Gospel Endurance (Acts 16)


As any parent knows, children can come from the same family and have many physical similarities but totally different personalities. There once was a family with twin boys and the parents had difficulty telling them apart. The boys found this humorous and regularly attempted to trick their parents into who was which person. Yet, one son regularly had a negative attitude and often found something to complain about. We’ll call him Negative Ned. The other son was positive and often sought to make the best of circumstances. We’ll call him Positive Paul. And the only way the parents could tell the difference was based upon their attitudes and not their appearance.

One day the mother needed to take Negative Ned to the doctor’s office to get his medical record updated, which included shots in his arm. Paul received his shots the week before, but Ned was busy with his baseball game, and this was his week. Neither of the boys liked getting shots and they tried to trick their parents to stall on these occasions. The time was getting late, and the boys were uncooperative, so the mother called her husband. The father simply decided to place the boys in two different locations, knowing that very soon their personalities and identities would be revealed swiftly.

One son was placed in a room full of toys, while the other son was placed in a barn full of horse manure. After 10 minutes, the father checked on the sons and this is what he found:

  • The son in the toy room was sitting in the corner with arms folded and a large frown. He shouted, “I’m bored and the toys I like aren’t even in this room.” Of course, this was Negative Ned.
  • The son in the barn full of manure was frantically shoveling and digging through the manure. The father asked, “Son, why are you digging through all this stench and mess?” The son replied, “Well, I figured with all this manure there’s got to be a pony under here somewhere.” Here we have Positive Paul.

Some people find themselves in stinky situations and can persevere, while others complain even in the best of circumstances. Today’s message is about gospel endurance amid challenges and opposition.

EXAMINE       Acts 16  Gospel Endurance

Acts 15:36-41 36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Paul and Barnabas sought to strengthen the disciples and churches they visited on their second missionary journey.

  • There was no writing in the sky or divine voice commanding them to go on another mission journey. They were simply living out their faith for the sake of the gospel. It should remind us there is no such thing as an unsent Christian. Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.[1] Therefore, all our life is a mission trip – take it!

There is no such thing as an unsent Christian. All our life is a mission trip – take it!

On their first trip, John Mark accompanied them (Acts 12:25; 13:5). However, at some point on their journey, Mark decided to leave and return to his home in Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). His reasoning for leaving is untold by Luke, or any others in Scripture and speculation is unfruitful.

For their next missionary journey, Barnabas wanted include Mark, but Paul disagreed. Barnabas was known as an encourager, and further Mark was his family (cousin, cf Col 4:10).

Paul appears to view Mark’s departure unfit for the mission (cf. Lk 9:62; Prov 25:19). Therefore, their sharp disagreement caused separation in their ministry. Paul took Silas to Syria and Cilicia, while Barnabas took Mark to Cyprus.

There are at least three lessons we can learn from this difference of opinion:

  1. Christians, including church leaders, are imperfect. Sometimes we can idealize or even idolize leaders or churches. When circumstances expose someone as not what you expected, whether a mere difference or an actual shortcoming, then we can be shocked or setback. There’s an adage, “Never meet your heroes.” In other words, we need to be reminded that no one is perfect this side of heaven. Rather than idealizing churches or leaders, we need to intercede for them. Pray these have gospel endurance and guard integrity, so they don’t fall. Participate in your church to help make it better, realizing that regardless of how gifted a person/place will be, they still lack in other areas. Further, church leaders are often lonely. On the outside it looks like they have everything under control, or the appearance of having it all together. Reality is church leaders experience many of the same challenges and questions as others. Everyone needs persons who will come alongside them with  
  2. Christians do not always need to choose sides. Indeed, when it comes to heresy or immorality, Christians are required to take a stand and speak truth. However, there are many issues, whether secondary theological matters (creation aspects, eschatology, spiritual gifts, ministry philosophy) or personal preference (style, personality, opinions) that we can discern ways to compromise. Each person is entitled to have their own perspectives, but these shall not be prerequisites for fellowship. Friends and churches are not called to be carbon copies of one another. Our differences or disagreements may cause us to diverge paths, but they need not cause us discontinue fellowship.
  3. Christians who are faithful to the Lord are used by God.
    Luke, the author of Acts, did not write about the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas for anyone to take sides. Paul was not described as an ungracious leader, nor was Barnabas described as a pushover supervisor. Instead, Luke’s emphasis is on how each person focused on the Lord’s call to spread the gospel and serve the church. Paul took Silas through Syria and Cilicia, while Barnabas took Mark through Cyprus. While the mission team was divided, the Great Commission was multiplied. Additionally, it is likely that both Paul and Barnabas sharpened each other’s faith and ministry.

