Skip to content
Jun 28 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 19, 2016 – Acts 16:11-40

Change Agents

So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. Acts 16:11-15

Intro: Some people who travel a lot take along photographs of family members
– they set them on their hotel desk or night stand
• or pull them up on their cell phone or computer
• it is a way of keeping them close to one’s heart and shaking off loneliness
– I imagine Paul having a mental photo album (cf. the list of names in Romans 16)
• settling into a new place, he was able to bring them to mind and hold them in prayer
• here are photos of a business woman, a young female slave, a prison warden
◦ each one is a story and each story warms his heart

These are three of the many lives changed by Paul’s ministry and message
– let’s look again at his message

Jesus Christ came to us (humankind in general, and us, his disciples, in particular) from the one true and living God. His mission was to lead us home to our heavenly Father, by bringing our Father to us in his own person (cf. Jn. 14:8-11). Now, in Jesus Christ we meet the infinite, invisible God (Col. 1:15; 2:9-10). In Jesus we discover that God is love, goodness, forgiveness, and so on. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus resolved every roadblock that could prevent people from coming to God as his children and knowing him as their Father in heaven.

– this is what the three people in today’s stories discovered for themselves

In verses 11-15 we meet the woman in the first photograph

Responding to the vision that sent Paul to Macedonia, his first stop was Philippi
– Luke mentions that Philippi was a Roman colony
• this will play large in his story – those who lived there were proud of its status
• it was populated by retired Roman soldiers and run by former officers
◦ similar to the unconditional pride of our friends who pronounce America ‘Merica!
(always witht the exclamation mark)
– scholars usually assumed there was no synagogue
• which explains why Paul & Co looked for a place of prayer next to a river
• notice how they identified the location by giving it a name
◦ those were there were drawn by a sincere desire for God
◦ they were the most likely to be responsive to Paul’s message

Lydia’s résumé: a seller and a worshiper
– as she listened intently, three things were interacting:
• Paul’s speech – her heart – and the Lord
• her invitation meant that Paul would be staying in the home of a Gentile
◦ she must have been good at selling, because she prevailed upon us
◦ prevailed translates a Greek word that means to force over against (objections)

In verses 16-18 we move on to the girl in the second photograph

Paul encountered her one day on his way to the place of prayer — now identifiable as such
(wherever we’ve met God or had a significant encounter with him becomes sacred to us)
– the girl had been following them for many days
• Luke says she possessed (or was possessed by) the spirit of Python
◦ Python was a snake that guarded entrance to Delphi
◦ people came to this famous site to receive divine oracles
• I think Luke has intentionally, if subtly, created this contrast
◦ in verse 7 he used the unusual phrase, Spirit of Jesus, now here, spirit of Python
◦ not to suggest a competition, but illustrate conflicting objectives
– unlike Lydia, the slave girl did not benefit from her “skill”
• her masters were the ones to profit from her fortune telling

It seems that Paul could not walk down a street without her trailing behind, crying out,

These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.

– in scripture, “Most High God” is not always, but frequently used in reference to Gentiles
• notice how it occurs in another famous incident recorded in Luke’s gospel:

(A man possessed with demons,) Seeing Jesus, he cried out and fell before Him, and said in a loud voice, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Lk. 8:28)

◦ you can imagine Paul’s annoyance as she did this every time he went outdoors
• Paul spoke to the spirit, not with his own authority, but in the name of Jesus Christ
◦ he addressed the spirit to free the person
◦ people who work in recovery have often reminded me that some of the horrible things that addicts say is “the disease talking”
– why was Paul unwilling to accept this free publicity?
• after all, everything she said was true
◦ it would have been an implicit endorsement of her clairvoyance
◦ God forbids people from receiving supernatural insight from any being other than himself
• enough people (even many Christians) have a fascination for the supernatural
◦ many have suffered physical, psychological and spiritual repercussions for delving into it
(see Kurt Koch, Christian Counseling and Occultism)

