Acts 16



Timothy Joins Paul and Silas (16:1-5)

1-2 From Cilicia, Paul and Silas passed into the province of Galatia and visited the cities of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas had preached on their first missionary journey.

In Lystra, Paul met a young disciple named Timothy. Because the other Christians in Lystra spoke well of Timothy, Paul wanted to take Timothy along with him. Timothy’s mother was a devout Jewish Christian named Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5).

3 Timothy was half Jew, half Gentile (verse 1). Since Timothy had been brought up as a Jew, Paul thought it would be better if he became a full Jew by being circumcised. As a full Jew, Timothy would be of much greater help to Paul when they went to Jewish synagogues to preach.

In many places in the New Testament, Paul has written that circumcision is not necessary for obtaining salvation (1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:2,6; 6:15). Paul did not tell Timothy to be circumcised so that he could be saved; Timothy was already saved through faith. Rather, Paul had Timothy circumcised in order that a greater number of Jews might be brought to faith in Christ. Paul wrote: To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law, I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law (1 Corinthians 9:20). In everything he did, Paul had only one goal: namely, to win Jews and Gentiles to Christ.

4-5 Wherever Paul and Silas went, they told everyone about the decisions of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:28-29).

Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia (16:6-10)

6-8 The province of Asia mentioned in verse 6 was a province located to the west of the provinces of Phrygia and Galatia. Today that area forms the western part of present-day Turkey. In Paul’s time, the main city of the province of Asia was Ephesus. But on this journey, the Holy Spirit did not allow Paul to pass westward into the province of Asia. Instead, the Spirit led Paul and his companions northward toward the province of Bithynia (verse 7). When they came near Bithynia, the Holy Spirit again caused them to change their plans. They were directed by the Spirit to again head west instead of entering Bithynia. So, in obedience to the Spirit, they finally arrived at the port city of Troas on the coast of the Aegean Sea, which lies between Turkey and Greece.

9-10 While in Troas, Paul received a vision of a man saying to them: “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (verse 9). Macedonia was a northern province of Greece69 Its main cities were Philippi and Thessalonica. Luke writes in verse 10: … we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia. Luke says we, because at that point Luke himself joined Paul and traveled with him to Macedonia.

In this verse we see one of the most important events in world history: namely, the carrying of the Gospel of Christ to Europe. Instead of going east, Paul and his companions went west. If Paul at that point had gone eastward into the countries of southern and central Asia, what a difference there would have been in world history! But God’s plan was that the Gospel should spread first throughout the Roman Empire.

Lydia’s Conversion in Philippi (16:11-15)

11-12 Samothrace is an island in the Aegean Sea. Neapolis was the port city connected with the city of Philippi. Here we see again Paul’s custom of choosing a main center in which to preach the Gospel, for Philippi was an important Roman colony (see Acts 13:14 and comment).

13 There was no Jewish synagogue in Philippi at the time of Paul’s arrival. According to Jewish law, there had to be at least ten Jewish men living in a place before a synagogue could be established there. Therefore, we can conclude that there were less than ten Jewish men living in Philippi when Paul arrived. However, there were a small number of people in Philippi who feared and worshiped the one true God, and they used to meet together outside the city gate near the bank of a river. On the first Sabbath (Saturday) after their arrival in Philippi, Paul and his companions went to that meeting place and spoke with the worshipers who had gathered there.

14 One of the worshipers, a woman named Lydia, heard Paul’s message and put her faith in Christ. Thus she became the first European Christian. She was a seller of a purple dye used for dyeing cloth. This dye was produced in Thyatira, a city in the province of Asia (verse 6), from whence Lydia had come to Philippi to do business.

It is written here that the Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to respond to God’s message. True religious conversion is always a work of God’s grace. First, God opens our heart to respond to His word. But then we ourselves must open the door of our heart and let God in. That is our part. Jesus said: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

15 As with Cornelius and his household, Lydia and her whole household believed and were baptized together. In New Testament times, it was a common thing for the members of a household to become Christians all at one time (see Acts 11:14; 16:31,33; 18;8). It is the responsibility of a husband and wife to see that all who live in their home have the opportunity to hear and to accept God’s word—the Gospel of Christ.

Paul and Silas in Prison (16:16-40)

16 The second resident of Philippi mentioned in this chapter is a poor demon-possessed slave girl. Many people believed that she could predict the future, and they paid money to her masters to have their fortunes told. In this way the slave girl’s masters made much money from her fortune-telling. But it was not the slave girl who was doing the fortune-telling; it was an evil spirit within her that did the talking.

17 This evil spirit recognized that Paul had been sent by God to show men the way of salvation. Evil spirits can always recognize Christ and His servants (see Mark 1:23-26).

