Dr. Mark Scott wrote this treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson. Scott teaches preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri. This lesson treatment is published in issue no. 12 (weeks 45–48; November 11—December 2, 2018) of The Lookout magazine, and is also available online at www.lookoutmag.com.
Lesson Aim: Pray for missionaries and other believers in areas known for the persecution of Christians.
By Mark Scott
The first missionary journey (Acts 13, 14) was so successful that a church conference had to be called to handle the growth (15:1-35). Thanks to Peter’s testimony, Paul’s report, and James’ use of Amos 9:10, 11, the second missionary journey accelerated the success of the gospel (Acts 16-18). The new missionary team of Paul and Silas returned to the cities where the churches had been planted on the first journey. Timothy was added to the team, and it looked as though the gospel would spread to northern Galatia (Mysia and Bithynia). But God had other plans. Can you imagine how different the world would have been had the gospel not spread to Europe?
With a Vision |Acts 16:9, 10
It took a vision from God for the missionaries to cross the Aegean Sea. The Holy Spirit kept (hindered; forbade; did not allow) Paul and Silas from going north and east. Through a vision during the night God essentially said, “Go west, young man.” Since Luke used the word we it is safe to assume that the author had also joined the team at this point.
Macedonia meant Europe. The vision did not nail down many specifics—only “come and help.” The missionaries had to “conclude” (a cognitive word meaning “to put together with the use of the mind”) that God wanted the gospel in Europe. Once again, we see that the Holy Spirit’s primary role in Acts is directing the mission of the church. Making plans is good, but hold them loosely so that God can change them if he so chooses.
To a Woman |Acts 16:11-15
From Troas (western Turkey) they sailed past Samothrace and arrived in Neapolis (New City), which put the gospel on European soil. Working their way to the largest city (Thessalonica), they came first to the important Roman colony of Philippi. The lack of a Jewish synagogue probably indicated that there were not 10 Jewish men in the city. Therefore the beachhead for the gospel would be a river—not a synagogue.
One woman and her household (perhaps servants who worked with her in business) gave attention to the gospel. She is identified as a worshipper of God and a savvy business woman from Asia Minor. Being a dealer in purple cloth in a Roman colony was certainly smart. God so wanted the gospel in Europe that he opened Lydia’s heart. Maybe God will open anyone’s heart if they are listening to him. She responded to the Lord in baptism as did her workers (and perhaps children). She received salvation and then received the missionaries into her home. In fact, her hospitality set the example for one of the most generous churches in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 8:1-7; Philippians 1:5; 4:14-20).
By Persecution |Acts 16:22-34
Last week’s lesson noted that where the gospel went the devil surely followed. A slave girl who was being used by Satan and abused by men tried to mock the missionaries to discredit them. Paul called the evil spirit out and, as a result, got thrown into the slammer. If you are too kind you just might end up on a cross.
The owners of the slave girl realized their profits were shot. They manhandled Paul and Silas, successfully stirred up the magistrates, and played their political trump card by making the missionaries out to be Roman insurrectionists. The clamoring crowd joined in the persecution. Paul and Silas followed the example of their Lord in being stripped, beaten, and flogged (John 19:1-3; see 2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 6:4, 5; 11:23-28). They were placed in the inner cell with their feet in the stocks.
During the midnight vesper service (praying, singing, and preaching) God intervened with an earthquake. Luke graphically described the severity of it (violent, foundations shaken, prison doors dislodged, and chains came loose). The jailer assumed the prisoners had escaped and, true to the Code of Justinian 9.4.4 (a soldier would receive the punishment that escapees would have received), was about to commit suicide. Paul kept him from that drastic action.
Perhaps the jailer meant his question about being saved in a less “spiritual” sense, but it is framed up clearer than any of the other times this question occurs in the New Testament (Matthew 19:16; Luke 10:25; Acts 2:37). Paul told him to believe. He and his household (fellow jailers and/or family?) were baptized. Like Lydia he immediately became hospitable (washed the wounds and fed the missionaries). Joy had come to the jailer. Joy had come to Philippi (see the epistle). Joy had come to Europe even in the midst of persecution (see Acts 5:41).
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Print and digital subscribers are permitted to make one print copy per week of lesson material for personal use. Lesson based on the scope and sequence, ©2018 by Christian Standard Media. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.