Receive New Life


Lesson Focus: This lesson is about Jesus’ power to transform people’s lives. The conversions of some people in the city of Philippi during Paul’s second missionary journey show what new life in Christ can mean.

From Searching to Sharing: Acts 16:13-15.

[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.  [ESV]

In Jewish law, a congregation was made up of ten men. Wherever there were ten male heads of households who could be in regular attendance, a synagogue was to be formed. Failing this, a place of prayer under the open sky was to be arranged for. Philippi apparently did not have the quorum and so was without a synagogue. On the Sabbath, therefore, Paul and his companions walked outside the city in search of a Jewish place of prayer, probably heading toward the Gangites River about a mile and a half west of the city. There they found some women gathered to recite the Shema, to pray, to read from the Law and the Prophets, to discuss what they had read, and, if possible, to hear from a traveling Jewish teacher an exposition or exhortation and receive a blessing. Paul and his companions sat down with these women and began to speak to them.

One of the women was from Thyatira, a city of western Asia Minor. Thyatira was famous for making purple dyes and for dyeing clothes, industries that were mostly carried on by women at home. As an artisan in purple dyes, Lydia had come to Philippi to carry on her trade. She was also a worshiper of God, believing and behaving like a Jew without having become one. As she listened to Paul’s message, the Lord opened her heart to pay attention [14]. That is, God opened her inner eyes to see and to believe in the Jesus Paul proclaimed. We note that, although the message was Paul’s, the saving initiative was God’s. Paul’s preaching was not effective in itself; the Lord worked through it. And the Lord’s work was not itself direct; He chose to work through Paul’s preaching. Soon after her conversion Lydia and her household was baptized. The household is likely to have included her servants. Lydia then invited Paul and his companions into her house (which probably became the Christians’ meeting place), for once the heart is opened, the home is opened too. Thus Lydia became Paul’s first convert in Europe. From such small beginnings the church at Philippi began. To judge from his letter to the Philippians, it was one of Paul’s most-loved congregations. Luke may have been involved in the establishment and growth of this church since this “we” section of Acts stops here in Philippi indicting that he may have stayed behind when Paul and Silas left for Thessalonica.

From Spiritual Bondage to Spiritual Freedom: Acts 16:16-18.

[16]  As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. [17]  She followed Paul and us, crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." [18]  And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.  [ESV]

On another Sabbath, when Paul and his friends were going to the place of prayer, they were met by a slave girl, who evidently stood in their way. Luke tells us two things about her. First, she had a spirit of divination whereby she could supposedly predict the future. Evidently all who knew her regarded her as neither fraudulent nor insane but as demon possessed and able to foretell the future. The second thing he tells us is that as a slave she was exploited by her owners, for whom she made a lot of money by fortune-telling [16]. As Paul and his friends continued their walk, the girl followed them screaming: These men are servants of the Most High God (a term for the Supreme Being which was applied by Jews to Yahweh and by Greeks to Zeus), who proclaim to you the way of salvation [17]. Since salvation was a popular topic of conversation in those days, even if it meant different things to different people, it is not in the least strange that the girl should have hailed the missionaries as teachers of the way of salvation. Nor is it strange that the evil spirit should have cried out in recognition of God’s messengers, for Luke has documented the same thing during the public ministry of Jesus [Luke 4:33-34,41; 8:27-28]. But why should a demon engage in evangelism? Perhaps the ulterior motive was to discredit the gospel by associating it in people’s minds with the occult. The girl’s shrieks continued for many days until finally Paul was provoked to take action. He was deeply disturbed because of the poor girl’s condition, and also dismayed by this inappropriate and unwelcome kind of publicity. His distress led him to turn round and command the evil spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her, which it immediately did [18]. Although Luke does not explicitly refer to either her conversion or her baptism, the fact that her deliverance took place between the conversions of Lydia and the jailer leads readers to infer that she too became a member of the Philippian church.

From Destructive Fear to Joyful Faith: Acts 16:19-34.

[19]  But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. [20]  And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. [21]  They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice. [22]  The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. [23]  And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. [24]  Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. [25]  About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, [26]  and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. [27]  When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. [28]  But Paul cried with a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." [29]  And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. [30]  Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" [31]  And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." [32]  And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. [33]  And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. [34]  Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.  [ESV]

[19-21]  What Paul did for the slave girl was not appreciated by her masters. In exorcising the demon, he had exorcised their source of income. Because of interference with what they claimed as their property rights, and with callous disregard for the girl’s welfare, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the city’s authorities. The charge laid was that Paul and Silas were advocating an illicit religion and thus disturbing the peace. But the charge, being couched in terms that appealed to the latent anti-Semitism of the people (these men are Jews) and their racial pride (us as Romans), ignited the flames of bigotry and prevented any dispassionate discussion of the issues. Many have asked why only Paul and Silas were singled out for persecution, with Timothy and Luke left free. Of course, Paul and Silas were the leaders of the missionary party and therefore most open to attack. But we must also remember that Paul and Silas were Jews and probably looked very much like Jews. Timothy and Luke, however, being respectively half-Jewish and fully Gentile, probably looked Greek in both their features and their dress and therefore were left alone. Anti-Semitism lay very near the surface throughout the Roman Empire. Here it seems to have taken over not only in laying the charge but also in identifying the defendants.

