Arriving in Derbe and Lystra, Paul is reacquainted with a young man called Timothy who likely had been converted on his previous visit, 1 Tim. 1. 2. Described as a ‘disciple’ and one who ‘was well reported of by the brethren’, vv. 1, 2, Paul desires that he goes with him on this journey. Paul’s disappointment with John Mark had not discouraged him from seeking those whom he could encourage in the service of God. Are those more experienced in the Lord’s work similarly on the lookout for those they can mentor today?
The circumcision of Timothy may seem a contradiction of what had gone before in chapter 15. However, in this chapter, circumcision was a point of doctrinal discussion, here it seems simply to be a way by which Timothy - who came from a mixed Gentile/Jew parentage, vv. 1, 2, would be acceptable to Jews he would be working amongst. It was an example of the principle that Paul states in 1 Corinthians chapter 10 verses 32 and 33, ‘Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God: even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved’. How willing are we to put ourselves out for others that we might gain them for Christ?
Having travelled through ‘Phrygia and the region of Galatia’, 16. 6, Paul and Silas seem to have planned to continue west into ‘Asia’ (modern-day Turkey). The Spirit of God forbad, or hindered them, so they turned north, testing whether they would be allowed to reach Bithynia, ‘a highly civilised province with Greek cities and Jewish settlements’.1Again, the Spirit of God ‘suffered them not’, v. 7, so they passed through Mysia, a region to the northwest of Asia, and ended up in Troas on the east coast of the Aegean Sea.
We learn that, while everywhere needs the gospel, we must be open to God’s leading as to where He wants us to preach. The gospel would come to Asia and Bithynia, Rev. 1. 4; 1 Pet. 1. 1, but not at this time through Paul. Why? ‘To many such questions there is no answer - we can only bow to the sovereignty of God’.2 The prohibition turns into positive direction at Troas as God gives Paul a vision of a man of Macedonia who said, ‘Come over into Macedonia, and help us’, v. 9. As with many of the heroes of faith before him, there is no delay in Paul’s response and he ‘immediately … endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them’, v. 10. How quick are we in responding to the direction of God? Note that it is likely that Luke joined them at Troas as the ‘they’ of verses 1 to 9 changes to ‘we’ in verse 10.
Crossing the Aegean Sea via Samothracia to Neapolis, they take the short journey further inland to Philippi, once again following the pattern of seeking the chief cities to preach in. In this city, however, there does not seem to be a synagogue and therefore no obvious place to begin preaching. They took time, v. 12, during which they found that there was a place by ‘a river side, where prayer was wont to be made’, v. 13. It is challenging to reflect on the outreach strategy of the early believers; they looked for places where there was already an interest in the things of God, and then went to those people. Do we regularly ask God to show us with whom we should be sharing the gospel, or simply continue with the way things have been done in the past?
The work in Philippi focuses on three individuals, rather than reporting the general response to the preaching. In so doing, we are taught:
The deliverance of the servant girl led to Paul and Silas being delivered to the jailor, having first been beaten. Under a strict charge that they should be kept safely, they are secured in the innermost prison. Throughout the book of Acts, the response of the people of God to suffering is challenging. Earlier we are told that the apostles were ‘rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name’, 5. 41, and now we hear these men singing at midnight, v. 25. Paul could write with authority to the Philippians later that they should, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’, Phil. 4. 4. The secret is found in the previous phrase, ‘And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed’, Acts 16. 25. This truth is stated by Paul in his letter, ‘Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’, Phil. 4. 6, 7.
When the message comes the next morning that they are free to go, Paul and Silas comfort the brethren before continuing on their way. It is lovely to see these mature believers supporting those young in the faith. Such an example would be invaluable to them as they would be called, ‘not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake’, Phil. 1. 29. May we likewise be those whose ‘conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ … stand[ing] fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel’, v. 27.
Travelling southwest ‘through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica’, v. 1. On a major route from Rome to the east, it was a free city, the capital of Macedonia, and a busy commercial centre. Here there was a synagogue, so, characteristically, Paul makes this his base. Note the description of what he does:
Later, Peter sums up what Paul is able to do, ‘give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you’, 1 Pet. 3. 15. While our witness is not to be ‘with enticing words of man’s wisdom’, 1 Cor. 2. 4, there is the expectation that we are able to undergird our message coherently from scripture.
Paul’s teaching leads to a number of conversions, especially of the devout Greeks. Stirred up by envy, the Jews organize a riot, centred around the house of Jason who had received Paul. In their complaint to the rulers of the city, they make an unwitting ‘compliment’ that we should all desire to hear about the Lord’s work, ‘These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also’, v. 6.
The Thessalonian believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea where they found a most ‘noble’ attitude, ‘they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so’, v. 11. How refreshing for any teacher to find those who are willing to listen and have the right attitude to the scriptures, accepting them as the final authority. Verse 12 tells us the logical conclusion of such an attitude, ‘Therefore many of them believed’. May we model such an attitude in our lives.