Last week we began chapter 16 and we were introduced to Paul’s young protégé Timothy. Paul, Silas and Timothy had begun Paul’s second missionary journey and while traveling the Lord directed them not to enter into two different regions. Rather, they were told to go to Macedonia instead. You may have been amazed once you realized that God gave such clear and concise instructions to these men. You might also have found yourself wishing that you too were on the receiving end of such guidance from the Lord. Which led to our discussion of the truth that God indeed does wish to direct our lives in such a manner. Unfortunately however, the problem lies with us, because we aren’t tuned in to hear His voice. So we looked at the question how do we hear the voice of God?
We first must start with the belief that God will speak to each of us personally. If we do not believe it’s possible in the first place we will never hear His voice. Thus, the question is, do you believe it’s possible? Church family, not only is it possible, but God longs to converse with us – to communicate with us – to hold intimate conversation with us. So, if you do not currently believe He will speak directly and specifically to you, ask Him to reveal this truth to you – to open your eyes. Or perhaps it would be better suited for me to say – to open your ears!
So first, it begins with the belief. Next we need to understand that yes, absolutely, God’s Word is often the primary mode He uses to communicate with us. However, God can and does use anything – He can use any circumstance, any situation, and any person to guide and direct us. Remember, He used a burning bush with Moses and a donkey with Balaam.
And yes again, He absolutely speaks through His Word and His Word is the sieve to run your thoughts through when you believe He has spoken to you. If it doesn’t line up with His Word, then you know it did not come from God. Rather, it’s one of your own thoughts, perhaps it’s from cultural influence, or it could even be from Satan. And yes, brothers and sisters, I’m sorry, but Satan’s primary mode of attack is often in our thoughts.
Next, we need to slow down – to sit at His feet just as Mary did when Jesus was a guest in Martha’s home. We simply have to make time for our relationship with Jesus, just as we have to make time for our other close, intimate relationships. Making use of spiritual disciplines helps us in the process of building a deeper and more intimate relationship with the Lord.
Keep in mind, just as every serious athlete must train and train hard if he wants to win, every Christian must build their faith in order to grow strong through the practice of spiritual disciplines. We know that being a couch potato is not going to advance one’s athletic abilities. Neither will only going to church for an hour on Sunday morning advance our walk with Jesus. The very best athletes are intensely disciplined. And the same holds true for the most faithful Christians! Just as a couch potato does not make an athlete, being undisciplined in our Christian walk will not make a disciple.
So what do I mean by spiritual disciplines? The Bible does not give a set list. But here are several commonly recognized spiritual disciplines among Christians around the globe: bible study, prayer, fasting, confession, worship, fellowship, rest, Sabbath, celebration, service, and generosity. Remember nobody simply drifts into being disciplined. It takes intention, it takes focus. Just as the undisciplined body becomes weak, the undisciplined spirit becomes weak.
Which is why Paul coaches his young protégé Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:7-8, “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” This verse clearly defines the purpose of practicing spiritual disciplines – they provide training for godliness. And I’d like to add that they help us to hear the quiet, gentle whisper of our Lord – which deepens our level of intimacy with Him – our relationship with Him.
Finally, it’s imperative that when we pray, we don’t do all the talking! We need to give the Lord time to respond. We need to be still and listen. But if you are like me, you might find yourself doing most of the talking – if not all of it! Often, when we do take a few minutes here and there to pray, we have specific requests that we lift up to Him. And truthfully, it usually doesn’t have anything to do with His will and His desire, rather it’s our own. It’s what we want. But we should be praying not my will, but Thy will be done, just as Christ did in the garden of Gethsemane. Remember church family, Jesus said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” If we love the Lord, we need to listen to His voice.
Next in this chapter we are introduced to Lydia in Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district in eastern Macedonia. There were many retired legionnaires from the Roman army settled there but few Jews. Which is why there was no synagogue, as a synagogue required at least ten Jewish males. If you recall as we’ve been learning about Paul’s travels the synagogue was usually the very first place he would go upon entering a new city.
However, in this case, with no synagogue, the few Jews who were in Philippi met along the banks of the Gangites River. It was customary for synagogues and such places of prayer to be located outdoors near running water in order to facilitate ritual washings.
Paul finds himself talking with a group of women upon arrival at the river bank. We are told that Lydia, was a Gentile who believed in the one true God and followed the moral teachings of scripture – a God fearer. Like Cornelius, she had not become a full convert to Judaism. The fact that Luke names Lydia in the text is significant and suggests that she was a woman who became prominent in the church at Philippi.
Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman who was a dealer in purple cloth. She sold luxury textiles dyed purple (remember purple is the color of royalty and only the rich could afford these textiles). Lydia’s wealth was indicated by the fact that she seemed to have been the owner and mistress of her own home. After her and her household chose belief in Jesus Christ and were then baptized in the faith she invited the missionaries to stay with her.
In our scripture reading this morning we hear once again that Paul along with Silas had gotten into trouble. Except this time it had absolutely nothing to do with the gospel they were proclaiming along with Timothy and Luke the physician, who was also present with them at this time. Paul had simply gotten tired of hearing the fortune telling slave girl shout continually behind them over several days.
Of course, his casting out the spirit then interfered with her master’s ability to make money off of her fortune telling. So Paul and Silas, the two Jews in the group, were arrested, stripped and beaten with rods, and placed in stocks in the jail. Don’t fail to notice that Timothy who was only half Jewish and Luke the Gentile remained free – only the two Jews were punished, they were singled out, although the four of them were all traveling together.
Keep in mind when the Jews initiated a flogging they would stop at 39 strikes. But not so the Romans – they went on as long as they saw fit. A strong Roman soldier, a man who had been trained in how to most intensely inflict pain, delivered the whipping. Thus, victims of Roman floggings and beatings often did not survive. To be beaten with rods translates as a Greek verb meaning to hit with long, stiff sticks. The blows were dealt on the back, legs and side.
In case you are wondering what stocks are they are made of two boards joined with iron clamps, leaving holes just big enough for the ankles. The prisoner’s legs were placed across the lower board, and then the upper board was closed over them. Sometimes both wrists and ankles were placed in stocks. Paul and Silas who had committed no crime were put in stocks designed for holding the most dangerous prisoners in absolute security.
The pain they must have been in – I can’t even begin to imagine, although I have experienced some significant pain in my life. However, I’m sure it didn’t come close to the pain these two men were feeling after that beating. But unlike them, I had the benefit of taking pain medication. The level of their pain must have been excruciating. Acute pain such as what they experienced triggers the fight or flight response in the sympathetic nervous system. Your heartbeat accelerates as does your breathing. You simply can’t focus on anything else but the pain.
Yet, despite this horrific situation, Paul and Silas somehow or another managed to praise God. They prayed aloud – they sang songs while the others in the prison listened! How on earth did they do it? How were they able to utter anything beyond a scream, shout, cry or moan?? I do not know. Yet, that was their response. Obviously, they had managed to “take heart.” Remember a couple of weeks ago in chapter 14 when we read about Paul being stoned and we looked at what it meant to take heart. Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
To take heart means – to exercise bold and confident courage. We need to take heart even when our world seems as if it’s falling apart. When we feel as if we have a huge weight crushing our chest. When we feel like we simply cannot breathe. That’s when we need to take His hand and hold on tightly. That’s when we need to trust Him with every fiber of our being. Certainly we see Paul and Silas taking heart.
They had to have maintained a laser sharp focus on Christ going through this. They had to have been completely and totally surrendered to Him in order to endure and their trust in Him must have been through the roof. Otherwise, how could they not only withstand this immense suffering once again but overcome it? Of course, what it really all boils down to is God’s grace, His amazing grace!! They had tapped into it. His Spirit resided within them and they relied on His power not their own.And throughout all of this – what an amazing witness. An earthquake occurs and they are released from the stocks and the prison cell but they do not leave. The jailor was going to kill himself thinking they would escape until Paul intervened and told him not to. Then the jailor is so impressed with their behavior that he takes them to his home, dresses their wounds and he and his family become believers. That’s how it’s done, one person at a time, one family at a time. It’s important that we remember, people are watching us. It’s not just our verbal testimony but our actions too that lead others to Christ. What an enormous blessing it is to walk with our Lord and lead others to Him.
Let us pray…….Holy and gracious God we praise you! We love you! We seek to bring glory to your great name. Forgive us of our sins. Help us to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. Help us to lead others to your Son. We pray for our country, we ask you would help us reunite. We pray for President Trump and President elect Joe Biden — may they seek you out and follow your will. Protect our country Lord and help us return to you. And now let us pray the words our Lord and Savior Jesus taught us……
Remember Jesus loves you and so do I!