By Dr. Mark Scott
The pioneer statement, “Go west, young man,” matches our text. Another way to say our title, “From Derbe to Philippi,” is “From Asia to Europe.” Those of us who live in the western hemisphere need to thank God for this text. Western civilization would have been different had this geographical leap not taken place.
The first missionary journey had concluded (Acts 13, 14). The Jerusalem Council had reached a decision concerning Gentile converts (Acts 15:1-35). Paul and Barnabas had split over the dispute about John Mark (Acts 15:36-41). Next the missionary enterprise of the church continued into the second missionary journey.
Be Honorable Like Timothy
Paul revisited the churches he had planted during the first missionary journey. He may have met Timothy first during his initial visit to Lystra (Acts 14:8-18). Perhaps Timothy was impressed with the courage of Paul as he faced opposition (Acts 14:19, 20). We assume Timothy became a believer during that first visit.
Timothy’s name means, “one honored of God,” and he lived out the label. When we live lives that honor God, people will notice (Proverbs 27:2). The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. This actually means they bore witness to him. Timothy was added to the missionary team.
But Timothy’s ethnicity and pedigree were issues for Paul’s missionary work. He was biracial (his father’s Greek heritage is mentioned twice in the text) and his father was most likely not a believer. Timothy did have a godly maternal influence (2 Timothy 1:5). Due to this potential distraction, Paul felt compelled to circumcise Timothy so he could be accepted into the Jewish circles where Paul evangelized. It is most ironic that Paul circumcised Timothy following what happened in Acts 15. But evidently Paul did so for expediency—not salvation. (Note Titus’s different situation in Galatians 2:1-5.)
As they traveled from town to town they delivered the content of Acts 15. The result was spiritual and numerical growth. Acts 16:5 functions as an additional internal summary.
Be Spongy Like Paul
It is not wrong to plan, but Christians must be careful to hold plans loosely. Paul desired to swing west and then north toward Bithynia (Acts 16:6, 7). But the Holy Spirit did not allow them to do so. (The Greek word, used twice, means “to hinder.”) God had something else in mind. We are not told how the missionaries were hindered by the Holy Spirit—audible voice? through a prophet? inward impulse?
The call to Macedonia (named after Philip of Macedon) meant that the gospel would reach Europe. Paul had a vision (a miracle of revelation). A man with European clothing said, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” The vision identified the country but not the city or any particulars of what the missionaries were to do. Evidently even receiving a vision from Heaven does not preclude the use of the human mind—thus we read, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. The word concluding is a cognitive word meaning to roll around in the mind. To be led by God does not mean to kiss one’s brain away. Paul was spongy (pliable) in the hands of God.
Be Open Like Lydia
Samothrace and Neapolis are stopping off spots en route to Europe. The first city in Europe to receive the gospel was Philippi. This city was a Roman colony, with such amenities, located on the Egnatian Way (main road to Rome). Even though there was a man in Paul’s vision, it was women who welcomed the gospel onto the new continent. Evidently there were not enough Jewish men (10) to form a synagogue, but there was a prayer meeting of women by the Gangites River.
Here Paul met a successful businesswoman from Asia Minor (Thyatira) named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a God-fearer (worshipper of God) but not a Jesus follower yet. The Lord opened her heart. This could be miraculous. After all, God did want the gospel in Europe. But earlier the text said she was listening. Maybe the Lord will open the heart of anyone who listens. Lydia heard the gospel and responded in baptism with the fellow workers of her house. She not only had an open heart, she had an open home; that set the stage for one of the most generous congregations in the New Testament (Philippians 1:5; 4:10-13; 2 Corinthians 8:1-7).
If we want to see the gospel make similar advances today, we must act wisely, listen to the Spirit carefully, think judiciously, and follow obediently.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.