Called to Serve

Acts 16:11-15, 40; 1 Cor 1:26-30

SS Lesson for 02/28/2021


Devotional Scripture: 1 Peter 4:8-11

Lesson Background and Key Verse

Background from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

Paul and his companions began their second missionary journey around AD 52. It began with revisits to some of the cities Paul had visited on the first journey. These included Derbe, Lystra, and (perhaps) Iconium (Acts 16:1-2). From there they headed west to Troas. While in Troas, Paul had a vision of a “man of Macedonia” who entreated him to come over to Macedonia and help (Acts 16:9). The vision served as a warrant for Paul to cross the Aegean Sea and enter Europe with the gospel—his first time to do so. Paul’s initial visits to the cities of Philippi and Corinth both occurred during this trip. The city of Philippi sat in a commanding position on the fertile plain of the Gangites River, surrounded by mountains on three sides. Its site is in the northeast quadrant of modern Greece. About 400 years old when visited by Paul, Philippi was a major Macedonian city. Philippi’s name comes from King Philip II of Macedon, who conquered the city in 356 BC and renamed it for himself. That was one of the first steps in Philip’s domination of the entire Greek peninsula. It set the stage for his successor and son, Alexander the Great, to march east and conquer territories all the way to India. The gold mines for which the city of Philippi was known provided great wealth for both leaders to fund their military campaigns. But the apostle Paul was in search of gold of a different kind, and he found it.


Key Verse: Acts 16:15

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.


Commentary from the Bible Knowledge Commentary

16:1-3. Timothy, whose home was Lystra, was of mixed parentage; his mother was Jewish and his father was a Greek. Probably Timothy had been converted under Paul’s ministry during the apostle’s first visit to Lystra (cf. 1 Tim. 1:2). Some suggest he had been led to the Lord by his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5). At any rate, he became Paul’s protege. Because of Timothy’s good reputation (Acts 16:2) Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, probably as a helper as Mark had been. There was a problem, however. The Jews to whom Paul would be preaching the gospel would be offended if a man with a Jewish mother was uncircumcised. So Timothy was circumcised. Apparently he had been uncircumcised because of his father’s influence. This appears to contradict Paul’s thinking in Galatians 2:3-5 where he refused to let Titus be circumcised. The situations, however, were different. In Galatians 2 the issue was the method of justification; here it was a question of not giving offense (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19-23). The Jerusalem Council, of course, had determined circumcision was not necessary for salvation (Acts 15:10-11, 19). In Acts 16 Paul acted as he did for the sake of the ministry; it was a wise move.

16:4. As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the Jerusalem Council (15:23-29). Assuming Paul wrote Galatians after the first missionary journey, but before the Jerusalem Council, the report of the decision would be strong confirmation of the gospel which he preached and about which he wrote.

16:5. With another “progress report”, Luke brought another section of his book to a close. The word strengthened (estereounto, “being made solid or firm”) differs from its synonym epistērizō (“to strengthen”; 14:22; 15:32, 41).

16:6-7. God’s guidance was at first negative. Evidently the missionary party first attempted to go to the western province of Asia whose leading city was Ephesus. So they went throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia (cf. 18:23). Possibly this should be understood as the Phrygian region of Galatia. They then proceeded north to eastern Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia, but again they were prevented from doing so by the Spirit of Jesus. How these hindrances were accomplished is not stated. It may have been circumstances, a word of prophecy, a vision, or some other phenomenon. At any rate, God planned for people in both Ephesus and Bithynia to hear the gospel at a later time (cf. 18:19-21, 24-19:41; 1 Peter 1:1).

16:8-9. Finally, at Troas, a seaport city on the Aegean Sea near the ancient site of Troy, God gave positive direction by means of a night... vision to Paul. Macedonia was a Roman senatorial province, corresponding roughly to northern Greece today.

16:10. The first of the we sections begins here in Acts, indicating that Luke joined the party of Paul, Silas, and Timothy. The how, why, and precise location of Luke’s joining the group are left unstated.

16:11. The journey from Troas to Samothrace and to Neapolis, the seaport city for Philippi, was a rapid one, implying that the wind was with them (cf. 20:6 where the trip in the opposite direction took five days).