In Paul’s later years he grew more patient seeking to restore those who needed additional grace: Euodia & Syntyche (Php 4:1); Onesimus (Phm 1:17-19), Timothy (1 Tim 4:11-16; 2 Tim 1:6-7; 2:15). See also his exhortations to the churches: 1 Cor 13:4-7; 2 Cor 13:11; Eph 4:25-32; Col 3:12-15; 1 Thes 5:14-15.

Likewise, perhaps Barnabas grew more disciplined and demanding. John Mark appears to have matured and corrected any shortcomings as he became an effective gospel partner (Col 4:10; 2 Tim 4:11).

In all, this is another instance of God transforming what was intended for evil to be used for good (Gen 50:20; Rom 8:28-29). When we keep our focus on the Lord and not each other, we realize the only competition is the evil one, whom the Lord has promised and delivered victory. Christians and churches can learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses and work together to complement tasks at hand. Despite our differences we can still cooperate for the sake of the Great Commission and the glory of God.

Acts 16:1-5 1 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 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. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

On Paul’s new journey, he meets a young man named Timothy. He’s impressed by Timothy (he’s a cut above the others, ahem!) and wants to bring him along to help in missionary work.
Luke notes one preparation for this new team member: Timothy’s circumcision. Interestingly, Timothy was uncircumcised since his father was Greek but his mother Jewish. Further, Paul’s missionary work would continue among the Jews and he did not want it to appear that they were disrespectful of the law and tradition.

One might ask, “Why does Timothy need to be circumcised if the apostles previously indicated it was not a gospel requirement (Acts 15)?” Further, we also know that Paul firmly resisted forcing Gentiles to be circumcised (Titus in Gal 2:3-5; also Gal 5:1-12; 1 Cor 7:18-20). The reasoning appears two-fold
1) Timothy’s mother (Eunice)/ gmother (Lois) was Jewish, and thus he should not appear as a Jewish apostate.
2) Paul’s missionary aim to “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some, for the sake of the gospel” (1Cor 9:22).

Paul is not adding law to the gospel or Timothy’s salvation. He is simply seeking the gospel to remain the main discussion topic in his witness encounters among the Jews. He’s attempting to break down barriers[2] so the only stumbling block is not their actions but their acceptance of Christ. Christians must know which principles are worth standing up for and which ideas are not worth elevating to an importance they do not deserve. Not every issue is worth conflict unless it comes to the gospel and the ethnic unity of the church.[3]

Today, we might embrace an activity (sports/entertainment) or give up an action in order to have gospel influence on spiritually lost.  But such behaviors should never include anything immoral to maintain family communication, social networks, or even a supposed Christian influence. It is easy for Christians to claim freedom of behavior, or rationalize saying, “no one’s perfect.” Yet, we must be careful to not compromise faith convictions. Things like gossip or slander, foul language, drunkenness, cohabitation & fornication, or other forms of sin are not behaviors to ignore or diminish.

Overall, Paul is returning visit to these churches to strengthen the churches in the faith and prayerfully see new believers coming to faith daily (16:5). This reminds us that evangelism must include discipleship, and ministry must include an outward missional thrust. Too often church ministries and small groups give lip service to disciplemaking when they’re simply focused inward. Here are a few questions for how we can know if we have an outward focus like Paul:

  • Would our community, not just our congregants, miss us if we were gone?
  • When is the last time someone came to faith in result of your faith witness? If longer than 1-year, are you sincerely witnessing? It’s possible so, but perhaps you need to repent and ask God to refresh your passion for sharing Christ’s love.

