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Bible Commentaries
Acts 16

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-40

Coming to Derbe and Lystra, where he and Barnabas had been persecuted before, Paul was favorably impressed with the young man, Timothy, who had evidently been converted through Paul on his first visit (Cf. 1 Timothy 1:2). Though of a timid nature (2 Timothy 1:6-8), he was evidently considered by Paul as a dependable worker, having a good report of the brethren. This is always an important matter if one is concerned about doing the work of the Lord. But Paul also considered the consciences of the Jews in this case. Timothy, though having a Gentile father, was the son of a Jewish mother. Since he had not been circumcised, Paul took care of this matter before taking Timothy with him in the work. Thus Paul was becoming as a Jew toward the Jews (1 Corinthians 9:20). On the other hand, he would not allow Titus, a Gentile, to be circumcised when Jewish believers demanded that Gentile believers should submit to this (Galatians 2:3-5).

As well as confirming the assemblies, they bring them the information from Jerusalem concerning the gathering of the apostles and elders, for these assemblies were largely Gentile. Their work continued to be greatly blessed of God, with assemblies established in the faith of God as well as being increased in number daily. These amazing results emphasize the way in which God had prepared Paul as eminently fitted to carry the gospel to Gentiles.

However, they were not to expect God to work in the same way everywhere: they must be distinctly led of God in where they went as well as in what they did. They are spoken of as having passed through Phrygia and the regions of Galatia, but with no mention of results there. Yet it seems as though the Galatian assemblies must have been established at this time, though they soon after accepted from others the insidious Judaizing doctrines of legalism which occasioned Paul's epistle to them (Galatians 1:6).

Having come to Mysia, they planned to go into Bithynia, but this was not God's leading, though we are not told why: the Spirit of God stopped them. The apostles had been told to "go into all the world and preach the gospel," and yet they could not take this command as a warrant for going wherever and whenever they desired: they still had to depend on God's leading, though pliable enough to be willing to go to any place in the world.

They "came down" to Troas, which implies that Luke, the writer, was there at the time. There seems no doubt that God arranged this matter so that Luke could be present to accompany them to Philippi, where evidently Luke remained when Paul and Silas left (v.40). But Luke says nothing of his own work. Paul received his vision only after coming to Troas, a vision of a man of Macedonia urging them to come to help them. Though Paul might think there was more work for him to do in Asia, yet God made clear to him that he should go to Europe. To have a Gentile companion for this was certainly a wise provision given him of God, for Luke writes, "we endeavored to go into Macedonia." They had no question as to God's leading in this. The weather was evidently favorable for them to sail from Troas directly to Samothracia, then to Neapolis, and finally to Philippi. Yet they stayed in the city for some days before the Lord opened the way for their proclaiming His Word.

Since there was apparently no synagogue in the city of Philippi, Paul and his company took advantage of what opportunity they could for announcing the gospel. Hearing of a women's prayer meeting by the riverside taking place on the Sabbath, they went out and sat down among the women and spoke to them of the Lord Jesus. At least one woman responded favorably, her heart being opened by the Lord. Lydia had come from Thyatira in Asia Minor, a seller of purple, possibly connected with "a guild of dyers" mentioned on inscriptions from that period in Thyatira. She worshiped God, likely indicating her to be a proselyte of Judaism.

She was baptized and her household, though nothing is said of how the hearts of those in the household were affected. Her attitude was most commendable, however, for she asked them, on the basis of whether they considered her to be faithful to the Lord, to stay in her house. Her whole heart was in this, and it does not need to be mentioned that they accepted her constraining invitation.

A distressing experienced followed this, that led to great blessing. A girl possessed by a Satanic spirit of divination, and who was taken advantage of by avaricious promoters, followed Paul and his companions, advertising them as servants of the most high God, come to show the people "a way of salvation," not the way. It is always Satan's method to draw attention to the servants rather than to their Lord. Paul bore with this unseemly activity for many days, but finally commanded the evil spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of the girl, which took place the same hour.

