Blessings result from accepting an assignment and meeting persecution with joy
Based on Acts 16:6-40
1-3. (a) How did Paul and his companions experience the direction of the holy spirit? (b) What events will we consider?
A GROUP of women leave the city of Philippi in Macedonia. Before long, they reach the narrow river Gangites. As is their custom, they sit down at the river bank to pray to the God of Israel. Jehovah observes them.—2 Chron. 16:9; Ps. 65:2.
2 Meanwhile, more than 500 miles (800 km) east of Philippi, a group of men leave the city of Lystra in southern Galatia. Days later, they reach a paved Roman highway leading westward to the most populated region of the district of Asia. The men—Paul, Silas, and Timothy—are eager to travel down that road so as to visit Ephesus and other cities where thousands of people need to hear about Christ. Yet, even before they can start the journey, the holy spirit stops them in some undisclosed manner. They are forbidden to preach in Asia. Why? Jesus—by means of God’s spirit—wants to guide Paul’s party all the way through Asia Minor, across the Aegean Sea, and onward to the banks of that little river named Gangites.
3 The way that Jesus guided Paul and his companions during that unusual journey into Macedonia contains valuable lessons for us today. Therefore, let us review some of the events that occurred during Paul’s second missionary tour, which began in about 49 C.E.
“God Had Summoned Us” (Acts 16:6-15)
4, 5. (a) What happened to Paul’s party near Bithynia? (b) What decision did the disciples make, and with what result?
4 Prevented from preaching in Asia, Paul and his companions turned northward to preach in the cities of Bithynia. To get there, they may have walked for days on unpaved trails between the sparsely populated regions of Phrygia and Galatia. However, when they neared Bithynia, Jesus again used the holy spirit to block them. (Acts 16:6, 7) By then, the men must have been puzzled. They knew what to preach and how to preach, but they did not know where to preach. They had knocked, as it were, on the door leading to Asia—but in vain. They had knocked on the door leading to Bithynia—again in vain. Still, Paul was determined to keep on knocking until he found a door that would open. The men then made a decision that might have seemed erratic. They turned west and walked for 350 miles (550 km), bypassing city after city until they reached the port of Troas, the natural gateway to Macedonia. (Acts 16:8) There, for the third time, Paul knocked on a door, and—yes!—it swung wide open.
5 The Gospel writer Luke, who joined Paul’s party at Troas, reports what happened: “During the night a vision appeared to Paul: a certain Macedonian man was standing and entreating him and saying: ‘Step over into Macedonia and help us.’ Now as soon as he had seen the vision, we sought to go forth into Macedonia, drawing the conclusion that God had summoned us to declare the good news to them.”* (Acts 16:9, 10) Finally, Paul knew where to preach. How happy Paul must have felt that he had not given up halfway through the journey! Immediately, the four men sailed for Macedonia.
6, 7. (a) What lesson can we learn from what took place during Paul’s journey? (b) What assurance can we derive from Paul’s experience?
6 What lesson can we learn from that account? Note this: Only after Paul set out for Asia did God’s spirit intervene, only after Paul neared Bithynia did Jesus step in, and only after Paul reached Troas did Jesus direct him to Macedonia. Jesus, as Head of the congregation, may deal with us in a similar way today. (Col. 1:18) For instance, we may have been thinking for some time about serving as a pioneer or moving to an area where the need for Kingdom publishers is greater. However, it may well be only after we take definite steps to attain our goal that Jesus, through God’s spirit, will guide us. Why? Think of this example: A driver can direct his car to turn left or right but only if the car is moving. Similarly, Jesus directs us in expanding our ministry, but only if we are moving—if we are putting forth real effort to do so.
7 What, though, if our efforts do not bear fruit right away? Should we give up, thinking that God’s spirit is not guiding us? No. Remember that Paul too encountered setbacks. Yet, he kept on searching until he found a door that opened. We can be sure that our perseverance in searching for “a large door that leads to activity” will be similarly rewarded.—1 Cor. 16:9.
8. (a) Describe the city of Philippi. (b) What joyful event resulted from Paul’s preaching at “a place of prayer”?
