Studies in Acts
Lesson 30: “A New Dimension in Ministry”
If there is one thing we who live out here in West Texas know for certain it is that you cannot control the weather – even in the course of one day. How many times have we started a day with warmth and sunshine and before noon have it cloudy and cold? Or vice versa? And of course the wind is always a “wild card” in the weather package. That must have been the way Paul and his fellow missionaries felt as they began their second missionary journey in the last part of chapter 16. In our last study we saw that things started out well enough – everything looked “bright and sunshiny” at first. In fact, in those early stages of the trip God provided two new missionaries to work with Paul – Timothy and Luke. But before long they had a “cold wind” blowing in their faces as door after door of ministry closed to them in the first part of chapter 16. And finally they all agreed in verse 10 that God wanted them to go into Europe. As we come to verse 11 and today’s passage it seems like the weather has changed again. Look at verse 11.
Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis.
The next verses show us that God has a new dimension in store for their team – from several standpoints. First from the standpoint of movement. Look at verse 11. All sailors know that the phrase “ran a straight course” is a nautical term for “sailing into the wind” But not only that, the course of their ministry is also about to change. And not only that, but the course of their ministry is going to go more smoothly, too, at least for a while.
The third section of the chapter, verses 11 through 40, shows the ministry taking on a new dimension. And the invitation that leads into that new dimension is in verses 11 through 15. And the setting for the invitation is found in verses 11 through 13. First, the setting from the standpoint of the map is given in verses 11 and 12:
Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace and the next day came to Neapolis, (12) And from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city in that part of Macedonia, a colony.
So Luke tells us that their first steps onto European soil were at Neapolis. And this new dimension is going to involve a lot of change from the standpoint of movement, both in ministry and in travel. Luke tells us in verse 11 that their first steps onto European soil were at city of Neapolis Then they apparently walked the ten miles to Philippi. Paul and his friends had no doubt heard of Philippi; it was a well known historical place and Luke and Paul were both highly educated men. Legend had it that the townspeople had earned Roman citizenship by helping Caesar Augustus defeat his enemies in 42 B.C. Because it was strategically located and on a large hill he had also made it a “colony,” which meant that it had all of the privileges of Rome and its police force and an army outpost, even though it was hundreds of miles away. Largely because of that Roman influence it was a lusty, brawling town with a “carnival” atmosphere.
It was into this atmosphere that Paul and his companions walked that day – the first Christians anyone in this part of the world had ever seen. Where would they begin? What would they do with this opportunity?
Well, we’ve talked about the setting from the standpoint of the map, but verse 13 gives us their setting in terms of ministry.
And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.
Now this is an interesting beginning for Paul. Up to this point he had always opened his ministry in a new town by going to the local synagogue. (and chapter 17 is going to show him still doing it)
But here he begins by going to a little group of women outside of town! Why would he do that ? Well, there is a clue in the middle of the verse. Look at the phrase “where prayer was customarily made.”
Jewish law said that if there were ten males in a community a synagogue would be built, but if there were not that many, they were to establish “a place of prayer.”So actually Paul is following his usual procedure – to the extent that he could.
So that is “the setting for the invitation” which they received. But in verses 14 and 15 we find the actual “sending of the invitation.”
Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. she was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshipped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. (15) And when she and her household were baptized she begged us saying “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay” So she persuaded us.
Back at Troas Paul had seen a Macedonian man beckoning him to come over into Europe. But actually, the first European to believe the gospel would be a woman! And because God opened her heart and the hearts of her family to the gospel, Paul and his group now had a base of operations. And from this we can learn an important point of ministry: pursuing ministry takes wisdom and flexibility. Paul could have set his heart on finding that man from Macedonia, refusing to speak to a woman (both because of his ingrained religious principles and what the man may have looked like) Instead he wisely altered his methods (though never his message) This flexibility, combined with sensitivity to the Holy Spirit are a necessity in wise leadership. Christ’s message never changes, but we must always mold our methods to whatever opportunity opens up to us.
Now remember that we’re talking about this new dimension that Paul is getting into. And we have seen the invitation to the new dimension. But in verses 16 through 34 we find the involvement in it. It begins with confrontation in verses 16 through 18
Now it happened as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortunetelling (17) This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out saying, “These men are servants of the Most High God who proclaim to us the way of salvation (18) And she did this for many days.
Here the winds begin to shift again. First Paul and company are “confronted” with the problem of a demon possessed girl. Through the power of a demon she was able to foretell the future and tell people’s fortunes. This demonstrates that many times fortune telling is not a fraud – sometimes it is satanically empowered. And of course, demons can do other things that humans take as “magic” or even “illusion” Some wicked men had taken advantage of this particular girl and were making use of her abilities for themselves. But in these verses things begin to unravel for them. – they would have never expected her to start following Paul around and talking about Jesus! (Satan has a sense of humor too!) The second part of the “confrontation” in these verses is Paul confronting the demon in verse 18:
And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ come out of her. And he came out that very hour.
Why would Paul be bothered with the kind of thing this demon was doing anyway? Isn’t it good for people to hear that he and his party were servants of God proclaiming salvation? But again, the Greek text is helpful here. It reveals that what she was actually was “they are proclaiming a way of salvation.” So in effect what was is saying was “we have a way of salvation, they have a way of salvation – let’s join forces. “And notice that “she did this for many days.” In verse 18a. And finally, Paul knew it was time to put a stop to it. Notice the specific steps Paul followed in casting out this demon. He wasn’t fearful or tentative; he spoke directly to the demon with complete authority. Second, he spoke directly to the demon, not the girl. He commanded the demon to come out of her; he didn’t ask. He spoke in the name of Jesus, not his own,
This episode brings us to a second principle in ministry: In every major advancement is a corresponding resistance. For every step forward the devil will meet you half way. For every new strategy you implement, he will mount a corresponding counterattack. But we have the upper hand in these confrontations – if we face him as Paul did, in the power and the name of Jesus Christ – I John 4:4 says
Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.
So the first involvement in the ministry was in the area of confrontation. But that led to another area of ministry, believe it or not, in verses 19 through 24. And that was confinement. The cause of the confinement is in verses 19 through 21
But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities (20) And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; (21) “and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans to receive or observe.
What hypocrites these guys were! They spoke of “Customs that are not lawful for us to receive or observe” while allowing the soul of a little girl to be ravaged by the forces of hell. And all they really cared about was their income in the first place. And notice how subtle they were: “these men being Jews exceedingly trouble our city.” Notice, too, the propaganda: These men were not “troubling” the city, neither were they “teaching unlawful customs. They were merely calmly speaking the truth. The only reason they were being persecuted was because the had interfered with these con men’s income! Be that as it may, the commencement of the confinement is in verses 22 through 24
Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded to be beaten with rods (23) And when they had laid many stripes on them they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely (24) and having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
The wind has changed directions again and is blowing right in their faces! But their imprisonment leads to the completion of their ministry in this new dimension of ministry. Look at verses 25 and 26 and the first part of that setting is praise in verse 25
And at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
The second part of the setting is the power of God in verse 26:
Suddenly here was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.
Now in that setting comes a frantic search for the prisoners in verses 27 through 29
And the keeper of the prison, awakening from sleep and seeing the prison doors supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself (28) But Paul called with a loud voice saying “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” (29