Reflections From ACTS 16: “PAUL’S GOSPEL MINISTRY: EXHORTATION TO HOLINESS, JAILED FOR THE NAME”


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Much has transpired in chapter 15 and now we see the continuation of gospel work.  For example, here is the first time we hear of Timothy the disciple of great character whose mother was Jewish and father was Greek (Vv.1-2).  After delivering the decrees the apostles and elders had decided from Jerusalem for the Gentile church to observe, it strengthened the churches faith and increased their number.

What’s going on here?  After the first Council of Jerusalem met, they came to understand that holiness which comes from salvation does not consist of foods and washings (all a shadow of Christ’s reality) but now that Messiah had come his sacrifice was enough for not only the Jews but also for the Gentiles.  The two decrees were: abstain from idolatry and fornication.  For a true believer these commands are not a death sentence for joy but rather a delight of new birth.

Another curious thought is the Holy Spirit forbidding Paul and his companions from ministering the word in Bythinia or Asia (Vv.6-7) perhaps because Paul was to go to minister the word to a man in Macedonia he saw in a vision (Vv.9-10).  The thought is curious because we’re commanded to go into all the world and make disciples.  So why hinder the great commission, it seems contradictory does it not?

Actually, the great commission is going forth, not being hindered, for Paul’s vision is showing him where the message of the gospel would be received.  This is exactly the case with Lydia from Thyatira whom the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message of salvation (Vv.9-15).

Again, we see Paul and Silas imprisoned because of the word of the Lord and its power to liberate a demonized slave girl who could soothsay (Vv.16-21) and bring much profit to her owners.  Being a slave in those days was not uncommon, being demonized seemed to be.  The point is that when a person’s in bondage and God’s power rescues them, if someone’s income is adversely disturbed as a result, then persecution will follow.  Thus for now, jail would be home for the two apostles.

But bars can’t keep God from converting the called.  Thus, the jailer who had already determined to commit suicide—thinking the prisoners were gone due to the earthquake—stayed his sword by heeding Paul’s word that none had escaped.  When he asked, “What must I do to be saved” (which is a response to the preached word) the answer is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Vv.27-34).  We’re told that this man and his house converted.

Does this account therefore guarantee that if we believe, those in our homes will follow Christ?  Experience would say no, however some believers hold that this is a promise to claim when praying for loved ones.  I’m reticent to claim this to be a general promise because Luke is reporting what happened, he’s not setting forth doctrine like “believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” which must happen for salvation to occur.  Moreover, there are too many believers through history whose families were often at odds with them because of their conversion to Christ (E.g., Jews disowned by family who converted to Christianity).

Having said that, I think Luke is showing how the gospel can and does spread from one family member to another, after one is converted, many do follow.  This is especially true in Patriarchal cultures or in the lives of indigenous tribes.  As a point of theological dispute, Acts over and again preaches salvation in Christ alone, through repentance and trust in the risen Savior.  That’s a fact.  But how God deals with individuals as He chooses within the context of redemption is clearly different.

Again, if we want to believe God to save our loved ones, there are clearer passages that affirm generally God’s will for salvation.  The list is extensive but John 3:16-18 is a good starting point, where the necessary condition and definition of “belief” is trusting obedience in the Son of God.  Pray that God would do that in our loved one’s lives.  Another way to pray is for God to have mercy on them as He’s had on us, that He would show our loved ones the beauty of Christ, the realities of His wrath and judgment, and the blessedness of Christ’s kindness through the cross.

(SDG)

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