(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

There are times of uncertainty and confusion in the life of a Christian when it is hard to discern God's will. On such occasions God's guidance is much sort after. There are other times when it is quite clear what God wants of us, yet obedience to his will does not produce the expected results. Paul experiences both these situations in the passage to be studied.

(B) Paul's plans are thwarted.

The Roman Province of Asia with its capital Ephesus was to the west of Galatia. Paul and Silas considered it sensible to move west and preach the gospel in what is now Western Turkey. But the missionaries were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. v6.

What does this mean? I don't think it was circumstances like blocked roads, military manoeuvres or bad weather that conspired to keep Paul out of Asia. Paul and Silas were prophets and it is probable that one or other of them had a strong inner conviction born of the Spirit that God did not wish them to enter Asia at that time.

The party swung north and travelled along the eastern border of Mysia. Paul and Silas decided to turn east and commence a work in Bithynia. This was a province on the shores of the Black Sea with many resident Jews. One again the Holy Spirit would not allow them to enter. So they had to retrace their steps and ended up in the port of Troas in Mysia.

The missionaries must have been very puzzled. They were wasting time. Their desire to preach the gospel in obedience to the great commission of Jesus was being frustrated. If God wanted them to leave Asia Minor why didn't he tell them where to go instead of leaving them to wander aimlessly.

God always has his reasons. It is possible that Paul and his associates made plans without consulting God and they needed to be taught a lesson. They may have been choosing to work in towns with large Jewish minorities. God wanted them to launch out into territory where there were few if any Jews. After two serious set backs none would doubt Paul's Macedonian call when it came.

Another explanation is that the evangelists needed some time together free from persecution and stress. The work in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea would prove difficult and dangerous and God may have been enforcing a short sabbatical on the party. It was a time of travelling but also of prayer and discussion. Paul, Silas and Timothy were united in fellowship and by fellowship.

If Paul and Silas had gone directly to Troas and sailed for Macedonia they would have missed Dr Luke. As it was Paul and Luke met by the providence of God in Troas and journeyed together to Philippi where Luke may have practiced. From now on whenever Luke accompanied Paul he wrote: we - put out to sea - travelled to Philippi - went outside the city gate ... etc. It is interesting to note that when Paul and Silas left Philippi Luke indicated that he remained in the town by writing: Then they left. Acts16v40. Luke's company was a great blessing to Paul. He did what he could to keep Paul in reasonable health and he kept a faithful record of the great apostle's missionary work.

When I was 18 I applied to do a degree in Chemistry at several universities. I was rejected. It was a disappointment. I decided to take a 'gap' year and apply again to study Geography. The delay of a year had a huge impact on my life. When I wrote to my old headmaster, after completing my degree, about a reference for a teaching job, one of my former Geography teachers was due to retire. So Mr Elliot offered me a job in my old school and I returned home. I was able to help my parents and the church that I grew up in. I believe that was in the will of God. Things have not turned out altogether as I might have wished but God has put me where he wanted me.

(C) God points Paul in a new direction.

Paul had a vision in which a man of Macedonia was standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." v9. George Macdonald said, 'Nothing makes a man strong like a call for help.' Paul knew that he was wanted in Macedonia. It gave him a new sense of purpose and direction. He would soon be useful again in the service of his Master.

It is great to be wanted. In the first year of my retirement I sometimes longed for my phone to ring and for someone to ask me for help - to take a service or to speak at a ladies meeting. I was even pleased when my friend Tommy Bamber asked me to look after his tomato plants whilst he was away on holiday. At least I was helping him - a little. The plants thrived on my windowsill! Now I can almost hear you saying, "There were all sorts of ways you could make yourself useful." There were and, perhaps, I did. That is not the point I am making. It is the call for help that makes a man or a woman strong. When people ask for help they are expressing confidence in you. It is this which heartens, motivates and strengthens.

Paul is the only one the Reed brothers who is still in full-time work. I think he grows weary. There are many demands on his time as a Baptist minister. Lots of folk visit the manse. I tell him, "Paul, be thankful that you are wanted and valued. The time to worry is when no-one comes to see you."

