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Acts 16:9-16 - The Church in Philippi is Born

16:9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

The Acts of the Apostles:  This book is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. In it, Luke describes in granular detail the life of the early Christian movement. The stories describe a community of people transformed and empowered by their personal and corporate experiences of the risen Christ. Acts was probably written in the generation immediately following the fall of Jerusalem, the middle period of New Testament history. It is generally thought to have been written around 85 A.D. which would have been about 50 years after Jesus’ ministry. The book is concerned with the powerful work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart and in human community. The author understands the work of the Spirit in human life as the continuation and fulfillment of salvation history. Jesus work in the world continues as believers faithfully share the Gospel and, in a real sense, become the Gospel.

Philippi:  Philippi was a Roman colony in the Greek province of Macedonia.  Located about 8 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, Philippi was a center of agriculture known for its fresh water springs and gold mines. The city was founded in 360 B. C. by King Philip of Macedonia to mine gold to finance his army. King Philip was the father of Alexander the Great. The town was located on a strategic road between Rome and Byzantium and was the site of the famous battle between Anthony and Octavian on the one side, and Brutus and Casius on the other.  Anthony and Octavian won, then eventually turned on each other. Octavian finally emerged the victor and became Caesar Augustus. Philippi was a military town and, in some ways, more Roman than Rome. Its citizens were considered citizens of Rome with all the rights and privileges. There were many religious influences in the area, and most were tolerated unless they became too missionary and threatened the cult of the Emperor. Jews were not welcome in Philippi, and few lived there.  When Paul and Silas arrived on the field, it was their custom to go first to the synagogue. It takes 10 Jewish males to establish a synagogue and there was no synagogue in Philippi. A few Jewish women and other seekers gathered by the river to worship. It was there, with Lydia, that Paul made his first European converts.

Visions: Our ancestors believed that God spoke to God’s people in many ways, through Scripture, prayer, dreams, and visions. These visions were considered authentic callings, always tested against the sense of the Spirit’s peace in the heart, and consistency with the values of God in Christ. It would not be unusual to have a vision. It would have been very unusual not to heed it.

Word Study

Vs. 9 - pleading – from the root ‘to call to one’s side,’ this word is stronger than simply beseeching. It is a desperate, life or death, plea.

Vs. 10 – immediately – this is the word for great haste. The urgent plea for help is met with a swift and urgent response.

            Proclaim the good news – this is the word from which we get our word evangelism. It means to powerfully declare the wonder of God in Christ in any caring way, with words, and with a transformed heart and life.

Vs. 13 – supposed – this word comes from the word to perceive as a thought that comes into one’s mind unbidden. Here Paul, Silas and Timothy are acutely attuned to the Spirit’s promptings.

Vs 14 – a worshipper of God – This phrase is used of Gentiles who are drawn to the God of Israel and worship alongside Jews as proselytes.

            A dealer in purple cloth – this was the finest of cloth only accessible by the wealthiest and most powerful.

            Heart – In the ancient world, the heart was the seat of the will, thoughts, reasoning, judgments, as well as emotions.

Vs. 15 – baptized – this, along with the purple cloth she sold, is a clue that Lydia is wealthy and the head of her household. In those days, when a household head was baptized the entire household was baptized at the same time.

urged – this is the same powerful word translated as plead in verse 9.

Questions for Personal Reflection

1. In what ways do you experience God speaking to you? How do you sense a calling from God? Can you think of things that get in the way of you either hearing those calls or acting upon them?

2. When Paul found the women praying by the river, that was an indication that the Jewish community in the area was tiny and probably persecuted. Still, the women who gathered had a heart for God. Can you think of circumstances in which God seekers are pushed to the margins and left to their own devices to worship and understand God?

3. Because the women, especially Lydia, had searching hearts they were ripe for being opened to the word. In what ways might we as a church go to those who might be ripe for the Good News but not feel they can come to church to find it?

4. When Lydia received the gospel, she was reborn, as it were. Her first action was to offer hospitality. In what ways does Christ’s presence in your life call you to offer hospitality to others? How do you show hospitality to those who help you grow in your faith?

5. In the ancient world, hospitality was more than an act of kindness or a warm meal. Hospitality meant creating a safe space for strangers. How do you think the church can most effectively show hospitality today?