[22-24]  As a Roman colony, Philippi had a form of government that was independent of the provincial administration headquartered in Thessalonica. There were two chief magistrates who exercised judicial authority over the city. Functioning under the magistrates were two jailers who carried out the orders of the magistrates. Jailers commonly were retired army veterans, who could be expected to follow orders and use their military skills as required. Incited to anti-Semitic fury by the slave girl’s owners, the crowd turned on Paul and Silas. The magistrates had them stripped and severely flogged as disturbers of the peace and then ordered them to be jailed. The jailer put them into the innermost cell, fastening their feet in stocks. Though both Paul and Silas were Roman citizens and politically exempt from such treatment, the frenzy of the mob and the rough justice of the colonial magistrates overrode their protestations. Later when writing to the Christians at Corinth, Paul looked back on this experience as one of the afflictions he suffered as a servant of Christ and reminded the boasters among them that for the sake of the gospel he had been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely than they had and had been exposed to death again and again and had been three times beaten with rods [2 Cor. 11:23,25].

[25-28]  One would expect that after such brutal treatment, Paul and Silas would be bemoaning their plight. Certainly they were suffering pain and shock from the flogging they had received. But about midnight, as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, an earthquake suddenly shook the prison, opened its doors, and loosened the chains of all the prisoners. When the awakened jailer saw the doors open, he surmised the worst. In Roman law a guard who allowed his prisoner to escape was liable to the same penalty the prisoner would have suffered. Thus the jailer drew his sword to kill himself, believing the prisoners had all escaped. But Paul saw him in the doorway and shouted out from within the prison, do not harm yourself, for we are all here. The praying and singing, the earthquake, the opening of the doors, and the loosing of the chains all have special significance as vindicating God’s servants Paul and Silas and preparing for the jailer’s conversion.

[29-30]  Since it was midnight, the jailer called for torches to dispel the darkness of the prison. Rushing in, he fell trembling before Paul and Silas, doubtless taking them to be some kind of divine messengers. If he had not heard the demon-possessed slave girl shout These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation, he undoubtedly had heard from others what she was saying. And now what had happened confirmed her words about Paul and Silas. So he cried out, what must I do to be saved? His question showed recognition of his spiritual need and opened the way for Paul and Silas to give him the Good News about Jesus Christ.

[31-34]  What Paul and Silas gave the Philippian jailer was the same Christ-centered gospel that had been proclaimed since Pentecost: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household. But since it was all new to the jailer, the missionaries took time to explain to him and the others of his household the word of the Lord, setting the Good News of redemption in Jesus before them in terms they could understand. To judge by their actions, the jailer and his family believed in Christ and received the Holy Spirit. The jailer washed the wounds of Paul and Silas, probably at a well in the prison courtyard, and there too he and all his family were baptized. Thus the washing was reciprocal: he washed the wounds of the imprisoned missionaries; while the missionaries washed him from his sins. The baptized family now welcomed Paul and Silas into their home, just as Lydia had done into hers, and set food before them. And this celebratory feast was but an external expression of the inward joy which his entire household experienced, because they had believed in God [34].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Why was it necessary for God to open Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message? What does this incident say about how God’s sovereign work and the means He uses work together in evangelism? What significance does this fact have for you personally, in your evangelism and in your prayers for the lost?

2.         Bloody and battered in the stocks of a lightless prison, Paul and Silas spent the night praying and singing hymns to God. What does this show about their attitude towards God and their circumstances? What effect do you think their actions had on the other prisoners?

3.         Why did Paul and Silas sense the need to speak the word of the Lord to the jailer in addition to the Gospel command to believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved? What does this say about the importance of making sure that people understand what they are confessing to believe? Calvin writes: “In a word, Luke links faith with preaching and teaching and after he has spoken briefly about faith, he gives an explanatory account of the true and proper way of believing.” How can you incorporate this into your witnessing?

4.         Note the first three converts were Lydia, the slave girl and the Philippian jailer. What do their different backgrounds and social status tell you about the makeup of the church? What different methods were used in their conversions? What do you learn about evangelism from these conversions?


The Acts of the Apostles, volume 2, John Calvin, Eerdmans.

The Acts of the Apostles, Richard Longenecker, EBC, Zondervan.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Intervarsity.

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