Bible Study: Acts, Chapter Sixteen
Transcript: Today we are going to study Acts chapter 16 in depth. You can follow along in your own Bible if you like. I will be reading from the World English Bible because it is the only modern English translation that is copyright free, and I can read the entire Bible on video without any legal drama or breaking anyone’s rules. After the meeting today, or sometime this week, please take the matching quiz that I have prepared for you on the website. Thanks to everyone that has participated so far. Let’s get started:
First let’s set our location and do a brief catchup. In Acts chapter 15, about 49 A.D. around 16 years after Jesus ascended, some legalistic Christians (Jewish Pharisees who had converted to Christianity) came from Jerusalem and began teaching the Gentiles at Antioch that “unless they were circumcised according to the law of Moses” they could not be saved. They wanted the new Gentile believers to first convert to Judaism and follow the law of Moses, then come to Jesus. Their doctrine was “Jesus plus circumcision is needed for salvation.”
A dispute about this legalistic requirement began between them and the Apostle Paul, and it became a heated debate. Paul said they were saved by grace alone, while the others said they were saved by grace, and following the law. Neither side would give in, so they were sent to the elders in Jerusalem to decide the matter. A council of the Apostles, including Peter and Paul, met there along with elders like James the Just. Their final decision was that we are saved by grace alone, but they gave three requirements: 1. To avoid things sacrificed to idols 2. Avoid sexual immorality, 3. Avoid eating blood. These things were common among the Gentiles, but appalling to the Jewish believers, and it would cause division in the church instead of unity.
At the end of Acts chapter 15, Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement between them. They were preparing to visit the churches that they had established in Galatia, and Barnabas wanted to take his cousin John Mark along with them. Paul considered Mark a deserter for leaving their group during their last trip and refused to take him along. Paul and Barnabas parted ways, Paul taking a prophet named Silas with him, and Barnabas taking John Mark. That is where we begin our story today.
Acts Chapter 16 beginning in verse 1, reading from the World English Bible: He came to Derbe and Lystra: and behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewess who believed; but his father was a Greek.
Paul and Silas left Antioch and traveled through his hometown of Tarsus, then to Derbe, and onto Lystra where Paul had been stoned and left for dead during the first trip. Paul’s courage and wisdom in the face of danger had made a great impression on the people, and house churches sprang up in each town they visited. It is believed that about five years passed between Paul’s first mission trip in Acts chapter 13 and the second one here in chapter 16. Paul wanted to check up on the churches that they had founded five years ago and see how they were doing.
When Paul came to Lystra, he was impressed by a young man there, probably a teenager, named Timothy. Though his father is thought to have been an unbelieving Gentile, Timothy had a godly upbringing under his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois (compare 2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15). Evidently Timothy had come to Christ during Paul’s first missionary trip and he had demonstrated remarkable spiritual growth over the last five years.
2 The brothers who were at Lystra and Iconium gave a good testimony about him. 3 Paul wanted to have him go out with him, and he took and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts; for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Timothy made such an impression on Paul that he wanted him to be a part of his mission team, so he circumcised him and made him a part of his group. Some have suggested that this circumcision was a compromise of the principle of the Council of Jerusalem, but if you examine the details, it was not. Paul had strongly resisted circumcision in the case of Titus, who was a pure Greek in Galatians 2:3-5 because the principle of Gentile liberty was at stake.
Timothy was both Jew and Greek, and could bridge the gap between them. Because he was uncircumcised however, he was considered an apostate Jew and it would continually offend the Jews, and make working among them very difficult. So being there was no advantage, Timothy voluntarily removed the stumbling block. He took away their ammunition so they could no longer use it against him. Paul had Timothy circumcised, not for the sake of his salvation, but so there would be less to hinder their ministry among the Jewish people.
While at Lystra, I am sure the apostle Paul reflected on the misery of being rejected, stoned, thrown on the refuse pile, and left for dead there. His recent disagreement and separation from Barnabas probably also came to mind. Both experiences had brought him disappointment and pain, but God loves to bring joy and hope during our times of trial. Now it was Paul and Silas and Timothy—co-workers for Jesus Christ.
Being half Gentile and half Jew, Timothy could bridge both cultures. Perhaps if John Mark had been along, they could not have taken on another young trainee. The sovereign God makes excellent use of even the most trying circumstances and no single worker in God’s kingdom is irreplaceable. When a Barnabas leaves for whatever reason, God has a Timothy to take his place. Paul must have really loved Timothy, and this was the birth of a rare and beautiful friendship. Paul later called Timothy his son in 1 Corinthians 4:17.
