RPM, Volume 17, Number 37, September 6 to September 12, 2015

To the Ends of the Earth:
Come Over and Help Us!

Acts 16:1-15

By Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

As we continue in our study of The Acts of The Apostles, we have been following Paul and Barnabas (and we've learnt now of John Mark also), who have made their way back from the Jerusalem Council to Antioch. And there was something of a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark. Paul was clear in his own mind that for whatever reason John Mark, having let them down on that first missionary journey, having gone home probably to his mother in Jerusalem…as far as the Apostle Paul was concerned, he wasn't ready for another journey. They have decided to return to the churches in Galatia to see how they are doing, and Barnabas, who is related, of course, as we saw, to John Mark, has taken John Mark to Cyprus to Barnabas's home island (this is where Barnabas comes from), and Paul takes this man Silas. First of all, you'll see from the closing verse of chapter 15, they go north to Syria and Cilicia to unfold the decision that was made in Jerusalem with regard to circumcision, but also those four addenda, those four stipulations, that they made. (We won't open up that box. We're going to have to open it up at one more time. When we come to chapters 20-21 or so, we'll return to that. If you've got questions, hold them till we've come to that section.)

But now we're on the road again. We're on another road trip. Paul and Silas are heading back to the region of Galatia, and, as we shall see, more problems and more difficulties and extraordinary surprises and wonderful evidences of God the Holy Spirit confirming their actions now begin to unfold.

Well, before we begin to read the first fifteen verses of chapter sixteen of Acts, let's once again look to God in prayer.

Father, this is Your word. You wrote it. You caused it to be written. It is the product of Your out-breathing, every jot and tittle of it—every law, every precept, every word, every syllable. We thank You for this particular portion we're about to read. Help us by Your Spirit to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and all for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Now hear with me the word of God:

Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there urging him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

So setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi, a leading city of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days, and on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.

Amen. And may God bless to us that reading of His holy and inerrant word.

As Paul and Silas, and perhaps a few others, leave Antioch heading north to the region of Syria and Cilicia, and then (by land this time) westward to the region of Galatia where they had been on their first missionary journey — places like Lystra and Derbe, and then Pisidian Antioch and Iconium — cameo sketches now begin to emerge…one in, of all places, Lystra. You remember the last time Paul was in Lystra. The last time he was in Lystra, they had clubbed him almost to death and left him - dragged him - outside of the city; left him, you remember, at the side of the road as though he were dead. It takes a special kind of courage, a special kind of Holy Spirit courage to go back to that city again.

And then another cameo sketch, not only about Lystra, but in Troas, on the coast of the Aegean Sea. And something puzzling, something unexpected, happened. And then on the other side of the Aegean Sea in what we would now call Greece, in Philippi, ten miles or so inland, a beautiful thing — an extraordinary thing; a corroboration of the Holy Spirit of the work that they had taken up to do… a little confirmation. It's like a calm before a storm, because next week…well, we'll keep that till next week!

Three cameo sketches: An unexpected and somewhat puzzling thing in this city of Lystra. Paul makes a remarkable discovery. It's in Lystra. When he comes into Lystra with Silas and some others, he discovers a young man by the name of Timothy. Now we all know Timothy. We all know Timothy because Paul writes two letters to Timothy. We all know Timothy because he was going to be Paul's lifelong, most loyal traveling companion from this time forward. He meets a brother…more than a brother…he meets a loyal friend. They initially, I think, have a kind of father-son relationship, but it's often more than that. It's a very close bond of affection and loyalty and commitment in the work of the gospel.

Timothy comes from a family that the details of which are given us in the letters that Paul writes to Timothy, in I Timothy and II Timothy. He comes from a godly stock. His grandmother, Lois, his mother, called Eunice…both of these…Paul says about them that Timothy had known the Holy Scriptures from his youth. We know that his mother was a Jewess and his father was a Greek, a Gentile. We don't know the circumstances that led a Jewess to marry a Greek. We could begin conjecture, but that's all that it would be. They're a long way from Jerusalem, to be sure, and maybe there weren't so many eligible Jewish men. I have no idea. Maybe it's a signal that the marriage at least initially had not been based on faith, perhaps. The tense of verse 3, that his father was a Greek, seems to suggest that he is now deceased (maybe when Timothy was a very young boy), so that the leading and dominating influences in the life of Timothy have been these two women: his godly mother and his godly grandmother. This is the man that Paul would write in I Timothy, "My true child in the faith." He writes his swan song, II Timothy, written just months, perhaps, before his execution. "My beloved child," he refers to Timothy. He is mentioned in nine of Paul's letters.

