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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Acts 16



Verses 1-40

THIS CHAPTER OPENS with Paul back at Derbe and Lystra, back, that is, to the scenes where he had suffered the stoning. In those very places he now finds Timothy, who was to become in his latter years such a comfort to him. A happy illustration of how God’s government acts in favour of the godly. We are apt to think of it only as acting against the ungodly. Out of the place of Paul’s sufferings sprang one of his greatest comforts.

Now as Timothy’s father was a Greek he had not been circumcised, and he would not have been acceptable in Jewish circles. Paul knew this and circumcised him; an action which on the surface seems totally at variance with his attitude in regard to Titus—see Galatians 2:3-5. But there the whole truth of the Gospel had been made to hinge on the question whereas here there was no question at all involved. In Timothy’s case it was just a matter of removing something which would have been a hindrance in his service for the Lord, and Paul was not concerned to maintain for himself an appearance of consistency which would have been only skin-deep. Here was a God-given helper in the work, and it was expedient to remove all that would hinder his labours.

Paul’s somewhat lengthy sojourn in Asia Minor on this second journey is dismissed in five short verses (5—8). It comprised labours of a pastoral sort, for they went through regions where churches were already established through his earlier labours, and these they instructed to observe what had been settled at the conference in Jerusalem, and they were established and increased in number. Then they went into new regions, Phrygia, Galatia and Mysia, and in these of course they did the work of evangelists. This evidently was the occasion when he had so wonderful a reception from the Galatians, to which he alludes in Galatians 4:13-15. It was also a time in which God exercised very strong control over his movements. When Mysia was reached, Bithynia lay to the north or north-east, and Asia to the south. In both directions he would have gone, if permitted. In the former case he was directly forbidden by the Holy Spirit, and in the latter the Spirit did not suffer him to go, which apparently indicates guidance of a less direct kind, and more by way of circumstances.

Troas was on the sea coast of Mysia, and here Paul was given positive guidance as to his movements by means of the vision of the man of Macedonia. So here within the compass of five verses we find Divine guidance conveyed to Paul in three different ways, twice of a negative sort and once of a positive sort. This should furnish some guidance to any who, very desirous of Divine direction, expect to receive it in some one way of their own choosing.

Accepting the vision as giving them God’s direction, Paul and his helpers immediately obeyed, and verse Acts 16:11 shows that God turned the winds in their favour and they had a very rapid passage; for we see, in Acts 20:6, that when years after he took the journey in the reverse direction it occupied five days. At Troas, Luke, the writer of the book, evidently joined Paul, for in verses Acts 16:4, Acts 16:6, Acts 16:7, Acts 16:8, it is uniformly “they,” whereas in verse Acts 16:10 the pronoun suddenly becomes “we,” and that and “us” continue well into the account of the doings at Philippi.

Philippi had the status of a Roman colony, so the Roman element was strong there, and perhaps correspondingly the Jewish element was weak. No synagogue existed, and all that was to be found was a spot outside the city by a river where prayer to the true God was offered. That spot they sought out, and finding only some women assembled they sat down and spoke to them. That did not seem a very promising beginning, but Paul was the kind of man that accepted and utilized small things. He attempted no formal preaching but just sat down and talked in an informal way. This humble beginning had a great ending. A church was established which above others was filled with grace and was a comfort to him.

The work began in the heart of Lydia, which was opened of God. The words, “which worshipped God,” indicate that she was a seeker, and had become a proselyte, and now in the Gospel which Paul preached she found the full thing which she sought. The work was quiet but very real, for she was baptized and her household, and she at once identified herself with the Lord’s servants by opening her house to them.

The next incident was the encounter with the female slave who had opened her heart to some dark agent of the devil. She made a pretence of approving Paul and his helpers, and this might have pleased some, who might have argued, “Well, we are servants of God, and if she likes to advertise us, let her!” Paul however was not short-sighted like this. He saw that the devil’s patronage is no gain but a disaster, and he refused her testimony by commanding the evil spirit to come out of her. The spirit had to obey, and her masters knew that their money-making scheme was spoiled. This raised their ire, and Paul and Silas were dragged before the magistrates on a charge worded so as to raise Roman prejudice against them. This stirred the crowd, and also moved the magistrates to excited and un-Romanlike action. No proper trial was held; they were flogged and cast into prison.

Under these circumstances even the jailer acted with extra severity, and night descended upon them in this sorry plight. Were they tempted to falter and doubt, thinking that the vision of the Macedonian man had been a little too visionary? Perhaps; for they were men of like weakness to ourselves. But, if they did, faith soon triumphed, and at the darkest hour they were not only praying but singing praises to God. Suddenly God intervened, and not only by the earthquake. doors are more often jammed tight by earthquakes than opened; and no ordinary earthquake strikes the shackles from prisoners.

Knowing the severity of Roman law in regard to the custody of prisoners, the jailer was on the verge of suicide when Paul’s shout reached his ears. The fact that “he called for a light,” (verse Acts 16:29), shows that they were all in the dark. How did Paul know what the jailer was about to do? Paul’s sudden call was evidently inspired by the Spirit of God, and it came as a voice from God to the jailer. Here at last was the Macedonian man! He was trembling: he was on his face before his prisoners! Soon he was asking the great question, which since has been asked by millions of convicted sinners. He received the immortal answer, which has been used to the enlightenment and salvation of countless souls.

We often quote Acts 16:31, but too often we omit the last three words. God loves to identify a man’s house with himself and include them in His offer of blessing. Why do we not more often embrace this fact in our faith? We have already had in the chapter the converted woman and her house: now we have the converted man and his house. This surely is most encouraging for all heads of houses who may be reached by the grace of God; since there is no respect of persons with God, and what He is to one He is to all.

The jailer believed, and showed his faith by his works without a moment’s delay. Then, though it was still night, “he and all his” were baptized straightway. This is pretty clear evidence that baptism is not an ordinance which is intended to be a confession of one’s faith, and therefore to be observed in public. Had it been that, what an opportunity was missed here! How effectively the thing might have been done the next day when public opinion had veered somewhat in favour of Paul! All must have been confusion in the city after the earthquake, yet the jailer and his house had the links cut with the old life without any delay: for baptism signifies dissociation, through the death of Christ.

When the magistrates relented the next day, Paul seized the opportunity to point out to them how they themselves had transgressed, seeing he and Silas were Roman citizens. He did not push the point further, or in any way retaliate. Their way was smoothed however, and they had time to see the brethren and exhort them before taking their departure. From the Epistle to the Philippians we may see how well the work progressed after their departure.


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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Acts 16:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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