August 1, 2004
THE GOSPEL FOR ALL PEOPLE
Acts 16:13-15, 16-18, 25-34
Jesus used stories to get his message across. Luke in writing the book of Acts recorded events by telling stories. There are at least three stories in Acts 16 vividly telling us that the gospel is for all people: a wealthy business woman named Lydia, a slave girl with an evil spirit and a Roman soldier in charge of a jail.
The backgrounds of these three people are all very different, and their needs are not the same, but the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ changed them and united them and a church was founded in Philippi.
Paul was very dependent on the power of the Spirit giving him direction in ministry. The Spirit both opened and closed doors for Paul as he set out on his second missionary trip. The Spirit spoke to Paul in a vision. He saw a man of Macedonia standing and pleading with him to come over to Macedonia and help us. Paul did not hesitate to answer the call and set out at once to go there and trust the Lord to direct their witness in this new part of the world for Paul. This is how he ended up in Philippi which was known as a chief city in that part of Macedonia.
Philippi was a Roman colony at this time. It was a place where news spread fast to other parts of the Roman empire. The Roman road was running straight through the center of the city. Philippi was like an outpost of Rome in Macedonia. It was called a little Rome. A number of Roman soldiers had been sent there as colonizers, and they were given all the rights and privileges they would have had living in Rome itself.
Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke must have been really excited on arrival in this city. At first I suppose they rented a place to stay and moved around getting the feel of the place. Usually Paul went first to the Jewish synagogue to share the gospel, but they could not find one in all of Philippi. They remembered that the Jews had been driven out of Rome and since Philippi was a little Roman colony it made sense that Jews would not have been welcome there. Just the same they learned that about one and one-half miles out of the city by a river there was a place of prayer, so they decided to visit there.
They learned that so few Jews lived in Philippi that they could not have a regular place of worship, so a few brave women found this place of prayer outside the city along the bank of a river. Apparently there were not even ten Jewish men in Philippi the number necessary to have a synagogue. No doubt they introduced themselves and were invited by the women to speak to them. It was at this point we find our first story of a woman by the name of Lydia.
Lydia was a foreigner in Philippi. She was from Thyatira a place famous for a special dye used for preparing fine cloth. It is most likely that she was sent to Philippi by a firm in Thyatira to represent their business in Philippi. Lydia specialized in cloth treated with an expensive purple dye. She was a wealthy business woman. She must have been a very successful one because she had a large house and many servants. She does not appear to have been a Jew, but she was drawn to the small Jewish community because she worshipped God and found comfort with the women who worshipped there. As Paul spoke about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ she listened and the Lord opened her mind to the truth she was hearing and she believed. She was Paul's first convert in this Roman colony of Philippi.
This place of prayer beside the river was Pauls first congregation in Philippi. At first we might think that it was not a very promising one. All women and no men, at least in the beginning. No building in which to meet, no prestige or influence in the city to count on. It may have seemed like a very small beginning, but it grew into one of the strongest, most generous of all the churches that Paul founded.
I like to think that Lydia, being a business woman, opened up contacts for Paul and his team that otherwise he might not have had in Philippi. Her influence in the church was great because of her contacts in the business world.
Lydia believed and she was baptized and felt led to offer her home as a place for these four missionaries to stay. Ordinarily Paul did not accept such offers, but she gave such a clear testimony of having been changed by the gospel of Christ that they agreed to stay in her place while they continued preaching in the city. Her hospitality is one of the signs of her new life in Christ. To share ones home with other people is to that extent sharing ones life. When once the heart is open, the home is opened also.
I can still remember that following my mothers conversion, our home in Ohio was opened for the mid-week prayer meeting. I was eight years of age, and I was quite impressed with the large number of people who came to our home that first time.
Another interesting thing was that all of Lydias household were baptized. That must have included all of her servants. I remember hearing that Bishop E. J. Swalm preached on household salvation. The Romans who worshiped different gods had a practice that when the head of the family took on a new god, all the family and servants did the same and the head of the family was obligated to teach them concerning this new god.
I like Lydia to represent the educated, well-to-do people of the world. She could represent the wealthy, the upper strata of society. We need to remember that all such people need the gospel.
I remember the testimony of a beloved college professor at Taylor University in 1939. Dr. Ayres taught philosophy and ethics, truly a man of God. He said he often struggled with his faith and he was always trying to figure things out on his own, but one day he simply knelt by his chair in his study and surrendered his all to Christ, he found peace, and then he said that he had the rest of his life to explain what took place.
Our next story is totally different from the one about Lydia. She was as different from Lydia as day is from night. However, it is very important in teaching us that the gospel is for all people. If Lydia is to represent the upper class, wealthy business people of the world, then the slave girl will represent the social outcasts of society. In India we might think of her representing the Dalits or the outcasts.
