Saturday, November 14, 2015

Ready, Set, Go!

Scriptural Reading: Acts 16:1-15
Devotional Reading: Matthew 8:1-17

We are now in the GPS age. If you want to know what direction to take, whether there are hotels, hospitals, eating establishments, etc. close to your destination, you simply input the information in the GPS and wait for the output. On the whole, they work well. However, there are times when I have seen them to tell the driver to take a left when the turn should have been a right. Or there have been times when the roads have been blocked. What does the driver do then?

We are in Unit III – “Spreading the Gospel” of the three units of the quarter. This is the third lesson of a five-lesson study of the further growth of the community as the Gospel was proclaimed in faraway places. (Acts 1:8) Today’s lesson is centered on a time during Paul’s Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:1-15). The GPS had not been invented. Yet the journey was successful and more Gentiles were saved. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) had just publicly resolved an issue presented by Paul and Barnabas. Now Paul wants to go back to visit those Gentile churches that had been planted to give them a copy of the resolution. He chose Barnabas as his preaching companion. An assistant was needed. Barnabas insisted that his relative John Mark go along. Paul rejected John Mark because he had departed from them once before. Paul did not want to give him a second chance at this time (2 Ti 4:11) and chose Silas. So bitter was the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that they separated. Paul chose Silas and Barnabas chose John Mark in spreading the Gospel in two separate missionary journeys. It was strange that the personal quarrel between the apostles was used by God to further the Gospel of Christ. I will never forget what one of my Sunday school teachers said, “God plans His work and He works His plan.” As such, there is no way anyone could ever hinder the intent of God to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The best way to study this lesson and gain an understanding is to have a map while studying. Look, for example, at Acts 16:1-3, “Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.” (NKJV) While Paul was in the mission field, he came across a young believer, Timothy, whose mother was a Jew and father was Greek. The marriage of a Jewish woman to a Greek, Gentile, was forbidden. (Deut 7:3) Timothy had been a convert on Paul’s first missionary tour and had witnessed his sufferings in Lystra. What Timothy had been taught as a believer who had been baptized unto Christ came from his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois. His mother would not have been able to require that he be circumcised in infancy for this was a sign of the covenant to the Jews and His father was neither entitled nor interested in it. So Eunice taught Timothy to fear God and he gained a very good character among those in the Christian community from within his immediate area and without.

I thought it awful strange that Paul took young Timothy and had him circumcised. Just in Acts 15 he and Barnabas fought against the doctrine requiring circumcision for salvation. But Paul knew that young Timothy would be great in the ministry among the Jews, as long as they are not prejudiced against him. Timothy had to be seen as one of them in order to effectively minister. So he was circumcised, not for salvation, but to increase the Kingdom of Christ through his ministry. Paul is now walking as Timothy’s spiritual and physical father in mentoring him.

The traveling band now includes Paul, Silas, and Timothy. They are confirming the churches as Paul had desired. In Acts 16:4-5 it states, “And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.” (NKJV) Paul had already planted the churches. He was curious as to what God had done for each of them. How had they been watered by God? Had they kept the faith? The missionaries were to deliver copies of the decrees from the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:23-29) to allow them to answer the false Judaizer teachers and to keep themselves free from such doctrine. The Gentile churches saw this news as good. They must follow the decree. This was a very good service to them. The churches removed any thought – at least for the time being (Gal 3:1-12) – that the way to Christ and salvation goes through the synagogue. They were established by faith and the result is spiritual and numerical growth daily.

Two verses are left out of our lesson which I found to be important. Paul, Silas, and Timothy desired to travel northwest through Asia, but the Holy Spirit would not allow them to preach. In fact the Spirit would not allow them to even enter Bithynia. Acts 16:6-7 are recorded as follows, “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.” (NKJV) How could these ministers of God know which road to take? They were listening to His Spirit. God wants a relationship with you, but you have to be as guidable as Play Doh that just comes out of the can. God wants bendable believers who will always receive guidance from God. You can’t move about in your life and follow the lyrics of Frank Sinatra’s, “I Did It My Way.”

Paul and his traveling comrades were bendable believers. They had a relationship with God and wanted to be in His will. What is God’s will for this Second Missionary Journey? Luke recorded His will at Acts 16:8-9, “So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 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.’” (NKJV) The missionary group passed up Mysia and went to Troas, also called Troy. There is no mention of a church at this time, but there are believers. This is where Luke is believed to have joined the group (verse 10 below). As these missionaries await God’s will for the Second Missionary Journey, Paul receives a vision during the night. This was a dramatic and overpowering plea from a man begging him to come to Macedonia to help them. It was an urgent request for the gospel to be brought a continent away across the Aegean Sea.

Paul wastes no time in sharing the vision with his traveling comrades. They fully accept the vision. Now that they know the mind of God they are not disobedient and do not think of Asia nor Bithynia. They wanted to spread the Gospel and are getting things in readiness for the expedition immediately. Booking passage on a ship may be expensive. Luke may have assisted in the financial burden and joined the missionary journey. Acts 16:10-12 is now recorded in the plural pronoun as follows, “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the LORD had called us to preach the gospel to them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran 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 days.” (NKJV) We now have Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke committed to evangelize as a foreign missionary team in Macedonia. There may be some Christianity there, but as a whole the Greek peninsula is untouched by the Gospel. The trip was not long. The boat stopped overnight at Samothrace (island) and then landed the next day in the seaport of Neapolis. It was the goal of the evangelizing team to go to the more substantial city of Philippi, named after Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. This was actually a Roman colony whose primary purpose was military and settled by former soldiers.

They were in the city for a number of days and no one had noticed them. Finding no synagogue in which to worship, they went outside the city and finally found a totally unexpected place to preach at the riverside. Luke 16:13-15 records the occasion as follows “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 heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart 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.” So she persuaded us”. (NKJV) By Jewish tradition, it takes ten Jewish men over the age of 12 to constitute a proper Jewish synagogue. Not one man is mentioned as being present when Paul and his evangelical team went to preach, teach, and pray. Such is what they were called to do. God is no respecter of person. All have the opportunity to be saved. Such was the message that Lydia heard. She is described simply as a worshiper of God who was present. She had knowledge of Him. Sometimes it is not enough to be worshippers of God, but we must be believers of Jesus Christ. Further, her hometown is in Thyatira on the other side of the sea. She presently deals in purple cloth which is a luxury item that brings in a good income. Lydia was so touched by Paul’s message that she wanted both herself and her entire household baptized. I imagine Paul and his evangelizing team simply baptized them at the river where they were meeting. Lydia was truly converted by God. Only He could see her converted heart. An act of hospitality from Lydia follows. She insists that they come to her home which is, most likely, very comfortable.

The irony is that the first convert in Europe is not “a man of Macedonia”, although that was what Paul had in his vision. It was Lydia, “a woman of Asia”.

Written by Deborah C Davis

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