Acts 16:6-10 And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Paul’s missionary journey returns westward through familiar regions of Turkey. However, the unity of the Trinity (note 16:6, 7, 10) forbid Paul’s team to Asia and led them toward Macedonia, the European world as we know it today. Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man calling for help and gospel hope (16:9). Interestingly, the Greeks regarded the Macedonians as barbarians, but God was opening another door for spreading the gospel among the nations.[4]

It could have been easy for Paul and team to feel confused or dissuaded having the Spirit prevent mission targets. However, Paul understood that closed doors only meant for him to keep knocking on other doors until one opens (cf. Mt 7:7-11; Ac 14:27). Yet, even open doors do not alleviate opposition (1Cor 16:9; 2Cor 2:12-13), though they come with God’s promise to guide us through (Dt 31:6; Ps 23:3-4; Mt 28:20).

  • When God closes doors, it is not time to panic but pause. [5] Pausing and waiting on the Lord is not passive but active. You must allow your faith to inform your fears that God wants to provide you a perspective you need or crucial resources you lack.
    • Did you notice in 16:10 the author changed the travel narrative to first person plural? Dr. Luke has joined Paul’s mission team and becomes an important gospel partner. Likewise, God places people in our life, especially during times we feel God is silent, to sustain and sharpen us.
      • In Christianity, you are either carrying the burdens of others or being carried (Gal 6:2). We are either part of the gospel mission or needing salvation. Standing on the fence or having spectator faith is sinful.

When God closes doors, it is not time to panic but pause. Wait on the Lord to provide you a perspective you need or crucial resource you lack.

The rest of the chapter is three gospel conversations, which also reflect three types of people who can be reached by the gospel.

  • Lydia, a business-woman, spiritually interested.
  • Young girl, poor and enslaved, mentally tormented by evil.
  • Jailer, working Roman class, unbelieving agnostic.

Acts 16:11-15 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.

Paul with Timothy, Silas, and Luke enter Philippi and stay there likely a few weeks. Paul’s earlier strategy was to start with the low-hanging fruit by going to the synagogue to preach the Scriptures and tell of the promised Christ who had come. However, in Macedonia there were no synagogues. So, they go down to the river where they believed was a Priscilla Shirer & Beth Moore conference (sarcasm!). Interestingly, Paul’s vision for coming to Macedonia was of a man but his mission starts with a woman.
Far from ancient standards or modern accusations, Christianity revolutionized and elevated the status of women as they feature prominently in the life of Christ and the early church.

“The Lord opened her heart to pay attention” to Paul’s teaching (16:14). She responded with faith and was baptized. She appears as the head of her household, so she is likely either single with many servants as a business owner or widowed,[6] and her home becomes a house church launching pad for the gospel as her household is also baptized.

Lydia represents the spiritually interested. There are some people who are curious about church, have questions about Jesus and the Bible. One of the practical things we can do is to invite unbelievers to our small groups.

  • Your life could be one Lydia away from beginning a legacy of growing godly generations.

Far from ancient standards or modern accusations, Christianity revolutionized and elevated the status of women as they feature prominently in the life of Christ and the early church.

Acts 16:16-18 16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the
Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, 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.

Paul meets a young girl with a demonic spirit (Πύθωνα = Python, Greek symbol for underworld[7]). She has some sort of ability/power to tell fortunes and has become enslaved to men who are using her for financial profit. Her demonic spirit is aware of the Holy Spirit in Paul and the other Christians, and she’s harassing their team. She’s both obsessed with and belligerent toward Christianity. Many people who are vocally antagonistic and outwardly aggressive to faith also are inwardly intrigued by Jesus and the Bible. It’s as if they want to believe but something in their past has hurt them so they have created an outer shell… with spikes and sirens that attack the mention of Christianity. But the right moment and the right message can infiltrate the hardened shell to become soft and receptive to the truth and grace of the gospel. That seems to be what happens with this girl as Paul exorcises the evil spirit in the name of Jesus, and she’s freed and healed.

Tragically, this girl has no name or personal identity, and is exploited by men for what her body has to offer. She’s viewed as a commodity rather than offered dignity. Even Paul was annoyed with her. Those who the world would rather write off or send away are who the church is called to be a hospital and healing place. The gospel is for the unlikely, the unwelcome, the downtrodden, the outcasts, and the oppressed. No matter your background or resume, the grace of Jesus can give you a fresh start and new beginning.