16:12. From Neapolis the missionaries traveled the 10 miles on the Via Egnatia, the Egnatian Road to Philippi, which Luke described as a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. Quite clearly Luke displayed pride in the city he came to love. Some say he grew up and attended medical school there. Philippi, originally named Crenides (“Fountains”), was taken by Philip of Macedon and renamed after him. In 168 b.c. Philippi became a Roman possession. After Mark Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, near Philippi in 42 b.c., the city was made into a Roman colony. This gave it special privileges (e.g, fewer taxes) but more importantly it became like a “transplanted” Rome. The primary purpose of colonies was military, for the Roman leaders felt it wise to have Roman citizens and sympathizers settled in strategic locations. So Octavian (who became Caesar Augustus, the first Roman emperor, in 27 b.c.) settled more colonists (primarily former soldiers) at Philippi after his defeat of Antony at Actium, on Greece’s west coast, in 31 b.c.

16:13. The Jewish population at Philippi must have been limited, for there was no synagogue there; 10 Jewish males were required for a synagogue. A place of prayer (cf. v. 16), which may have been a place in the open air or a simple building, was located by the Gangites River about a mile and one-half west of town. To the women... gathered there, the missionaries presented the gospel.

16:14. Lydia was a seller of purple cloth. This purple color came from a shellfish, the murex, or from the root of a plant. She was from Thyatira, a city known for its commerce in Asia Minor (cf. Rev. 2:18-29). She was a worshiper of God, a term used for Gentiles (e.g., Cornelius [Acts 10:2] and those in Thessalonica [17:4] and Athens [17:17]) who were not proselytes to Judaism but who did worship Yahweh. Even so, they were not in the New Testament church, the body of Christ. The Lord opened her heart (cf. Luke 24:45) to respond to Paul’s message. Again Luke stressed the sovereignty of God in salvation (cf. Acts 13:48).

16:15. Lydia was then baptized, apparently soon after her faith in Christ. The members of her household probably refer to servants as well as to her children, if she was a widow. Other persons in the New Testament who along with their “household” members came to Christ include Cornelius (10:24, 44), the Philippian jailer (16:31), Crispus (18:8), Aristobulus (Rom. 16:10), Narcissus (Rom. 16:11), and Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16). That she was a woman of considerable means is evidenced by the size of her house. It would have to be ample enough to house four men as well as her household without embarrassment (cf. Acts 16:40).


Major Theme Analysis

(Scriptural Text from the New King James Version; cross-references from the NIV)

Service through Worship and Hospitality (Acts 16:11-15, 40)


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.

40 So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.


Worship must have prayer (11-13)

Prayer that is in unity (Matt 18:19)

19 "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

Prayer that is effective and fervent (James 5:16)

16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Prayer that acknowledges that the competence comes from God (2 Cor 3:5)

5 Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.

Prayer that acknowledges that it is God who does the work (1 Cor 3:7)

7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.


Worship should result in an open heart (14)

Open heart whose secrets are totally open to God (1 Cor 14:24-25)

24 But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25 and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"

Open heart is one that has integrity (1 Chron 29:17)

17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you.

Open heart is one that walks blamelessly (Ps 15:2)

2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart

Open heart is one that has truth in the inner parts (Ps 51:6)

6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.


Hospitality is derived from faithfulness (15-16)

Faithfulness that is a characteristic of walking with God (Psalm 101:6)

6 My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is blameless will minister to me.

Faithfulness that will be rewarded (1 Sam 26:23)

23 The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness. The Lord delivered you into my hands today, but I would not lay a hand on the Lord's anointed.

Faithfulness that is an expectation of God because He has given to us (1 Cor 4:2)

2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

Faithfulness that pleases God (Heb 11:6)

6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.


Service through God’s Calling (1 Cor 1:26-30)


26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.

27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;

28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,

29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.

30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption


God calls the unwise and weak (26-27)

God uses the weak because His strength to makes them strong (2 Cor 12:8-10)

8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God uses the weak because they will accept His wisdom (Matt 11:25)

25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

God uses the unwise because they will prophesy more earnestly (Amos 7:14-15)

14 Amos answered Amaziah, "I was neither a prophet nor a prophet's son, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.'

God uses the weak because they will display God’s use of them (Acts 4:13)

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.


God calls those who brings Him glory (28-29)

Bring God the glory as part of our thanksgiving (2 Cor 4:15)

15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Bring God the glory because in all things God should be praised (1 Peter 4:11)

11 If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Bring God the glory because we are owned by Him (1 Cor 6:20)

20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Bring God the glory in all things (1 Cor 10:31)

31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.


