The Journal of Biblical Accuracy
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Acts 16:6-40 (PDF) PDF version

Acts 16:6-40

The book of Acts holds a special position among the books referred to the age of grace, as it is concerned with the practical side of many things later found in the epistles. Moreover, it also shows the way those men of God as Paul, Peter, etc. walked with Him, thus giving us their practical example. Such an example is recorded in Acts 16, a chapter devoted to the visit of Paul to Philippi. It is this chapter that will be the subject of our article.

1. The decision for the visit

Starting our excursion in Acts 16:6-8, we read:

Acts 16:6-8
"Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, being forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, they came against Mysia and were attempting to go to Bithynia but the Spirit did not permit them. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas."

If you consult a map, you will see that what is described in four lines here was a really long journey. Galatia, Phrygia and Asia (Minor) were three regions that succeeded each other. Paul and those who accompanied him, passed the first two (Phrygia and Galatia) and came to the third one: Asia Minor. However, as the text says, God, the Holy Spirit, forbade them to preach the Word there, and thus they went north towards Mysia. Nevertheless, when they tried to move from there to Bithynia, God forbade them again. As a result, they passed by Mysia and went to Troas, on the Aegean sea.

As it may be obvious from the above, Philippi was not a place to which Paul and Silas were planning to go from the beginning. In fact they tried twice to go to other places, but God forbade them. The reason He forbade them is not because He did not desire His Word to be preached in those areas. Actually, Paul went to Asia Minor some time later and as Acts 19:10 tells us: "All who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." Nevertheless, we all know that it is not possible to be in two different places at the same time. In other words, the Word was impossible to be preached simultaneously by the same man in Asia or Bithynia and in Philippi. Something necessarily had to come first and something second. As it seems, from God's point of view, Philippi and Greece had time priority over Asia and Bithynia. From these we can conclude that God is not interested in just the preaching of the Word, but in the preaching of the Word where HE wants, as HE wants and when HE wants. As Ephesians 5:23 tells us:

"Christ is the head of the church."

The church really has a boss, someone that should be consulted for the things relative to it. This is neither you nor I, nor any other mortal man, but Christ. Regarding our case, what the Boss really wanted is recorded in verses 9-10:

Acts 16:9-10
"And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, Come over to Macedonia and help us. Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, assuredly gathering THAT THE LORD HAD CALLED US TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THEM."

God had not called them that specific time, to preach the Word in Asia and Bithynia. Instead He had called them to preach the Word in Macedonia and finally in all the eastern mainland of Greece. How did they know it? The Lord COMMUNICATED IT TO THEM through a vision. In fact, He communicated it to them in such a way that they ASSUREDLY gathered that the Lord had led them to go there. However, do you believe that God would have done this if they were not ready to move where He wanted them to move? I do not think so. God will not compel anyone to work in His field. However, if someone wants to work for Him - which is exactly what He expects from us 1 - he should not make up his own way about how, when and where he is going to move, but he should consult the Master who is ultimately responsible to decide on these.

2. The visit to Phillipi and its results

Having God's clear command to sail to Macedonia, Paul and those who accompanied him left immediately. Verses 11-12 tells us:

Acts 16:11-12
"Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran with a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some day".

God had told them to go to Macedonia. So they did not stop to preach the word in Samothrace, but went directly to Phillipi, the foremost city of that part of Macedonia. There, several things happened that we will see below.

2.1 Lydia: the first believer in Europe

Starting in verses 13-15 we read:

Acts 16:13-15
"And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Now a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who revered God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house, and stay. And she constrained us".

Did Lydia revere God? Yes, that's what the passage says. However, was she saved? NO, for she did not know the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, she was like Cornelius: he was a devout man, who feared God with all his household and gave alms generously. He prayed to God always (Acts 10:2). Yet he needed Peter to come to his home and tell him words by which, as the angel told him, he and his household would be saved (Acts 11:14). Similarly, Lydia revered God. Yet, she needed someone to come and tell her about Jesus Christ, to believe and be saved. And that's exactly what happened: God had Paul come all the way from Cilicia to speak the Word to her. She believed it and was made the first recorded believer in mainland Europe. However, this was but the beginning.

2.2 The devil-possessed girl

Verses 16-18 tell us:

Acts 16: 16-18
"And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, that a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation. And this she did for many days."

This girl was obviously possessed with a devil spirit that through her, seemed to advertise Paul and his mission there. At a first glance, it may appear that what we have here is the paradox of the devil supporting the work of the Lord!! However, would it ever be possible that something like this could happen? I do not think so. As Paul said to Elymas, another devil-possessed man:

Acts 13:9-10
"Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the holy spirit, looked intently at him and said, O full of all DECEIT AND ALL FRAUD, YOU SON OF THE DEVIL, YOU ENEMY OF ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS, WILL YOU NOT CEASE PERVERTING THE STRAIGHT WAYS OF THE LORD?"

What the devil is continuously seeking (he never ceases from this) is: TO PERVERT THE RIGHT WAYS OF THE LORD. Hence, the only reason he seemed to proclaim the same things as Paul, was exactly because he wanted to PERVERT the right ways of the Lord. It is not really difficult to understand how he planned to do this. Just imagine how much the Word that Paul was preaching was degraded by its outward agreement with the proclamations of this devil-possessed girl. To the locals she was but a spokesperson of the ancient Greek god Apollo. We know this for the ancient text does not say that the girl was possessed with a spirit of divination, but that she had "a spirit, a Python". As Zodhiates tells us2:

"Python was the Greek name given to the mythological serpent or dragon that lived at Pytho beneath Mount Parnassus and guarded the Delphic Oracle. The name then became the surname of Apollo, the god of divination in Greek mythology, and hence applied to all oracular and divinatory spirits."

