ACTS - CHAPTER 16
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple (learner:
pupil) was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess,
and believed; but his father was a Greek.”
Timotheus (Timothy) means honoring
God, and the biblical record reveals that he was a young man who proved himself
worthy of the name.
Its being said that his
mother was a Jewish believer, but his father a Greek, a Gentile, seems to imply that
his father may have been an unbeliever, and if so, it teaches the truth that a mixed
marriage doesn’t preclude the mother’s instructing the children in the things of
“Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.”
Every believer, old as well
as young, ought to so live as to be worthy of the same commendation.
“Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him
because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father
was a Greek.”
It seems that Paul’s
circumcising Timothy was related to his taking the young man with him in the Lord’s
work, and was simply for the purpose of removing what would have made Timothy’s
ministry unacceptable to Jews. They
would be more likely to listen to the gospel of salvation by grace through faith and
apart from law keeping, if it was coming from a man who was circumcised, for it is to
be remembered that Paul’s method was to preach first in the synagogue, and Timothy,
uncircumcised, would not have been permitted to do this.
This was not a concession to legalism, but rather an example of Paul’s
living by the principle recorded in 1 Cor 9:19-24, “For though I be free from all
men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that
are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but
under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law....”
He would, however, make no concessions in regard to what was wrong, and
neither should we. Where circumcision was insisted upon as being necessary for
salvation, he refused to have Titus circumcised, see Galatians 2.
We should note, incidentally, that while Paul was the evangelist to the
Gentiles, he never forgot that the gospel is to the Jew first.
Where ever he went his custom seems to have been to speak to the Jew first.
His taking Timothy with him
reminds us that young men need the wisdom of older men, and the latter should be
willing to take promising young men under their wing, gladly investing the necessary
time to instruct them.
“And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees (decisions of
the apostles and elders in Jerusalem) for to keep, that were ordained of (decided
upon by) the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.”
Every effort was made to
stop the pernicious doctrine of the Jewish legalizers.
Wrong doctrine is not to be tolerated.
“And so were the churches established (strengthened) in the faith, and
increased in number daily.”
Sound doctrine will never
diminish a true church. It weeds out the
rebels, and the unconverted.
While certainly the number
of the churches may also have increased, the meaning here is of increase in
membership, that is, of converts; and it is instructive to remember that in those
early days individual personal evangelism was the means by which the gospel was most
effectively spread. There is nothing in
Scripture to even hint that there was such a thing in the early churches as a meeting
convened specifically for the preaching of the gospel.
As already noted, it was spread by the witness of individuals imbued with a
love for Christ, and a genuine concern for men’s souls; nor is there any question
that it was an integral part of teaching. There is, in fact, something lacking from teaching that doesn’t
also incorporate the truth of the gospel. This
is not to say, that were the unconverted can be brought in, there shouldn’t be a
gospel meeting, the speaker having at least some measure of evangelistic ability; but
to preserve the empty form of a gospel meeting where the audience are believers, or
where the few unconverted are the children of the assembly members, is to misuse time
that would be better used to give needed teaching.
It is the responsibility of believing parents to present their children with
the gospel, and their delinquency shouldn’t be allowed to become the means of
robbing believers of needed ministry. If
professedly Christian parents don’t care enough about the souls of their own
children to grasp every opportunity to teach them their need of a Savior, the state
of their own souls is very much open to question.
“Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and
were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia.”
“After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the
Spirit suffered them not.”
“And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.”
The will of God and the
guidance of the Holy Spirit are largely ignored today.
Human schemes and organizations have banished the Holy Spirit from virtually
every activity of the Church. In those
days He was in total control, that control made possible only by the submission of
the believers, for He never bypasses the human will to compel the obedience of either
saint of sinner. The means by which He
communicated His will are not disclosed, nor is it necessary for us to know, for God
never lacks means of making His will known to those willing simply to wait for Him to
“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There stood a man of Macedonia,
and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.”
