Acts 16 - Outline of Acts (MENU page)
1. Then came he to Derbe and Lystra:
and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus,
the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father [was] a Greek:
2 Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.
3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him;
and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters:
for they knew all that his father was a Greek.
4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep,
that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.
5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.
Derbe, Lystra and Iconium were at the farthest reach of Paul's first missionary journey.
Timothy had been saved during Paul's first visit.
...they delivered... the decrees... that were odained of the apostles and elders... at Jerusalem...-
On this trip, Paul's work 'strengthening' the Gentile churches {in v.5 and 15:41 the words 'confirm' and 'establish' are from the same GK root, meaning 'to make strong or solid'} included delivering the letter from the council in Jerusalem (v.4; 15:22-29). That letter addressed the error of the Judaizers, who said that circumcision and the keeping of the Law were necessary for salvation. The council had affirmed that salvation was by grace through faith in Christ alone, apart from the works of the Law. They also had given counsel to the Gentile believers, regarding their manner of life, in order to avoid unnecessary offense to the Jews.
Timothy... Paul... took and circumcised him...-
The council in Jerusalem had ruled that circumcision of a Gentile was not necessary. In fact, while Paul had been in Jerusalem, he had been accompanied by a gentile believer, named Titus. The council had not compelled him to be circumcised (Gal 2:3).
     So... why did Paul have Timothy circumcised (v.3)? "...because of the Jews... for they knew... that his father was a Greek."
     Timothy was already saved. He had no need of this rite in order to be right with God. However, because he was partially of Jewish ethnicity, this was done to avoid offense to, or criticism from, the Jews. Because Timothy's mother was a Jewess, he was a Jew. But being uncircumcised, he would have been regarded as an improper Jew, whose testimony was not worth hearing (eg., Gen 17:14). Paul was careful to avoid unnecessary obstacles for the Gospel message. "For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that that I might gain them that are under the law..." (1Cor 9:19,20)
6. Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia,
and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,
7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia:
but the Spirit suffered them not.
8 And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.
9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night;
There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying,
Come over into Macedonia, and help us.
...they... were forbidden of the Holy Ghost... the Spirit suffered them not...-
How frustrating it must have been to Paul... commissioned for the task of reaching the Gentiles with the Gospel... and having traveled far to fulfill that task... yet, at every turn, it seemed, the Holy Spirit was blocking his entrance into new territory. There was an inner conflict that kept him from moving on. Having traveled westward, from Derbe and Lystra, through the regions of Galatia and Phrygia, he wanted to turn to the south, into Asia minor. But the Holy Spirit forbade him.
     By this time having come to the region known as Mysia, he thought he would turn north, into Bithynia. But again, the Spirit would not allow it. We are not told how the Spirit blocked his way... perhaps by circumstances: roads washed out by floods, or closed by military action against marauding bandits... perhaps it was simply that he had no peace in his heart as he discussed his intentions with the Lord in prayer.
     Paul knew the way was barred, but he could not tell why. In hindsight, 1Pet 1:1,2 may give us a clue. It may be that Peter was already reaching into the territories of Asia, Bithynia and Cappadocia (the latter was to the east of Galatia).
     Of course, God knew why (see 15:18). Paul would not know where the Lord wanted him, until the Lord chose to reveal it to him.
     Paul continued to the west, the only direction that was open to him. Eventually, he came to the port city of Troas (which is Alexandria, on the western extreme of modern day Turkey). We are not told how long he remained there waiting for the Holy Spirit's leading. But it was there, at the end of the road, that the Lord chose to instruct him through a vision... much as the Lord had instructed Ananias, through a vision, to go to Saul that he might receive his physical and spiritual sight (in Acts 9), and as He had taught Peter through a vision, that gentiles like Cornelius were not to be considered unclean, if God had cleansed them (in Acts 10).
Come over into Macedonia, and help us.-
The call to Macedonia was a change of continents. The Gospel was about to go into Europe.
10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia,
assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.
11 Therefore loosing from Troas,
we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next [day] to Neapolis;
12 And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, [and] a colony:
and we were in that city abiding certain days.
...immediately we endeavoured {GK=zeteo, earnestly sought to find (a way)} to go into Macedonia...
immediately...- As soon as they were sure of the Lord's will, they wasted no time and spared no effort to fulfill the work He had given them to do. Psa 119:60
Therefore loosing... we came with a straight course...-
They booked passage, across the Aegean Sea, on a ship that made an overnight stop at the island of Samothracia. After arriving at the port of Neapolis, they traveled a few miles overland, directly to the primary city of Macedonia. Philippi, as a Roman colony, was the center of government and a strategic hub city. Paul focused on such population hubs, from which the Gospel could be disseminated to the surrounding region.
...we...- Notice that at verse 10, the narrative changes from the third person ('he, they') to first person plural ('we'),
because, at Troas, the author of this book, Luke, joined the expedition to reach the world for Christ. The remainder of the book is written from Luke's perspective, with the pronouns 'we' and 'us' occurring frequently.
