Passage: Acts 16:1-10
Point: As Paul continues on his journey through the cities, he now comes to Philippi. Paul’s usual point of contact with the people was in the synagogue, but there probably was not a synagogue in Philippi because Paul and his company went to the riverbank to speak with some women. We read about the conversion of Lydia, a woman merchant who “feared God” or “worshipped God,” depending on your translation. She was someone who was already seeking God, despite her Greek culture. Something about this God of the Jews appealed to her more than the pantheon of Greek gods. God was tugging at her heart, and when she heard Paul preaching, it all clicked and made sense. Have you ever felt that moment of everything coming together? Finally the world makes sense and we feel purpose and passion like never before.
In the second part of this passage, we are presented with a slave girl who followed Paul around saying, “These men are servants of God Most High! They are declaring to you the way of salvation!” To me, this doesn’t seem like a problem…why wouldn’t Paul want some extra publicity? But apparently how we hear that is probably not how she meant it. To the Greeks living in Philippi, “God Most High” would more likely refer to Zeus or some other “top god.” “Salvation” did not refer to freedom from sin or entry into heaven, but a guarantee of health and prosperity. This is why Paul rebuked her “in the name of Jesus the Messiah.” Our God is not some god who offers salvation in the terms of the world, a god who is just a few tiers better than the next god. Our God is Jesus the Messiah, the Only True God. The salvation He brings to you is not a promise of good health or wealth or protection from disasters, but a promise of His faithfulness and constant love, a promise of forgiveness for your sins and eternal life in Christ.
Ponder: Think about a time when a word from God spoke to you and made life “make sense,” and then share it with someone to encourage them.
Who is God to you? Is he truly the One True God, or is he just on the list of things you worship and devote your time to? What “salvation” do YOU expect from God? Is it promises of well-being and prosperity or the knowledge of his eternal salvation?
Passage: Acts 16:1-10
Point: Do you remember the childhood game “Red Light, Green Light”? The goal is to be the first to get across a field, while one kid announces to the group “Red light!” or “Green light!” Every kid in the game waits with anticipation for the “Green light!” to start racing across the field. I kind of imagine Paul, Silas, and Timothy playing this game. They have a goal: preach the Gospel to the Gentile world. But they don’t quite know where to go. There are times when the Holy Spirit says, “Red light!” We don’t know how—maybe a prophetic word, or maybe an inner conviction in one of their hearts—but the message was clear: “the Holy Spirit did not allow them” to go either to the province of Asia or to Bithynia. We’re talking about hundreds of miles of walking on foot here. They were out in the middle of the field, waiting for the green light, wondering where to go. The amazing thing was that out in the wilderness they had the maturity to not come up with their own plan. They wanted God’s way, not theirs, regardless of how much more traveling was at stake. And then finally, it came—a vision of a man from Macedon bidding them to come to Europe. The history of Christianity, and of the western world, was changed forever because these men of God were sensitive enough to God’s Spirit to play “Red Light, Green Light” with Him.
Ponder: Do you know God’s voice well enough to notice when He says “Yes,” and when He says, “No”? Are you committed enough to His plan to learn? Commit your ways to Him today, and He will guide your steps.
Passage: Acts 15:36-41
Prayer: Father, we need you, more than ever, to show us how to work through our disagreements so that fellowship can be maintained. So often we face moments in which both sides feel strongly about the “rightness” of their “conviction” to the exclusion of the other side’s “opinion.” We marshal our arguments, we establish their credibility, we justify our position on the matter, and we refuse to budge or even listen to the other viewpoint. Surely Paul and Barnabas were in this predicament when it came to taking Mark on the next missionary trip. Both felt their reasons and assessments were of equal value. Both refused to concede to the other’s view. Both sadly went their separate ways. The truth, in real ways, was that both sides saw it correctly but from different perspectives. Barnabas, like always, saw the need to reestablish a broken relationship and trust that God was able to use a person in spite of his failures and disloyalty! Didn’t he do this for Paul? And wasn’t Paul his protege? Paul, like always, saw the need to reach the Gentile community with no appeals to Jewish scruples and no room for disloyal companions. Mark, perhaps, posed a threat to both, and Paul was not willing to take the risk. This sad chapter reminds us all of the vulnerability of Christian community. Even the rightness of something can often bring the wrongness of separation. Yet, even in this, dear Lord, you work your sovereign plan through both! Even when both cannot agree, your grace can use both! In the end your righteousness overcomes our “rightness!” In Jesus’ name, AMEN!
Passage: Acts 15:22-35
Point: The key verse in this section of scripture that pops out to me is verse 28: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” So many times in life we are faced with some big decisions. For young people, it could be which college to go to or if a certain relationship is a good idea. For working parents, it could be whether a certain school is the best choice or if a move to a new town is appropriate.
How many times has our answer been, “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us”?