This vision assures us that
it was still the Jewish age, for miraculous phenomena are not for this present Church
The night speaks of the
spiritual darkness that shrouds the minds
of unconverted men, but Paul’s being given this vision at night reminds us that in
the midst of earth’s spiritual darkness God makes known His will to renewed minds.
Clearly this was His command to carry the gospel to Europe.
The man’s declaration of Macedonia’s need of help corresponds to the truth
that he who would be saved must first see his need of salvation.
“And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into
Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel
The change to “we”
indicates that Luke, the writer of Acts, joined them in Troas.
How simple everything was! Their submissive minds made it easy for God to reveal His will,
and for them to recognize it. How
different it is today! Human
organizations, having arrogated the prerogative of the Holy Spirit, dare to direct
God’s work and His workers, and the
result is the barrenness blighting virtually the whole field of Christian endeavor.
The frenzy that governs the activity of the world governs the lives of the
majority of God’s people today, so that they have no time to pray, to read, to
meditate, to worship, to wait upon God - in spite of the assurance that, “They that
wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as
eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint,” Isa
40:31. But until we take the time to
wait upon God the religious busyness impelled by the flesh will continue, with the
same lack of the Holy Spirit’s power, and the same lack of genuine conversions, and
the same lack of evidence of the Spirit’s power in our lives.
“... assuredly gathering
that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.”
It would be well if all of us had that same assurance relative to what we
imagine to be our “service.” While
the Lord’s command is, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every
creature,” we should recognize the imperative of waiting for Him to show us exactly
where, when, and to whom to go.
“Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis;”
“And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of
Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days.”
In spite of the speed with
which they arrived in Philippi, it seems that they had no guidance from the Holy
Spirit as to what to do, and wisely, instead of plunging into busy activity without
His direction, they simply waited to see what He would have them do. If there was the same patient waiting today I believe there would
be much less activity, but a great deal more evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power in
“And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer
was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted
“And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of
Thyatira, which worshiped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she
attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.”
There doesn’t appear to
have been a synagogue in the city, so the number of Jews there must have been small,
since normally twelve was all that was required for a synagogue.
Lydia appears to have been a Jewish proselyte.
The word “resorted”
suggests a purposeful gathering, and “where prayer was wont to be made,” leaves
little doubt that it was for the purpose of prayer.
This meeting with a few women wasn’t a very auspicious beginning for a
missionary enterprise, nor did the ensuing events furnish any more reason for
enthusiasm, so that we can’t help wondering whether God’s messengers were perhaps
a little discouraged. The fact that
these women met for prayer, however, makes it clear that in spite of what outward
circumstances might have indicated to the contrary, Paul and his companions were in
the path of God’s will, and that was all that mattered.
These praying women speak of submission, and of concern for the things of God.
This is the kind of person who can be saved.
Salvation is not for the unconcerned.
Their praying, and engaging
in the outward ritual of worship, and their belief in the existence of God, reminds
us, however, that the unconverted may be religious, believing in the historicity of
Christ, but they are in as much need of salvation as is the irreligious unbeliever.
There are few things more dangerous than religion, for it blinds its dupes to
their need of a Savior, and lulls them unsuspectingly down the road to hell.
It is, in fact, easier to convince the irreligious of their need of salvation,
than it is to convince those who are satisfied that their religion is all they need
to save them from hell and fit them for heaven.
“... heard us,” is
literally, “listened to us attentively.” He
who listens inattentively to the gospel isn’t likely to be saved, for conviction of
sin rarely attends inattentive listening.
“... whose heart the Lord
opened.” There must be the convicting
work of the Holy Spirit in the heart before there can be conversion, but that
conviction is virtually impossible in an inattentive (unconcerned) heart.
“... that she attended
unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” “...
attended unto” is literally “gave attention to,” or “accepted the message,”
and acceptance of the gospel is the same thing as being saved, her conversion
certifying that up until that moment she was unsaved in spite of all her religion and
belief in the existence of God.
