Acts 16-17
(Guided By the Spirit)
November 18th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

They traveled through the Phrygian and Galatian territory because they had been prevented by the holy Spirit from preaching the message in the province of Asia. When they came to Mysia, they tried to go on into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

- Acts 16:6-7 (NAB)

Summary of Chapters

These chapters record the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey. He traveled long distances and encountered many types of people, including men and women, Jews and Greeks, and people of all classes. The consistent theme in all these locations is that he helped people come to faith and generated resentment from the established hierarchy.

In the beginning of chapter 16 we are introduced to Timothy, son of a Jewish woman and a Greek man. He becomes a protégé and valued companion for Paul. Their travel routes were directed by the Spirit – Paul wanted to go to Bithnia, “but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow him to (Acts 16:7 - NIV).” Instead, he decided to go to Macedonia because of a vision of a man from that region. The region of Macedonia includes the city of Philippi, which was Paul and Timothy's first stop. This city did not have any synagogues, so the Jews prayed by the river, where Paul found an audience.

Luke switched to a first person perspective about halfway through this chapter when he describes the events leading up to an arrest and imprisonment of Paul and Silas. They had expelled a demon from a servant girl, an act that had angered her owner because the demon had allowed the girl to predict the future and generate money for him. The angry slave-holding man successfully lodged trumped up sedition charges against the two men of God, so they were thrown into an inner cell of the prison with all of their appendages handcuffed.

It looked like the gig was over for Paul and Silas, but they persisted in faith, singing hymns in that dark, dank prison. Suddenly an earthquake occurred that set them free. In an interesting turn of events, their jailor became a believer because of this event and brought Paul and Silas home. The jailor’s family also became believers and the jailor washed their wounds in an act reminiscent of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples or the Good Samaritan caring for the wounded man left by the side of the road.

Chapter 17 reports that Paul and Silas went to Thessalonica and Berea where they assisted in converting both Jews and Greeks, and once again had to escape in stealth mode for fear of their life. Paul ended up alone in Athens where he single-handedly took on some of the great thinkers of the empire. They believed in many gods but he taught them that the one true had God made everything, and that God built into us a desire to seek him:

Many came to believe, while those who didn’t believe merely sneered. They were a more civilized and intellectual group than some of the other locations to which Paul had travelled, and naturally they considered themselves more worldly and wiser than this man of God.

Reflection and Application

It takes a lot of awareness to allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit. This type of awareness can be developed through prayer and Bible study. If we are not dedicating time to prayer, including time to listen for God's response, then we might not be removing enough noise to hear the type of guidance that Paul heard.

However, it is possible to be guided by the Spirit without prayer and preparation - Paul's first encounter with Jesus is a testimony to this possibility. Jesus literally knocked Paul off his high horse while Paul was on his way to persecute more Christians. You also may have experienced the intervention of God's Spirit at a time when you were avoiding or rebelling against him, but it's not a recommended approach to run from God in order to hear him. In either case, when we receive a message from God's Spirit it’s important for us to respond with obedience, even if we think there is a good reason to do the opposite. Paul and Silas had a reasonable travel plan for preaching but the Spirit told them to do otherwise. We would be wise to follow this model when our plans are not in sync with God's instructions.

God can remove the shackles and chains for any of us. When we are at our lowest point in our lives it is a good time to turn to God and see what happens. Note that Paul did not try to escape from jail in Philippi under his own power. Instead he prayed and sung hymns with his friend Silas. Maybe Paul was not concerned over whether he escaped or not but instead trusted in God's plans. When he was ultimately told he could go free he requested an audience with the officials because he had not been given his proper rights.

In Athens Paul was up against a group of people who were well versed in debate and who clung stubbornly to their panoply of gods. Apparently, there were more statues of gods in Athens than any other city, even one monument, as Paul observed, that was dedicated to an “unknown god.”

Paul was a man of confidence, but he drew his confidence from God and allowed God to work through him. When we have a tough audience we can turn to God for help and guidance and trust that he will get us through it.

How do you imagine the scene when Paul addressed the Athenians? The address took place at the Araeopagus, as noted in Acts 17:19. The Areopagus may have referred to the Hill of Ares, who was the Greek god of war. The Roman equivalent was Mars, to whom they ascribed many of the same myths. Alternatively, the Areopagus may have referred to something west of the Acropolis or to the Council of Athens, which at one time met on the hill but which at this time assembled in the Royal Colonnade (1).

The Renaissance painter Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520) depicted the scene he imagined in a full color painting, which now belongs to the Royal Collection of England, as well as on a colored tapestry, which is now property of the Vatican, and a brown ink drawing that belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. You can see a representation of the colored painting and tapestry at the link below. Look in the background for the statute of the Roman god Mars, who was the god of war and was often depicted with a helmet and spear. "Paul Preaching at Athens"

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. Who do you know that has been some type of protégé for you?
    2. How can we best clear all the noise from our hearts and minds so that we can discern the guidance of the Spirit the way Paul did?
    3. What are some of the tough audiences you are about to face in which God can be your inspiration for confidence?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we know you send messages to us through the Spirit - help us to obey.

    Prayer Concern

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Acts 18-19 (Don’t Say You Didn’t Hear It)


    (1) Footnotes from chapter 17, New American Bible online

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