Acts 15:36–16:40. Paul's Second Missionary Journey.
Part I. Going Into Europe.
Key Notes: Paul and Barnabas break up. Paul and Silas are directed to Greece. Luke joins them. Philippi: the pythoness and the mob. Paul answers a cry for help.
Christianity went West. Although Christians protest a western categorization, and say that the Way really sprang from the Middle East, the events of Acts show this westward movement. God could have directed Paul to the Caucasus, the Orient or Africa. But the Jews were in Mediterranean Europe, and that is where God sent His messengers. (The Gospel is to the Jew first, and also the Greek.Rom.1:16.) From there it has gone all over the world. Now it is again moving west, from China and Korea acdross Asia toward Jerusalem.
15:36 Paul resolved to revisit the churches of the first journey. Barnabas wanted his cousin (Col.4:10) to try the mission again. But Paul refused; Mark had failed once before.(Acts15:37). They argued and separated. Barnabas took Markwith him to Cyprus. Paul took Silas and started overland.
- This bitter argument shows, among other things, that Scriptures does not air-brush the blemishes from the faces of the saints. They are believable people; their weaknesses may help us.
- A second point is that nepotism must always be a source of concern in Christian communities. A rule in administration is that the supervisor may not direct or evaluate relatives. There is an inherent conflict of interest. In this case, the two cousins would have a controlling vote in major decisions. Paul also may have felt that Mark was weak, and more important to Barnabas than the success of the mission.
16;1–5 In Derbe, Paul found Timothy and wanted him to join them. Because his mother was Jewish (and therefore he would be considered Jewish by the Jews), Paul had him circumcised so that his work would not be hindered.
Comment: Most commentators agree with Paul's decision not to put unnecessary obstacles in the way of the Gospel, but some question Paul's concession to legalists.
16:6–10 The party tried to go to the southern province of Asia Minor (where the seven churches of Revelation were eventually located) and then into the northern province of Bithynia. How they were hindered is not clear. A vision of a man from Macedonia cleared the air: "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Come to Europe instead of continuing in Asia.
Comment: God's guidance may be negative or positive. Lest we think that it was Paul's spirit that led to this decision, the text speaks of "the Holy Spirit", "the Spirit of Jesus" and "God". The Trinity was involved in Paul's direction.
16:11–15 They passed by Neapolis and came to Philippi, a colony of retired Roman soldiers and the big city of the district. There was no synagogue, implying that there were less than ten Jewish men in the city. A few godly women met for prayer by the riverside. (Perhaps anti -semitism had prevented Jews from living in Philippi.) God opened Lydia's heart and she became the first convert in Europe. The word "we" tells us that Luke traveled with them into Greece.
16:19–24 Although Paul did not as a policy attack paganism, he could not tolerate the mocking advertisement shouted at them daily by a demon-possessed slave-girl: "These are servants of the Most High God who show us the way of salvation.". Paul drove the evil spirit out with a word, and started a riot. These foreigners are hurting our business. Jews are disturbing the city. Without trial, and with the help of the officials, Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail.
Comment: The girl had a "spirit of pythoness" (16:16). The python in legend had been killed by Apollo at Delphi but ironically the python became the symbol of Delphi. A shrine was built there and an oracle was heard once each year. The presiding priestess, called Pythoness, would go into a trance and her words would be recorded and interpreted as telling the future. This girl had a similar demonic power as a fortune-teller. Not all fortune-tellers are frauds. She made a lot of money for her masters and they were furious to lose her income.
16:25–40 Paul and Silas were illegally beaten, imprisoned and tortured with their feet in stocks. They sang hymns, perhaps...."Answer me when I call, O God of my right! Thou has given me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer:" (Psa.4:1) They prayed loud enough for the other prisoners to hear. At midnight God shook the earth and the jail fell apart. The prisoners were free. The jailer was prevented from committing suicide by Paul, who was apparently able to control the rest of the prisoners. The jailer asked for salvation and received it with his household. He and his family were promptly baptized. Wound-dressing and breakfast followed.
When daylight came, the police were sent to discharge the prisoners. Paul protested that Roman citizens had been wrongfully abused and demanded that the magistrates apologize in person. It was a serious offense. The magistrates were only too glad to personally escort them out of the city.
God was at work in Paul and Silas and empowered them under the most adverse conditions. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". (Phil.4:13)
- What did the jailer mean: "what must I do to be saved."?
The obvious answer is that he would be executed if the prisoners escaped. Help!
- Why did he ask help from Paul and Silas?
He may have heard a report from the police that these Jews were teaching a new religion. They had overpowered a spirit-possessed girl and gotten a beating by the populace. He may have heard the incredible singing and prayers in the night. He saw that they were miraculously released from the stocks. God used these things to open his eyes to men with unusual powers.
- Why did Paul say "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" instead of "We'll take care of the prisoners; you take care of us."? Paul saw beyond the immediate crisis to the jailer's spiritual need. Some evangelists say "All you need is Jesus." A better message is to say "The first thing you need is Jesus." That was the message to Cornelius,the Roman centurion, and to this Philippian jailer. These were crisis conversions: decisions made in response to an immediate challenge.
Becoming a Christian does not solve of all our problems. Sometimes salvation fixes other problems as well, but we may not assume so. But our salvation is the first order of business, whether we have marriage trouble, sickness, job failure, or lack of direction. Until we are right with God, other problems are secondary. We should be able to say that to anyone, including ourselves.