Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller


Plan B

Acts 16:1-40

We?d love to get an email from God with our day all planned out but it doesn?t work that way. And so we seek God and move forward?only to run into road blocks and rivers and dead ends. So what gives? Does the fact that things don?t work out perfectly mean we don?t hear God or are somehow not spiritual enough? Well if that?s the measure we use, then we are in good company because Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke all found themselves having to come up with Plan B and even Plan C.

 

1 ? 3

 

Who is Timothy? Timothy lived in Lystra, the very city where the citizens almost sacrificed to Paul and Barnabas but later stoned Paul. His grandmother Lois was first to come to faith. Then his mother Eunice, a Jewess, came to Jesus and passed it on to Timothy. It is very very cool when parents and even grandparents influence their children for Christ. Timothy becomes Paul?s prot?g? and Paul leaves Timothy in charge of several churches. This is the first second generation Christian we read about in the New Testament.

 

Jewish custom called for the child to take the religion of his mother, so Timothy should be been circumcised. But in the Greek world the father dominated the home. Since Lystra had a small Jewish population, there was no pressure to circumcise him. The Greek suggests that Timothy?s father had died by this time.

 

So why have him circumcised given the dispute of chapter 15? Being a good Christian did not mean being a bad Jew. Paul was a Christian but he was also a Jew, a fulfilled Jew. It didn?t mean Paul should just flaunt his freedom and eat pig in front of his Jewish brothers. That would put an unnecessary stumbling block to the gospel.

 

By the same token, Timothy was a Jew to the world so in order to remove any questions raised and focus taken off the gospel and put on his lack of circumcision, Paul has him undergo this right ? not as a way of becoming holy or anything other than making it easier to preach the gospel.

 

This raises some good points for us. Sometimes we feel like we need to change people when become Christians. When a motorcycle gang member comes to Christ, for instance, we need to make him shave, change his clothing, put him in a BMW and behind a desk in some office. In fact we are imposing our cultural expectations on another culture, and if we expected him to go back to the biker bar and preach the gospel, he would be laughed out or worse.

 

The biker comes to know the grace of God and forgiveness for his sins, and invites the Holy Spirit to begin to change his character so he will think and act more like Christ, but it doesn?t mean that non-essential surface characteristics should change.? Paul is merely helping Timothy blend in with his culture in a way that allows him more freedom to preach.

 

 

4 ? 5

 

Whatever we might think about the Jerusalem Council?s decision, it seemed to resonate with the churches and they grew and more people came to the Lord?showing that they had struck that good balance between being free in Christ and making the gospel approachable by all cultures. So now Paul, Silas, and joining them Luke, go on a seven year journey to the area surrounding the Aegean Sea.

 

 

6 ? 7

 

This is a really interesting couple of verses. Paul takes the northern route, avoiding the coastal area of what is modern-day Turkey, and its capital, Ephesus. This happens because the Holy Spirit forbade them. It?s impossible from the Greek to determine whether this happened by direct revelation ?the Holy Spirit told them not to? or if it was through circumstances that were clearly of the Holy Spirit?s making that prevented them from going there.

 

I actually find great comfort in this. We get so worried about getting the exact plan from God that we sometimes do nothing for fear of blowing it. Here we see Paul move forward until he can?t ? whether God telling him or circumstances forcing him ? to move elsewhere. The important thing is that he continued to move forward.

 

My advice is to keep learning, keep praying, keep worshiping, keep letting yourself be transformed into the image of the Lord ? make your daily plans and submit them to the Lord. Then relax and let Him take you where He may. If something doesn?t work out, or if you really want to do something and then God says ?no? ? don?t sweat it. Paul did not have God?s day planner and neither do we.

 

This happens not once, but twice. You?d think the Apostle Paul would not need mid course corrections, and certainly not more than one.

 

Notice too, first it is ?the Holy Spirit? then it is ?the Spirit of Jesus? and in a moment ?God had called.? Three different ways of expressing the same person ? the Trinity.

 

8 ? 10

 

God is moving them in a certain direction, northeast. They come to Troas, which is on the Aegean Sea and an important coastal city and route to Macedonia and the land route to Rome. This may be where Paul met Luke; perhaps in an office call to Dr. Luke?s clinic. Maybe he was having trouble sleeping or something. This is where the narrative turns from ?they? to ?we.? It took a good night?s sleep and a special dream for God?s will for the group to become known. I don?t discount God speaking through dreams at all.

