Read: Acts 16:1-15
Chapter 15 ended with Paul and Barnabas on two separate teams. The division was no doubt challenging, but in hindsight, we see the gospel spreading even more. Barnabas and Mark set sail for Cyprus while Paul and Silas traveled through Syria and Cilicia. Having received the decision from the church council in Jerusalem and the blessing from the commendation of the believers in Antioch, Paul’s missionary journeys come into focus.
In this section, we see the church grow through two unlikely disciples: Timothy and Lydia. I suggest they were unlikely candidates because Timothy is young and has parents whose house has divided beliefs and Lydia is part of a group of business-women that gathered to hear Paul’s message. We’ll take a look at these “issues” briefly in this post as we watch the early church grow.
One other twist in the story is evident at this point. Notice the language starts with “they” traveled and preached to “we got ready,” “we put out to sea,” “we traveled,” etc. This shift in Luke’s writing invites us to join in the story. I hope you’ll get lost in the journey as we read about Timothy and Lydia this morning.
As Paul and Silas traveled to Lystra, they met a young disciple named Timothy. Timothy was half-Jewish and relatively young.
[Timothy’s] …mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. Acts 16:1
Two strikes against Timothy, youth and mixed heritage, should have diminished his ability to led the church, but all things are possible through Christ. While people might focus on weaknesses, God focuses on strengths and the Spirit can eliminate any gaps for those who simply have faith.
Though young, he plays a prominent role as a pastoral and apostolic figure in the early church. Timothy spent time in Thessalonica, Corinth, and eventually Ephesus. We’ll eventually read two of Paul’s letters that were written to Timothy in First and Second Timothy.
Circumcision or Not?
In these first verses of Acts 16, we learn a little of Timothy’s background and by verse three, something startling takes place.
Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Acts 16:3
Remember the debate in chapter 15? Those who wanted to force people to become Jewish first, notably the requirement of circumcision, led to the council in Jerusalem. It seems that this debate was put to rest with James’ decree, but Paul’s humanity is revealed as he succumbs to pressure from the Jewish community. A man who seems as bold and fearless as Paul was still susceptible to the fear of man. At this moment, it seems that Paul feared the opinion of the Jews more than he cherished his and Timothy’s liberty in Christ. A painful decision for Timothy!
By the time Paul writes to the Galatians, we see his stance has radically changed. He spends a great deal of the letter defending the faith against the Judaizers who sought to compel the new believers to submit to circumcision. Even Peter and Barnabas were carried away, “fearing the party of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:12).
A crazy thing happened as the team looked for a place to pray: they found a group of women and decided to speak to them.
We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. Acts 16:13
They’re taking a huge risk by talking to women as a group. The Spirit is not limited by barriers erected by men! Paul’s preaching is provocative and stirs their hearts, and in particular, the heart of Lydia.
She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. Acts 16:14
She was baptized without delay, along with her entire household and perhaps her entire company of linen makers.
What Are You Afraid Of?
The fear of man can cause even the boldest of believers to do strange and foolish things. How do we overcome fear and the fear of man?
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
Fixing our focus on the love of Jesus leaves no room for the fear of men or their opinions. When your heart is ravished by His affections it drives out our insecurities and fear. When our affections are fixed on him, all problems become microscopic in light of the greatness of God.
The Church Continues to Grow
Luke joined those traveling on their missionary journey throughout the region. The unlikely characters of Timothy and Lydia turn out to be those chosen by the Spirit to lead a movement among people they could relate to. Households divided by beliefs can be united in Christ. Women who were not allowed to sit and learn in the synagogues were taught and led to Christ.
Jesus, the friend of sinners, taught us to go out into the world to proclaim the great news to everyone. I pray we’ll do this without fear and without prejudice. There is much work to be done. Go with the knowledge and faith that the Spirit is with you — always.