18 For many days the slave girl followed Paul around raising a clamor. Finally Paul ordered the evil spirit to leave her, and the spirit immediately left her and she was free.

19 But the girl’s ability to predict the future also left her, and she could no longer tell people’s fortunes. Thus, when her masters realized that they had lost their income from her fortune-telling, they were furious.

20-21 The girl’s masters accused Paul and Silas of “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to obey”, and to a large extent their accusation was true. By preaching the Gospel of Christ in a Roman colony like Philippi, Paul and his companions were, in fact, breaking the law of the Roman Empire. Because, according to Roman law, it was illegal for anyone to preach a strange or foreign religion among Roman citizens.

22-24 In New Testament times, the Jews used to punish criminals by whipping them. The Romans used to punish criminals by beating them with rods. Without even examining Paul and Silas, the magistrates of Philippi concluded on the basis of the crowd’s uproar that they must be guilty of the accusation against them, and so they gave the order that they be beaten. After their beating, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison.

The jailer fastened Paul and Silas’ feet in stocks. In Roman prisons such stocks were placed so that the prisoner’s feet were spread widely apart; this resulted in intense discomfort for the prisoner.

In 2 Corinthians 11:25, Paul writes that three times he was beaten with rods. This beating in Philippi was one of those times.

25 Then what did these two apostles do? There they were—sitting in jail, just beaten with rods, their feet stretched apart in stocks. So what did they do? They began to sing hymns and praise God! The other prisoners in the jail surely must have been dumbfounded!

26 Then God, by means of an earthquake, caused the prison doors to open and the chains of the prisoners to come loose—not only the chains of Paul and Silas, but the chains of all the other prisoners as well. Such chains would have been securely attached to the walls and floor of the prison; nevertheless, God caused them to come apart.

27 The jailer awoke from the earthquake and ran to the jail. Seeing the doors of the jail wide open, he immediately assumed that all the prisoners had escaped. For a Roman jailer, there could be no greater disgrace. Fearing that he would receive the death penalty for allowing his prisoners to escape (Acts 12:18-19), the jailer at once decided that the best thing to do would be to kill himself.

28 Because of the darkness, the jailer could not see inside the prison. But Paul, from inside, could see the jailer drawing his sword to kill himself. “We are all here!” Paul shouted. The other prisoners hadn’t even tried to escape. Perhaps Paul had ordered them to stay, and because they recognized that he was in some way sent from God, they had obeyed him. God had loosened their feet, but He had bound their hearts.

29-30 The jailer fell at Paul and Silas’ feet trembling with fear. Perhaps earlier the jailor had heard that slave girl crying out: “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” (verse 17). These men possessed God’s power. No jail was strong enough to hold them. “Such men can show me how to escape from God’s wrath,” thought the jailer. Having just barely been saved from killing himself, the jailer had now begun to think about his soul.

31-34 After they had spoken the word of the Lord to the jailer and his family, Paul and Silas baptized them. There was no reason to wait. Furthermore, Paul and Silas might be gone by tomorrow. Because they had believed, the jailer and his family were filled with joy. From this, we can assume that they were also filled with the Holy Spirit; one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is joy (Galatians 5:22).

35-36 The magistrates of Philippi decided that the beating plus one night in jail was enough punishment for Paul and Silas, so the next morning they ordered that they be released.

37 Both Paul and Silas were Roman cit-izens.70 According to Roman law, it was illegal to beat a Roman citizen. Thus, in causing Paul and Silas to be beaten, the magistrates had made a terrible mistake. They were filled with fear. If the news of what they had done spread, they would be severely punished.

It would seem that the previous day Paul and Silas had not told anyone they were Roman citizens. They were prepared to suffer for Christ’s sake. They didn’t want to give the appearance of being afraid. But now they demanded that the city magistrates apologize to them openly. By forcing them to do this, Paul and Silas hoped that the people would then have more respect for Christ’s Gospel and for His servants. They also hoped that the people would have a higher regard for the new Philippian believers as well.

38-40 The magistrates had thrown Paul and Silas into jail publicly; let them now come and publicly let them out! Therefore, the magistrates came and apologized and released Paul and Silas, asking them to please leave their city. Before they left, however, Paul and Silas went to Lydia’s house to encourage and comfort the new disciples who had gathered there to see them of f.

We know from reading Paul’s New Testament letter to the Philippians that the Philippian church grew rapidly and became strong. The Philippian believers continued to send gifts to Paul to support him in his travels (Philippians 4:10,14-16). And by their love and faithful Christian testimony, they continued to give Paul great joy.