Acts 16 • God's Will vs. Our Perception


Paul’s intention for his second missionary journey is stated in 15:36, “….Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are.” The first part of their journey follows that plan but begins to diverge along unexpected lines.

Read verses 6-8

Q: When one looks at a map, Paul’s desire to preach in these places is very logical. The gospel would have been preached throughout the entire Turkish peninsula with no gaps. What are some of the reasons the Holy Spirit “forbade” Paul to go to these places at this time?

A1: [There are many answers and group discussion should be encouraged.] One possible answer is in the very differences of the Apostles themselves. Ever notice how different their personalities were from each other? This also made them suitable for preaching to a wide variety of people groups. Paul might not have been so suited. Or it simply wasn’t it God’s timing yet.

A2: Read 1 Peter 1:1 [Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen ]

Apparently Peter would minister to the very groups Paul “missed”; there was only a “gap” from Paul’s perspective, not the Holy Spirit’s. God works along multiple, parallel lines. Do we see ourselves as the ONLY solution?

Q: What is an application for us taken from Paul’s experience?

A: We should make our plans to the best of our ability but remain open to the Holy Spirit’s direction to amend them.

Read verses 9-10

Q: What is significant about the call to Macedonia based on the pattern of the spread of the gospel to this point?

A: This would be the first formal foray onto the European continent. It would begin to spread the Gospel to ALL people groups descended through the sons of Noah – Ham, Shem and Japheth.

Read verses 11-15

Q: It was Paul’s usual custom to begin preaching at the local synagogue. Why doesn’t he do that in Philippi?

A: The Jewish community is so small that they don’t have a synagogue. They regularly meet at a spot along the river. In fact, they’re so small that they don’t even have any male members. (10 Jewish males were required to form a synagogue.)

Q: At Pentecost, Samaria, and other places where the Gospel is first preached – what are the chief differences between those events and this one at Philippi?

A: There are no great numbers converted and there are no great external signs of the Holy Spirit. This beginning is very humble compared to those and is undertaken by a few women who simply believe the Word given through Paul. (There may be lessons concerning women’s role in the church in this passage.)

Point: Philippi would become the site of one of the early church’s largest and most thriving churches. Just like Philip being led to the desert to minister to a single Ethiopian, the Holy Spirit knows how to most effectively plant the Gospel for maximum results.

Read verses 16-18

Q: What is the evidence that the church at Philippi was growing?

A: More and more people were coming out to the place of prayer by the river.

Q: Why does Paul ultimately undertake to silence the demonic slave-girl?

A: As Christ demonstrated Himself, the Holy Spirit does not need nor desire the “testimony” of Satan. It confuses people who begin to ascribe legitimacy to demons, blurring the lines between light and darkness.

Read verses 19-24

Q: Where does the line of religious tolerance often end?

A: Money – when it begins to impinge on financial issues.

Q: What is the clue in v.20 that there is already existing racial prejudice?

A: The accusers’ statements that these men are Jews.

Q: What is the recurring accusation in v.21 that both Jesus and the Apostles constantly run into?

A: The alleged claim that their teaching contradicts, and encourages disobedience to, Roman law.

Q: New Testament Cities for $500, Alex – The Answer: A Roman colony with all the rights and bureaucracy of a city physically located in Italy.

A: The question: What is special and different about Philippi? This city’s status meant that this was the direct authority of Rome at work within this city, not merely local officials being aroused into a frenzy by jealous Jews as so often was the case. There were legal processes and protocols to be observed that were completely overlooked in their treatment of Paul and Silas.

Read verses 25-30

Q: How often do we react to mistreatment or personal persecution by praising God in the midst of such circumstances?

A: [This is a rhetorical question. Encourage group discussion along these lines.]

Q: From a certain point of view, why might Paul and Silas and all the prisoners be construed as the “stupidest” people on earth?

A: The doors are all miraculously opened, the chains all fall from everyone’s limbs, and yet no one seems to recognize they’ve been freed. No one jumps up and runs out of prison!

Q: What lesson might we learn from everyone’s reaction?

A: In every circumstance, regardless of the appearance of the situation, inquire of the Lord and seek HIS will and guidance. From a spiritual point of view, the prisoners were STILL in “prison” – the “prison” of sin – and “freedom” would not be gained by running from the building as long as the messengers of true freedom – the Gospel through Paul and Silas – were in that building.

Also, have you noticed how many times throughout the Bible we are taught that just because circumstances look and feel good to us, that this does not automatically assume that they’re provided by God?

Q: Compare the reactions of the prisoners to that of the jailer. What were they both based on?

A: Both were based on the physical circumstances. The jailer, seeing the doors open and awakened at the sound of all the chains thumping to the floor believed his life was forfeit not seeing that the prisoners were still actually there. The prisoners, from their viewpoint of the same events, believed their life was forfeit if they did not attain the greater freedom of the Gospel.

Q: What did the signs result in?

A: Belief in the message behind the signs. The repentance of the jailer and his whole household.

Read verses 31-32

Q: How did Paul respond to the jailer’s question?

A: He gave him the “short answer”, meeting him at the point of his need, and then followed from that point with the longer, supporting answers that would lead not just to belief but discipleship.

Read verses 33-34

Q: Compare and contrast the two uses of the water.

A: The same source of water first used to tend to Paul’s and Silas’ physical healing subsequently provides spiritual healing through baptism of the jailer and his family.

Q: Compare and contrast the two uses of food.

A: Paul and Silas, after providing spiritual nourishment, are themselves physically nourished.

Point: ALL the answers for Paul and Silas were provided through their commitment to the Gospel as a priority over their physical concerns. The ministry provided all the answers to all the parties involved. Placing the message of the Gospel first in our lives has the peculiar result of meeting all other needs along the way.


It is very interesting to note that while imprisoned in Rome, Paul will write the letter we know as the Epistle to the Philippians and in verse 1:3-7 of that book in the near future writes to them:

“I thank God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.”

Quite an image for the Philippians, who would treasure this letter with the knowledge of the circumstances of Paul’s incarceration in their very own prison, and how it resulted in THEIR being freed through the Gospel.