Study 19: Paul and Silas visit the churches

Acts 16

This chapter of the book of Acts covers the first part of what is now referred to as Paul’s second missionary journey. His original purpose was to return, this time with Silas, to the cities and towns that he went to on his first journey with Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas had strongly disagreed over taking John Mark with them on this new journey, as he had deserted them as soon as they landed at Perga in the region of Pamphylia (in what is now known as Turkey) on their first journey. (Acts 13:13)

Acts 16:1-5 where Timothy joins Paul and Silas at Lystra

So Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus and Paul took Silas with him to Cilicia, Pamphylia, Pisidia and what was at that time called Asia (the locations of Troas and Ephesus). This second journey was an altogether larger affair, although it didn’t start off that way. Paul and Silas obeyed the Holy Spirit but, as they went, He laid on their hearts something altogether bigger that was revealed only a stage at a time, as the two men listened to God.

This can happen to you, too. Obey God in what seems a very small thing and you will find that, as you go along the route of the “small thing” and God finds that He can trust you, He will give you much bigger tasks to do for Him.

This trip was an overland trip through Tarsus (Paul’s home town) on to Derbe and then to Lystra. Here Paul met Timothy and wanted to take him along on the journey. However, because he was a Jew through his mother’s line, he circumcised him. His father was a Greek and, presumably, had said at his birth that he should not be circumcised on the eighth day as was the norm under the Law of Moses. Timothy and his mother, Eunice, were from Lystra. Eunice had probably heard Paul’s preaching when he was there during his first missionary journey (Acts 14:6-18). Timothy was, to the Jews, a half-breed like a Samaritan. Paul was not saying that, in order for Timothy to become a Christian, he had to be circumcised. (The “Council of Jerusalem” had already made that decision as we saw in Chapter 15.) Part of Paul’s purpose on this journey was to convey this news to the Gentiles, in order to prevent the heresy that “some men” (that is, Jews from Jerusalem) were trying to enforce on the new believers. Paul was saying that, now that Timothy was a Christian, in order to identify with the Jews to whom Paul always initially preached in any town or city he arrived at, he should be circumcised. Sometimes we need to go beyond the minimum requirements in order to help our audience receive our testimony.

Timothy was well regarded by the believers at Lystra and Paul was excited to take him along with them. This was the start of a relationship between Timothy and Paul that would last for the remainder of Paul’s life. He wrote at least two letters to Timothy, counselling and instructing him as to how to act as a young pastor ministering to his people in the early New Testament churches. That teaching is as relevant to us today as it was to Timothy then. What about your Christian life? Could people say the same things about us as they said about Timothy? We need to ensure that our Christian walk is upright and blameless and, when it is not, we should re-evaluate it and correct the things that are wrong.

The result of the journey so far was that the churches were strengthened in the faith and they grew in numbers, not weekly, as people came to church on a Sunday (the first day of the week), but daily, as the profound changes in the lives of the new believers became obvious to all.

God never planned for the church to be ruled by a class known as “clergy”, who were responsible for giving an altar call on Sundays for people to become Christians. On the contrary, people became believers in homes or at work or where they relaxed, because they had seen the changes in the lives of others and wanted what they had. Surely that is Jesus’ plan for the church today. If we wait for the church on a Sunday to get people saved, we will never have revival in our land, because it will mean that the Holy Spirit will only have one channel to work through and that was NEVER His intention. We should understand that by now because we have studied the Book of Acts where the church grew and changed cities in a matter of weeks and sometimes in days!

Acts 16:6-10. Paul has a vision directing them to Macedonia

Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia. We don’t know how the Holy Spirit told them that they should not go into the province of Asia. It may have been through a prophet, a vision, an inner conviction, or some other circumstance. To know God’s will does not mean we must hear His voice. He leads in different ways. When seeking God’s will:

(1) Make sure your plan is in harmony with God’s Word;

(2) Ask mature Christians for their advice;

(3) Check your own motives – are you seeking to do what you want or what you think God wants? – and

(4) Pray for God to open and close the doors as He desires.

