Tuesday, March 5

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, a Roman colony and a leading city of the district of Macedonia. We stayed in that city for several days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women gathered there. 14 A God-fearing woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

16 Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 As she followed Paul and us she cried out, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the servants of the Most High God.” 18 She did this for many days.

Paul was greatly annoyed. Turning to the spirit, he said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out right away.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. 20 Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews 21 and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had severely flogged them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to guard them carefully. 24 Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured 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 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison standing open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped.

28 But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because we’re all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. 33He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. 34 He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had come to believe in God with his entire household.

35When daylight came, the chief magistrates sent the police to say, “Release those men.”

36The jailer reported these words to Paul: “The magistrates have sent orders for you to be released. So come out now and go in peace.”

37But Paul said to them, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to send us away secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out.”

38The police reported these words to the magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39So they came to appease them, and escorting them from prison, they urged them to leave town. 40After leaving the jail, they came to Lydia’s house, where they saw and encouraged the brothers and sisters, and departed.

Act 16:11-40 (CSB)

Today begins Paul’s missionary journeys through the province of Macedonia, leaving Asia and entering Europe. As Paul’s work extends further from Jerusalem, Jewish communities are fewer and smaller. As a result, the controversies Paul and his fellow workers face in these new regions won’t be conflict over Jewish faith and practice, but will center on pagan practices and allegiance to the Roman Empire.

In just a few chapters, Paul travels through Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and Ephesus, but he actually spends months, sometimes years, in these cities establishing faith communities. Even after he departed, he maintained communication. The New Testament books of Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, and Ephesians are instructional and encouraging to modern readers, but they were originally written to real people—the people Paul meets and ministers to in these chapters. People he lived among and loved.

Luke introduces three of those people in today’s reading, Philippian residents who represent the breadth and depth of God’s inclusion: a wealthy businesswoman, an exploited slave girl, and a Roman jailer. 

Lydia was a dealer of purple cloth, the most expensive dye in the ancient world, which means she worked and lived amidst the upper crust of Roman society. Lydia was a “God-fearer,” Luke’s word for a non-Jew who had not converted yet solely worshipped the Jewish God.  Luke makes no mention of Lydia’s husband, and Lydia believes in Jesus because “the Lord opened her heart” (emphasis mine). Lydia personally offers hospitality at “my house,” another act of extraordinary independence for a woman of ancient times. Based on her independence, hospitality, and prominence in the story, Lydia’s house likely became the epicenter of the Church in Philippi.

The second person in Philippi is a demon possessed slave girl who—well, who basically annoys Paul until he snaps. Paul’s exorcism of the girls robs her owners of a lucrative side business, and they stir up trouble for Paul and Silas. Luke does not mention the slave girl again, but throughout the gospels and Acts, physical healing/deliverance is often followed by spiritual deliverance, so one can hope that she, too, experienced both.

When Paul and Silas are imprisoned because of the slave-girl debacle, a miraculous earth quake opens the prison doors and looses their shackles, yet Paul and Silas remain in prison—an action which saves the life of their jailer. Had the prisoners fled, the jailer would certainly have been killed for his failure, and he is so overcome by both the miracle of the open doors and the miracle that the prisoners are still there that he immediately believes in Jesus, repents, and is baptized along with his whole household.

Imagine these three:  the affluent, the oppressed, and the oppressor kneeling together and joining hands in prayer; the first-class, no-class, and low-class breaking bread as equals at Lydia’s table. Paul did not just write the well-known line, There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:18), he experienced it. The communities he established throughout the Roman world eviscerated the social, cultural, and economic boundaries to which the ancient world strictly adhered. His theology was not just words he wrote—it was the life he and the early Church lived.


Reflection

How often is our theology things we say and read, but not something we live? Do our churches represent the social, racial, economic, and even political diversity of our community—or are they homogeneous, looking largely like us? How can we make our churches look more like the early Church, not for the modern goal of ‘diversity,’ but for the biblical vision of inclusion and equality in Christ?

Prayer

Heavenly Father, help our church to be a place where all people find welcome and freedom. May our identity as Your children unite us despite our differences, not divide us. May we be a community that astounds a watching world because we refuse to follow traditional cultural divisions. As Your Son prayed, make us One as You are One. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Megan NessonComment