The slave girl was most likely a local resident of Greek descent. However, as a slave she might have been brought there from some other area of the world. She was a fortune teller, owned by several men and under their control. She made a lot of money for these men. Paul informs us that she was possessed by an evil spirit or demon-possessed. As Paul and Silas went about preaching in Philippi this girl followed them and cried out that these men are servants of the Most High God and that they can tell us the way of salvation. On the surface it might seem that this would help to make known their cause, but Paul did not accept the help of Satan to advertise his mission. Day after day she troubled them by her yelling and following them. One day Paul turned to her and demanded in the name of Jesus Christ that the evil spirit leave her. She was at once delivered from the evil spirit and no longer was able to do the kind of fortune-telling that her masters kept her for. She was set free. Although Luke does not say that she became a Christian and received baptism, I have no doubt that she was taken in by Lydia and taught the ways of the Lord and became a useful member of this new congregation in Philippi.
Since the gospel is for all people, I think this slave girl could well picture for us people in the world and in our society today who are slaves to drugs, drinking, sex, and also people who are under the control of others for a profit, such as bonded labor, prostitution, and also business that takes advantage of its labor for their own profit .
The slave girl was set free by the power of the gospel, in the name of Jesus Christ. She was set free from her owners as she no longer was profitable to them. We need to think in terms of the power of the gospel to bring about change in the lives of such people who are slaves to sin. Only then can they be free from the bondage in which they struggle.
While in India I saw people who were possessed with an evil spirit. In a meeting in Orissa a woman started crying out, yelling and disturbing the meeting. It was so disturbing that the meeting could not continue until she was controlled. I sat not more than ten feet away from where two of the leaders of the church lay hands on her and prayed for the evil spirit to leave. In just a few minutes she became quiet and lay there on the ground for the remainder of the service.
Following the slave girls healing, the missionaries faced something very serious. I am not sure what their immediate reaction might have been, but the owners of the slave girl, who no longer was profitable to them, grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them to the center of the city public square and lodged a complaint against them in front of the magistrates. Now remember that the city was a Roman colony.
They brought charges against Paul and Silas. First they said these men are Jews. Since all Jews had to leave Rome and Philippi was a little Rome, we know that they would not be friendly toward the Jewish men. They said that they were disturbing their city by introducing customs which as Romans they were not allowed to adopt and practice. Of course they never mentioned the real reason: they had lost their source of income from the slave girl. They were very angry.
Being accused of causing a riot and introducing an alien religion were serious charges, and the magistrates did not take long in deciding what to do about them. It is true that officially the Roman citizen was not permitted to practice any alien cult that had not been recognized by the public sanction of the state, but usually a person might do so as long as his cult did not otherwise offend the laws and usages of Roman life.
The slave owners were very clever. They presented their legal charge against the missionaries in terms that appealed to the anti-Jewish sentiment of the majority of the people. This at once set off a flame of hatred and as the crowd heard about it they joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, so they ordered them stripped and had them beaten and then thrown into prison, with orders to keep them under close guard and put in the inner cell and in stocks.
It is remarkable how Paul and Silas reacted to all that had happened to them. It is a wonderful example of how God provided for them. Instead of showing any signs of hatred against their persecutors and cursing them and planning revenge, they sang songs and blessed God in the prison. Instead of groaning and complaining they were singing and praising God. They had to be in pain, they had to be very uncomfortable, but we dont hear one word of complaint. It is no wonder that the other prisoners were listening to them.
Then suddenly the prisons foundations were shaken by such a violent earthquake that all the prison doors flew open, the prisoners chains came loose, and the jailer in charge woke up. It was common for earthquakes to happen in Philippi, but not so severe as this one. It was unusual and had far reaching consequences.
The Roman jailer, who was responsible for the prisoners was sure that all of them had escaped. He knew that he would be accountable and most likely be punished. He most likely would be put to death, even though he was not responsible for the earthquake. Rather than face such a situation, he could only think of one way out and that was to take his own life. He picked up his sword and was just ready to commit suicide when in the distance he heard a loud voice.
Paul shouted to him not to harm himself because all the prisoners were there. Not one of them had escaped. This had to be due to the power of God who was performing a miracle. If we believe in a gracious, sovereign God, we believe God works all things for good, in this case it resulted in the conversion of the jailer and the release of the missionaries.
We are not told how much this retired soldier knew about Christ. He must have heard about the slave girl who had been saying that these men were telling people how to be saved. The news about the conversion of Lydia might have been known by him. I like to think that he was convicted in his heart of sin. His past life may have come up before him as he was about to kill himself. He may have simply been expressing the longing of his heart, but we know he was trembling when he got a torch and went to where Paul and Silas were and fell down trembling before them and asked a very significant question. He wanted to know what he had to do to be saved.
