For an introduction to this series, click here.
June 18, 2007
This chapter completes the transition to just following Paul in his ministry.
The chapter opens with Paul meeting his protege, Timothy. Timothy was the son of a mixed marriage: his mother was a Jew and his father was a Greek. We are told that he was already a believer when Paul met him. Luke mentions that Paul circumcised Timothy (which has to be a harrowing experience) since he would be involved in ministry with Jews.
Then they came to a fork in the road, figuratively and possibly literally. They wanted to keep going north from what is now Turkey into Asia, but the Spirit prevented them from doing so. So they stopped to try to figure out what to do. "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." (16:9-10) Notice the word "we" in the passage. That means that Luke was traveling with Paul at this point.
Unfortunately, the Lord does not speak to us today in this way. I wish He would. We come to forks in the road all the time. In my experience, the best way is to take one direction while praying, "Lord, stop me if this is not the way you want me to go." There have been a few times when I have hit a brick wall like that, but that's OK, since I want to follow His leading. It's just frustrating at the time.
They traveled into Macedonia, and met Lydia, who was a businesswoman. In the same town, Philippi, they ran into a demon-possessed girl. This poor girl was owned by a group of hucksters who made lots of money off of her. She could tell fortunes, and apparently do a good job because of the supernatural spirits in her. This spirit had it in for Paul and his group, and followed them around day after day, saying, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation."(16:17) Paul finally got tired of it, and cast the demon out of her. This didn't sit well with her owners, who demanded that Paul and Silas be thrown in prison. Paul and Silas were beaten with rods and thrown into prison.
Well you probably know what happened next. Paul and Silas began praying and singing, and in the middle of the night there was an earthquake, and all the doors of the prison came open. The prison keeper saw that no one left, and everyone knew why it had happened: because God had intervened on behalf of Paul and Silas. The prison keeper, and we assume many of the prisoners, were saved.
Then Luke gives us an interesting detail: "But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, 'Let those men go.' And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, 'The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.' But Paul said to them, 'They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.' The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city." (16:35-39, ESV)
Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. As such, they were protected from public beatings or other punishments without a trial. And yet the Philippian authorities had beaten them on the word of the girl's owners and never talked to them.I have heard this section used as a justification for civic participation by Christians. I think you can use passages in Romans and elsewhere to justify civic participation (voting, political activism, etc.) but it is dangerous to use Acts as a justification for anything. Luke just gives us a record of what happened. What happened includes speaking in tongues, miracles, visions, and all kinds of other things that were specifically for that time. In this case, we are not told if Paul's actions were right and justified or were done out of pride or spite. Luke just tells us what happened with little to no comment.