4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered the decrees to them to keep which had been ordained by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. 5 So the assemblies were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
Paul, Silas, and Timothy together enjoyed great success in their work of strengthening and growing churches. They delivered the message of the recent Jerusalem council, that salvation comes through grace, and that Gentile believers were not under the law of Moses.
6 When they had gone through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit didn’t allow them. 8 Passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
When Paul finished his ministry in Galatia, he decided to go south and minister in Asia. This was not the continent of Asia, but a small Roman province called Asia, where Ephesus was located, in modern-day Turkey. Paul had originally planned to visit the churches they had founded in the first trip, but now the Holy Spirit stopped him. Then he tried to go north into Bithynia so he could minister in the prosperous cities around the Black Sea, but again he was hindered.
The Holy Spirit led them directly west and then into Europe, and they were led there by closed doors. Paul didn’t set out to go to Troas for it was at least the third choice for him, but it was the Holy Spirit’s plan to lead him there. Paul was beautifully responsive to the Holy Spirit, and was willing to lay down his will for the new direction that the Holy Spirit brought.
Paul had plans, but the Holy Spirit changed them and he was guided by hindrance. We should always remember that in scripture, the Holy Spirit often guides as much by the closing of doors, as He does by the opening of doors. It does not specifically say how Paul was hindered. There could have been lack of peace, a word of knowledge, difficult circumstances, or possibly sickness because Luke the physician joins them right after this. In verse 10, Luke changes the narrative from “they” to “we.” Finally the tiny band arrived at Troas on the coast, probably a bit unsure what they were doing there.
9 A vision appeared to Paul in the night. There was a man of Macedonia standing, begging him, and saying, “Come over into Macedonia and help us.” 10 When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go out to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the Good News to them.
Now that they were at the coast, the Holy Spirit gave them His plan in a vision to Paul: cross over into Europe and preach the Good News to them. This was one of the great turning points of history, and we should thank God for it, because it brought the gospel to us in the West.
Luke now shifts from using phrases like “they came down to Troas” in Acts 16:8, to “we sought to go out to Macedonia”. This probably means that Luke joined the band of missionaries while they were in the city of Troas. Perhaps Luke even came as Paul’s personal doctor.
So we see another reason why the Holy Spirit forbade them to preach the word in Asia, and why He did not permit them to go into Bithynia. God wanted Paul and his team to go to Troas and pick up a doctor named Luke. God said “no” to Paul twice there and now we have the “Gospel according to Luke” and the Book of Acts, both written by Luke the physician.
At the time, Paul probably had no idea of the greatness of God’s purpose. God wanted to give him a continent for Jesus, to give him a personal doctor, and Luke went on to write more of the New Testament than anyone else. Believe that God knows what He is doing when He says “No.”
We have to remember that we are merely foot soldiers, while God knows the full battle plan. The best thing that we can do is to align ourselves with what He is doing, one day at a time. Try not to get too excited when things are going well, and try to not get too disappointed when we face closed doors like Paul did, for something better is just around the corner.
11 Setting sail therefore from Troas, we made a straight course to Samothrace, and the day following to Neapolis; 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, the foremost of the district, a Roman colony. We were staying some days in this city.
Paul and his missionary team which now included Luke, had to sail across the Aegean Sea, crossing from the continent of Asia to the continent of Europe. The phrase “sailed straight for Samothrace” is a nautical expression that means the wind was at their backs. So perfect were the winds blowing that they sailed the 156 miles in just two days. In contrast, the return trip mentioned in Acts 20:6 took five days.
The city of Philippi was the place where the armies of Mark Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius in the decisive battle of the second Roman civil war in 42 B.C. Because of its part in the battle, the city was awarded the status of a Roman colony that answered directly to the Roman emperor. Roman soldiers were encouraged to retire there, and its citizens were exempt from provincial taxes. Philippi was proud of its Roman connection and history.
13 On the Sabbath day we went outside of the city by a riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.
The missionary team of Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke, went to the riverside on the Sabbath day instead of a synagogue because there was no synagogue in Philippi. According to Jewish tradition, there had to be at least ten male heads of households before a synagogue could be formed. If these requirements could not be met, then the faithful were to meet under the open sky near a river or sea. So Paul and company walked outside the city on the Sabbath, probably to the river, looking for some fellow Jews. They discovered a small group—all women—who met to pray and read the Law and Prophets. This was a divine appointment.
14 A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one who worshiped God, heard us. The Lord opened her heart to listen to the things which were spoken by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.
One of the women there was named Lydia and she was a seller of purple, which means that she was probably wealthy. Purple dye was extracted in very small amounts from snails and it was used for luxury items or royal fabric. The majority of the people accompanying her were probably family and servants. God opened this woman’s heart and she became the first Christian in Europe.
