the team began to work in Philippi.

  • They found a place to live and waited until the following Sabbath to begin their evangelistic efforts.
  • The Jewish population must have been very small in Philippi as there was no synagogue located there. Jewish law required at least ten male heads of households to form a congregation.
  • The only place of prayer was outside of the city, next to the river.
    • The river was likely the Gangites, located about 1 1/4 miles from the city gates.
    • Romans were often uneasy about foreign cults.
    • Judaism was a recognized religion, but because there wasn’t a formally established synagogue, the women were forced to meet outside the city gates.
    • If there were no Jews in Philippi, a possibility, and all the women were Gentile “God-fearers,” gathering in the city may have drawn even more suspicion from the Roman authorities.
    • It was customary in cities where no synagogue existed for believers to gather in the open near some type of body of water so other believers could easily find them.
  • Regardless of the circumstances, this gathering was the closest thing to a synagogue that Paul’s team would find in Philippi.
    • Paul then took the normal position of a speaker or teacher in a synagogue; he sat down.
    • Most likely, the meeting took place in an open-air environment next to the river.

The first convert was Lydia, one of the women who heard Paul’s message. Let’s look at some information concerning Lydia.

  • Lydia was a successful businesswoman from the town of Thyatira.
  • Thyatira was a city well-known for its purple dye.
  • From the context of the passage, it would appear that she was in charge of a branch office of her trade in Philippi.
  • This would make Lydia someone who was successful in business.
    • Purple goods were expensive and often associated with royalty.
    • This would make the business a lucrative one.
  • She “worshipped God,” which meant that she was not a full Jewish proselyte, but she did openly worship with the Jews.
    • Thyatira contained an extensive Jewish community.
    • It is likely that she became a worshipper of God there.
    • Similar to the conversion of Cornelius, God responded to her faith and “opened her heart” to receive and understand the Gospel message.
  • She was seeking truth.
  • Women in Greek and Roman society could achieve an elevated status, unlike Jewish society.

After Lydia and her household were baptized, she persuaded the team to stay at her home. Let’s consider what the invitation meant.

  • The acceptance of her hospitality was a test of whether or not the missionary team really believed she had become a follower of Christ. It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.
  • We see later in this chapter, verse 40, that her home became a gathering place for the Philippian Christian community.
  • She may very well have been the wealthiest member of the Philippian church.
  • She embraced the ideal of the early church, freely sharing her resources with her brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • She also shared her faith, which we see in the fact that her household also became believers.
  • This is the first time the baptism of a “household” is mentioned in Acts. 
    • However, we shouldn’t use this event as support for infant baptism.
    • Throughout Acts, baptism is based upon individual faith and commitment.
  • The phrase “she persuades us” could indicate the team’s hesitancy in staying based on several possible reasons.
    • She was a woman.
    • She could have been a single woman.
    • Maybe some members of the team didn’t want to stay in the house of a Gentile, even a believing Gentile.
    • Whatever the reasons were, they were overcome, and the team agreed to stay at Lydia’s house.

Let’s consider a few other facts about the Philippian church and support to Paul’s efforts in general.

  • Of all of the churches that Paul established, the Philippian church stood out for its generosity.
  • They continued to send support to Paul as his journeys took him to other locations.
    • Philippians 4:15-18.
    • 2 Corinthians 11:8.
  • Women like Lydia were actively engaged in supporting Paul’s ministry efforts.
    • The women of Thessalonica – Acts 17:4.
    • The women of Berea – Acts 17:12.
    • Damaris in Athens – Acts 17:34.
    • Priscilla in Corinth – Acts 18:2.

Applications

  • We must be sensitive and obedient to where the Spirit would lead us and what the Spirit would have us do for the advancement of the Gospel.
  • We must be flexible in how we engage the lost. In this lesson, we see that Paul’s standard method of starting at the local synagogue wouldn’t work because there wasn’t a synagogue. Additionally, the initial target audience was a group of women. Both of these were new avenues for Paul to explore.
  • Are we like Lydia? Do we extend hospitality to those in need, and do we support efforts to advance the Gospel? All of us have various ways to reach the lost. Although many of us will not travel far in our evangelistic efforts, we can still evangelize those close to us. Additionally, we can support those who are sent to other countries. Often these missionaries make do with much less than we have.

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