“And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If
ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there.
And she constrained us.”
Scripture is crystal clear
that every believer is to be baptized, not to make his salvation secure, but to
declare the reality of it, for baptism is to be by immersion, the believer’s going
down under the water declaring in symbol, “I am crucified (have died vicariously)
with Christ:” and his coming up out of
the water declaring the further truth, “... nevertheless I live; yet not I, but
Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith
of (in) the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me,” Ga 2:20.
The fact that her household
were also baptized, certifies not that they were saved as a result of her belief, but
that they themselves had also believed.
“If ye have judged me to
be faithful,” is literally “If you are convinced that I am indeed a believer;”
and her invitation to come into her house and abide there (lodge, or be her guests),
simply discloses her gratitude for their having led her to the Lord. Every believer owes a debt of immeasurable gratitude to the one
who made him aware of his need of a Savior, and who led him to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Love for God’s people is a mark of the true believer, as the Lord Himself
declared, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one
to another,” Jn 13:35.
“And she constrained
us,” i.e., she insisted that we accept her invitation.
Hers was no mere polite formality: she meant it.
Her willingness to serve
them reminds us that profession is to be confirmed by works, but at the same time it
is to be clearly understood that good works do not constitute salvation, nor do they
make salvation any more certain. The
believer is completely and eternally saved the moment he trusts in Christ as his
Savior. The good works are simply the
outward evidence of a complete salvation already received through faith, and they
will bring an eternal reward at the judgment seat of Christ, but they have nothing to
do with bringing the believer into heaven. His
faith alone does that.
“And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with
a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:”
“... as we went to
prayer” simply declares that they continued to meet there with those women for
Divination is the supposed
ability to foretell the future, or to discover hidden knowledge; and soothsaying is
the declaring of such information, or in today’s terminology, fortune telling.
The girl’s being possessed “with a spirit of divination” means simply
that she was demon-possessed, or indwelt by a demon, a condition, incidentally, very
different from mental illness.
“The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the
servants of the most high God, which shew unto us (you) the way of salvation.”
Satan’s most successful
ploy is to pretend to be on God’s side, and he is most to be feared when acting as
an angel of light. In the present
instance this announcement impelled by the demon was undoubtedly designed to make the
gospel appear to be nothing more than another part of the evil pronouncements given
through the demon-possessed girl, i.e., it would effectively discredit it.
The correct rendering of the
latter part of this verse is “which shew unto “you” (not “us”).”
The way of salvation is not shown to demons (they already know it), but it is
ineffective to save them: they are eternally lost.
“And this did she many days, But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the
spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.
And he came out the same hour.”
Her following them for many
days demonstrates the persistence of Satan, but Paul’s dismissing the demon
demonstrates the superior power of God. Satan
has no power except what is given him by God, nor can he use it except within the
limits set by God.
“And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught
Paul and Silas, and drew (dragged) them into the marketplace unto the rulers,”
“And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do
exceedingly trouble our city,”
Enraged at the abrupt end
brought to his evil scheme, Satan next assumed the role of “a roaring lion,” 1 Pe
5:8, and would, if he could, have destroyed God’s servants.
When he can’t hold them captive, he attacks the saints.
If he can’t keep men out of heaven, he attempts to stop their service to
God, and thus rob them of peace here one earth, and of eternal reward in heaven.
Its being emphasized that
those of Paul’s company were Jews, may be a further indication that there were few,
if any, of them in Philippi, and it may indicate also that they enjoyed no favor with
“And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to
observe, being Romans.”
Many another since then has
set much stock on earthly customs and associations; but Rome is gone, as will be also
all earthly associations. Salvation has
to do with eternity, and only those whose “citizenship is in heaven,” Php 3:20
will escape hell and enjoy the bliss of heaven eternally.
“And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent
(tore) off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.”
