God Seeking & Saving His Own
Topic: Missions & Evangelism Passage: Acts 16:6–16:15
Valuing Women's Roles in the Kingdom
I want to clarify something about last week’s sermon. This is especially for my sisters. Last week, my outline emphasized that Christ uses qualified men to build his kingdom—those who put Christ’s interests above their own, and who become servants to all, and so forth. By focusing on men, by no means did I intend to minimize how the Lord builds his kingdom also through you, sisters.
My intent was to focus on those men who lead and plant, and then broaden the application to the whole church. But due to the way I framed the main points around men, the message certainly could’ve been heard to minimize the roles women play in the kingdom. I want to own that as just bad communication on my part. If I ever re-preach that sermon, I’d want my main points to present a more holistic picture, such as how the Lord builds his kingdom also using godly women who speak the word into the lives of others and exemplify “sincere faith” as we witness in Timothy’s mother Eunice.[i]
Sisters, your partnership in the gospel is crucial and important to us; and I want to ensure greater clarity about that wherever possible. Much thanks to the sister who brought that to my attention so humbly and for all your sake. Thank you for your patience. With that said, let’s jump into Acts 16…
Luke's Eyewitness Participation in the Story
Something you haven’t seen to this point in Acts will surprise you. Luke the author actually enters the story himself. It comes in verse 10 with the first-person plural, “we sought to go…” Meaning, Luke is now traveling with Paul. We’re not just getting history based on other people’s eyewitness accounts; we’re getting history based on Luke’s own eyewitness participation. In terms of ancient historiography, Luke is the most ideal historian. I mention that to reassure you that the Scriptures offer some of the best history, and are worthy of your serious attention. If these matters about the risen Jesus are true, then far be it from us to ignore him. Let’s pick it up in verse 6…
6 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 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. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
The Lord Jesus guides his people by the Holy Spirit.
Let’s make four observations. The first comes in verses 6-10: the Lord Jesus guides his people by the Holy Spirit. We see “the Holy Spirit” in verse 6; then “the Spirit of Jesus” in verse 7. Different titles but the same Spirit. The Spirit is not an impersonal force. He’s not another mode of God’s existence. He’s the third person of the Trinity.
Rather significant is that he’s called the Spirit of Jesus. The Old Testament anticipated Yahweh pouring out his Spirit. By calling the Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, Luke equates Jesus with those Old Testament expectations. As God in his own right, Jesus now gives the Spirit to his people.[ii] God’s powerful presence in his risen Son is mediated to us through the Spirit. The risen Christ ensures his will on earth prevails by the Spirit guiding the lives of his people. We could say, the Holy Spirit is the chief missionary.
After all, who’s calling the shots? It’s certainly not Paul and his band of brothers. If anything the Spirit keeps frustrating their plans. Verse 6: “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.” Again in verse 7: “When they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”
Wow! Twice the Holy Spirit frustrates their plans. We’re not told exactly how he frustrated their plans. We do know from Acts 15:32 that Silas was a prophet. The Spirit sometimes guides people through prophesy, and that may have been the case here.[iii] But Luke doesn’t give any details. He only shows the Spirit closing doors for evangelism in one region, while moving Paul’s team to another.
The mission is ultimately Christ's; we follow him
That runs contrary to the way we think, doesn’t it? How could the Spirit do that? Doesn’t Asia need the gospel too? What about the folks in Bithynia? How are they going to be saved? Isn’t the mission about spreading the gospel? Yet here they’re forbidden to speak. Eventually, the gospel spreads there too—we’ll get to that later in Acts 20:6-12 and 1 Peter was eventually written to churches there.[iv] But for the time being, the Spirit chooses not to spread the gospel there.
We must remember whose mission this really is. It’s not ultimately our mission but God’s. He determines who hears and when they hear and who will bring the message. Yes, we plan and strategize and work hard to spread the gospel. Paul and his team weren’t just sitting around doing nothing. The Spirit revealed his course as they devoted themselves to the work. But in the end, our plans must be subject to Christ. We’re not more loving than Christ. We’re not wiser than Christ. He calls the shots, and we follow as he opens the door for the word to advance.
