by Roger McCay
7 June 2020
Scripture Passage: Acts 16:11-15
Link to Audio Version
For any masterpiece, there must be a first stroke of a pen or a key, a first note played, or a first dab of paint on a canvas. But in that first, there is great power.
Last week, we left Paul and his companions (Silas, Timothy, and Luke) having just stepped foot in Macedonia. G. Campbell Morgan describes the immensity of this event, writing:
How little the world knows of the Divine movements. Rome had small idea that day, that the van of the army of its ultimate Conqueror had taken possession of one of its frontal defences. On the day when Paul hurried from Neapolis, over the eight miles up to Philippi – and came into the city and made arrangements for his own lodging…the flag was planted in a frontier colony of Rome, which eventually was to make necessary the lowering of her flag, and the change of the world’s history.
How little the world knows of the Divine movements.
So insignificant an event. Yet, the power of the gospel is such that it can change the world starting with one person believing in Jesus – the first. In our passage today, we see that one person is Lydia. Paul faithfully explained to her the good news about Jesus, she heard and believed, and, from there, the world was changed forever.
What if Paul had not gone down to the river that morning? Who knows but God?
Providentially, we see in Paul’s faithfulness a principle. It is to share the gospel with people regardless who they are or what the circumstances are and let God take it from there. Every Christian is called to be faithful, according to this principle.
Yet, there are so many things that try to get in the way of our proclamation of the gospel. It can be any number of outside influences, including social boundaries, pressure from government, peers, society, business, or just ourselves getting in the way.
Regardless, we are called to be faithful and share the gospel, crossing whatever boundaries the world may throw in our way. Besides, like we saw last week, as we followed the missionaries from Antioch to Troas and then to Philippi, (remember the map?) the Lord opens doors that might seem impossible for us. He leads the way. We are called to follow his lead.
Take a look at v. 13:
13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.
You might be wondering why Paul went to the river looking for people. His normal pattern was to enter a town and first proclaim the gospel at the synagogue. Well, there was no synagogue in Philippi. It took 10 heads of Jewish households (men) to establish the synagogue, and the Jewish population was so sparse they had not yet established one.
Philippi was a place that those of us with military backgrounds would have found very comfortable. Due to historic events in the Roman Empire, Philippi had become a Roman colony directly under the emperor. In fact, Roman soldiers were encouraged to retire there, and they were exempt from taxes. So, it was a town full of military retirees and Roman Gentiles loyal to the emperor.
Now, here is Paul, (a Jewish Pharisee converted to Christ and called as an Apostle to the Gentiles), showing up, seeking to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, as I mentioned, there was no significant Jewish presence in Philippi and no synagogue. So, his normal method of bringing the gospel to a new location was stymied. Yet, despite what could have been a barrier, a closed door, the Lord had opened the door for the gospel in Macedonia, and Paul was looking for it. As a Jew, Paul knew the custom of Jews (along with God-fearing Gentiles), when there was no synagogue available. He knew that on the Sabbath, their custom was to meet beside a river or some body of water in order to pray and worship. So, following the Lord’s lead, Paul and his companions went looking to see if they could find any Jews or God-fearers to whom they could proclaim the gospel, taking a walk down to the Gangites River, which was about a mile outside the city gates.
Now, did Paul find there a group of devout Jewish men and their families, meeting together by the riverbank with whom to begin his proclamation? No, not at all. Rather, he found a group of women. We don’t know how many, but it was likely not very many.