I feel there is a level of our faith where things just won’t be rock solid. A lot of stock is placed on the perfect will of God. Be assured, the perfect will of God was perfected in the work and power of Jesus Christ! His life, death, and resurrection made a way for us! When we submit to that truth we are walking in the Spirit! Thus, choices are made by the power of that Spirit. This may seem vague, but it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to me to encourage you with this!
Ponder: What in your life are you having trouble making a choice about? Submit it to the Holy Spirit and see what happens!
Passage: Acts 15:12-21
Prayer: Father, teach us the power of community through godly compromise and Biblical counsel. So often, when matters of disagreement occur, we all tend to take stances of defense, instead of showing brotherly kindness and seeking harmony. So often, too, we harm the body of Christ through factions and bickering. Instead of seeking agreement, we seek to win the argument. But today, we see a wonderful example of how brothers can dwell together in unity! Today, we see men of prayer seek Biblical wisdom and employ spiritual experiences to establish principles of peace. Remind us of their deliberations, so that we too may move slowly, prayerfully, purposely to bring honor to your Name and peace to your Body. Do we not live in a house rebuilt by Jesus? Have not the old walls of judgment and the partitions of partisanship been torn down? For surely the Tent of David has been restored so that the nations can stream into its shade! So that the human race can find a place of grace! So, can we not honor personal convictions without imposing them on each other? So, should we not consider our brother and limit our freedoms when those freedoms offend their hearts and damage our fellowship? Yes, indeed we should! So help us to steer clear of rigid rules when peaceful principles will bind us with stronger cords. But never let us cave to a compromise of truth either. Teach us the difference while helping us establish a more lasting unity. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!
Ponder: So often we “take sides” on an issue that really demands that we figure a third way forward so that both sides will feel represented and respected. How can we practice this art of compromise without compromising truth?
Passage: Acts 15:1-11
Point: In this passage in Acts we see yet again that the Apostles have to deal with the issue of circumcision and Jew vs. Gentile. The Pharisees see a millennium of tradition, handed down from Abraham—if you are to belong to the family of God, you must be circumcised. This was the identifying marker of God’s people for over a millennium. What they fail to realize is that through Jesus there is a new covenant. Jesus came in order to fulfill the covenant made with Israel. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, a way of salvation was made for both Jew and Gentile. Paul would later write in Ephesians that it is by grace that we are saved through faith in Jesus, not through works. Jesus paved a wide road of salvation that is open to everyone. Through Jesus, we see the love of God for all of His creation. This includes everything and everyone in creation. In the body of Christ, there is no “us vs. them” mentality. We talk in Kids’ Church all time about how “Jesus loves you.” This statement is so true and it is true about every human being on the planet. Salvation is open to every person no matter their past mistakes, crises, finances, criminal record, marital status, ethnicity, race, gender, or even sports team affiliation. Every person you come into contact with is a loved creation of God. As Christians, we must never forget the value of human life. God’s intention for everyone has always been salvation and eternal life. By default, all human beings deserve salvation and eternal life from the very beginning; it’s our fallen humanity that causes us to work against and deny that divine intention. God so loved the world (that’s everyone in case you didn’t catch it) that He sent His only Son that whosoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.
Ponder: Who have you met or encountered that you may have thought was undeserving of God’s love or salvation? How can you show the love of God to them? Maybe you feel as though you personally do not deserve God’s grace and salvation because of your past or something you’ve done. Ask God to show His love to you, and accept that He loves you unconditionally simply because you exist – NEVER FORGET THAT.
Passage: Acts 14:21-28
Point: This section is a wrap-up of the important first steps that Paul made into the Gentile world—his “First Missionary Journey.” He preached and established churches in various towns in modern Turkey, spending various amounts of time at each, appointing elders, and then moving on. He is, in every sense of the word, a man on a mission. Following this Gospel Tour, he heads home to the very healthy mother church in Antioch. The first response is “Wow!” Could you imagine heading out on an extended ministry trip and see scores of people come to faith in Christ wherever you go? We kind of expect it because it is Paul, but in the moment it must have been wondrous and truly full of God’s grace, as Luke describes it. The second thing that jumps out to me is the incredibly important role of the local church. Paul does two things: he preaches and he starts churches. The two cannot be separated. Many people nowadays find it easy or desirable to separate their spiritual faith from the church. There are some legitimate reasons for this. “The church is irrelevant!” “The church is all about the show!” “The church doesn’t have a monopoly on God!” All true statements in some way. But this story shows us that when God moves, a church is somehow involved. A church sent Paul; and Paul leaves churches wherever he goes. The implication is clear: if you are a believer in Jesus the Messiah, you must be committed to His church. To His people. To His Bride. It is true that the church will always be imperfect while on this planet; but it is also inseparable from Jesus.
Ponder: How is your commitment to your local church, whether that is Crosswind Church or another body? How can you support it more? How can you get more involved? How can you pray? Go for it!