God calls those who are in Christ Jesus (30)

Being in Christ means Jesus living in us (John 14:19-20)

19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

Being in Christ means abiding in Jesus (John 15:5-7)

5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.

Being in Christ means having no condemnation (Rom 8:1)

8 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

Being in Christ is having spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms (Eph 1:3-4)

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love


Conclusion and Other Thoughts

Commentary Thoughts from Bob Deffinbaugh

The last verses of chapter 15 and the first verses of Acts 16 describe the commencement of what we know as Paul’s “Second Missionary Journey.” Barnabas took John Mark and set out for Cyprus, while Paul chose Silas to replace Barnabas, and passed through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening these churches as they made their way to the Galatian churches founded on the “First Missionary Journey.” When Paul came to Lystra, he encountered a young disciple named Timothy, who was highly regarded by the Christians in the area. Timothy was circumcised and then taken along with Paul and Silas. They passed through the Galatian cities, delivering the decrees from the Jerusalem church leaders. The churches were strengthened and experienced continued growth.

Initially, the plan was simply to revisit the churches that had been founded on the “First Missionary Journey,” but having completed this task, Paul and his companions sought to preach the gospel in Asia, but they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 16:6). Next they sought to go into Bithynia, but the “Spirit of Jesus” would not permit this either (Acts 16:7). When they reached Troas, Paul had a vision in the night. A Macedonian man was urging Paul to “come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). The next morning, they set sail for Macedonia.

In verses 5 and 6, we find two occasions when the Spirit of God “closed the door” on preaching the gospel in a particular place. In verses 9 and 10, we find an “open door.” I believe it will be beneficial to consider the difference between closed doors and open doors in this chapter. In addition to this, we will learn how the church at Philippi was born. This is one of the truly great churches in the New Testament, one that gave Paul great cause for rejoicing.

In our text, Luke chooses to focus on three different individuals: Lydia, the seller of purple; the demon possessed slave girl who was a fortune teller; and the Philippian jailer. I do not believe that these are the only folks with whom Paul and Silas dealt on this visit, but somehow these give us a flavor of what the ministry was like.

Down by the Riverside (Acts 16:11-15)

11 We put out to sea from Troas and sailed a straight course to Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of that district of Macedonia, a Roman colony. We stayed in this city for some days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate to the side of the river, where we thought there would be a place of prayer, and we sat down and began to speak to the women who had assembled there. 14 A woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, a God-fearing woman, listened to us. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me to be a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us.

Samothrace was little more than a mountain jutting out of the sea to a height of about 5,000 feet. There was a port there, and it may well be that they made port for the night, sailing on the next day to the Macedonian port city of Neapolis. From here, it was only a ten-mile walk to Philippi. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke would spend a number of days here before moving on.

On the Sabbath day, they went to the river because there was no synagogue in Philippi, and this is where they expected to find any Jewish worshippers. Apparently no men were present, but there were some women with whom they spoke. One of these women was named Lydia, a God-fearer from Thyatira. She listened, and God opened her heart to respond to the news that Jesus was the Promised Messiah. After she and her household were baptized, she prevailed upon these missionaries to stay in her home while they were in Philippi. And so the first Gentile convert in Macedonia is a woman.

Freedom Offered, but Not So Quickly Accepted (Acts 16:35-40)

35 At daybreak the magistrates sent their police officers, saying, “Release those men.” 36 The jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent orders to release you. So come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to the police officers, “They had us beaten in public without a proper trial - even though we are Roman citizens - and they threw us in prison. And now they want to send us away secretly? Absolutely not! They themselves must come and escort us out!” 38 The police officers reported these words to the magistrates. They were frightened when they heard Paul and Silas were Roman citizens 39 and came and apologized to them. After they brought them out, they asked them repeatedly to leave the city. 40 When they came out of the prison, they entered Lydia’s house, and when they saw the brothers, they encouraged them and then departed (Acts 16:35-40).

When the police officers arrived with their message from the magistrates, the jailer surely saw this as good news. He had already given these two men freedom within the confines of the prison by taking them into his dwelling. Now they were free to go. What could be better news than this?