8 After arriving in the district of Macedonia, Paul’s party traveled to Philippi—a city whose inhabitants were proud to be Roman citizens. For the retired Roman soldiers living there, the colony of Philippi was like a little Italy—a miniature Rome planted in Macedonia. Outside the city gate, beside a narrow river, the missionaries found an area where they thought there was “a place of prayer.”* On the Sabbath, they went down to that spot and found several women who gathered there to worship God. The disciples sat down and spoke to them. A woman named Lydia “was listening, and Jehovah opened her heart wide.” Lydia was so moved by what she learned from the missionaries that she and her household got baptized. Then she made Paul and his traveling companions come and stay at her home.*—Acts 16:13-15.
9. How have many today imitated Paul’s example, resulting in what blessings?
9 Imagine the joy occasioned by Lydia’s baptism! How glad Paul must have been that he had accepted the invitation to “step over into Macedonia” and that Jehovah had seen fit to use him and his companions to answer the prayers of those God-fearing women! Today, numerous brothers and sisters—young and old, single and married—likewise move to areas where the need for Kingdom publishers is greater. Granted, they cope with hardship, but this fades in comparison with the satisfaction they feel as they find people like Lydia, who embrace Bible truths. Could you make adjustments that would enable you to “step over” into a territory where the need is greater? Blessings await you. For example, consider Aaron, a brother in his 20’s who moved to a Central American country. He echoes the sentiments of many when he says: “Serving abroad has helped me to grow spiritually and to draw closer to Jehovah. And field service is great—I’m conducting eight Bible studies!”
“The Crowd Rose Up . . . Against Them” (Acts 16:16-24)
10. How was demon activity involved in causing a turn of events for Paul and his companions?
10 Satan was surely furious that the good news had gained a foothold in a part of the world where he and his demons may have been unchallenged. No wonder, then, that demonic activity was involved in causing a turn of events for Paul and his companions! As they continued visiting the place of prayer, a demon-possessed servant girl, who earned money for her masters by making predictions, kept following Paul’s party, shouting: “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who are publishing to you the way of salvation.” The demon may have made the girl cry out these words to make it appear that her predictions and Paul’s teachings came from the same source. In that way, onlookers’ attention could be distracted from Christ’s true followers. But Paul silenced the girl by expelling the demon.—Acts 16:16-18.
11. After the demon was expelled from the girl, what happened to Paul and Silas?
11 When the owners of the slave girl found out that their source of easy income had vanished, they were enraged. They dragged Paul and Silas into the marketplace, where magistrates—officials representing Rome—held court. The owners appealed to the judges’ prejudice and patriotism, saying, in effect: ‘These Jews are causing a disturbance by teaching customs that we Romans cannot accept.’ Their words had immediate results. “The crowd [in the marketplace] rose up together against them [Paul and Silas],” and the magistrates gave the order “to beat them with rods.” After that, Paul and Silas were dragged to prison. The jailer threw the injured men into the inner prison and locked their feet in stocks. (Acts 16:19-24) When the jailer shut the door, the darkness in that prison hole was so thick that Paul and Silas could no doubt hardly see each other. Yet, Jehovah was watching.—Ps. 139:12.
12. (a) How did Christ’s disciples view persecution, and why? (b) What forms of opposition are still used by Satan and his agents?
12 Years earlier, Jesus told his followers: “They will persecute you.” (John 15:20) Thus, when Paul’s party stepped over into Macedonia, they were prepared to face opposition. When persecution struck, they viewed it, not as a sign of Jehovah’s disapproval, but as an expression of Satan’s anger. Today, Satan’s agents still employ methods similar to those used in Philippi. Deceitful opposers misrepresent us at school and in the workplace, fueling opposition. In some lands, religious opposers accuse us in court, saying, in effect: ‘These Witnesses cause a disturbance by teaching customs that we “traditional believers” cannot accept.’ In some places, our fellow worshippers are beaten and thrown into prison. Yet, Jehovah is watching.—1 Pet. 3:12.
“Baptized Without Delay” (Acts 16:25-34)
13. What caused the jailer to ask: “What must I do to get saved?”
13 Paul and Silas must have needed some time to absorb the tumultuous events of that day. By midnight, however, they had recovered from their beating to the point that they “were praying and praising God with song.” Then, suddenly, an earthquake shook the prison! The jailer awoke, saw that the doors were opened, and feared that the prisoners had run away. Knowing that he would be punished for letting them escape, he “drew his sword and was about to do away with himself.” But Paul cried out: “Do not hurt yourself, for we are all here!” The distressed jailer asked: “Sirs, what must I do to get saved?” Paul and Silas could not save him; only Jesus could. So they answered: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will get saved.”—Acts 16:25-31.
