Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. Timothy was well thought of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium, so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.
Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.
That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.
We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.
On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.
One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”
This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.
Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”
A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.
Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”
The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.
The next morning the city officials sent the police to tell the jailer, “Let those men go!” So the jailer told Paul, “The city officials have said you and Silas are free to leave. Go in peace.”
But Paul replied, “They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison—and we are Roman citizens. So now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!”
When the police reported this, the city officials were alarmed to learn that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. So they came to the jail and apologized to them. Then they brought them out and begged them to leave the city. When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.
It’s easy to read Acts 16 and think that it must have been so much easier to believe back in “Bible Times.”
The truth is if it were possible to have a debate between a group of Christ followers living today and a group that lived “back in the day,” both groups would have arguments as to why it isn’t so easy living out what they believe in either time.
Frankly, we can sit around and make all the excuses we want to, but if we really wanted to learn a thing or two from these early Christians, all we need to do is read Acts 16.
I want to point out a few things about these early Christians. First of all, they were led by the Spirit over and over. In the text above, we read how the Spirit “protected” them and guided them on their many journeys. Second, these Christians looked for opportunity after opportunity to spread the good news to non-believers and to guide and teach those that already did believe. In addition to being lead by the Spirit, preaching and teaching to believers and non-believers, these early Christians were full of grace and love and were seeking justice. Paul not only does not flee when the prison doors open and the chains break off, but he doesn’t take the opportunity to go free even when the city officials verbally release them. Paul demands justice and does not leave until they came in person to release them. Last but certainly not least, they prayed often and they worshiped (at midnight and in jail).
These early Christians were the real deal and the proof is in the pudding, “the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.”
In light of what we read about them, I think we need to ask ourselves some questions and reflect on our own lives to determine if we are walking our walk as these men and women before us did.
When is the last time you were led by the Spirit? If you truly believe that the same power that conquered the grave lives in you, do you allow it to lead you? Do you leave room in your thoughts for the Holy Spirit to guide and direct your life?
Do you look for opportunities to be like Jesus? To reach those that don’t know him and to strengthen, lift up and encourage those around you that do? And if you do, are you gracious and loving and just in the process?
Finally, do you pray and worship God even when things aren’t going your way?
The point of asking yourself these questions is not for you to sit back and feel guilty about your answers. The point is to remind you what you’re living for.
When we read Acts 16, we should feel convicted by our early brothers and sisters in Christ to be the Church… the spirit-filled, truth-spreading, gracious, loving, prayer-filled and praising church.
Exhale all the “stuff” that doesn’t matter. Inhale and remember our purpose here on Earth.
Lord, sometimes I forget the good stuff. I forget why I’m really here. I pray that I would remember that you live in me and I would allow you to lead me and guide me in my life each day. I also pray that I would look for opportunities to share you with others and that I would do so with grace, love and mercy. Lord, thank you for the early Church and the example they left for us today. Amen.
Today’s post was written by Amanda Sanders.
Amanda has been married to her high school sweet heart Matt for 11 years. Together they have three kids ages 9, 7 and 4. In this season of life, Amanda spends most of her time drinking coffee, teaching children, doing laundry and repeating herself. Occasionally, she has some time for working out, reading for leisure and writing. You can find her on Sunday mornings worshiping at our Real Life UCF campus.