Paul took off on his second gospel-sharing journey probably more than a year after the first journey ended. This time Silas went with him. Apparently, the two grew close while Paul was at the Jerusalem Council. In addition, Silas had returned to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to encourage the church there (Acts 15:22, 32), giving these new partners more time to get acquainted. (For more on the Jerusalem Council, see Antioch, part 2.)
Paul and Silas headed north out of Antioch. They probably stopped in Paul’s hometown of Tarsus. Then, they travelled through Derbe and the three cities where Paul had been persecuted on the first trip: Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. In Lystra, they picked up Timothy.
As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. –Acts 16:4-5
What Not To Do
Initially, things were going well. Then something weird happened. The Holy Spirit told them not to go into the province of Asia, which included the cities of Thyatira and Ephesus (Acts 16:6). There was already a church in Ephesus, and we know there was a synagogue in Thyatira. It didn’t make sense for these missionaries to avoid Asia. Yet that’s what God told them to do. So Paul, Silas, and Timothy set their sights northward, toward a region on the Black Sea called Bithynia. (Yes, I’m looking at my Bible Atlas.) As they got closer, however, the Spirit also told them not to enter Bithynia. They turned west and ended up in the port city of Troas on the Aegean Sea.
Story Break: Sometimes God blocks a plan without giving us the next plan. Sometimes we don’t really know what we’re doing or where we’re going. Paul and Silas could have sat down in Dorylaeum (a city on the border of Mysia and Bithynia) and determined not to move until they heard from the Lord. Or they could have argued with Him and insisted on travelling into Asia because it made so much sense. But they got comfortable in the not knowing…and in their walking shoes. Our obedience (even when we don’t understand the ‘why’) is never pointless.
It’s a big thing to get to the point in your relationship with God where you don’t have to know all the details, where you can trust Him for just the next step, or for what’s not the next step.
A Vision in a College Hoodie
Then another weird thing happened. Paul had a vision (or maybe a dream, since it was during the night). People had visions in those days, but it wasn’t an everyday occurrence. Remember Peter’s vision of the sheet full of unclean animals (Acts 10)? Nothing like this happened on the first mission trip and Paul didn’t have visions just any old time. He saw a man from Macedonia (Don’t know how he knew that—did Macedonians have distinctive clothing or haircuts? Was the guy wearing a Macedonia College hoodie?) who pleaded with him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Finally! They had a direction and a destination.
Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke (who had recently joined their band) packed up immediately and took the first boat across the sea to Neapolis. From there, they transferred the ten miles inland to Philippi, which was the “leading city of that district” (Acts 16:12).
I wonder if Paul walked the streets of Philippi looking for the man from his vision.
I wonder how different Macedonia was from Asia and Mysia. Greek food and Turkish food aren’t that different today, but Greeks and Turks will argue that they are. Did Paul and his friends feel out of place in Philippi? Did they sense the gravity of taking the Gospel to an entirely new land mass?
They must have arrived mid-week. On the Sabbath, they walked along the shore of the nearby Gangites River, looking for a gathering of Jews and/or God-fearers. Because there weren’t enough Jewish men in Philippi to constitute a synagogue, adherents would have gathered near the river for prayer on the Sabbath.
They’ll Take the ‘L,’ as in ‘Lydia’
They didn’t find the man from Paul’s vision. Instead, they found a small group that included an influential expat woman named Lydia. She was from Thyatira, one of the cities in Asia that Paul hadn’t been free to visit.
The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. –Acts 16:14
Lydia was the reason they went to Philippi.
Paul and his friends were walking or riding an animal. Just keep that in mind as I tell you, it was well over 300 miles from Pisidian Antioch to Troas and an overnight boat trip from there to Neapolis. All that time, Paul and his friends were bypassing lost people…lost cities…lost provinces. How many thousands did they ignore so Lydia could respond to the Gospel?
This idea is going to make some readers uncomfortable—that we would walk past some to reach others. But look at Lydia:
- She was well-respected.
- She was connected, both in Greece and back in Asia.
- She lived in the leading city of the district.
- She had the means to support other believers.
A “person of peace” is someone among a group of people who is ready to receive and pass along the gospel. Lydia was a person of peace. Her faith would pave the way for many others to believe—many more than Paul and his small band of brothers could reach on their own.
Story Break: Are you drawn to certain people over others? We all are. Is there someone in your life who needs to experience the love of Jesus even though you’ll have to walk past five other “lost” people to reach that one?
Through experience, study, and prayer, God has softened my heart to a certain type of woman. I will stand in the longest line at the grocery store to be checked out by one of these. I will strike up a conversation at a ball game with someone like this when I would otherwise keep to myself. Yes, there are unsaved people around me all the time, but these are the people God has designed me to reach. I have to rest in the faith that there’s another believer somewhere near me whom God has purposed to reach the ones I bypass, and I’ve gotten comfortable with this state of being.
Many other people in Philippi also believe the Gospel while Paul stayed there with Lydia, but she was the first, and her home became Paul’s a base of operations.
God led Paul and Silas over 400 miles to one woman who was ready to receive the truth about Jesus. Beautiful! My #peoplegroup isn’t about common sense, and it’s certainly #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)Tweet
Do you have a “people group,” that set or type of people God seems to always put on your heart? Does this story in Acts remind you of any parables Jesus told or any other passages in the Bible? Let me know the answer to either of these questions in the comments below.
(Just to ease your mind, on his third missionary journey, Paul gets to go all over Asia—both coming and going—AND back to Philippi.)