13 And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made;
and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted [thither].
14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira,
which worshipped God, heard [us]:
whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.
15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought [us], saying,
If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord,
come into my house, and abide [there]. And she constrained us.
Usually, when Paul visited a city, he started at the synogogue.
It is possible that there was no synagogue in Philippi, since he went to a place where prayer was known to be made... an outdoor women's prayer meeting. He spoke to the women who had assembled there.
     The Lord opened the heart of one woman in particular, Lydia, a merchant woman, from Thyatira (a city in Asia Minor, where Paul had been forbidden to go). Her business was selling purple died fabric, which was a product of her city.
     Lydia believed. She "attended to" Paul's message. That is, she gave heed to it, and identified with it. Perhaps her prayers had been behind Paul's Macedonian call. Just as Jesus "must needs go through Samaria" to speak to a hurting woman (Joh 4:4), Paul's journey had been directed so that Lydia could hear the Gospel. She had some previous, though incomplete, knowledge of the true God, for she was not praying in the heathen temples. But now, having come to faith in the Savior, she was baptized "and her household." That phrase "and her household" troubles some people.
     I once had a man tell me that as long as there was one believer in the house, the family was secure. That idea can be observed in the OT. At the first Passover, a believing father killed the lamb and placed the blood on the doorposts of the house. All who were in the house were safe from the death angel... even those who doubted and wondered what all the fuss was about. In the NT, we are told that the believing husband or wife sanctifies their spouse and children (1Cor 7:14). While they are under the roof of a believer, even unbelievers benefit, in some measure, from the blessings of God's children. But when they leave the house, as all must do at some time... if they go out into the darkness of unbelief, they move out from under that protection.
     However, in both the OT and the NT, salvation has always been a matter of personal faith. "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness" (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3,23-25). In the NT, the Gospel is presented to all who will hear. The new birth and new life are for "whosoever believeth" in the Lamb of God, whose blood was shed for the remission of sin. Therefore, it is best to understand this phrase "and her household" to mean that not only Lydia, but also each of her family members heard the Gospel, believed and were baptized.
     Immediately, as a new believer, Lydia, sought ways to help the Gospel messengers... insisting that they make her house their headquarters while they were in Philippi.
16. And it came to pass, as we went to prayer,
a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us,
which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:
17 The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying,
These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.
18 And this did she many days.
But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit,
I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.
And he came out the same hour.
19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone,
they caught Paul and Silas, and drew [them] into the marketplace unto the rulers,
20 And brought them to the magistrates, saying,
These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,
21 And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.
22 And the multitude rose up together against them:
and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat [them].
23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them,
they cast [them] into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
24 Who, having received such a charge,
thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
25. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God:
and the prisoners heard them.
...a certain damsel...- (cf. v.14, 'a certain woman')
In v.16, we encounter another young woman in desperate need of the Savior. She was demon possessed. Yet, she was drawn to follow after the "servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation."
     The demons know who Jesus and His followers are. The testimony from her mouth concerning Paul and Silas was true. Yet, Paul was grieved by it... just as Jesus had refused to allow the demons to bear witness to him (see Luke 4:33-35,41). Although their testimony was true, they were unsuitable witnesses, for their rebellious hearts were far from Him.
I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.-
Here was a conflict between evil spirits and the Holy Spirit. The evil spirit had to depart when commanded "in the name of Jesus Christ" to come out of her. The authority over spiritual powers is in Christ, not in His servants (Col 2:15).
     That victory having been won, a new conflict arose between the value system of the world versus that of Heaven. While Heaven rejoiced that a lost sheep, that poor lost damsel, had been found and brought into the fold, the world raged at the loss of financial gain.
These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city...
  • Her masters raged because she was worthless to them without the evil spirit that enabled her fortune telling.
  • The people and politicians of the city raged, saying that the Gospel message was troubling and contrary to their heathen customs. It was not worthy to be heard or followed.
The Gospel messengers suffered the effects of that rage. Their clothes were torn off their bodies (v.22) and they were scourged, and finally cast into prison.
Scourging under Roman Law was a most brutal and cruel punishment. Many died under its torture. Paul and Silas must have been given super-human strength to have endured it. They had to suffer the added torture of the stocks in the inner prison, which usually was a noisome [ie., filthy] and wet dungeon without any light, and the stocks were frequently so placed that the unhappy prisoner's shoulders lay on the wet stone floor, and his feet, drawn as far apart as possible, fastened high on the wall. [This was the first of the three scourgings which Paul suffered during his ministry. See 2Cor 11:25]
     "Paul and Silas must have been faint and sick for many hours and unable, possibly, even to think. But at midnight they began both to pray and sing [lit., "sang hymns"]. The Greek text suggests that bursts of song broke out as they prayed from time to time - as frequently happens today in spiritual prayer meetings. So vigorous was their singing, that in spite of the thick walls and ponderous doors, the other prisoners heard them." [in quotes from GWms, except in brackets]
The word for "heard" (in v.25) suggests that the prisoners listened attentively.
