Paul's Complex Mission: Reflections on Acts 16:9-15

Hence, the separation from Barnabas and the circumcision of Timothy suggest vividly the complexities that Paul encountered as he began the Gentile mission in Asia and then in Europe. That complexity continues as Paul and Silas, his new companion in the work, receive a vision from a European man that they should "Come over to Macedonia" and "Help us!" (16:9). Without hesitation, they head straight for Samothrace and then to the long-time port of Neapolis, still easily seen on the far northeast coast of modern Greece. Soon, following the ancient Roman road, the via Egnatia, they enter the Roman city of Philippi. This city is to play a crucial role in Paul's mission as his letter concerning the church there is especially personal and grateful for the emotional and financial support they provided for the mission. Perhaps Luke echoes that reality with his story of the conversion of Lydia, the first convert to the faith in Europe.

The full inclusion of Paul's mission is on display here as he readily approaches a group of women who have come to a place for prayer. It is not clear whether Lydia and her companions are Jewish or Gentile, but Paul immediately begins preaching to them. (The traditional place of this event is quite lovely, near a splashing stream, and marked with a beautifully exquisite chapel, not far from the modern Philippi.) One among the women, a wealthy merchant named Lydia, is especially moved by Paul's preaching, and he baptizes her and her entire household in the nearby waters. She boldly says, "If you have decided that I am a woman faithful to the Lord, come and stay in my house" (16:15). Not only is Paul comfortable addressing a group of women in a public place, he is equally comfortable accepting the warm hospitality of a woman of means. Paul, the Middle Eastern Jew, speaks readily to a woman and just as readily enters her house as her guest. Again the words announced by Peter earlier in the story come into our minds: "I realize that God is no respecter of appearances" (10:34).

Luke, in these remarkable tales of Paul's mission, tells us moderns that the early mission of the church, the astonishingly rapid spread of the Gospel of Jesus Messiah, was accomplished in complex ways. Some tried to go their own way and faded from the story (Barnabas). Clever means were sometimes needed to be employed to assure the wide acceptance of the new faith (the circumcision of Timothy). Full gender inclusion was a very early part of the new faith and greatly aided its spread (the conversion of Lydia). Such a complex tale indeed! And all guided, Luke says again and again, by the Holy Spirit of God. The resurrection of Jesus Messiah was soon known throughout the Mediterranean world, announced by the indefatigable Paul, always and unerringly lead by the Spirit of God.

12/2/2022 9:10:31 PM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.