What seems to have happened is that Eunice and Lois and Timothy have been converted to Christianity. They may have been pious Jews; they may have been believers in the Old Testament sense of that word. They may have been believers prior to Paul ever coming there, but they were converted to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior, probably during the first missionary journey. Perhaps Paul didn't even know anything about it. Perhaps it was one of those things that happened that only came, as it were, to the surface after Paul and Barnabas and the others had left. And he's coming back to examine what had taken place on that first missionary journey, and what has he discovered? He's discovered that Timothy has come to faith. Well, perhaps he had come to faith as a child. Perhaps he had come to trust in the Lord as a child through the Old Testament Scriptures, and had come to a full realization of who the promised Messiah was, namely Jesus Christ, through the preaching of the Apostle Paul. Perhaps Timothy's conversion was one of those quiet conversions, like Cesar Milan, the French Huguenot jurist and hymn writer, once said: that some are awakened as a mother awakens her children from their sleep with a kiss…in a gentle way. And he comes and he discovers this godly young man, this man full of zeal, this man who's tremendously gifted. We read in verse 2 that "he was well spoken of by the brothers." He has a good reputation. They've seen things in him, they've discerned his gifts, they've seen his godliness, they've seen his character. They know his mother, they know his grandmother. They know where he comes from. He has this good reputation, and Paul—well, Paul immediately wants to take him with him on his missionary journey. What a contrast with Paul in Antioch and John Mark! There was something in John Mark that made Paul say no, but there's something in Timothy which makes him say "Yes! I want this man. We need this man." And there's no sign of reticence or a struggle. Timothy immediately joins this group of individuals as they travel now northwest.

But an unexpected thing happens. You weren't expecting it, not if you're reading consecutively through The Acts of The Apostles, because what has just happened in the last chapter and a half or so? Paul has won this famous victory over circumcision. The Judaisers have lost their case: their demand that Gentiles be circumcised; that it was necessary for them to be circumcised in order that they might be saved. Paul had withstood that. He'd withstood that with all the force of his being. It was a live or die issue for the Apostle Paul. Under no circumstances could Gentiles be demanded of in this way. It was an issue of the gospel. It was an issue of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. So you're not expecting this…that having gone back to Antioch and having gone up to Cilicia, and having gone up to Syria and having delivered the verdict, as it were, of the Jerusalem Council, which had been unanimous…you're not expecting that the first thing that Paul does is that he takes Timothy and has him circumcised. You're not expecting this because when Paul had taken Titus, a Gentile, in Acts 11, to Jerusalem, he had adamantly refused to have Titus circumcised.

So which is it, then? Is Paul just awkward? You know there are Christians who are awkward. They just like to be difficult. They just like to be contrary…you know, 'If you say yes, I'll say no.' (Well, maybe you haven't met them, but I've met them!) Is that what's taking place here? Paul, the difficult…Paul, the contrary? Why did he say no to Titus and yes to Timothy, and why did he say yes to Timothy immediately after Antioch and Jerusalem?

Well, of course Paul would say it's simple. If there were somebody in Lystra demanding that Timothy be circumcised in order to be saved, I guarantee you Paul would say no. I guarantee you Paul would say no! But that issue doesn't seem to be there in Lystra. Besides which, Timothy isn't a Gentile, which was the issue in Jerusalem. As far as Paul is concerned, he says in Galatians 5, circumcision is a matter of the adiaphora — it's a thing indifferent in itself. It has no value either way. But in order…because Timothy is half Jewish, and in the minds of Jewish folk he was Jewish, he was an uncircumcised Jew. In order for Timothy to be useful in Jewish evangelism, he has him circumcised. It's exactly the same reasoning that Paul employs in Romans 14 or in I Corinthians 8, 9, and 10 when he's dealing with the issue of meat that is offered to idols: Ask no questions for conscience's sake, because when you begin to ask questions for conscience's sake, then all kinds of problems are beginning to emerge. Well, there are no questions being asked here for conscience's sake, and so he has Timothy circumcised.