The world that is divided in
virtually everything, will unite to oppose everyone and everything belonging to
“And when they had laid many stripes upon them (flogged them severely), they
cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:”
“Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and
made their feet fast in the stocks.”
As is made clear in verse
37, all of this was illegal without their having been given a trial and being found
guilty according to Roman law. It is
interesting to note that those had been so ready to announce their adherence to that
same law, had been equally ardent in breaking it.
Up to this point virtually
all opposition to the gospel had come from Jews, but now as it began to go out to the
Gentiles, it was they who were used of Satan as his instruments to oppose it.
In connection with opposition it is to be noted that nothing provokes it more
than an aggressive proclamation of the gospel, our immunity being the eloquent
testimony to the sad truth that our efforts to spread it are either non existent or
of such a feeble nature as to give Satan no cause for alarm.
“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the
prisoners heard them.”
We can understand their
praying, but that they should also have sung praises unto God declares the truth that
these two were no ordinary believers: their faith appears to have been such that they
could see God’s hand in every circumstance, and had the faith to believe that He
was controlling those circumstances for His own glory, and therefore for their
eternal blessing. The world cannot give
or take away the peace possessed by faith. Sadly
though, few of us possess the faith of those two.
What a testimony was theirs to the other prisoners!
“And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the
prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bands
Well might they sing.
They trusted God to work, and He did, and in a manner beyond all their
expectations, reminding us of what is written in Eph 3:20, “Now unto him that is
able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the
power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout
all ages, world without end. Amen.“
In response to the prayers of His servants, He Who had laid the foundations of
the earth shook them that night; doors which man had locked He opened; and fetters
bound by man He loosed.
This should inspire our own
confidence in God. He will work no less
for us if we will only trust and obey Him, but as noted already, not necessarily as
dramatically, for miraculous manifestation is not for this present age. The conversion of a sinner is no less a manifestation of God’s
power than was the miracle wrought in the prison that night.
As the inmates were in darkness, and shackled, so is every man born into this
world, for we are born into spiritual darkness, and are the bondslaves of sin; but at
conversion the equivalent of the earthquake occurs: the mighty power of God brings
deliverance. Our chains fall off, and we
A fact rarely noticed in
connection with that night’s miracle was that the prisoners, contrary to the
expectation of the jailor, hadn’t fled: they were still there with God’s
servants, and in this God teaches a further lesson.
We are not delivered to return to a life of sin, or to do as we please:
freedom from sin brings us into the willing service of Christ, as it is written,
“... ye are not your own ... ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in
your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s,” 1 Cor 6:19-20.
Why did those prisoners not flee? Is
it possible that they realized their miraculous deliverance was the result of God’s
having responded to the prayers of His servants, and in awestruck wonder, they simply
remained with Paul and Silas to see what God would have them do?
“And keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison
doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the
prisoners had been fled.”
The awakened, terrified
jailor, thinking the prisoners had escaped, and that he therefore faced death, is a
picture of every truly awakened sinner, for the profession that has not been impelled
by fear is suspect, and in this day of a diluted gospel which requires nothing more
than assent to the historicity of Christ, there are many such professions.
“But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we
are all here.”
The gospel has a message of
assurance for perishing men. He who had
been ready to take his own life was about to enter into the possession of life
eternal, as may all, who, brought to an end of their own resources, trust in the Lord
Jesus Christ as Savior. Nothing was
lost. Men have nothing to lose, and
everything to gain by submitting to God. It
is only the spiritually blinded unbeliever who sees conversion to Christ as the end
of all his happiness.
“Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling,
and fell down before Paul and Silas,”
That physical light was but
the symbol of the spiritual light about to dawn upon his soul, and the trembling of
fear was to give place to the ecstasy of knowing himself the recipient of eternal
life. The light of the Gospel must first
produce trembling, and a humbled heart. No
fear, no salvation.