He got a straight answer from Paul. He needed to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and he would be saved. He must trust personally in the Lord Jesus Christ for his salvation. They spoke the word of the Lord to him and his household, opening up the way of salvation more fully. The jailer had really been shaken up and he didnt ask a lot of silly questions, but he simply believed and he was changed.
He not only believed, but his actions show that he repented also. He took water and washed their wounds. They had received that terrible flogging and there was dried blood on their backs and he tenderly washed their wounds. By this time his entire household was involved in what was happening, his family and his servants were all going to follow his decision to believe the gospel of good news and trust the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul could see that his faith was real and so he baptized him and his household.
Following that he welcomed Paul and Silas into his home and his servants had prepared a meal for them. He set them down to his table and fed them and the entire family was filled with joy and rejoiced in the fact that they had come to believe in the true God.
Here was a hard, maybe rough, soldier whose entire outlook on life had been changed. It is so exciting to know that all over the world people of diverse backgrounds are being changed by the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Patras Hembrom, a fine young student, listened to the gospel by Benjamin Marandi and finally surrendered his life to Christ. He suffered persecution for his faith, but his wife saw such a change in him that she too believed in Christ and now their oldest son is a fine, well educated, secretary of the Brethren in Christ Church in Bihar, India. He is the pastor of the Church in Purnea, Bihar and produces a weekly broadcast for the Gospel Tide in the Santali language.
Many years ago in the town of Supaul, Bihar a small baby boy was picked up and taken to the orphanage in Saharsa. He was told later by the man who took him that he was covered with sores. He became a healthy little boy and was transferred to the boys orphanage in Barjora, Bihar, India. In 1947-1952, my first wife Mary and I lived in Barjora and learned to know him as Luke Thomas. He was a likeable boy and did well in school. I had not seen him since leaving Barjora in 1952 until July 8, 2004. Nancy and I stayed in his home in Sparks, Nevada for three nights on our return trip from California after attending General Conference this July. Luke married Pushpa, a girl from India, who had relatives in USA and was able to come here as a nurse. Later Luke joined her and now they have three children and five grandchildren.
I dont think I have ever been treated with such love and respect and appreciation as we were for those three days. They have a nice home and they looked after our every need and their married daughter, Nishima, who has three lovely children gave us royal treatment. They took us in their car to Lake Tahoe, to visit relatives in Manteca, California and also to San Francisco. Luke has such a wonderful attitude about what the missionaries did for him and how the Lord has directed his life. He told me that his faith is strong and I believe it.
In an e-mail from Nishima who did the driving for our trips in her parents car, she wrote the following. This was once in a lifetime visit that we shall not forget. Id often wondered and still reflect on why my dad is the way he is? Having been an orphan, why isnt he bitter towards the world and others? Why is he so amazingly giving and kind? How did he arrive at being such an awesome, loving, nurturing father to three offspring? The answer is but one.Lord Jesus Christ. If it wouldn t have been for his mercies and for the works of all the missionaries as you, my dad probably would have been bitter and cold towards the world. Thanks be to God that dad has maintained a positive attitude towards this world and has simultaneously taught us children to do the same.
Truly the gospel of Christ is for all people. Lydia was from Asia Minor and she was an immigrant in Philippi, not a native of the city. The slave girl most likely was a Greek and a resident of Philippi. The jailer was most likely a retired soldier, an army veteran, a Roman who had settled in the Roman colony of Philippi. Each of the three had been brought up in a different national culture and environment. The positions they held in society were very different. Lydia was a business woman, wealthy, educated, searching for truth. The slave girl came from the opposite end of the social ladder. A female slave, she owned nothing. She had no rights, or liberty of her own. The jailer may have been half way between the two women. He had a responsible job in the local prison. He was a subordinate in government service. I suppose he could represent a respectable middle class person.
Each of the three persons in our story had different needs to be met and we have seen how the Lord Jesus Christ met each of them. The needs of the human family do not change much with the changing years, but Jesus Christ can and does meet the needs of the wealthy, the educated, the uneducated, the outcastes, the orphans, the students, the professors, the ordinary people of the world. It is wonderful to observe that in Philippi the universal appeal of the gospel. The wealthy business woman, the exploited slave girl and the rough Roman jailer. It is also marvelous to know that all of them belonged to the one fellowship in Christ.
Paul wrote that he wanted to be all things to all men, that he might by all means win some. He certainly put that into practice in Philippi and it is my prayer that we at the Grantham Church will put it into practice in the life of our congregation.