God answered my prayers and I have had more requests for help during my second year in retirement. A few weeks ago one of my cricketing friends asked me to take the funeral of his mother. It was a privilege to be asked. A week or so after the service I returned home late at night to find a bottle of vintage port and a card on my doorstep. The card contained some words of thanks and ended: On a personal note it meant a great deal to me to have a true friend help me through a difficult time. There is NOTHING to gladden the heart more than words like these.

(D) An unpromising beginning.

Paul and his companions arrived in Philippi. It was a town with a special self-governing status. Luke calls it a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. v12. Its inhabitants included many Roman citizens who had been pensioned out of the army. Such men were proud to be Roman. All official business was conducted in Latin. Philippi was more Roman than Rome itself. Very few Jews lived in the city. There was no synagogue which suggests that there was less than 10 adult Jewish men amongst the population. It took at least 10 men to support a synagogue.

So on the Sabbath, in the absence of a synagogue, Paul and Silas went outside the city walls down to the river. It was here in the shade of a leafy evergreen oak that Jews, Jewish proselytes and God fearing Gentiles met for prayer. The two evangelists found a handful of women gathered for this purpose. Paul and Silas could have dismissed this meagre congregation as hardly worthy of their attention. They had travelled a long way to speak to a small group of ladies! Some modern day big-name evangelists would have found it too humiliating for words.

It is very wrong for any Christian teacher or preacher to be put off by small numbers. Jesus was as happy instructing his twelve disciples as he was preaching to the multitudes. There may be someone in the smallest congregation who has been prepared by the Spirit of God for the message you have brought. There may be someone there with a burden that God will help you to lift. There is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner that repents. Jesus must needs go through Samaria for one promiscuous woman. However her conversion prepared the way for many more.

(E) A saving ministry.

Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke sat down with the women and began to chat to them about Jesus. Paul did not dominate proceedings. He was very adaptable - all things to all men (and women) that some might be saved. He adopted a intimate conversational style with these Philippian ladies. Some preachers are very unlike Paul. They cannot unbend. They are hopeless at close quarters in small informal groups and worse than hopeless at speaking to children.

Lydia responded to Paul's message and was saved. She was a Greek, a native of the town of Thyatira in Asia - the very province that Paul had been unable to evangelise. Thyatira was in the district of Lydia where a very expensive purple dye was made from a mollusc. Lydia, named after the region to which she belonged, was a dye producer's agent in Philippi. She probably oversaw the use of it in the production top quality purple cloth. As such she was a wealthy, able and influential woman.

Lydia, like Cornelius, was not far from the Kingdom. She didn't need an earthquake to bring her to Christ. Lydia was a worshipper of God. Luke informs us: The Lord opened her heart. v14. I find this very significant. It wasn't the Holy Spirit but the Lord who opened her heart. It wasn't her eyes that were opened but her heart.

I expect that Lydia's belief in the one true God satisfied her intellect. It is reasonable to attribute the existence of the universe and everything in it to a supreme creator. The righteousness demanded by the Law of Moses may also have satisfied her desire for a demanding moral code. So Lydia worshipped a great and wonderful God whose wisdom is past finding out and who demands of his people the highest standards of conduct. But she did not love this God. Her heart was not involved.

After Christmas I reread, 'Dombey and Son' by Charles Dicken's. It is probably not the author's best-known book. The novel deals with the relationship between a stern, cold, proud financier, Mr Dombey, and his daughter Florence. Florence is estranged from her father through no fault of her own. Mr Dombey's pride brings about his ruin but he is redeemed by his daughter's unfailing and persevering love. In the end his heart yields to redeeming love. Paul had a story of redeeming love - a love that took the Lord Jesus Christ to Calvary; a love that suffered, bled and died for sinful men.

Some critics consider that the finest character in Dombey and Son is Mr Toots. Mr Toots was a young man of fortune but no brains who had a dog like devotion to Florence. His love was hopeless and unrequited but it was disinterested. He continued to love and serve Florence although there was nothing in it for himself. The apostle was able to talk to Lydia about a love that was disinterested. But God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Roman5v8.

