June 6 – Acts 16:11-34


We’re getting towards the end of our series in Acts, and this week we’ll look at an episode in Paul’s missionary journeys, when the gospel first arrives in Europe. In Acts 16:6-10 Paul received a vision calling him to Macedonia to spread the gospel, so he and his companions set out. Note the pronouns shift from “they” to “we” in verse 10; presumably Luke was traveling with him at this point and witnessing everything first-hand.

They arrive in Philippi and immediately begin looking for evangelical inroads. Paul’s MO was to first head to a synagogue, but here he doesn’t, maybe indicating that there was no established synagogue in Philippi. Instead, they head to the river on the Sabbath to a likely location for prayer, meaning they are searching for observant Jews or Gentiles who worship the Jewish God, since those were the people who observed the Sabbath. And, providentially, they find some people, get to share the good news of Jesus, and have the pleasure of baptizing Lydia and her household right then and there (see the section below the questions for more on her household being baptized). At the end of our discussion we’ll talk about evangelism tactics in this passage, and here’s the first example. Paul and company search for any and all opportunities for the gospel, but they start with a primed audience, looking for folks like Jews and God-fearers who were already knowledgeable about the scriptures.

But I love how Luke is careful to add verse 14 while describing Lydia’s conversion, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention.” Though Paul starts with a receptive audience, it’s the Lord who accomplishes the work, not Paul and his oratory skills or anything else. And this is something we need to be reminded of constantly as we think through how to share the gospel with others. On our own, we can do absolutely nothing to save people. We aren’t all the impressive anyway. And to think that we could persuade or argue someone into the Kingdom of God misunderstands the divide that separates our lost neighbors and friends from God. The gap is not a lack of information, or a difference of opinion, but the vast distance between spiritual death and spiritual life. Only God can span that divide.

But, for his own reasons, God uses men and women like us to help accomplish this. Rather than write the gospel message with clouds, or tattoo it on every leaf, God sends normal men and women to speak the message to other men and women. He calls us to do this faithfully, knowing that God is faithful to bear fruit from the seeds we sow since his word never comes back empty (Isa. 55:11). We’re called to do this in ideal circumstances, like with Lydia, or in challenging situations, like with the Philippian jailer.

Paul and company end up in jail for exorcising a demon out a slave girl (if you’re wondering why he did this, see the section below the questions). While in prison, they pray and sing hymns, making it clear to their fellow prisoners and to their jailer what their hope is in. When they are miraculously set free, they stop the jailer from killing himself over the matter and tell him the hope of the gospel. Here they were, suffering in a prison, and yet they don’t hesitate to be faithful to the gospel message they carry. And God is faithful to save the man from his sins, and the prison guard eats a meal with his prisoners in celebration. In this passage we see that our role is mere faithfulness, in promising times and worrying times, and in our mere faithfulness, as inconsistent as it often is, to trust in the perfect faithfulness of God.

Questions for Discussion

• Would someone read Acts 16:11-34 for us?

• What stood out to you in this passage?

• How does this passage describe the work that Paul and his friends were engaged in?

• How do we see God at work in this passage?

• How does suffering play into Paul and Silas’ mission?

• What might be convicting about this passage to you?

• How can this passage help us understand God’s role in evangelism?

• What tactics for evangelism can this passage give us?

The baptism of Lydia and the jailer’s households

I’m not going to be able to answer the real question here, but hopefully some information will help you talk about it if it comes up. Twice in our text this week we see whole households get baptized, first with Lydia (16:15) and second with the Philippian jailer (16:33). The Roman idea of “household” included any servants or slaves in your house, but in the second instance it even specifies, “he was baptized at once, he and all his family.” Christians have rightly wonder, who all was baptized at that event? Was this just the believing adults in the jailer’s family, or was this everyone, including any children or infants? Unfortunately the text doesn’t specify, and gospel-believing Christians have differed over how to understand this passage. Some say this is a textual example for baptizing the children of believers—those same people point to Col. 2:11 and the similarities between baptism and circumcision, the latter of which was given to infants. Others say no children are mentioned here, so we can’t draw that conclusion. Again, I’m not going to be able to answer which position is perfectly correct; the disagreement has existed in the Church for at least 400 years. But hopefully we can admit that faithful, doctrinally-sound Christians fall on either side of the issue, so we don’t need to anathematize others over it.

Why did Paul drive out the demon in the slave girl?

While in Philippi, Paul and company are followed around by a slave girl with a “spirit of divination,” literally a “spirit of python,” perhaps connecting her to the oracle-giving serpent deity at Delphi. She followed them around, announcing that they were “servants of the Most High God.”(16:17) Now, you might wonder why this annoyed Paul, who drove out her divining spirit in the name of Jesus (16:18). But imagine Paul being followed around by a girl who is known to practice fortune-telling; people would’ve assumed she was a disciple, especially since she was announcing them everywhere they went. To keep a consistent gospel message, Paul had to disassociate with the demonic spirit, since fortune-telling is forbidden by God (Lev. 20:6). Also, in the Greek text of her repeated speech, “These men…proclaim to you the way of salvation,” there’s actually no definite article, “the,” before “way of salvation.” Biblical Greek used articles a little differently than we do, but it’s still likely that she was saying, “These men proclaim a way of salvation.” Such a pluralistic presentation of their message would’ve been antithetical to the message Paul was actually sharing, which would’ve warranted his response.