You see what that tells us? It tells us that gospel work and kingdom work and church work is never without its difficult issues and difficult questions, and difficult decisions. Because I guarantee you, when the folks in Jerusalem heard what Paul did in Lystra, I guarantee there were some who said 'He's a compromiser. You know he's just an old turncoat. You can't depend on the Apostle Paul, because he does one thing one day and another thing another day.' And Paul is saying 'No, I'm doing this according to principled reasoning.' And it's the same often in the church, and sometimes in kingdom work. There are difficult decisions to make.

But then there is this note of blessing in verse 5: "The churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in number daily." You get a sense now how God is pouring out His Spirit on this young fledgling church, and the church is growing and expanding. And then an unexpected obstacle. If an unexpected decision took place in Lystra, an unexpected obstacle now begins to emerge, because Paul and Timothy and Silas are moving northwest. They're heading towards the Aegean Sea. They're heading towards Troas. And then they want to go northeast, and they're prevented from doing so. We're not told what the nature of that prevention was. The Spirit prevented them. Was it an inner conviction of some kind? Was it a word of a prophet of some kind? Did God speak to Paul in some way? Was it simply a roadblock? That there was a road that went in between two mountain passes, and a tree had fallen down and they just couldn't go in that direction? Luke doesn't tell us. God in His providence prevented them from going a certain direction, and so they head in the opposite direction. They head down towards Troas, and it's in Troas in the middle of the night Paul sees this vision of a man from Macedonia who speaks to the Apostle Paul and says to him, "Come over and help us."

Who is the man of Macedonia? And you'll be amazed - because the Bible doesn't tell us — but you'll be amazed how many commentators try to answer this question. I have no idea who this man of Macedonia was, but look at verse 10: "And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them."

Now this word concluded…it's a terribly important word, because it looks like this is what happened. Paul has this vision, and he relates this vision to the rest of the team. And this word concluded seems to suggest that they engaged in discussion. They asked questions. They interrogated. They weighed the matter. They pored over what the consequences might be. Was Paul suffering from the curry that he'd eaten the night before? Was it indigestion? Was it something by way of self-suggestion? Was it a true vision? Was it of the Spirit? Was it of the devil? Was it a reasonable thing or an irrational thing? Was it an unethical thing that was being asked of Paul and the apostles?

It's always that way with guidance. We aren't told which woman to marry, or which man to marry, or which house to buy, or what job we're supposed to do, and we ask questions and we weigh the matter. Is it lawful? Is it expedient? We push doors and see if they open, and if they don't open we deliberate and we conclude 'God must not want me to go in that direction.' We have to be careful about weighing certain providences of doors that do open, like Jonah, who found a ship going in the very opposite direction to the way God had asked him to go.

God was guiding them. God called them across the Aegean Sea to Europe, so an unexpected decision in Lystra, and now this wholly unexpected hindrance in Troas that leads them to cross the Aegean Sea and on into Europe.

And then, look at verse 11: setting sail from Troas, they cross the Aegean, they pass by Samothrace (this island 4,000 feet high, active volcanic island), land on the other side of what we now know as Greece, and then they make their way ten miles or so inland to this city of Philippi that Luke describes as "a leading city in the district of Macedonia"—probably because, some commentators think, this is Luke's home town, because it probably wasn't the leading city, but it was a leading city in Luke's estimation, perhaps. And there they are in this Roman town, this Roman city, this city that's going to be of such extraordinary importance to Paul. Do you remember his letter to the Philippians when he's in prison in Rome? The bonds of fellowship that tie, the warmth, the camaraderie? It's the church in Philippi that sends Paul this gift, and his letter to the Philippians is one long thank-you letter. And he loves them, and they love him. And this is the first, as it were, city in Europe.

And what does he find? God has called him away from where he had wanted to go, and where he had planned to go. And all he finds…he doesn't even find a synagogue. There is no synagogue on the Sabbath Day. You need ten men to form a synagogue, and there's no synagogue. And they have to travel a mile and a quarter outside of the city toward a river where they've heard there is a place of prayer. And when he gets there, there's a group of women. That's all. And you might think that some of the team are beginning to wonder… Was this a good idea? Was this good planning? Had God led them, as it were…had they taken a wrong turning somewhere? Because this call, this extraordinary vision…and you're expecting huge and marvelous things, and it's just a group of women. Don't misunderstand me…I don't mean to be offensive now, but there's not much there!

