31 Mar 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 16:11-40. The mission in Philippi.
Luke ‘has the true Greek feeling for the sea’, wrote Sir William Ramsay, for, as he (Luke) has now joined the missionary team and travels with them, he gives some details of their voyage across the Aegean. He mentions *Samothrace*, a rocky island whose peak rises to 5,000 feet, where they probably made an overnight stop, and *Neapolis*, the modern port of Kavalla, where *the next day* they landed (11). They must have enjoyed a favourable wind to complete their 150-mile journey in only two days, since it took them five days on their return (20:6). From Neapolis they had a ten mile-walk inland to Philippi along the *via Egnatia*, which ran right across the Greek peninsular from the Aegean to the Adriatic. Its massive paving stones can still be seen, worn down by the traffic of the centuries.
Philippi was given its name by Philip of Macedon in the 4th century BC. After about two centuries as a Greek colony, it became part of the Roman Empire, and towards the end of the first century BC it was made *a Roman colony* and settled with numerous veterans. Luke also knows that the province of Macedonia had been divided into four districts, and calls Philippi *the leading city of that district of Macedonia*. Other scholars translate ‘a leading city of the district of Macedonia’, while yet others suggest a conjectural emendation of the text, which then reads ‘a city of the first district of Macedonia’. Whichever is correct, Luke is expressing pride in what was probably his own city. In this city the missionary team stayed for *several days* (12), indeed almost certainly several weeks. During this period of mission there must have been many converts. But Luke selects only three for mention, not (it seems) because they were particularly notable in themselves, but they demonstrate how God breaks down dividing barriers and can unite in Christ people of very different kinds.
a). A business woman named Lydia (16:13-15).
There seems to have been no synagogue in Philippi, but there was *a place of prayer* (as the missionaries had expected there would be), which was just over a mile *outside the city gate*. It may have been an enclosure of some kind, or just an open air site. It was close to the small river Gangites, whose proximity would have been useful for ceremonial ablutions. Since Luke adds that the congregation consisted of women, it is usually assumed that this explains the non-existence of a synagogue: a quorum of ten men was necessary before a synagogue could be constituted. Anyway, Paul and his friends joined the women for worship *on the Sabbath*, and *sat down* waiting to be invited to speak (13).
One of the women, *named Lydia*, came from Thyatira which was situated in the Lycus Valley on the other side of the Aegean, within provincial Asia. Because that area was previously the ancient kingdom of Lydia, it is possible that ‘Lydia’ was not so much her personal name as her trade name; she may have been known as ‘the Lydian lady’. Thyatira had been famed for centuries for its dyes, and an early inscription refers to a guild of dyers in the town. Lydia herself specialized in cloth treated with an expensive purple dye, and was presumably the Macedonian agent of a Thyatiran manufacturer. She was also *a worshipper of God*, believing and behaving like a Jew without having become one. As she listened to Paul’s message, *the Lord opened her heart to respond* (14). That is, he opened her inner eyes to see and to believe in the Jesus Paul proclaimed. We note that, although the message was Paul’s, the saving initiative was God’s. Paul’s preaching was not effective in itself; the Lord worked through it. And the Lord’s work was not itself direct; he chose to work through Paul’s preaching. It is always the same.
Soon after her conversion Lydia *and the members of her household (oikos) were baptised*. This is the second household baptism Luke records (cf. Acts 10:33; 16;33; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16). The household is likely to have included her servants. Whether it also included her children (assuming that she was a widow) is a moot point, although it is worth mentioning that *oikos* is certainly used sometimes for a family with children (e.g. 1 Tim.3:4-5,12; 5:4). Lydia then invited Paul and his family into her house (which probably became the Christian’s meeting place), for once the heart is opened, the home is opened too. If they considered her *a believer in the Lord*, she said, it would surely be appropriate for her to entertain them. She was very persuasive, in fact ‘she insisted’ (15), NEB, JBP). This has led to several rumours, for example that the Lydian lady was either Euodia or Syntyche (Phil. 4:2) or Paul’s ‘true yoke-fellow’ Phil.4:3), and even that, as such, she and Paul had married. But these are nothing but wild speculations.
Tomorrow: Acts 16:16-18. b). An anonymous slave girl.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.