14. (a) What help did Paul and Silas give the jailer? (b) What blessing did Paul and Silas receive for meeting persecution with joy?
14 Was the jailer’s question heartfelt? Paul did not doubt the man’s sincerity. The jailer was a Gentile, unfamiliar with the Scriptures. Before he could become a Christian, he needed to learn and accept basic Scriptural truths. So Paul and Silas took time to speak “the word of Jehovah to him.” While engrossed in teaching the Scriptures, the men perhaps forgot how they ached from the blows they had received. The jailer, though, noticed the deep cuts on their backs, and he cleansed their wounds. Then he and his household “were baptized without delay.” What a blessing Paul and Silas received for meeting persecution with joy!—Acts 16:32-34.
15. (a) How have numerous Witnesses today followed the example of Paul and Silas? (b) Why should we continue to revisit the homes of those living in our territory?
15 Like Paul and Silas, many Witnesses today have preached the good news while imprisoned for their faith, with fine results. For example, in one land where our activities were banned, at one time 40 percent of all Witnesses living there had learned the truth about Jehovah while in prison! (Isa. 54:17) Note, too, that the jailer asked for help only after the earthquake struck. Similarly, some individuals today who have never responded to the Kingdom message may do so after their personal world is suddenly shaken by a distressing event. By faithfully visiting and revisiting those living in our territory, we make sure that we are available to help them.
“Are They Now Throwing Us Out Secretly?” (Acts 16:35-40)
16. On the day after Paul and Silas were flogged, how were the tables turned?
16 The morning after the flogging, the magistrates ordered the release of Paul and Silas. But Paul said: “They flogged us publicly uncondemned, men who are Romans, and threw us into prison; and are they now throwing us out secretly? No, indeed! but let them come themselves and bring us out.” Upon learning that the two men were Roman citizens, the magistrates “grew fearful,” for they had violated the men’s rights.* The tables were turned. The disciples had been beaten publicly; now the magistrates had to apologize publicly. They entreated Paul and Silas to leave Philippi. The two disciples complied, but first they took time to encourage the growing group of new disciples. Only then did they depart.
17. What important lesson would the new disciples have learned by observing the endurance of Paul and Silas?
17 If their rights as Roman citizens had been respected earlier, Paul and Silas might well have been spared the flogging. (Acts 22:25, 26) However, that could have given the disciples in Philippi the impression that the men had used their position to exempt themselves from suffering for Christ’s sake. How would that have affected the faith of disciples who were not Roman citizens? After all, the law would not shield them from floggings. Hence, by enduring punishment, Paul and his companion showed the new believers by example that followers of Christ are able to stand firm under persecution. In addition, by demanding that their citizenship be recognized, Paul and Silas forced the magistrates to go on public record as having acted unlawfully. That, in turn, might hold them back from mistreating Paul’s fellow believers and provide a measure of legal protection from similar attacks in the future.
18. (a) How do Christian overseers today imitate Paul’s example? (b) How do we ‘defend and legally establish the good news’ in our day?
18 Today, overseers in the Christian congregation also lead by example. Whatever they expect their fellow believers to do, Christian shepherds are willing to do. Similarly, like Paul, we weigh carefully how and when to use our legal rights to obtain protection. If needed, we appeal to local, national, and even international judicial courts to gain legal protection to carry out our worship. Our objective is, not social reform, but “the defending and legally establishing of the good news,” as Paul wrote to the congregation in Philippi some ten years after his imprisonment there. (Phil. 1:7) Still, no matter what the outcome of such court cases may be, like Paul and his companions, we are determined to continue “to declare the good news” wherever God’s spirit may lead us.—Acts 16:10.
See the box “Luke—The Writer of Acts.”
Perhaps the Jews were forbidden to have a synagogue in the city because of Philippi’s military character. Or the city might have lacked ten Jewish males—the minimum number required for establishing a synagogue.
See the box “Lydia—The Seller of Purple.”
Roman law stated that a citizen was always entitled to a proper trial and was never to be punished in public uncondemned.