But freedom from that prison was not of primary importance to Paul. When the prison gates were all flung open by the earthquake and every chain loosed, Paul and Silas could have easily escaped. But that was not what God had in mind. They could have escaped, but then they would have been fugitives from justice. The church in Philippi would be subject to government oppression, and further ministry in Philippi would have been restricted. It was by remaining in the prison that God “opened the door” of the jailer’s heart.

Now, once again, there appears to be an “open door,” which would have granted Paul and Silas a legal release. But at what price? Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. They had been deprived of their rights as citizens of Rome. The beating they received, and their imprisonment, were illegal. The magistrates were undoubtedly hoping that Paul and Silas would silently slip out of town, never to be seen again. But that was not going to happen. Paul is not just “standing up for his rights;” he is standing up for what is right, and for what is best for the gospel, and for the new church.

In the future, Roman officials might feel the freedom to abuse Roman citizens who were Christians. They could beat them, and then let them go, just as they had done to Paul and Silas. The end result would be detrimental to the spread of the gospel. No. They were wrong to mistreat Roman citizens. Now they must publicly acknowledge their wrongdoing by making a public apology. This would leave Paul and Silas (and others who were Roman citizens) the right to travel freely among the churches in the empire. It would protect the church in Philippi from governmental oppression. Paul would not accept “freedom at any price.” He insisted that the officials obey the laws they were also charged to enforce. He took his beating well, but he did not tolerate injustice. I suspect that word of Paul’s actions made its way to other cities, and this may have given those officials pause. If they treated Paul and Silas illegally, they would be held responsible. Let me say it again; Paul’s “rights” are not primary here, but what is right, especially for the advance of the gospel throughout the Roman Empire.

Paul and Silas did not hastily leave town either. When the magistrates had made their apology, Paul and Silas made their way to the home of Lydia. They would have needed to regroup with Timothy, and they also needed to use this as an opportunity to encourage the believers in this new church. What Paul would write to these saints at a later time was also relevant on this occasion:

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Concluding Thoughts from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary

Lydia made use of her status and wealth to serve God. Her influence brought her household to Christ and had a ripple effect in Philippi. Her prosperous business allowed her to host Paul and his companions in her house, as well as the church that would grow from their efforts. These efforts were not accomplished for the glory of Lydia or Paul. Both sought only to follow Christ and lead others to Him. We might summarize the accounts from this unit and say that each woman served where God gave her opportunity and gifting. The same holds true today. When a woman senses God’s calling on her to use her job, her social connections, and/or the spiritual gifts He gave her for His glory, she can and will find a way to serve. While the same is true for men, the nature of women’s ministries has often been less visible and sometimes considered less critical in spreading the gospel. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, God chose the cross to show his wisdom instead of using what was already honored and revered in any human society. And the foolishness of the world became the wisdom of God. God still uses people following the way of the cross to show his wisdom to the world. Let us all continue to seek his wisdom and remain open to other “foolish” things God may choose in place of the “wise.” In this way, we seek only God’s glory.


Concluding Thoughts from the Echoes Commentary

God's Kingdom - Those who live out a worldly ideology have a bad habit of drawing conclusions about the usefulness of a person according to their education, finances, employment history, and other such achievements. People who don't have a great education or lots of money or a great work history will compare themselves to those with more and conclude they have nothing to offer. But this is not the case in God's kingdom. The Father calls all to serve regardless of one's status in society. He desires for all hands to be on deck. Everyone is needed to serve in God's vineyard.


Lydia's Conversion - Lydia is a perfect example. The Holy Spirit instructed Paul to travel to Philippi, where he found a small group of women who met down by the river. He shared the Gospel with these women, and Lydia, the head of the household, opened her heart to Christ. As a result of this one women's conversion, the Lord established a strong Christian congregation in Philippi.


Be Wise - Paul said the Christians in Corinth were not as full of book knowledge as other people were, nor as rich and influential, but they had an advantage—they had the wisdom of the Lord. They knew that God chose the lesser things of this world, the things most people did not value, and exalted them. They were now righteous, meaning their sin was covered before the Lord (2 Cor. 5:21). They were sanctified: they were "set free from every sin" (Acts 13:39) by the blood of Christ and strove to be holy, to grow and be transformed into new desires for God and His ways (1 Pet. 1:15). Further, they were redeemed, meaning that they had been purchased with the price of Christ's death from being slaves to sin. Their eyes were now on the Lamb of God who conquered sin, not worldliness or worldly divisions, so they could go forth and serve everyone.