After the debacle in Antioch, Acts 15. 39, the trio from Paul’s first missionary journey has disbanded. However, God forms a new team to accompany Paul on his next journey. Silas is Paul’s new preaching companion. Silas is an encourager, like Barnabas, 4. 36. Silas encourages individuals, for instance when he and Paul strike up a song in the middle of the night in Philippi’s jailhouse, 16. 25. Silas also encourages churches, for instance when he and Paul give departing words of encouragement as they leave Philippi, v. 40.
Timothy is a replacement for John Mark. Paul refers to Timothy as his ‘genuine son’, 1 Tim. 1. 2. We deduce that Timothy was saved during Paul’s first visit to Derbe and Lystra, Acts 14. 6-7. Since that time, Timothy had been growing spiritually, 2 Pet. 3. 18. Although he comes from a mixed-religion household, Acts 16. 1, he has made good progress as a believer. God blesses people who, through no fault of their own, belong to difficult households. The young man has a good reputation among local churches in the area, v. 3. Paul sees Timothy’s potential and invites him to join the missionary team. It is good when young and old can work together; their strength and wisdom can be combined, Prov. 20. 29.
Luke is an additional member of the party. He is the author of the Luke-Acts narrative. The recorded visit to Philippi is clearly a first-hand account, notice the ‘we’ personal pronoun, e.g., Acts 16. 11. God takes this diverse group of people, unites them in faith, Eph. 4. 5, and their desire for outreach, Acts 16. 10.
The missionaries make several attempts to travel north and west. However, these plans are abortive, either due to immediate circumstances or a direct revelation from the Holy Spirit, vv. 6-7. The prophet Balaam had to take a detour because of his disobedience, Num. 22. 23. Paul’s situation is entirely different; he is obeying the Lord’s great commission, Matt. 28. 19, but it is not clear where he should go. Eventually, Paul receives a night vision, asking him to ‘come over into Macedonia’, Acts 16. 9. Note that evangelism is described as ‘help’ from a human perspective.
Who is this distinctively Macedonian man that Paul sees? Some scholars suggest Luke, the Philippian jailor, or Alexander the Great. It is not clear from the text, but the message to Paul is clear – Macedonia needs to hear the gospel. Bruce comments that ‘the missionary journeys of Paul exhibit an extraordinary combination of strategic planning and keen sensitiveness to the guidance of the Spirit of God’.
Paul and his companions respond to the vision in a spiritually reflective way. ‘Assuredly gathering’, v. 10, implies that they carefully considered their current context and God’s guidance before coming to a sensible conclusion. We must do the same whenever we need direction – blending God’s word, past experience, the advice of fellow believers, and the immediate circumstances.
The team sail across the Aegean Sea to Macedonia, v. 11. The cities mentioned in the rest of the chapter are in the modern-day Balkans and Greece, sunny Mediterranean holiday destinations via Easyjet. The gospel has reached Europe, following its roadmap to the ‘ends of the earth’, 1. 8. Philippi is a Roman colony, situated on the Via Egnatia, a Roman ‘Route 66’.
At Philippi, the team sets about preaching ‘the way of salvation’, 16. 17. They speak to small groups by the river, v. 13, where they also engage in prayer, vv. 13, 16. The evangelists are steadfastly honest, v. 28. Ultimately, all these activities aid the spread of the gospel, but it is the sovereign God who opens hearts to receive His word, v. 14. Paul later writes about this ‘first day’ when God began to operate in lives at Philippi, Phil. 1. 6. Paul assures the believers that God will continue this work to its completion.
Notice the sheer diversity of people who ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ’, Acts 16. 31. There are men and women, young and old. They are drawn from different social backgrounds. Lydia is a respectable businesswoman. The slavegirl is poor and abused. The jailor is a Roman blue-collar worker, probably ex-military.1 People commonly say that ‘it takes all sorts to make a world’.2 Well, it takes all sorts to make a church too. ‘All’ is a key word in the Philippian letter, where local church unity is the main theme. Look around your assembly and thank the Lord for so many different people who worship and serve together.