Paul tried to cross over into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit would not let them cross, Acts 16:6-8. The Holy Spirit’s job is to guide us as we walk through our lives as Christians. He is God, and as such knows everything that there is to know. He knows who needs help and when they need it, so to Him it is a simple matter to guide other believers who have the answer and put them in touch with those who require help when they require it.

So it is no great surprise to read in the next few verses about Paul’s vision of a man from Macedonia asking for help, neither is it a surprise to learn of Paul’s response to that vision, Acts 16:9-10. It is really important that we listen to what God is saying. If we don’t then we may miss hearing one of the most important calls in our lives. If Paul had not listened to where the Holy Spirit asked him to go, then the whole of Greece and the Balkan Peninsula would never have heard the Gospel, let alone the rest of the world!

Acts 16:11-15. Lydia is converted in Philippi

They were already in the sea port of Troas so it was simple enough to find a boat that would take them from there to Macedonia – which is now part of Greece. In the words of Doctor Luke:

‘We went aboard a boat at Troas, and sailed straight across to Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis, 12 and finally reached Philippi, a Roman colony just inside the Macedonian border, and stayed there several days’. Acts 16:11-12 TLB

Philippi just happened to be the crossroads of all the Roman roads that led from Italy to the Eastern parts of their Empire. It was a very important location and a centre of exchange for information from all four corners of the world, so when Paul, Silas and Timothy arrived with their travelling companions, it would not have taken long for the word to have got out to every city in the Empire. Philippi was the key city in the region of Macedonia (northern Greece today). Paul founded a church during this visit (A.D. 50-51). Later Paul wrote a letter to the church, the book of Philippians, probably from a prison in Rome (A.D. 61). The letter was personal and tender, showing Paul’s deep love for and friendship with the believers there. In it he thanked them for a gift they had sent, alerted them to a coming visit by Timothy and Epaphroditus, urged the church to clear up any disunity, and encouraged the believers not to give in to persecution.

As they usually did, on the Sabbath they went outside the city gate hoping to find a place where the Jews would have gathered to pray. Paul’s first and principal objective in any new location he visited was to reach the Jewish population; they were expected to meet together on the Sabbath Day – their holy day. They found people as they anticipated and began to speak with them, Acts 16:13-15

When we go to a new place, what do we do? Do we even give God a second thought? Do we think about those in that town or city or holiday resort and wonder what their final destination after death will be? Or are we too involved in having a good time, eating drinking and relaxing to be much concerned about the spiritual affairs of the people in that location? Perhaps it is time to take stock of our lives and our priorities, making a humble and prayerful change before God our Heavenly Father, to re-commit our lives to His Son, Jesus, the Anointed One – Christ.

When Lydia gave her life to the Lord Jesus and became a Believer, she wasn’t alone. In common with other people in the Book of Acts, when someone did (e.g. Cornelius), they and their households accepted Jesus as their Lord and were baptised also as a sign that they had changed their walk and were now following after the salvation, teaching and resurrection of their Lord.

We must never forget that throughout the Bible, God dealt with families in both the Old and the New Testaments. When you and I are born again, we are in Covenant with our loving Heavenly Father and we can expect Him to work through His Holy Spirit in the lives of our parents, children and relatives. It doesn’t matter what we feel like, what we have done or even what they have done, we are responsible to pray for them; God is responsible to bring them to Himself. We must share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit – and leave the results to God.

We must care for them, and what better place to start than by ensuring that their eternal life is secure in the loving arms of Jesus?

Lydia then persuaded Paul and his friends to stay with her in her own home. Hospitality is a really important part of being a Believer, ‘Continue to love each other with true brotherly love. 2 Don’t forget to be kind to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!’ Hebrews 13:1-2

Acts 16:16-40. The servant girl and the Philippian Jailer are converted

Luke highlights the stories of three individuals who became believers through Paul’s ministry in Philippi: Lydia, the influential businesswoman we have just discussed (Acts 16:14), the demon-possessed slave girl (Acts 16:16-18), and the jailer (Acts 16:27-30). The gospel was affecting all strata of society, just as it should today.