Whenever I read Dombey and Son I remember the visits I paid many years ago to Mr Eddy Durrant. His favourite character was Captain Cuttle. He would quote passages from the novel in which the Captain figured and laugh till the tears rolled down his cheeks. Some of those tears were tears of joy! Captain Cuttle's quotations from the Good Book or Isaac Watts or the Marriage Service were frequent but of dubious authenticity. Such is an example: "Wal'r my boy... in the Proverbs of Solomon you will find the following words, 'May we never want a friend in need, nor a bottle to give him!' When found, make a note of." It was the: 'When found, make a note of", that really tickled my old friend Eddy Durrant. Captain Cuttle's love was of the giving kind. The sum total of his worldly wealth amounted to thirteen pounds and half a crown plus the contents of his plate chest - two withered atomies of tea-spoons and an obsolete pair of knock-kneed sugar-tongs. Captain Cuttle was always prepared to make over his tea-spoons and sugar tongs to any one in need - 'jintly.' Oh with what pleasure did Eddy Durrant relish the quaint expression, 'jintly', with its implication of a gift solemnly and irrevocably bestowed.

Paul had a story of a love that gave - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." John3v16.

As Lydia heard about the generous and disinterested love of God and the redeeming love of Jesus her heart was stirred and her emotions were engaged. Lydia loved Him who first loved her. She responded to the gospel message of salvation and was forgiven, justified and reconciled to God by grace and through faith. Lydia rejoiced in: The story most precious - Sweetest that ever was heard.

There are many people in Britain who believe in God, the Supreme Creator, without either loving him or his Son. Christians, however, can sing:

          I am thine O Lord, I have heard Thy voice
          And it told Thy love to me;
          But I long to rise in the arms of faith
          And be closer drawn to Thee.

(F) A positive start to the Christian Life.

Lydia was very keen to identify with the servants of Jesus. She wasn't ashamed to own her Lord. She could not have nailed her colours more firmly to the mast than by taking Paul, Silas and Timothy into her own home. Genuine Christians wish to associate with other Christians. How can we keep Jesus' command to love one another if we disdain the company of other Christians? Those who say, "I can be a Christian without going to church", are not telling the truth. One of the key tests of genuine love for Jesus is love for the brethren.

Lydia had to exert all her very considerable powers of persuasion to get Paul to accept her hospitality. Luke writes: And she persuaded us. v15. Why was this? It wasn't because she was an unmarried woman. She was hardly likely to be compromised by 3 male guests. It wasn't because she was a Gentile. Paul was quite happy to mix with Greeks. The main reason was Paul's independence. He much preferred to pay his own way. He didn't like to be beholden to anyone.

Lydia used a very powerful argument to persuade Paul to accept her hospitality. She said, "If you consider me a believer in the Lord come and stay at my house." v15. She was saying, "If you accept me as a Christian, as a sister, please let me do this for you."

Sometimes we need to let our fellow Christians help us. If a believer offers assistance in the name of Jesus it is very unbrotherly not to accept it. In the autumn my friend Peter showed me around his garden. As he did so he kept stopping and saying, "Would ya like a cabbage? How d'ya like a few carrots? I've got some nice onions - hev a few. I'd be pleased to give ya a marra. I'll just dig ya up a few roots of tatties - they scrape lovely." As I accepted more and more of Peter's vegetables I began to feel guilty. However, it would have been churlish to refuse his gifts. Peter gardens to the glory of God and gives away his produce in the name of Jesus.

Paul had to be shamed into accepting Lydia's hospitality. Jesus would have needed no such persuasion. He was always willing to receive gifts from others. His ministry was sponsored by a group of rich women.

It is worth noting that the church at Philippi was the only one among the many Paul set up that was always prepared to help him financially. He wrote to them later: Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only. Phil4v15. Perhaps Paul was too independent for his own good. The one church to support him financially was the one church he had allowed to show him hospitality. People like to help. They feel hurt and under valued when their offer of assistance is turned down. It may be more blessed to give than to receive but it often requires more grace and true humility to receive.