 

Joel 2:28-29 \"And it shall come to pass afterward, that? I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; ?your sons and? your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. 29? Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

?

Does this mean every dream has spiritual significance? I hope not. Some of my dreams are a way too crazy to have spiritual significance. Here Paul dreams of a Macedonian man (what did they look like that he knew it was a Macedonian?). As we?ll see, it was really a Macedonian woman that he would meet.

 

11 ? 15

 

Samothrace is an island in the Aegean Sea. The group ends up at Philippi. Philippi was a Roman colony, an important agricultural center (it was on a fertile plain), a gold mining center, and had a medical school (maybe Luke went there).

 

A Jewish synagogue could only be formed if there were ten male heads of household in a city. Failing that, prayer took place in the open near a river or the sea. Philippi apparently didn?t have a quorum of Jewish males so Paul goes to the alternate location and finds, no surprise, Jewish women near the Gangites River.

 

Lydia was one of the women. She was from Thyatira, which is a city on the western edge of Asia Minor (one of the 7 churches of the book of Revelation). Thyatira used to be part of a kingdom named Lydia until Rome took it over and so she could be ?the Lydian lady.? The city was known for its purple dyes, made mostly by women at home. Lydia had come to Philippi to ply her trade. She was likely either a widow or unmarried. She was a God-fearer, having heard about and come to belong to Judaism. Now she hears the gospel and it completes her and her household.

 

The church at Philippi was one of Paul?s favorites.

 

16 ? 18

 

The demon?s words sound fine on the surface but their repetition got more attention than the gospel. They demons proclaimed truth, but not the whole truth. Perhaps the demon wanted legitimacy for his existence and the for-profit prophecy business. Never let a demon preach the gospel, it will always come out perverted. That?s one of the reasons we have so many cults that appear on the surface to be ?Christian? though under the surface they are not. If someone asked the girl about the ?way of salvation? they would have gotten a different answer than Paul.

 

19 ? 24

 

The magistrates apparently failed to check Paul?s driver?s license. The slave owners said they were Jews (there was latent anti-Semitism throughout the Roman Empire) and never found out they were Roman citizens. The charge for which they were beaten and jailed was disturbing the peace.

 

25 ? 34

 

I?m not sure why Paul didn?t yell out that he was a Roman on the way to the jail, but sometimes we let go of our own rights in order to do God?s will. And far from glum about it, Paul and Silas have a worship service right there in the jail. No matter what circumstances you find yourself in, you can always have church!

 

I guess God got into the beat and started tapping his toes because an earthquake happens and not only do the doors come off their hinges, but also the shackles fall off all of the prisoners. It was dark in the prison and with all the commotion the jailer woke up and thought everyone had escaped. Since a jailer would receive the same punishment as the escaped prisoner, he saves the authorities the trouble. But Paul stops him. After this miracle the jailer (probably a retired veteran) is open to the gospel which he receives along with his family. A little baptism happens right there probably in the prison yard. What amazing things can happen when we just follow the Lord wherever he takes us and just love on him!

 

35 ? 40

 

A Roman citizen could travel throughout the empire under the protection of Rome. Although the evidence is scant, apparently a Roman citizen could choose not to be subject to local jurisdictions and could appeal to Rome. At any rate, it was a serious offense to beat a Roman citizen without trial. Paul isn?t just pushing his weight around. He calls for the magistrates to escort them out in order to put the town in fear and thus protect this newly formed church. I think that?s why Paul goes back into the city and meets with Lydia and the group. It afforded them freedom from what might have turned into a persecution of the Jewish believers.

 

Conclusions

 

So what do you do when things don?t turn out like you planned? Let?s learn a couple of things from Paul, Silas, and the situations in this chapter.

 

Asia

Persevered ? until they learned the way

(We should keep going until apprehended)

 

Slave Girl

Patient to a Point (until the focus was pulled from the gospel), then pointed in his defense

(We should be patient with naysayers until they affect others)

 

Angry Businessmen

Didn?t Panic ? or assert their rights, letting God lead the way

(Sometimes bad things lead to good things if we let them and don?t get in the way)

 

Jailed

Prayed, Praised & Preached where God put them

(Something we always do no matter the circumstances)

 

Kicked out of town

Protected the gospel and a young church (they asserted their rights only when it would further benefit the gospel)

 

The bottom line is go with the flow, see where God takes you and how in those circumstances you can be effective as a light to shine out the good news of Jesus Christ.

 

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