19-24, Some Philippians were not favorably impressed

Specifically the slave girl’s masters, who saw that their hope for profit was gone
– “gone” translates the same word used for describing the exorcism:
• the demon came out at that very moment (v. 18)
• those men did not want to lose the spirit (greed) that had possessed them
– it’s hard to read this passage and not think of the sex-slave industry
• people profiting from the misery of others

Paul & Co were dragged into the agora or public square
– their accusers made no attempt to appeal to reason
• the force of their speech was pure emotion:
throwing our city … [they] being Jews [and us] being Romans
• their inflamatory speech worked
– it must have been a terrifying moment for Paul and Silas
• but God did not intend for their lives to end here
◦ this is our hope when others try to engineer our ruin

you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good -Ge. 50:20

◦ God’s purposes for us override everything else
• for now, they are jailed and feet put in stocks

25-35, We’ll call the man in this third photograph “The Prison Warden”

When the scene in the marketplace blew up,
– Paul and Silas had been on their way to the place of prayer
• now they finally arrived
◦ only they were in a dungeon and not by the river
• the place of prayer is not one place
◦ we can name any place, “My place of prayer”
– I have often made an assumption about Paul’s midnight songs and prayers
• that they exemplifed his piety, unbreakable spirit, and ability to rise above adversity
◦ but he and Silas were in pain, probably unable to sleep
◦ it made sense to pray, to sing as a distraction and keep spirits from sinking
• I’ve heard about nighttime in prison, that inmates blow off a lot of steam
◦ lots of threats, shouting, coarse jokes and even radios blaring
◦ Luke tells us, however, that the other prisoners were listening to them

Suddenly the prison was rattled by an earthquake
– cell doors flew open and shackles fell off wrists and ankles
• but no one escaped! were they afraid? was it an act of God?
• or had they been conditioned to see themselves as prisoners?
◦ if you define yourself as a prisoner, you will always act like one
– the warden assumed they had escaped
• he was about to take his life when Paul intervened

Sirs, he asked them, what must I do to be saved?
– what did this mean to him? we cannot know for sure, but perhaps:
• saved from the illusion I’ve been living
• saved from a meaningless existence
• saved from the corner I have backed my life into
– their answer, Believe in the Lord Jesus
• what could this mean to him? Not much
• which is why they spent rest of night explaining Jesus to him

35-40, Why do you suppose Paul played the Roman citizen card?
– to demonstrate the accusations were false
• a Roman enjoying the benefits of citizen ship would not make unacceptable demands on other Romans (cf. v. 21)
– to maintain his credibility in Philippi
• he was not going to sneak out of town as if he were a criminal
– to put the magistrates in his debt
• this would be useful if he were to return or other apostles or evangelists arrive there
• it could also help to protect those he left behind (like Luke)
– to not bring shame to the Christian community there

Conc: These are stories of change

What had set them up for change or motivated them?
– I am speculating (again), but it seems to me that:
Lydia already felt a desire or longing for more
the slave girl was trapped in life she could not control
the warden, in a traumatic moment, realized the life he had no longer worked
– each one was changed, not by a what, but a Who
• Lydia received and responded to the word of the Lord
• the slave girl was set free through the name of Jesus Christ
• the warden learned that a new life awaited him through faith in Jesus

Don’t ever give up hoping for change
– if free will teaches us anything, it teaches us that we can make different choices
• sometimes changing one small factor in system can change the whole system
◦ one digit in equation, one word in a sentence, one habit in a dysfunctional relationship
• Jesus doesn’t come into our lives to leave them as he find them
◦ and he holds in himself all the resources for dynamic change

So do you have a time and place to be alone with Jesus every day?
– what this looks like for me, will be different for you
– but opening your heart to him every day, even a little
will give him plenty of opportunity make changes

Changes that will last for eternity

Leave a comment