International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday November 15, 2015
Purpose: To be open to exploring new ways to witness to the faith
Bible Lesson: Acts 16:1-5, 8-15
Background Scripture: Acts 16:1-15
Key Verse: Immediately after he saw the vision, we prepared to leave for the province of Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. (Acts 16:10)
Acts 16:1-5 (CEB)
(1) Paul reached Derbe, and then Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy. He was the son of a believing Jewish woman and a Greek father. (2) The brothers and sisters in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. (3) Paul wanted to take Timothy with him, so he circumcised him. This was because of the Jews who lived in those areas, for they all knew Timothy’s father was Greek. (4) As Paul and his companions traveled through the cities, they instructed Gentile believers to keep the regulations put in place by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. (5) So the churches were strengthened in the faith and every day their numbers flourished.
Acts 16: 8-15 (CEB)
(8) Passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas instead. (9) A vision of a man from Macedonia came to Paul during the night. He stood urging Paul, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (10) Immediately after he saw the vision, we prepared to leave for the province of Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. (11) We sailed from Troas straight for Samothrace and came to Neapolis the following day. (12) From there we went to Philippi, a city of Macedonia’s first district and a Roman colony. We stayed in that city several days. (13) On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the riverbank, where we thought there might be a place for prayer. We sat down and began to talk with the women who had gathered. (14) One of those women was Lydia, a Gentile God-worshipper from the city of Thyatira, a dealer in purple cloth. As she listened, the Lord enabled her to embrace Paul’s message. (15) Once she and her household were baptized, she urged, “Now that you have decided that I am a believer in the Lord, come and stay in my house.” And she persuaded us.
Some Thoughts by Burgess Walter
Today’s lesson is full of interesting places and events. To set the scene, it is now the spring of 49 A. D. Paul and Barnabas have been on their first missionary journey. As they wait in Antioch they go to Jerusalem and bring back the letter from the leaders about new followers of Christ not having to become Jews first. Then Paul and Barnabas agree to part ways and each will go in a different direction. Paul chooses Silas, one of those from Jerusalem, and Barnabas chooses his cousin Mark and they set sail for Cyprus.
Our text follows Paul and Silas along with some others, including a new found convert Timothy. Paul was determined to retrace the first journey, and visit those original congregations established. I think he was anxious to share the letter from Jerusalem about not requiring them to be circumcised and other Jewish laws. The only stipulation was no worshipping idols, and no fornication, no eating things strangled, and no blood. This was good news for all of the men in the new found congregations.
Interestingly Paul did circumcise Timothy whose father was Greek. It was probably done to create some sort of peace between the Greeks and the Jewish believers. Since Paul always stopped at the local synagogue when visiting a new city, Timothy would not be allowed, as an uncircumcised male, to enter any Jewish synagogue. Paul requested and Timothy consented and the mission seemed to be the most important part of Paul’s call.
It is while Paul and his companions are visiting the ancient city of Troy, called Troas in the text, that Paul receives a vision. After Paul’s original vision on the road to Damascus, I doubt he had any trouble with this new vision. God was calling Paul and his companions to go into Europe for the first time and share the good news of Jesus the Messiah.
Their journey takes them to the city of Philippi. Notice that the narrative of Luke now becomes “we.” The missionary party now consist of Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke the writer of the gospel as well as the Book of Acts. Philippi was a Roman colony and was home to a lot Roman soldiers both active and retired. It was also named after the Macedonian King Philip, father of Alexander the Great.
There is no record of a Jewish Synagogue in Philippi, so Paul and his companions gathered by the river. I should point out that it took 10 Jewish men to establish a synagogue in a community, so we can assume there were very few Jews living in Philippi.
As they gathered by the river, there was another group also there. A group of women had gathered there for prayer. Among them was a wealthy business lady called Lydia. Lydia had been a successful business women in the town of Thyatira, famous for selling purple dyes. Her invitation to Paul and his companions was probably very welcomed after some of the hardships they had gone through.
The conversion and baptism of Lydia was an important part of Paul’s ministry in Europe.
Paul was called out of his comfort zone and changed his plans because God had something better for him to do. There are so many hymns that come to mind, like “Higher Ground” but I guess the obvious is “Shall We Gather at the River.”