Missions is the fruit of our communion with God; walk with him
But something else we need to remember is this: it’s not just about getting things done. The mission isn’t just about saving people, though that’s desperately needed. It’s first about walking with God. It’s first about knowing God, and having fellowship with him. It’s about communion with God by the Spirit, such that you know what’s right and wrong, when to stay and when to go, when to share and when to be quiet.
I fear some of us are just dashing around, all busy, busy, busy, and never once commit things to the Lord in prayer; never once ask, “Father, is that what you’d have me do today?” Would you know if he didn’t want you to do something? Would you know if he did? Beloved, the mission isn’t simply about doing for God, but being with God, and knowing him by the Spirit. Mission comes as the fruit of our communion with God.
Led by a vision into Macedonia
The Spirit may have frustrated some of their plans. But he doesn’t leave them guessing. Eventually, he guides them into Macedonia with a vision. Look at verse 9: “A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
What was it that Peter said back in 2:17? “In the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions…” That happens to Paul. The Spirit gives him a vision. Do notice something about the vision. It’s evaluated. The word “concluding” is in the plural: “we concluded that God called us…” In 1 Corinthians 14:29 and 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, we see that prophecy must be evaluated. Not despised, but tested against Scripture. That happens here with the vision. The whole team discerns what the vision meant, if anything at all. They conclude, “It’s time to go to Macedonia.”
You might read God working this way and want the same experience. You might even hear about God working this way and want the same experience. You want God to speak to you in a vision: “Tell me what I’m supposed to do next.” The problem is that people often elevate the less-clear exceptions over the crystal-clear norm. God may use dreams and visions, but they’re the exception in Scripture. The normative way God reveals his will for your life is through his written word. The normative way to know the Spirit’s guidance is to open your Bible and read the Spirit’s words.
If you don’t know God’s voice in Scripture, even if a vision did come, you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was a devil. That’s the problem with Mormonism and Islam and Neo-Pentecostalism. All of their stories have leaders once guided by angelic visions, and all of them couldn’t discern that such revelations contradicted God’s revelation in Scripture and in his Son Jesus Christ. What God has given us in Scripture is clear.
Yes, we can celebrate if he chooses to use miraculous means, and I hear stories of this happening among missionaries. They get a vision to come help someone. They show up, and somebody else is there saying they had a vision to come hear a message. The gospel gets presented and they believe. Yes! Incredible. Rejoice. Give thanks.
But even if such visions don’t come, the Scriptures are plenty sufficient. God isn’t keeping anything from us. He’s not doing us any wrong. All we need to know him and to know about following him is here for us in Scripture. Walk with God. Pour over his word. Know him truly in Jesus Christ. Pray with your brothers and sisters for discernment. And the Spirit will guide you as you obey his will.
The Lord Jesus uses his people to speak the gospel.
Second observation: the Lord Jesus uses his people to speak the gospel. Miraculous as it was, Paul doesn’t preach the vision he just had. He preaches the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Why the gospel? Because people need help: “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Help them out of what? Help them out of their desperate predicament before God. People need redemption. People are dead in their sins. People have rejected God’s law. God’s judgment will soon fall on them. Sin, death, and the devil have their hold. People are powerless to rescue themselves.
But the gospel is powerful to save. The gospel announces what God has done in Christ to reconcile us to himself, to deliver us from bondage to sin, to defeat Satan’s tyranny over us. The gospel is the only message that can help people out of their desperate predicament. The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The gospel will help you as you take God at his word.
Paul and his team head into Macedonia with this good news. Luke details the journey from Troas to Samothrace to Neapolis to Philippi (Acts 16:11-12). In verse 13, Paul sticks to his usual plan. He first tries to find the Jews who’ve gathered on the Sabbath. They don’t find a synagogue; but they do find a group of women who’ve gathered to pray. They’re religious women but not saved women.[v] They haven’t heard the gospel. Paul and his team sit down and speak to the women.