Obviously, this girl was considered by the locals as one through whom Apollo spoke. That's why the text says that she had a spirit, a Python. Moreover, her "most high God", and the one that those locals perceived as such, was not the one true God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ3, but ...... Zeus. It is now easy to understand what perversion she brought to Paul's preaching and that what the adversary wanted to do through her, was not to proclaim but to "PERVERT the right ways of the Lord." Fortunately, he did not succeed in his purposes.

Really, Acts 16:18 tells us:
"But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out that very hour".

Paul knew through the operation of discerning of spirits (I Corinthians 12:7-10) that what spoke through this girl was a devil spirit. That's why he addressed it so directly, casting it out "that very hour".

2.3 The late night prison fellowship

Unfortunately, the deliverance given to this girl did not make everyone happy. Her masters earned a lot of money from the deceitful works of the devil spirit and when they saw that "the hope of their gains" was gone:

Acts 16:19-24
"They seized Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace to the rulers. And they brought them to the magistrates and said, These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe. Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes, and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks."

After such tribulation, many of us would have started complaining to God, blaming Him for what had happened. Yet, murmuring is not what the Word tells us to do on similar occasions. Really, as I Peter 4:16 says:

I Peter 4:16
"If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, BUT LET HIM GLORIFY GOD IN THIS MATTER".

That's exactly what Paul and Silas did:

Acts 16:25
"But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them."

Apart from the fact that those two badly tortured guys, were praying and singing to God, see also that all the prisoners were listening to them. The word "listening" in this passage, is a translation of the Greek verb "epakroomai" that does not simply mean to "listen", but "to listen PAYING PARTICULAR ATTENTION TO WHAT IS SAID4". See then what happened:

Acts 16:26
"And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains were loosed".

To understand the importance of the above event let's for a minute put ourselves in the position of one of those prisoners. So, let's suppose that you are in prison listening with particular attention to two badly tortured guys that glorify God and suddenly an earthquake happens that ......loosens YOUR chains and opens ALL the doors of the prison. Wouldn't you be reminded of this phenomenon all your life? Would this not be enough to make you call upon Paul's and Silas' God? I think so. In fact, let us see the immediate reaction of one of the guys that was there that night:

Acts 16:27-30
"And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do yourself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

How was this guy sure that Paul and Silas were able to give him the right answer to such a critical question? The answer is because he heard them praising God and saw how God replied through the earthquake and what followed. He was therefore persuaded these two truly represented God. That's why he asked them so straightforwardly. Let's now see Paul's and Silas' reply:

Acts 16:31
"And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."

Really, I do not know how many people today would be so straightforward about salvation as Paul and Silas were. "BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND YOU WILL BE SAVED." That's really it. You believe you are saved. You do not believe you do not get saved. As Romans 10:9 also tells us:

Romans 10:9
"That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in you heart that God raised him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED".

How simple it is! Returning to the record of the prison keeper, after Paul and Silas gave him the answer he needed, they continued teaching him further:

Acts 16:32-33
"And they spoke the Word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes; and immediately he and all his family were baptized. And when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household".

Note the time that all this happened. It happened AFTER midnight, for it was already midnight when Paul and Silas were praying and singing to God (verse 25). After midnight therefore, Paul, Silas, the prison keeper and his household had a wonderful fellowship in which many souls were saved and rejoiced in the Lord!! Who could really imagine that this could happen? And yet here it is in the Scripture. However, would this have occurred if Paul and Silas instead of glorifying God they were murmuring to Him? NO. They glorified God in their troubles, teaching, through their praises and prayers, the Word to the other prisoners. God backed His Word with a great sign that certainly had tremendous impact on all. In fact, the prison keeper with all his family, believed that very night and had a great fellowship with Paul and Silas well after midnight!! Really what a blessing it is to read such events. And what a blessing and healing this would have been for Paul and Silas, after the torture they suffered. However, the blessings did not stop there. The next day:

Acts 16:35-40
"The magistrates sent the officers, saying, Let those men go. And the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying The magistrates have sent to let you go: Now therefore depart, and go in peace. But Paul said to them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out. And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid, when they heard that they were Romans. And they came and PLEADED WITH THEM, and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. So they went out of the prison, and entered the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they encourage them and departed".

At the end of the day, it was the magistrates that were humiliated and not Paul and Silas. In fact, they PLEADED with Paul and Silas to depart from their city. However, they had already managed to set up a church there. This church would have never been created, as many other churches in Greece, if Paul and his company had not obeyed God's will to go to Macedonia, but acted according to their own wishes. Nevertheless, the fact that they obeyed God's will, it did not mean that they did not suffer persecution. Yet, God even turned persecution to good and through it many souls were saved, increasing the church in that place and giving great deliverance and encouragement to His people.

 

Anastasios Kioulachoglou

 

 

 



Footnotes

1. See Luke 10:2.

2. See Spiros Zodhiates, The complete word study dictionary, AMG publishers, 1992, p.1253.

3. Until then no one had spoken to the locals about Him.

4. See: Dimitrakos: Lexicon of all the Greek language, p. 2,688 (in Greek).