Afterwards she twisted their arm to come and stay at her house. The word “persuaded” in verse 15 is the exact word used to describe how the disciples pressured Jesus to stay with them after their encounter on the road to Emmaus. She “persuaded” them, and Phillipi became one of Paul’s most beloved congregations. He later wrote the letter of Philippians to them.
16 As we were going to prayer, a certain girl having a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by fortune telling. 17 Following Paul and us, she cried out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us a way of salvation!”
They met a girl here that had a “spirit of python” who foretold the future. According to myth, Python was a snake that guarded the Temple of Apollo and was eventually killed by Apollo. Later the word python came to mean a demon-possessed person through whom the spirit of Python spoke. This poor girl was “demonized,” filled with a demon who revealed the future to her clients. She was a slave girl owned by spiritual pimps, who sold her fortune telling powers for money.
Satan’s strategy was obvious: to derail the gospel by infiltrating it, and forming an apparent alliance with Christ’s work—a blend of religious ideas. He loves to distort the gospel just enough to twist it into a deadly heresy. By the girl following the Apostles around and promoting their work, she appeared as part of their group.
Today most of what fortune tellers and psychics do is only a money making sham. But anytime that it is true and has a supernatural origin as opposed to clever, insightful guessing, there is no doubt that it is inspired by demons. There are still those today who are possessed with a spirit of divination. The spirits that were cast out of that slave girl 2,000 years ago is still alive and in someone else today.
Because demons are created beings, and not “gods” themselves, they cannot read minds nor actually foretell the future. What happens when you visit a fortune teller is that they will give you a word, and then the demon works to make it come true. The event would have never happened if you had not visited the fortune teller in the first place. So if you go to a fortune teller and they say “I see you divorced in five years” then the demon works on destroying your marriage - and sadly you set the wheels in motion by visiting them in the first place.
18 She was doing this for many days. But Paul, becoming greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” It came out that very hour.
Paul became greatly annoyed, and he did not appreciate the free advertising from the demon, though this approach is often difficult to resist. The missionary team could easily have reasoned, “She’s telling the truth. Why not let her speak? It’s free publicity. Besides, maybe as she follows us, she will see the light.” Whatever their initial inclinations, they did not fall for the devil’s bait. Perhaps they remembered that every time a demon confirmed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, He rebuked it—every single time! Jesus always silenced the demons and ordered them to leave. It came out that very hour more literally meant “The words had scarcely left Paul’s lips when the demon left.” It was instantaneous.
19 But when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 When they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men, being Jews, are agitating our city 21 and advocate customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.”
Paul had touched her masters’ heart. The problem was, their hearts were in their wallets. When the slave’s masters saw their income was gone, false charges and racial remarks were brought against Paul and Silas, and their arrest followed. Apparently Timothy and Luke escaped because they were Gentiles. Look how quickly the devil changed tactics. When his deceit did not work, he tried outward persecution and had them arrested.
22 The multitude rose up together against them and the magistrates tore their clothes from them, then commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 When they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely, 24 who, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and secured their feet in the stocks.
The officials who punished Paul and Silas were called lictors in Latin. They executed the sentences. This is where the expression “getting your licks” came from. Paul and Silas’ backs were beaten until they were reduced to a sticky, swollen mass of lacerated skin and dried blood.
The jailer then brutally put them in the stocks. Stocks were usually constructed of wood with holes to secure the feet. They were also used as an instrument of torture by stretching the legs apart and causing the prisoner to sit in unnatural positions. The Romans often added chains along with the stocks. It was a miserable place to be and they had to be in great pain, but instead of whining about their situation, they did something amazing.
25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
These men of God had no reason to expect a miracle. Yes, God had delivered Peter out of prison, but Stephen and the Apostle James had both been martyred, so they now had at least a 66% chance of being martyred as well. These faithful witnesses did not know what was going to happen to them, but they sang God’s praises anyway. Why? Because they passionately believed that God could deliver them anytime, and from any place if He so desired. They put their lives into the hands of God and praised His name, whether He delivered them or not. While they were singing, the prisoners listened.
26 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 bonds were loosened.
God’s heart was blessed by His faithful servants’ praise, and He chose to respond with supernatural power. There was a great earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison, all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were loosened. They were free to go, but they didn’t leave. The earthquake was not given to set the Apostle free, but to save the jailer and his family.
27 The jailer, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, “Don’t harm yourself, for we are all here!”
Awakened by the noise, the poor jailer rushed in and found all the cell doors open—not an encouraging sight for a jail keeper. Assuming the prisoners had fled, he prepared to fall on his sword rather than suffer execution. Under Roman law and custom, guards who allowed their prisoners to escape received the penalty of their escaped prisoners. Knowing this, Paul called out with a loud voice, saying, “Don’t harm yourself, for we are all here!”” He assured the jailer that no one had escaped.