“And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
This is the cry of a
convicted heart, and a truth largely lost sight of today is that apart from
conviction of sin there can be no salvation. “What
must I do?” however, discloses the erroneous belief universally held that a
sinner must do something in order to be saved. The
truth of the gospel is that Christ has done all the work necessary for salvation, and
men have simply to accept God’s pardon and priceless gift of eternal life.
“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,
and thy house.”
The belief that saves,
however, is more than belief in the historicity of Christ.
A man may believe all the historical facts relative to the Lord Jesus Christ,
but until he links that belief with the confession of his own sinful state, and sees
in Christ’s death that which has made atonement for all his sins, he will remain
“... and thy house” has
been seized upon to teach the lie that the belief of the parents extends to the
children and saves them also. Scripture
makes it clear that no one can believe for another.
Each one who would be saved must exercise personal faith in Christ, verse 34
making it clear that all in his house did in fact exercise the same personal faith as
“And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his
This was the Word in the
Gospel, apart from which men cannot be saved, and clearly it was as a result of their
believing that gospel that he and those of his household were saved.
“And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and
was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”
Conversion changes conduct. The profession of the lip must be confirmed by the life.
It produces a changed attitude towards God’s people: he washed their
lacerated backs, as it is written, “By
this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another,”
“... and was baptized” -
the believer’s first act of obedience; “... he and all his, straightway.”
This doesn’t teach household baptism apart from individual faith in Christ
as Savior, but rather, it confirms the faith and obedience of all in his house.
“And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and
rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”
This speaks of fellowship -
an essential part of the Christian life. Doubtless
they were hungry, so he ministered to that need, and thus indirectly expressed his
gratitude for their having ministered such rich spiritual fare to him and his
rejoiced.” Conversion brings joy.
“And when it was day, the magistrates sent the sergeants, saying, Let those
“And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have
sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace.”
“But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being
Romans, and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come
themselves and fetch us out.”
Where civil law affords
protection and liberty, the Christian may take advantage of it, for there are those
who would unlawfully abuse God’s servants, and hinder His work.
Paul’s action may have been as much for the protection of others as for
himself. His converts were going
to have to continue living there, and his present conduct was very likely to make the
authorities very hesitant to interfere with them without good cause.
“And the sergeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared,
when they heard that they were Romans.”
It is strange that man will
fear man, but not the One he has most cause to fear - God.
“And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to
depart out of the city.”
What changes a night had
brought! God, for the outworking of His
own purposes, had permitted the flogging and imprisonment of his servants, but with
His purposes gloriously accomplished, He now proceeded to vindicate those whose
willing submission to His will had been disclosed in their praying and singing during
their night in prison. This is another
example of the truth of what is written in Ps 30:5, “... weeping may endure for a
night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
It brought a dramatically
changed attitude on the part of those, who the previous day, had unjustly abused and
imprisoned the Lord’s servants.
It isn’t difficult to see
in the events of that morning the foreshadowing of what will be in another fast
approaching morning which will bring God’s public vindication of Christ, and of all
who have suffered for His sake; when the judges will become the judged, their
judgment being, as it were, by the very ones they had judged, for the Lord Himself
has declared that what is done to His own He counts as having been done to Him,
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have
done it unto me,” Mt 25:40, and see also Mt 25:45-46, and Ac 9:4, “Saul, Saul,
why persecutest thou me?”
That morning is not far off
which will bring fulfillment of what is foretold by David in Ps 110:1, “The Lord
said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy
“And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia, and
when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.”
Faith in Christ not only
unites believers with Him, but also with one another.
There is something wrong with the professed believer who prefers the company
of the unconverted to that of other Christians.
It is instructive to consider that those most in need of comfort, humanly
speaking, were they who comforted others. The state of believers is not to be measured by earthly
When Paul and Silas and
Timothy left to go to Thessalonica, it seems that Luke may have remained with the new
assembly in Philippi, apparently the first in Europe, and it isn’t until 20:5 that
the term “we” is resumed.