But Lydia is there. And what God is going to do now is…He's going to do a beautiful thing. Now, trouble is coming. We're going to see that next week. They're going to be in prison in this city. Trouble is coming. But before the storm, this is a beautiful thing. The sun shines for a minute by the riverside, and Lydia…Lydia is going to be converted. Her heart is going to be opened; it's going to be strangely warmed and drawn to embrace Jesus Christ as Paul now begins to preach to them.

Well, there's Paul, and there's Silas, and there's Timothy. Did you notice as we read the passage how suddenly we went into the first person plural — "We" — that in Troas they seem to have picked up Luke. Luke is now in the story. This doctor…maybe they needed a physician to go with them. It would make sense. This writer of The Gospel of Luke and of The Acts of The Apostles is now in the story itself.

She's a business woman, Lydia. She's a business woman. It may be her name…Lydia was the name of a province before the Romans called it Asia…so it may be that it's a euphemism for "Lydian woman," perhaps…although the name Lydia was perfectly common. She seems to have a large house, because at the end of the story she's going to have all these missionaries come and spend time with her in her home. She sells these purple goods. Some have conjectured that it's only those of Caesar's household that engaged in the business of selling purple goods Some have further conjectured that the greeting at the end of Philippians, "Greetings from Caesar's household," is actually greetings from Lydia. This business woman is doing business now in Rome, and she is sending greetings back to Philippi…perhaps.

God speaks through His word, and what you see is an example of what God ordinarily does in the conversion of souls: that is, through the exposition of Scripture, as Christ is unfolded in the overtures of the gospel, God by His sovereign Spirit opens people's hearts and draws them to Himself. It's a beautiful thing. As someone who was a Gentile, a proselyte, having gathered with Jewish women because she had perhaps seen something of the rightness of what they taught in terms of the unity of God and of their ethical and moral standard, she would no doubt have known that passage in Ezekiel where the prophet prophesies, "I will give you a new heart, and I will put My Spirit within you."

I sort of wonder, how many times did Lydia say to herself, 'I long that I could have this new heart. I want this new heart. I want this Spirit that I hear of in the prophet of the Scriptures.' And as she listened to Paul, and as she listened perhaps to Timothy, and as she listened to Silas, and perhaps as she listened to the testimony of Dr. Luke, and she heard about Jesus of Nazareth and she heard about His life, and she heard about His death, and she heard about His resurrection, and she heard that He was the promised Messiah, and her heart was opened, and she embraces the things that are being taught in the gospel.

And certain marks now emerge that verify that what has taken place in Lydia is a true conversion. She is receptive, first of all, to the word about Jesus. She receives the word about Jesus. Secondly, she opens her heart to those who are Jesus'. She opens her heart to these missionaries, and she prevails upon them to stay in her house. They may have been staying in an inn, and she says 'No, I insist. You must come and stay at my house.'

Do you know how important hospitality is in The Acts of The Apostles? And it's important because Luke had experienced it time and time again. Do you know what we would be saying? "Look, when I've got the decorators in, in a couple of months time you can come and stay at my house." No. You take me as I am. What's mine is yours. I open my doors to you, and you're perfectly welcome to come. And she doesn't have much by way to contribute, perhaps, for the needs of these apostles. I wonder if she gave them some financial help. Probably. But she could help in this way. She opened up her home, and what an extraordinary and beautiful thing that must have been, and what a confirming thing that must have been to Paul and Timothy and Silas and Luke, that this Macedonian call had been from God, because here is the fruit of it! This beautiful, extraordinary business woman of such influence and importance…and she's been brought to the Savior, and she is baptized. She is baptized! She is baptized, of course, as a believer. She is baptized as a sign and seal of her justification. She is baptized as a sign and seal of her union with Christ. She is baptized as a sign and seal that her sins have been washed away. She's baptized as a sign and seal of her new obedience and her desire to be the Lord's, now and forever.

And her household…yes, and her household, too. Probably that's a reference either to her servants or to her children. And what we have here is this household baptism formula that Luke makes some deal of in The Acts of The Apostles. An extraordinary thing, a difficult decision in Lystra; a perplexing providence in Troas; and now this beautiful conversion in Philippi, confirming to the apostles that God was in this.

Let's pray together.

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