Share the gospel with others as opportunities arise
We’ll get to God’s sovereign grace in a minute. But just notice how the disciples speak. They sit down and they talk to the women. They have a conversation and then direct them to Christ. God saves people, but he does so as we speak the gospel. We are his means in spreading the good news.
God could write it in the sky. He could send an angel. He could drop a book in their lap from heaven. But he doesn’t choose that. He chooses to use us. He gives us the greatest privilege ever: telling others about our King. He makes us participants in his plan to rescue the world. We’re nothing but jars of clay. But Wow, do we have a Treasure to share?! That treasure is the gospel.
Share the gospel Treasure. Look for the opportunities. They’re everywhere. I was coaching my son’s baseball game the other day. We had some batting drills going. A couple boys were getting some of the others to say curse words, they’d never heard before. Then they’d laugh about it. The Spirit just prompts me to say: “Hey! Listen up. Jesus says that from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.”
One kid says, “What’s that mean?” I said, “The filth coming out of your mouth means that’s what you’re full of.” One boy then says, “Can you explain that more?” “Sure, I can explain that…” Enter the gospel: “You need a new heart. Only God can do that in Christ.” He wasn’t converted, but I had the opportunity to plant gospel seeds. Even though the others didn’t listen; there was one who wanted more.
The question is whether we’re ready to be used of the Lord at any moment. Are we ready to help others by giving them Christ? Dale exemplifies this so well in all his dealings with people. We hear stories all the time in elders meetings. There’s so many inroads to Christ. The question is whether we’re being faithful with the opportunities he gives us. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
The Lord graciously opens hearts to the gospel.
In this case, he saves a woman named Lydia; and that leads us to a third observation: the Lord graciously opens hearts to the gospel. Verse 14, “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” You may have thought the vision in verse 10 was miraculous. Far greater is the miracle of conversion. If you truly understand the complete inability of man to save himself, you’ll be overjoyed every time you think about conversion.
The heart is the causal core of our personhood. It’s our control center for life. Apart from grace, Jeremiah says our heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (Jer 17:9). That means our moral condition is such that we reject God’s word. We’re born with a bias against it. We don’t like it and prefer our own brands of spirituality. Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world [that’s Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” That’s all of us apart from grace.
But what happens here? Why does Lydia receive the gospel? Why does she listen to Paul’s message? Why does her rebellious bias disappear? The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to the gospel. That’s how anybody gets saved. The Lord graciously opens their heart. He gives them a new heart, a new affection for Christ, new eyes that see the glory of God in the face of Jesus! That’s conversion. 2 Corinthians 4:6, “God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
That happens with Lydia. Yes, Lydia chose Christ in that moment. But she chose Christ because God chose her. God gave her a new heart that was open to his gospel. And the same apparently happened for her entire household in verse 15.
Give the Lord glory for graciously saving sinners
Remember in this that salvation belongs to the Lord. He gets all the glory for saving us. He deserves our praise, because without his gracious initiative we wouldn’t have paid attention. We wouldn’t have seen the glory of Christ! We wouldn’t have new hearts. But because of his grace, we’ve come to know him! That’s why we sing and give him thanks! He opened our hearts too! None of us can boast and grow proud. Our salvation is all grace, all a gift.
Pray for the Lord to open hearts to the gospel
This should also encourage us to pray for the Lord to save others. We pray because God is sovereign. We pray because we know he can change hearts. Pray for the Lord to open the hearts of your children to the gospel. Pray the same for your extended family members. Pray for him to open the hearts of your friends, to open the hearts of your coworkers, to open the hearts of people in White Settlement.
Years ago a friend invited me to do some door-to-door evangelism with him. He told me to meet him on Thursday at 5:00. So I showed up ready for evangelism. You know what he had us doing first? Praying for God to open the hearts of people when we shared. The first four weeks we didn’t even go out. We prayed. Then he had us praying some more on each occasion we did go out. The Lord opened hearts to the word.
You may know people that are just hardened to God; people who’ve had life-long commitments to some other religion; people who are mastered by sex and money and power and alcohol; people controlled by fear and bitterness and substance abuse. They’re hearts are enslaved just as yours was…until the Lord opened your heart to the gospel. He can do the same for others. God is not bound by the hardness of human hearts. He has the power to change the heart.