Inscribed on the arches outside the city of Philippi was a prohibition against bringing an unrecognised religion into the city; therefore, the prayer meeting where Paul and Silas found Lydia was being held outside the city, beside the river. Lydia’s conversion happened outside the city where the payer meeting was legally being held.

Now we see a different situation as we see what happened to the servant girl described in Acts 16:16-18. This particular servant girl was possessed by a demon, and although what she said about Paul and Silas was absolutely true, she said it under the control of one of satan’s demonic hordes. This appears to be the first time that Paul had faced such challenging opposition of this type, and he did not do anything about it for several days. It appears that finally he decided that it was not right for the good news to be announced by a member of the opposition so he dealt with it. If Paul had accepted the demon’s words, he would have appeared to be linking the gospel with demon-related activities. This would have damaged his message about Christ. Truth and evil do not mix. Instead of putting up with this situation any longer, he dealt with it. One command was all that was required. He ordered it to come out of her in the Name of Jesus Christ. Instantly it left her.

You and I can learn from this. First and foremost, the lies of Satan do not mix with the truth of Jesus Christ. If we let the messengers of the enemy announce the good that God will do, it will eventually be attributed to Satan. There needs to be a clear divide between Satan and Jesus. Second, because Paul had to learn about this (and he took some days to come to a clear conclusion), it means that you and I do not have to learn the same lesson all over again. We just need to know about it and put it into practice. Thirdly, we can use the Name of Jesus as our authority over Satan. He has no defence against it, and he must obey. Paul wrote this to the Philippians some time later, Philippians 2:9-11

James wrote to the church, ‘You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder’. James 2:19 Let us not diminish our authority in the Name of Jesus. Paul knew it, Satan himself knows it, but you need to know your position in Jesus when you use it! The seven sons of the leader of a synagogue used the Name of Jesus as a charm, and suffered the consequences, Acts 19:13-16

The key question that you and I need to ask ourselves is this – does Satan know that you know the authority on which you stand? He knew all about Jesus’ authority and about Paul’s as well, and that is why there was no resistance to Paul’s command for this demon to leave his lair. There was, however a problem. This poor demon-possessed slave girl had been enslaved by her masters who were racketeering. They had exploited her for the purposes of fortune-telling which is nothing other than Satan’s way of getting people bound up with things that are NOT of God, Acts 16:19

Paul and his travelling companions therefore were dragged before the Judges accused of flouting the law preventing the bringing of an unauthorized religion into the City. This seems to have been a bit of a Kangaroo Court. Sentence was passed without the due recognition of legal proceeding. Paul and Silas were ordered to be beaten with rods – no ordinary beating! They were thrown into prison, Acts 16:20-24. It is when you think that things could not get any worse that you need to be able to praise God. Just because you are in a difficult position does not mean that God has either forgotten you or is incapable of helping you. In fact it is when you are in just such a position that God is able to help you. His covenant with you is this that where you are weak (which is in every situation!), then His strength is perfected! 2 Corinthians 12:9

Paul knew this so he and Silas, even though they were in the inner prison with their feet clamped tight in the stocks, rejoiced and sang praises to God. You and I need to understand the lesson that comes from this passage. When we are in difficulty, is our first thought to praise God? Acts 16:25-26. Not only did God respond, but also His response affected every person in that prison. When God responds to your praises in a difficult situation, His response will affect others beyond your immediate need. As they see what God does in your life, do not be surprised if you have an opportunity to lead them to the Lord, and that you will have an opportunity of explaining the goodness of God to them as you start them off on their own Christian journey of faith, Acts 16:27-31. What the jailer wanted to know was how he and his entire family could have what Paul and Silas so obviously had. He would never have had such prisoners in his entire life. Paul and Silas were completely open about what he had to do. This man was ready to receive the Good News. What about your friends and acquaintances? When they see the goodness of God in your life, what will their response be? Exactly the same as that of the Jailer! Be prepared. It will happen!

