From Derbe to Lystra (November 15, 2015)

Uniform lesson for November 15, 2015
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Acts 16:1-5, 8-15 


This chapter begins shortly after a painful parting of the ways. After returning to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas had a heated disagreement about including John Mark in the next leg of their evangelistic journey. According to Colossians 4:10, John Mark was Barnabas’ nephew. They decided to go to different places with a different arrangement: Barnabas went with John Mark to Cyprus while Paul went to Syria and Cilicia with Silas.

Acts 16:1-5 — Timothy joins Paul and Silas
Planning to visit predominately Gentile congregations in Asia Minor in order to make them aware of the decision made in Jerusalem, Paul invited Timothy, a young Christian whose mother was a Jewish Christian (cf. 2 Timothy 1:5) and whose father was a Gentile, to join him. This begins a long and close relationship between Paul and his protégé Timothy.

Paul was aware that Timothy, who had been raised by a Jewish mother but never circumcised, might be a problem for Jews in the communities they planned to visit; they could accuse Paul of condoning the failure to obey the Law of Moses. So Paul prevailed upon Timothy to be circumcised. This seems, on the surface, to contradict the very message Paul intended to bring regarding the decision made at the Jerusalem conference (cf. Acts 15:20). F.F. Bruce writes that Timothy was an exceptional case and for him circumcision was “a minor surgical procedure performed for a practical purpose, and not a rite.” Paul’s action reflects his missionary principle, “to the Jews I became as a Jew” (1 Corinthians 9:20).

Acts 16:8-10 — Paul called to Macedonia
Luke consistently emphasizes that God is the primary driving force directing and enabling the spread of the gospel. Paul and his fellow evangelists are the human agents empowered to carry out God’s mission. Previously, God had forbidden Paul to preach the gospel in specific districts of Asia Minor, the Roman provinces of Asia and Bithynia (Acts 16:6-7). Now, God intervenes by giving Paul a vision. He sees a man from Macedonia who makes a moving appeal: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Luke reports that when Paul saw this vision, he and his companions were “convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.” Notice the sudden shift in perspective from a narrative told in the third person (Acts 16:4 says, “As they went from town to town”) to a first person plural account (Acts 16:10 says, “God had called us”). This also occurs in chapters 20, 21 and 27 of Acts. Perhaps Luke had joined Paul for part of his travels. Or Luke may have relied on a travel account from one of Paul’s companions as a source. On the other hand, this could be a literary device Luke used to create a sense of authenticity.

Acts 16:11-15 — Paul in Europe
Up to this point Luke has described the spread of Christianity in Asia, an area we today call the Middle East. Now a major advance in Luke’s account of the westward march of the gospel occurs. Paul and his companions travel by boat from Troas to Neapolis, and then they traverse approximately 10 miles by foot to the city of Philippi. Philippi was a major Roman city at the eastern end of the Egnatian Way, a heavily traveled Roman road linking Macedonia with the towns on the Adriatic coast not far from Rome.

In Philippi, Paul does not go into the synagogue as was his usual pattern. Instead, on the Sabbath he joins a group of women who had gathered near a riverbank on the edge of town for prayer. These Gentile “God-fearers” included Lydia, an entrepreneurial woman who made her living by selling purple cloth, a luxury item for which her hometown of Thyatira was well known. “The Lord opened her heart,” Luke reports, and Lydia and her household were baptized as the first Christians in Europe. Commentator Beverly Gaventa suggests that Lydia may have been divorced or a widow, since it was not likely that a married woman would have her own household. She certainly had the means to offer Paul and his companions hospitality at her house.

For discussion
Do you think Paul did the right thing when he arranged to have Timothy circumcised? Why or why not? Have you or your congregation ever responded to an urgent “Macedonian” call for help? If so, what was the result? Every congregation needs women like “Lydia.” How would you describe Lydia’s gifts? Have you ever known a woman like Lydia? O