29 He called for lights, sprang in, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, 30 brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Confused, trembling with fear, the jailer then asked them a compelling question: “Men, what must I do to be saved?” He had heard the testimony of the slave girl with the spirit of python, he had handled Paul and Silas’ incarceration firsthand, and had heard them singing their songs during the night. Now the earthquake that loosened their chains and opened the cell doors. His question was sincere and earnest, convinced that these men knew the truth.
31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house.
The jailer received an answer that has resounded through the ages: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Paul did not suggest a system, an organization, a church, or a religion to join. He simply urged faith in Jesus Christ. That jailer was saved that night by faith, and if his life extended over many months and years, he would discover that the Christian life demands all. But he always knew that his salvation came through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. What a glorious thing it is to offer salvation to all by trust in Christ plus nothing! Not only was the jailer saved, but so was his family.
33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes, and was immediately baptized, he and all his household. 34 He brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his household, having believed in God.
Possibly the man and his family were baptized at the same well where the jailer, a new man in Christ, had just washed Paul and Silas’ wounds. He brought them home with him and as they all sat down to breakfast, as brothers and sisters in Christ.
35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the sergeants, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 The jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go; now therefore come out and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly without a trial, men who are Romans, and have cast us into prison! Do they now release us secretly? No, most certainly, but let them come themselves and bring us out!”
The magistrates acted as politicians often act: they tried to make their problem go away quietly by sweeping it under the rug and silently letting them go. In the Roman Empire there were two very different laws: one for citizens of the Roman Empire, and one for those who were not citizens. Roman citizens had specific, zealously-guarded civil rights. Non-citizens had no civil rights, and were subject to the whims of both the Roman citizens and the magistrates.
For example: Any Roman soldier could require someone to carry his equipment, cloak, or other burdens for one mile. Almost all Jews had been subject to this at some point, and they hated the very mention of it. That is why Jesus said in Matthew 5:41 “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” and why the Roman soldiers compelled Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross of Jesus.
Since Paul and Silas were Jews, they assumed they were not Roman citizens, and they could treat them as they pleased. The magistrates were offended that these obviously Jewish men harassed Roman citizens with their strange religion of a crucified Savior. There was great anger that the Roman citizens were being molested by peddlers of an outlandish religion. Such people had to be taught to know their proper place and not trouble their betters, so they had viciously beaten and imprisoned Paul and Silas without a trial. In they case, they were wrong, for Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.
38 The sergeants reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and begged them. When they had brought them out, they asked them to depart from the city.
Paul could be tough! He refused to be silently dismissed because he did not want the idea that he and Silas were lawbreakers to stand. A public escort from jail by the ruling magistrates would prove their innocence, and that would also bring protection to Lydia and her house church as well. They would not be so quick to arrest and beat the next missionary either.
To claim Roman citizenship falsely was punishable by death, and there was a registration of birth to check citizenship against. Because Paul and Silas were card carrying Roman citizens, they had recognized civil rights, which had been violated by the magistrates. Upon learning this, the magistrates were rightly filled with fear, because it was a grave offense to treat Roman citizens as Paul and Silas had been treated.
So, after some hemming and hawing, here came the magistrates, hats in hand to apologize. “Mr. Paul, sir, and Mr. Silas, sir, we have made a grave error. We would appreciate it if you would not think badly of us. We meant no harm.” Paul apparently accepted their public apology and left the prison.
40 They went out of the prison, and entered into Lydia’s house. When they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them, then departed.
In Philippi, Paul and Silas left behind two notable converts: Lydia and the Jailer. Each of these two had their lives touched by Jesus in very different ways. Lydia was a churchgoer; the Jailer was not. Lydia was prospering in business; the Jailer was about to kill himself. Lydia’s heart was gently opened; the Jailer’s heart was violently confronted. The Jailer had a remarkable sign—an earthquake, but all Lydia had was the move of the Holy Spirit in her heart. Both heard the gospel and both believed, and through each of them their whole families were touched! The use of “they” here suggests that Luke stayed behind in Philippi for at least a while, perhaps to care for this new congregation.
There was now a Christian congregation in Europe at Philippi. Lydia the merchant princess, the ex-python girl, the jailer, and probably a few ex-inmates made up the first European church. The rich and the poor, the slave and the free, male and female were all one in Christ. The Good News of Jesus Christ now had a foothold in Europe.
That concludes our Bible study on Acts Chapter 16. Thank you for watching and being a part of Refreshing Hope!
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Quiz Questions on Acts Chapter 16: