Paul’s Second Missionary Journey
Paul headed north and revisited Derbe and Lystra. At Lystra, he met a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. Paul wanted to take Timothy along with him but feared the Jews in Iconium would not accept his testimony as he was not Jewish and so he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left. Paul’s actions are in contrast to the stand he took back in Antioch. He took along Titus (who had not been circumcised), with him as a test subject, to show that God did not require outward actions but inward transformations. So why Paul now was differing in his beliefs?
Perhaps Paul knew that the people would not even listen to him if he had a Gentile helper with him. He did not want any external act to cause a hindrance to people accepting Christ. The same was the case back in Antioch, where the external act of circumcision was a burden for the newcomers to faith. His stance was based on putting the Gospel first and human emotions second.
Lydia of Philippi Believes in Jesus
Having been led by the Holy Spirit at various stages of their Journey, Paul and his companions arrived at Philippi, a major city in the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. They stayed there for a while and on the Sabbath went to the outskirts of the city to the riverbank where some women had gathered to pray. There they met Lydia, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. She accepted the Gospel and she and her whole household were baptized. She also offered them a place to stay during their time in Philippi.
Paul and Silas in Prison
Confronting a demon-possessed girl, who kept interrupting Paul and Silas, landed them in hot soup. The owners of the slave girl were not pleased with Paul and Silas, as their hopes of making money off the supernatural abilities of the girl were now shattered.
They grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace.“The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.” A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas – Acts 16:20-21
Paul and Silas were preaching this ‘new message’ in Philippi for many weeks now, but only after this incident was there an uproar in the city. Even today, people have no problem with the Gospel as long as it does not interfere with their day-to-day lives. Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten with wooden rods and thrown in jail. As captives in prison fearing for their lives should have been the top priority for Paul and Silas. But they sang hymns praising God Almighty. Do we remember God in our times of trouble or do we look for human connections for comfort?
Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!” – Acts 16:26-28
The Jailer was convinced that these were men of God and did not dare hold them any longer. He and his whole family believed in Christ and were baptized the same night. When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town and traveled to Thessalonica where the Jewish leaders were not open to Paul’s preaching and then to Berea where the people did believe until they were turned by the Jews of Thessalonica. And so Paul left for Athens leaving his companions behind.
Paul Preaches in Athens
In Athens, Paul was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. As usual, he first went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles. He also spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.
He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers who took him to the high council of the city wanting to know about the strange things this foreigner was ‘babbling’. Paul spoke amongst them and spoke about the God of Israel who gives all of us life and does not need anything from humans.
“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone. – Acts:17:27-28
Unlike Paul’s other speeches this did not include the forefathers of Israel and other parts specific to Israel’s history but he learned about their philosophers and quoted one of their own poets. When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of Jesus, some laughed in contempt, but some joined him and became believers.
Paul travels back to Antioch
Then Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. Each Sabbath found Paul at the synagogue, trying to convince the Jews and Greeks alike. But when Gallio became governor of Achaia, some Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him before the governor for judgment. They accused Paul of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law.”
Paul stayed in Corinth for some time after that, then said good-bye to the brothers and sisters and went to nearby Cenchrea. Then he set sail for Syria, making stops at the port of Ephesus, and at the port of Caesarea. From there he went up and visited the church at Jerusalem and then went back to Antioch.
- Does Paul have an ebb and flow belief system? He changes his opinion on the topic of circumcision since the last chapter.
- Why did Paul one day suddenly decide to confront the demon-possessed girl? They could have spent more time in Philippi to spread the Gospel had Paul not been annoyed with the slave girl’s proclamation of what was actually true.
- What was the difference between the Jews of Berea and Thessalonica?
- Is there a contrast in Paul’s approach to the atheists and philosophers of Athens than his earlier messages to the religious Jews and Gentiles? What can we take away from his change in approach?