Our job is to speak the word faithfully—to plead with others to repent and believe the gospel—and leave the results to the Lord. Our confidence can never rest in a particular evangelism method—like “If I just say this, this, and this, people get saved.” No, people don’t get saved because of our clever methods; they get saved because the Lord chose to open the heart to Christ. Pray he does so as we speak the word. Trust that he will do so for some when they hear the word. The Holy Spirit doesn’t miss any of his elect. Just like he does here, he seeks them out and saves them. Trust him to do the same using you, using your time, your prayers, your words.
The Lord Jesus produces hospitality in his people to care for one another and especially his missionaries.
Last observation: the Lord Jesus produces hospitality in his people to care for one another and especially his missionaries. Verse 15, “And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.”
You may recall chapters 2 and 4. The gospel creates a community of believers who eat in each other’s homes all the time. Hospitality occurred so regularly that, to become a member of the church was almost like having keys to each other’s houses. That’s how much they became part of each other’s lives.
That picture fits some of the commands we find elsewhere in the New Testament. Romans 12:13, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality;” Hebrews 13:2, “Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers…;” 1 Peter 4:9, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
Lydia is a great example. The gospel saves her and then produces hospitality. She’s a seller of purple. She obviously makes enough to own a house; and a house big enough to host others. But what’s important to notice is how freely she offers her home to Paul and his team. Her house isn’t just hers; it’s God’s gift for furthering his kingdom.
But even more, her hospitality is special. She houses God’s missionaries. She has so aligned herself with their gospel that she wants to do everything to support their gospel. Jesus actually commends people like this. Showing hospitality to Jesus’ disciples was to receive Jesus himself. Matthew 10:40-42,
Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
That’s Lydia. She not only identifies with Jesus in baptism; she identifies with Jesus by taking care of his messengers. That becomes even clearer when she does it again in 16:40 after they get out of prison for preaching the gospel. The magistrate and top officials don’t want these men in the city. But once again, we find Lydia opening her home to them. She welcomes them as family.
Does the gospel bear the same kind of fruit in your life? Do you show hospitality to others in the church? Are you opening your home regularly? Do you see your home as a gift from the risen Lord Jesus to care for his people? I’m thankful that some of you do open your home so freely. A few of you have even housed our missionaries when they come through town. But others of us can grow in this area. Others of us need to see our homes less as places to hide, and more as places to serve and refresh one another in the mission.
That growth will only come when you see the gospel more fully. Romans 15:7 says, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” Don’t just welcome the folks exactly like you. These commands for hospitality come to churches filled with people of various ethnicities and traditions and economic status, but who have all been welcomed to God in Christ. So the Bible says, welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.
We were once separated from God and cut off. It started when the woman and man took the forbidden fruit and ate. As a consequence God banished them from his presence. But now, because of the blood spilled for us, Christ brings people once more God’s presence. He spreads them a new feast and says, “Take and eat, do this in remembrance of me.” He was lifted up to draw all peoples to himself. Beloved, Christ’s welcome at his own expense is the matchless example of hospitality. Because of our welcome in him, welcome one another.
[i]Acts 16:1; 2 Tim 1:5; 3:15.
[ii]Luke 24:29; John 15:26.
[iii]Acts 11:27-29; 13:1; 15:32; 21:9-11; 1 Cor 14:31.
[iv]1 Peter 1:1, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.”
[v]It seems to me that Luke does not use “worshiper of God” to identify Christians but Gentiles who sympathize with the rituals of Israel. See Acts 8:27 where the Ethiopian eunuch “had come to Jerusalem to worship.” Cf. also “worshiper of God” in Acts 18:7 versus the ruler of the synagogue who “believed in the Lord” in Acts 18:8. The title “worshiper of God” seems more akin to Cornelius in Acts 10:2. Most clear for me is 2 Corinthians 3:14-16, “But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” I believe this happens with Lydia in Acts 18:4.