Saturday, November 26, 2022

2022.11.26 Hopewell @Home ▫ Acts 16:6–15

Read Acts 16:6–15

Questions from the Scripture text: Through what two regions did they go in Acts 16:6? What didn’t they do where? Why? To where do they come in Acts 16:7? Where do they try to go? Why can’t they? Where do they go instead (Acts 16:8)? What appeared to whom, when, in Acts 16:9? Who was in this vision? What was he doing? When does Acts 16:10 take place? Who is now included? Where do they go? What had they concluded (verse 10)? From where do they sail in Acts 16:11? To where do they directly come? And where the next day? And where from there (Acts 16:12)? What is special about that city? What were they doing there? On what day does Acts 16:13 take place? Where do they go? What customarily happened there? What do they do with whom? Who heard in Acts 16:14? What was her occupation? What was her spiritual status? How did she come to heed what Paul spoke? Who were baptized upon her heeding the Word (Acts 16:15)? For what did she beg—what was her privilege as an acknowledged believer? What was the result? 

How did the famous church in Philippi get its start? Acts 16:6–15 looks forward to the morning sermon on the coming Lord’s Day. In these ten verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the Spirit started the church at Philippi thorough several thwartings of the apostle and a humanly inauspicious opportunity. 

The Spirit is the Lord, and we are the servants. The Holy Spirit is a person, not a power. We are blessed with His fellowship (2 Corinthians 13:14) and warned against grieving Him (Ephesians 4:30). As the Father was creating by the Son, the Spirit superintended the creation through the entire process (Genesis 1:2). The Lord is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:8), and He searches and knows the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10–11). 

Throughout the book of Acts, we have been hearing about what the Lord Jesus has continued to do and to teach on earth (cf. Acts 1:1–2), now in His church by His Spirit (cf. Acts 1:4–8). There is a dreadful consequence to a poor doctrine of the Spirit, in which He is viewed as an “it” instead of “Him,” or a power instead of a Person: men may think that to have the Spirit is to have a power that is there to serve them rather than to be attended by God, Whom we serve. 

But in the first two verses of our passage, the Spirit is clearly in charge. They want to go into Asia (a Roman province in what today is Turkey), but the Holy Spirit forbids them to preach the Word there (Acts 16:6). They try to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them (Acts 16:7). He Who hindered them in Acts 16:6 and Acts 16:7 is then recognized as “the Lord” who called them to preach the gospel to the Macedonians (Acts 16:10).

Providence is personal. That verse (Acts 16:10) helps us think about Acts 16:6-7. Clearly, the apostle and his team (now including Luke, n.b. “we sought”) knew from the Word of Christ that their charge was to preach the gospel (Acts 16:6Acts 16:10, cf. Acts 1:8; Mark 16:16; Colossians 1:23). The question isn’t about whether to preach; that much is decided. The question is where to preach. 

But how do they know? It would be a mistake to think that the “forbidden” in Acts 16:6 (more literally, “hindered”) necessarily indicates verbal revelation. Certainly, “permit” in Acts 16:7 does not. Rather, the indication is that they tried and couldn’t. So why does the Scripture say that the it was the Spirit Who was doing this? Because the Spirit still rules and overrules all that happens. He is God. 

The One by Whom they minister is the One Who rules and overrules in all things, the One Who works all things according to the counsel of His will (cf. Ephesians 1:11). So, the frustrations of effort in Acts 16:6 and Acts 16:7 are not a frustration of mission. They receive the providence as actions of God the Holy Spirit. 

This is true for every Christian. Every frustration of effort comes as a personal providence from the same Spirit by Whom we live in the Lord Jesus Christ. He Who is with us as the Helper is the same One Who works in every providence of our lives. Let this remove all frustration from your own spirit, dear Christian. Perhaps it may help you to think of the providence of God as very specifically the Providence of the Spirit. 

Life frequently will not go according to your plan, but it will always go according to the plan of God in Whom is your life and help. Some believers are accustomed to saying, “It’s a God thing,” when something goes surprisingly well. Let them also say, “It’s a God thing,” when their biblically intended plans are frustrated!

Providence is puzzling. What anticipation there must have been! Two different attempts to go preach have been thwarted. Now, Paul has a night vision (Acts 16:9), they conclude that the Lord is calling them to preach the gospel in Macedonia. So, “immediately,” they seek to go (Acts 16:10). There’s no time to stop in Samothrace or Neapolis (Acts 16:11). It was a Macedonian in the dream, and to the first city of Macedonia they press on (Acts 16:12). They arrive in the Roman soldier retirement colony, are there for several days, and finally it’s the Sabbath (probably not the Lord’s Day, since it doesn’t say “first day Sabbath” as in places where English translations often say “first day of the week”).

But there’s a problem. There’s no synagogue. Even in such a big city, there either aren’t the twelve men required to form a synagogue, or they don’t have enough liberty or influence to obtain a building. The Spirit’s providence is often puzzling. 

They do learn that outside the city, by the river, there are women who meet to pray (Acts 16:13). But the woman whose heart the Lord opens to heed the things spoken by Paul apparently isn’t even married, since she is over her own household (Acts 16:14). Her household is there with her, to be baptized when she believes, but there is no mention of a husband, who may have died or abandoned them. The first building block of the church in Philippi is a husbandless/fatherless household? The Spirit’s providence is often puzzling!

This reminds us of the gospel’s first incursion into Samaria in John 4. A woman, by a well, who has no husband, and becomes the initial believer of an avalanche of converts. Praise God for the Spirit’s puzzling providence!

Providence is powerful. This last—the Lord opening Lydia’s heart—shows us how powerful is the God of providence. He has the power to open closed hearts. It’s instructive to see what had to be done for Lydia to heed the things spoken by Paul. We are such slaves to our sin that in order to respond to the Word we need our hearts opened.

Even this woman who worshiped God in a general way could not be brought to saving faith in the Lord Jesus apart from the renewing grace of the Spirit. But praise be to God, He knows whom He will save, and He works in almighty power to save them. In His common, restraining grace He had brought this woman to a place where she groped after God, but not because this is some sort of half salvation. Rather, this became the means by which she was there to hear the gospel preached. And He Who would have overseen her life to bring her to this day, to hear this gospel, now exerted His almighty power to open her heart. How powerful is the providence of God!

It is this powerful providence that she laid hold of as she brought her household for baptism in Acts 16:15. He had saved her and made her His own eternally. And in so doing, He had added her household to the visible church of Christ on earth. As her household receives the mark of being set apart into the church, Lydia would lay hold of the hope that He Who had done all of this for them would open each of their hearts as He had hers. As she leads her household in worship, now, she will be doing so in confidence and eager desire, as one who knows God to be the Opener of hearts.

How do you tend to think of the Holy Spirit? How do you tend to think of the providence of God? If you are saved, how did that happen? If you are to be saved, how will that happen? What hope does this give you for others? How does God’s providence to covenant children give you more hope for them?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for reminding us that You personally rule and overrule all things out of personal love for us. Grant that we would trust Your wisdom in everything that happens. We praise You for the mercy and power in which You brought us to faith. And we trust in You to work by that same power in that same mercy in order to bring our dear ones to faith as well. Be glorified forever for Your marvelous salvation, we ask, in Jesus’s Name, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP34C “O Sons and Daughters Come” or TPH256 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way”

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