Chapter 16: God guides: the Macedonian vision and the purple woman
6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days.
13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ So she persuaded us.
Paul, Silas and Timothy are forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel in the Roman province called Asia. (This is not the Asia we now know today. ‘It embraced roughly the western third of the peninsula which we call Asia Minor.’1) We are not told how the Holy Spirit forbids them, but only that He does. God has His timetable to achieve His purposes through those He decides to use. Sometimes God guides us by the Holy Spirit through the clear principles of the Bible, as we read it. Sometimes circumstances dictate the way for us to go. Sometimes we benefit from godly advice of mature Christian leaders. God can guide us in many ways, but never against the teachings of His word.
Before this intervention by God, the three men have gone through Phrygia and Galatia which is ‘the southern part of the larger province of Galatia [including] the Phrygian district, Antioch of Pisidia, and the surrounding area.’2 A further divine road block meets them after they journey on to Mysia. They want to turn north to Bithynia, but again the Holy Spirit is active in some way in not permitting them to do so. We can forget so easily that God’s guidance includes God’s saying ‘No!’ as well as ‘Yes!’ or ‘Wait!’ This means for them that their only way forward is to go west to Troas, the north western port of Asia Minor (now Turkey) situated on the Aegean Sea. But what next?
Vision and mission—on to Philippi
Macedonia is on the other side of the Aegean Sea on the mainland of Greece. It is entered by the port of Neapolis. Samothrace is an island half way between Troas and Neapolis. Philippi is an influential Roman colony in Macedonia. The missionaries are blocked-off by the Holy Spirit to have only one alternative to take. At Troas, in the night, God reveals to His servants what they must now do. He does this in a vision to Paul in which a Macedonian man stands to plead with Paul. He says, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’. After this vision the gospel-hearted men at once try to get to Macedonia. They deduce that the cry for help from the Macedonian man can mean only one thing. God has called them ‘to preach the gospel to’ the Macedonians. Do you see the greatest need of every man and woman is to come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord? Paul responds to this vision from Macedonia simply because he has obeyed, and kept on obeying, the commission he received in the first vision he received from God on the Damascus Road. Jesus had said to him, ‘I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me’. Paul can later tell King Agrippa, who was cross-questioning him, ‘Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision’3 Those who obey Jesus reach others with His good news. For Paul, ‘yes’ to Macedonia followed his ‘yes’ to Jesus.
By this time Luke has now joined Paul, Silas and Timothy. How do we know that? Because Luke is the author of the book of Acts and he now starts to use the word, we. He is in the team as they leave to cross over the Aegean Sea to preach the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time on the other side. They break their crossing overnight at the half-way island, Samothrace, probably to avoid the dangers of navigating at night. They have neither radar nor global positioning satellites. The next day they arrive at, and soon leave, Neapolis. They reach Philippi—‘the foremost city of that part of Macedonia’—and stay there for ‘some days’.
Ten responsible Jewish adult males are required as a minimum to form a synagogue. Where there are too few men, prayers can be held in the open air. For some reason the requirement is that such a meeting should be near water, whether a river or the sea. As there seems to be no synagogue in Philippi for the missionary team to visit on the Sabbath, they go together down to the riverside where the meeting for prayer is regularly held. They sit down and talk to the women who meet there and who presumably are delighted to welcome the increase in male numbers at their meeting. Without male synagogue leadership, Paul will have a good opportunity to lead in teaching God’s word. There is blessing in store for all, including the women, as they seek to keep the Sabbath in the right spirit before God.4
One such woman, who is delighted to hear Paul sharing God’s word, is Lydia from Thyatira. She is a business woman who sells purple. She may sell purple dye, or the expensive purple dyed garments bought by the wealthy and those in authority such as kings. She may sell both dye and clothes. More important than all that is that this lady, who sincerely worships God in her ignorance, finds as she listens to Paul teaching the gospel that the Lord opens her heart to give attention to what she is hearing for the first time. So real is her resultant trust in Christ from her newly opened heart that she gets baptised. Does she then share the message of her crucified and resurrected Saviour with her family and household, or have they also heard Paul’s riverside preaching of the need to trust in Jesus? Whichever is the case—and it may be both—clearly members of her household have believed in Christ as individuals, as they are baptised too. As promised to Peter initially, and as Paul will soon experience when proclaiming the message of Jesus to the Philippian jailer and his family, when the gospel is shared with households, God is at work, and people are brought to new life in Christ.5 Those trusting Christ are baptised in obedience to God’s command. Lydia and her household are the first church members in Philippi. Others will soon be joined to that amazing Philippian church. God is already blessing the new Macedonian gospel work.
When your heart is opened to Jesus Christ, other things open too. Mouths open to praise God and to share the good news with others that their sins can be forgiven by trusting the Saviour who bore their sins and punishment on the cross. Ears are open to hear God’s word and do it. Arms are open to welcome others. Wallets and purses are open to give generously to the cause of Christ and to those in need. But homes are open too. Hospitality is so important to the work of Christ and helping others. It is so important that one of the qualifications of a Biblical elder is that he is to be ‘given to hospitality’.6 Lydia’s home is now open to God as she gives a warm and pressing invitation to the gospel teachers to ‘Come to my house and stay’. Those lovely words of welcome, ‘Come to my house and stay’, challenge every Christian and reflect her deep joy and heartfelt gratitude that the Lord Jesus Christ has already come to her heart to stay. If you don’t know Jesus yet, He wants to enter your heart and dine there with you at the table of His grace. He says, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me’.7 If you are a Christian, is your heart still wide open to Him? If you are a Christian owning or renting your own home, are you ‘given to hospitality’?
Lydia easily persuades Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke to enter her home and stay with her. Jesus needs no persuading to enter your life. If you are so sorry for sins that you repent of them and ask Him into your life, He says ‘I will come in’. He has grace to deal with the hardest situation and mercy to forgive the vilest of sins. Humbly open up to Him, confessing and forsaking the wrong you have done, and remember His words, ‘I will come in’.
Questions on Chapter 16
Acts 16:6–15 God guides: The Macedonian vision and the purple woman!
A. What lessons do we learn about God’s guidance? Are we told in this passage how the Holy Spirit guides Paul and his companions? Can ‘negative guidance’ be positive?
Acts 16:6–12, Acts 26:19, Proverbs 3:5–6, Romans 12:1–2
B. What encouragements are there in the life of Lydia before and after her heart is open to the Lord?
Acts 16:13–15, Romans 12:13, Matthew 7:7, Philemon 1:7, Isaiah 58:13–14
C. How many things happen in this passage because there is a serious desire and intent to preach the gospel? How do you think our lives will be changed today if we have the same desire and intent?