Her promoters were of course angry at losing the means of their wicked financial gain, and forcibly brought Paul and Silas to the court (Luke and Timothy possibly not being with them at the time). Their charge had nothing to do with their actual reasons for arresting them. The girl had declared Paul and Silas to be the servants of the most high God, but their accusers first denounce them because they were Jews, and secondly, because they said they were greatly troubling the city, then thirdly, that they taught customs which these alleged to be unlawful for Romans to receive or observe. They have no specific charge of criminal activity.

This was actually rabble rousing, and the crowd joined in, probably mainly because Paul and Silas were Jews. It may be, in fact, that they had purposely not arrested Luke because he was a Gentile. The magistrates, influenced by the fickle crowd, unjustly commanded that they should be beaten with many stripes, before any suggestion of a trial. Then they were put in prison, in custody of a jailor who was given strict orders to keep them safely. He therefore put them in the closest confinement the prison afforded, with their feet held fast in stocks.

But at midnight the prison echoed with a most unusual sound, the prisoners hearing Paul and Silas praying and singing praises to God. Far from being discouraged by their sufferings, they acted on the Lord's words, "Rejoice and be exceeding glad" (Matthew 5:11-12).

God too responded in an unexpected way, causing a sudden tremendous earthquake to shake the foundations of the prison, with the result that all the prisoners were released from whatever restraints that held them. It is amazing, however, that none of them attempted to escape.

The jailor, likely complacent in thinking the prisoners secure, was asleep, but the earthquake evidently awakened him. A startling sight met his eyes, the doors of the prison being open. Of course, he would expect all the prisoners to have escaped, and that his life would be forfeit for negligence in keeping them secure. He was therefore ready to commit suicide with his own sword. It hardly seems likely that Paul saw him in the dark, but Paul was nevertheless guided of the Spirit of God to call loudly to keep him from his purpose, telling him that all the prisoners were still there. How did Paul know this too, except by the Spirit of God?

The jailor called for a light, and springing (rather than just walking) into the prison, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. This was an unusual attitude for a hardened prison official! But God was working in his heart, so that he was brought under the solemn conviction that he was a lost man. The character and testimony of these unusual prisoners had clearly affected him, and he asks, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

The answer to the jailor's question is simple in this case, an answer that can only be appreciated by one who realizes himself to be guilty or lost, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved and thy house" (v.31). The Lord had deeply worked in the man's soul to bring him to genuine repentance. This is always necessary if there is to be any desire for or knowledge of salvation. Faith in the Lord Jesus would save him, not only from his own guilt, but from the ungodly world with which he was identified, and would save his house from this situation too. The fact of his being brought to God puts his entire house in a sanctified (or separated) position, as1 Corinthians 7:14; 1 Corinthians 7:14 plainly teaches. In this way the house is saved, though it remains imperative that each individual in the house must personally receive the Lord Jesus in order to have eternal salvation.

Paul and Silas spoke more of the Word of God to him and to all who were in his house, though it was the middle of the night. The effect of the Word was striking: the jailor in unaccustomed compassion washed their stripes to ease the severity of the pain. He and all his were baptized, taking the outward position of Christian profession. The jailor knew there was no reason to return Paul and Silas to the stocks, but took them into his own house and fed them, all his house rejoicing because he had believed in God (v.34).

In the morning the magistrates sent orders to release Paul and Silas (v.35). They knew no charge could be sustained against them, yet had without trial ordered them to be scourged, and wanted to dismiss the matter as quietly as they could. When the jailor told them they were free, Paul objected because of the evident dishonesty of the magistrates, and insisted that the magistrates come themselves, since they had openly beaten them (v.37). This was a lesson the magistrates needed, though it would in some measure humble them to have to ask the prisoners to leave.

They had beaten them because they were Jews. Now they learn that they are actually Romans (Jewish, but of Roman citizenship), and the magistrates fear that there might be serious repercussions for them. Their fearfulness impelled them to entreat Paul and Silas not only to leave the prison, but the city (v.39). It is good to see that Paul and Silas were not at all defiant, but submitted to this urging, as being the true servants of God.

They take time, however, to return to Lydia's house, there seeing the brethren and encouraging them before they leave. Luke says nothing of himself, but it is clear that he remained in Philippi, for in verse 40 and in Chapter 17:1 he uses the word, "they," not "we," as in verses 10 and 13.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 16". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/acts-16.html. 1897-1910.
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