First and foremost, the Jailer who was once on the opposite side from Paul and Silas was now converted – on the same side. He showed his change of heart by washing their wounds, feeding them and rejoicing with them especially when the judges order Paul and Silas to be released. However, Paul was not going to let his mistreatment be glossed over quite so easily, Acts 16:37-40

Paul and Silas had been beaten and incarcerated without trial; they were Roman citizens, so what the judges had done to them was doubly wrong. Roman citizenship carried with it certain privileges. These Philippian authorities were alarmed because it was illegal to whip a Roman citizen. In addition, every citizen had the right to a fair trial – which Paul and Silas had not been given. So Paul made the judges themselves come to escort them out of prison. Paul and Silas took their time and visited Lydia as they left Philippi. They continued on their way, led by the Holy Spirit. Because Philippi was at the centre of the trade routes from the Middle East to Rome, south into Greece and North along the Black Sea coasts, it is extremely probable that the entire Roman Empire of the day would have heard of what had happened in Philippi, but particularly of what is now known as Christianity, and the followers of the Lord Jesus.

When you are faced with trials and tribulations, do not give in to them, rather face them with confidence knowing that, ‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose’. Romans 8:28. Praise God as you look on and see Him work amazing things in your life.



Study 19: Paul and Silas visit the churches and are led by the Holy Spirit to Philippi – Challenge Questions

Please complete all questions marked with * and then complete the rest of the study. The more you look in God’s word the more you will get out of it.

Read the chapter at the beginning of the week then you have time to meditate on it, rather than rushing! Make God’s word your number one priority.


 1. *Read the Notes and the Bible Verses referred to in them. Highlight the points that ‘speak’ to you and share with the group.


2. What impresses you most about Lydia? Do you think she made a great church leader? Why?


 3. What spoke to you about the power of praising in prison? Is this relevant to you?


Read Acts 17:1-9

 4. Paul now visited Thessalonica. What was Paul’s custom when he visited a new town or city to preach the Gospel? Why did he always start by visiting one of these places? From your experience of reading the Book of Acts, was he successful when he preached the Gospel in these places and what did he then do?


 5. *Give three points that you would use in communicating the Gospel to someone else. Would you be happy to use these points when talking to a workmate?


6. *Why did a riot start in the city? Who was responsible for the riot? What caused these people to feel this way? Do you think people could feel this way today when the Gospel is preached?


 7. Acts 16:8 describes how the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Why did the city authorities face this dilemma? What was their solution? Do you think that this solution solved the problem for them?


 8. Where did Paul and Silas go next? When they arrived, what was the first place they visited?


Read Acts 17:10-15.

 9. Why were the Bereans said to be of more noble character than the Thessalonians? What was the result of what these Bereans did?


 10. *Why did the Jews from Thessalonica get involved with what was essentially a Berean affair? What did these Jews do? Paul and Silas each did different things as a result. What did each do? Who stayed with Silas?


Read Acts 17:16-28.

 11. *Paul arrived in Athens. How did he feel when he looked around the city? What did he do as a result? How do you feel as you look around the towns and cities where you live? What effect does that have on you, and how can you change the situation?


 12. Paul preached in two places this time, the second of these was the market place. What invitation did he receive as a result of that? Can you think of a verse from the Bible that tells us that we should expect to be able to preach before authorities? (Read Luke 21:12-15) How does that make you feel?


 13. Can you list some ways in which Paul identified with and drew his audience into the points he was making about the Unknown God and Who He really is?


 14. *Acts 17:26 (NIV) states: ‘From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.’ What do you think this verse is saying about you? Is it just ‘chance’ that you live where you do, and are alive at this time?


Read Acts 17:29-34.

 15. *In the past God has overlooked man’s ignorance in not understanding that God is more than a ‘figment of their imaginations’ to be displayed as gold, silver or stone, of man’s design. What does He now command all people to do? Why has He commanded them to do this? Who is going to do the judging? What proof has He given to men


16. What were the three reactions given to Paul by the members of the City Council (the Areopagus)? As we tell people about Jesus, can we expect similar reactions? Why?


 17. *Has reading this passage caused you to think differently about your relationship to God? Do we know who we are worshipping? Can you share this with the Group?