  • Who is someone unlikely to attend church but may appear at our Family Roundup 9/17? Invest-Invite-Intercede
  • How will you take what you learn and live in your faith into the corners, cliffs, and crevices of our communities?

No matter your background or resume, the grace of Jesus can give you a fresh start and new beginning.

Acts 16:19-34 19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and 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. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

While the young girl was happy to be delivered, her owners were unhappy that their money-maker disappears. They gang up to bully and beat with rods (uncivil for Roman citizens; 16:37-39) Paul & Team and have them imprisoned. “These men are Jews and are disturbing our city and advocating customs different from Romans” (v.20-21) indicates not just religious differences but the racial/ethnic discrimination ongoing in the city (cf. 18:2, 12-17). Overall, Christianity represented a threat to the Roman

  • social structure: bc it gave equality to women and dignity with deliverance to slaves;
  • economic sources: bc it shrank sales from immorality & evil.
  • and government powers: bc it wouldn’t coexist as another religion or express toleration of all views and promoted only one king named Jesus (not Caesar).
  • Christianity was counter-cultural. It did not need the affirmation of government, the assignment seats of power, nor the accolade of social icons. Its strength came from a gentle and lowly Savior with resolute confidence of who sits on the throne.

Christianity was counter-cultural. It did not need the affirmation of government, the assignment seats of power, nor the accolade of social icons. Its strength came from a gentle and lowly Savior with resolute confidence of who sits on the throne.

While the bodies of Paul & Silas were incarcerated, their hope was unrestrained. They prayed and sang hymns to God, apparently loud enough for other prisoners to hear (16:25). 2nd C. Christian theologian Tertullian said of this event, “The legs feel nothing in the stocks when the heart is in heaven” (To the Martyrs 2).”[8]

  • Reminder that our attitudes during trials and responses toward suffering are observed by others and reflect if our faith is merely in God’s blessings or fully in God’s wisdom.
    (cf James 1:3-6).

Providentially, an earthquake occurs, and the foundations of the prison were shaken with the chains unbound and doors opened. Paul & Silas had the opportunity to escape but knew the Roman guard’s fate would have cost his life with escaped prisoners, so they shouted out they were all safe and staying. Paul’s attention to the welfare of another in the midst of his own suffering—somewhat like Jesus’ concern for the criminal crucified beside him—humbled the jailer to seek salvation and faith in their God,[9] asking,
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (16:30)

Paul’s response was to believe in the Lord Jesus, and he spoke the word to them. The man was baptized, and his household came to saving faith too! Household baptism is not implying forced faith, nor even hints at pre-mature immersion (padeo-baptism). Instead, it was a sign of the gospel’s power and the influence of heads of house.

Following baptism, the guard cleansed and cared for the wounds of Paul & Silas. He also offered hospitality with food and comfort.

  1. Lydia: wealthy female (spiritually curious)
  2. Slave Girl: impoverished slave & suffering spirit (spiritually captive)
  3. Roman Jailer: blue-collar Gentile (spiritually skeptic)

Three completely different kinds of people which in turn reflects the gospel is for anybody and everybody. Someone may say, “I’m not the church/Christian type…” Well, there is no single type and we’re all undeserving sinners with one unimaginable Savior.


Summary Applications

  • Sustain gospel endurance in every circumstance and challenge.
  • Seek out Paul-mentor / Barnabas-brother / Timothy-apprentice.[10]
  • Salvation is for anyone: you or one you least expect. Pray & Participate with God!

[1] Charles Spurgeon, “A Sermon and a Reminiscence” (1873). Accessed:  https://archive.spurgeon.org/s_and_t/srmn1873.php

[2] James M. Hamilton Jr. and Brian J. Vickers, John–Acts, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar, vol. IX, ESV Expository Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 490.

[3] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 524.

[4] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 528.

[5] This application thought is inspired from Charles R. Swindoll, Acts, Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2016), 320.

[6] Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 535.

[7] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009).

[8] Quoted in Darrell L. Bock, Acts, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 540.

[9] David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 468–469.

[10] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2021/04/16/growing-godly-generations/

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