26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken:
and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.
27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep,
and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself,
supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling,
and fell down before Paul and Silas,
30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
...the keeper of the prison... drew out his sword, and would have killed himself...-
The jailer, by profession, was a hard man. He had carried out the orders to cast Paul and Silas into the inner prison and into stocks. Yet, now he was shaken to the core... not so much by the earthquake, as by staring death in the face, as he prepared to take his own life. If the prisoners had escaped, he would be held accountable with his life. His end would be more pleasant if he dispatched himself, than if he waited for torture and the executioner. But what was on the other side?
"Sirs, What must I do to be saved?"... (v.30)-
ie., 'What work must I accomplish to be saved?' He knew they knew the answer, for he, too, had heard their prayer and praise from the midst of their terrible situation. He knew also the power of their God to answer prayer, for the place had been shaken.
These messengers, though so roughly mistreated by this man several hours earlier, answered him with respect, comfort and love:
"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved... and thy house." (v.31) -
In other words, 'Sir, there is nothing for you to do, except to place your trust in the One who died in your place, that you might live.'
     "This is the work of God that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent" (Joh 6:29). He is the Lord who came down from heaven, as the man Jesus, who is the Christ, God's annointed One, the Savior of the world.
     'This salvation is for you, and for as many in your household who believe in Him.'
Now, notice to whom Paul and Silas explained the Gospel...
32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed [their] stripes;
and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them,
and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
Having heard the way of salvation, the jailer and his family believed, and were baptized.
Having been born again by God's Spirit, they immediately...
  • desired to bear witness (by means of water baptism) to their faith in Christ, and their identification as belonging to Him (eg., Acts 8:36,37). Although their baptism occurred at night, their neighbors probably observed it, for they would have been awake and in the streets, in the aftermath of the earthquake.
  • ministered to the well being of the formerly despised "servants of the most High God," by caring for their physical needs. As Lydia had been moved to provide housing for Paul and Silas, the jailer and his family now provided food and nursed their battered bodies.
The spiritual conflict for the souls of the jailer and his family had been won, as the Holy Spirit worked, revealing the Truth through the Word, on the tongues, and the song in the hearts, of His suffering saints. He would continue to work, as He works even today, through the conflict which the saints endure. 1Pet 1:6-8
35. And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go.
36 And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul,
The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace.
37 But Paul said unto them,
They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast [us] into prison;
and now do they thrust us out privily?
nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out.
38 And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates:
and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans.
39 And they came and besought them, and brought [them] out,
and desired [them] to depart out of the city.
40 And they went out of the prison, and entered into [the house of] Lydia:
and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.
They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison...-
Several times in the book of Acts, Paul appealed to Roman law, once even appealing to Caesar for protection under that law (Acts 25:11). Roman citizens were to be afforded a proper judicial hearing before being punished for any crime of which they were accused. On some of those occasions, Paul's appeal had spared his life.
     But here, the punishment was already past, and he was about to be set free. Why would he press the government officials to personally come and bring him and Silas out of the prison? Probably for the sake of the new believers in Philippi. Paul was about to leave the city. But Lydia and her family, the damsel who had been released from demon possession, the jailer and his family, and other believers would remain behind. The officials needed a reminder that these Christians, though teaching and following a way which was contrary to local customs, were still to be afforded the protection of the law.
...and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed...-
Paul and Silas, were the ones who had been beaten and cast into prison. Yet, they were comforting the brethren... The word comfort {GK=parakaleo} means these beaten ones "came alongside" the others to encourage them. Perhaps the believers were comforted to see that these beloved messengers, who had told them about Jesus Christ, had survived their mistreatment, and not only had they survived, but they were strong enough to press on to another city.
     But more than that, Paul and Silas were strengthening their brethren in the faith, by the example of their own sufferings. There is a similar gathering mentioned in Acts 14, during Paul's first missionary journey, as he was about to depart from the towns where Timothy spent his youth. At Lystra, Paul had been stoned, pelted with rocks, until his persecutors thought he was dead. They had dragged his body out of the city, probably by the feet (Acts 14:19). As soon as the Lord gave Paul strength to rise to his feet, he and those who were with him, strengthened the brethren, who would remain in that place, under threat of persecution (Acts 14:20-23).
     In the years that followed, the church in Philippi maintained a close relationship with Paul, as they shared financially in his ministry, and as they followed his example to labor and suffer joyfully, in the service of the Savior. This relationship is evident in the Epistle to the Philippians, which Paul wrote ten or fifteen years after the events recorded here, in Acts 16. See Php 1:1-30
Today also, as you and I move through this world, followers of Christ will experience conflict and trouble.
But we can take comfort that He is leading us by His Spirit. As we have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal salvation, we can also trust Him in our present temporary trials, while we work, watch and wait for His return for His own. 2Cor 4:16-18

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