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The First Church in Europe

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Acts 16

When we are committed to following the Lord by faith, we will face new challenges but also new opportunities and new people to whom we can minister. And through it all, we will see the grace of God at work. These truths are highlighted in Acts 16.


In Acts chapter 16, we find the apostle Paul setting out on his second missionary journey, and he is joined by some new ministry partners. Silas, who is called a leader among the brethren in Acts 15:22, accompanies him. And a young man named Timothy is added when they come again to Lystra.

Acts 16:1 tells us that Timothy is “the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek.” Later in the New Testament, we will learn that he was raised by a godly mother and grandmother. Eunice, along with the help of her mother, Lois, were committed to teaching Timothy the Word of God (2 Timothy 1:5).

Beloved, I consider some of the greatest people of faith to be godly women with unbelieving husbands. In a very real sense, they are spiritual widows. While their hearts ache to see their husbands walk with God, these courageous women raise their children to know the Word of God. We have no record that Timothy’s father ever came to faith in Christ, but Timothy will eventually become the pastor of the church in Ephesus.

Listen, the absence of godly fathers does not forfeit the potential of godly children. Timothy is evidence that an unbelieving husband could not overshadow the testimony of a godly mother and grandmother who followed the Lord.

Now look at verse 3:

Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

Though his mother was Jewish, Timothy’s father was a Gentile, and Timothy had not been circumcised. Paul’s action here might seem strange in light of the recent controversy in the church. But keep in mind that this has nothing to do with Timothy’s salvation; it is about Timothy’s future ministry among the Jewish people. This will also allow Timothy access to speak in the synagogues when that opportunity arises.

Now as Paul, Silas, and Timothy travel westward through Asia, verse 6 records that they are “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word” in that province. Then, when they attempt to go north into the province of Bithynia, verse 7 says, “The Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.”

We are not told what that looked like for Paul, but God in His sovereignty is clearly directing His servants. Maybe you have experienced a closed door of ministry, and God opened another door instead. Well, Paul wants to go north and east, but God wants Him to go west—into what we call the continent of Europe today.

So, Paul is given a vision of a Macedonian man, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (verse 9). Macedonia was a Roman province in what today is northern Greece. The missionaries clearly understand this is God’s direction. He is opening another door to ministry.

You will notice in verse 10 the pronouns change to “we” and “us.” This indicates that Luke, the author of the book of Acts, has now joined the team. He is a trusted friend—and a medical doctor, by the way, which will be very helpful.

In verse 12 the group arrives in Philippi, “a leading city of . . . Macedonia.” This is a Gentile Roman town, and there are few Jewish people here; in fact, there is not even a synagogue in Philippi, which was required by Jewish custom if there were at least ten Jewish families in the town. Instead, Paul and his team discover a group of women down at the riverside having a prayer meeting on the Sabbath. One of them is Lydia, called here a “worshiper of God” (verse 14). She is a Gentile who is following the God of the Old Testament.

Well, Paul delivers the New Testament update to these women, and verse 14 says of Lydia, “the Lord opened her heart,” and she believed the gospel. The very first convert to Christ in Europe is a successful businesswoman. According to this verse, she was “a seller of purple goods.”

Purple garments could cost as much as three years’ salary for the average laborer in these days. Three years! And that is why purple was reserved for royalty and wealthy citizens. Lydia herself became wealthy through her business—she has a house large enough to lodge the missionary team as well as provide for all their needs.

Now we are introduced to another convert to Christianity, and she is no successful businesswoman. Verse 16 tells us that she is “a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.” She is demonically empowered, and her owners are using her to make a fortune.

Verse 17 records that she trails along behind the missionary team, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” Imagine that! Well, Paul does not exactly want somebody like her running their advertising campaign. So, he responds in verse 18:

Paul . . . turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

This slave girl is not mentioned again, but presumably she becomes a follower of Jesus.

The girl loses the demon, and her owners lose their business. They are infuriated and drag Paul and Silas downtown and accuse them of disturbing the peace and introducing Jewish customs into the city. The magistrates respond by having Paul and Silas beaten and then imprisoned.

But look at verse 25: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.” By the way, beloved, how do you sing in prison? Only if you know God is in control of your life.

Next, we read this:

Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (verse 26)

The jailer awakens and sees the prison doors open. He knows he will be executed for letting the prisoners escape, so he decides to kill himself instead. Paul calls out, telling him not to harm himself because all the prisoners are still there. I think the greater miracle is not the earthquake but that all the prisoners stayed in their cells!

This jailer cannot believe it, but he immediately understands this is all according to the power of God, whom Paul and Silas had been preaching and singing about, and he asks, “What must I do to be saved?” (verse 30). He is asking, “What must I do to get what you have? How can I get this joy you have in the midst of suffering? How can I know your all-powerful God?”

The answer is simple: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (verse 31). I love this answer. It’s not, join the church, turn over a new leaf, give some money to Paul, or perform good deeds—just believe in the Savior who has already done all that is needed.

The jailer believes, and so does his whole household when they hear the gospel. Their faith is demonstrated by caring for the two men and by being baptized. Verse 34 says it well: “He [the jailer] rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”

After learning that Paul is a Roman citizen, the city leaders apologize and ask him to leave town. And after encouraging the new believers, the missionaries leave Philippi for their next assignment.

The first church in Europe is now established. Take a look at the charter members: a wealthy Gentile businesswoman, a Roman jailer and his family, and a formerly demon-possessed slave girl. What a great way to start a church.

And by the way, if you are sailing along with me and you are not a believer yet, do not wait for an earthquake. Listen to this invitation from God: Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved.

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