GOD ESTABLISHES HIS CHURCH IN THE WORLD
The Benefit of Persecution
Jerry A. Collins
One of the most challenging, yet rewarding and comforting things for us as believers to come to terms with is the sovereignty of God. The fact is that our God is in control of all events and circumstances in our lives and ministry. Does this bring you comfort or does it make you feel uneasy? We have control of so littleóexcept how we choose to respond to that which we cannot control. When we can accept that our God is in control, we can then be fully available for service in His kingdom without any strings attached or demands to be met. An important principle our passage stresses is that our God is sovereign in salvation. We learn this beginning with the story of Lydiaís conversion.
1. GOD KNOWS WHERE TO FIND THOSE WHO ARE PREPARED FOR HIS WORD 11-15
A liberating thought about sharing the gospel is that we are not responsible for making people believe it. First, God is sovereign over where the gospel will be preached. The guidance of the HS and prayer had preceded their arrival in the city of Philippi (6-10). They arrived here by divine appointment. They converge on a city that is apparently suitable for the strategy of spreading the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. It is described as a leading city of the district of Macedonia vs 12. So God is sovereign over both who He will use and where He will use them. You must be confident that God sovereignly places you where he does, in your family, marketplace, relationships, opportunities, situations, circumstances, and that He wants to use you there for His kingdom purposes. God never makes any mistakes in his placing of his people in the world. Now they go down by the river after several days in the city supposedly to a place of prayer and find a group of women assembled. Second, God is sovereign over whose heart will be opened to salvation. Notice that Godís servants simply began speaking to the women vs 13 and to the things spoken by Paul vs 14. Our job is to do the speaking. That is, to preach the gospel vs 10. And notice as we are faithful is doing this very thing, what it is that God does. God leads us to people who are ready to respond to the gospel. Notice that Lydia, first was a worshiper of God as well as one who prayed. A praying woman from this provinceóand a province in which she prayedóare before the heart of God. We cannot pick and choose whose hearts will be available to God. Only God knows this and so He leads his servants to them. Second, she listened to the gospel. This is what she has been waiting for. Third, she listened with faith believing and we know this because the Lord opened her heart. Salvation does not depend on clever evangelistic strategies or the skill of the preacher or even a creative and artful presentation. It is not a human work but it is Godís work. An interesting observation is that in the evangelistic messages of Acts there is never any sort of clever manipulation. Just the plain facts of the gospel. It appears that Lydiaís household believer and were baptized and her household becomes the basis of a house church started in this city and region vs 40. Her place becomes the center of Christian activity in that city as Paul and Silas made it there home base of ministry there. Who knows where the gospel may have been spread from the first converted household in Greece. Godís leading always bears itís fruit.
2. GOD USES MANíS WRATH AND SATANíS WICKEDNESS AS TOOLS FOR HIS OWN ENDS 16-34
We may be impressed in Lydiaís case with the sovereign way God directs His servants to His elect and we will be impressed again in Godís control of events to reach another new household in the city for Himself. What is interesting is a one-two punch that is immediately given to try and take the wind out of this new movement in that city. This section, 16-24 describes the fear and hatred of Satan and the greed and revenge of man to form a single picture of opposition to what it is God is doing in that place. First, we have Satanís opposition in vss 16-18. As in our Lordís ministry, the evil spirit in the young girl seeks to make Godís servants known. True, though her words were, they were unfit coming from a demon. This spirit in her kept it up for many days until, exasperated, Paul rebukes this satanic activity and stops it vs 18. It is for Godís servants to make the way of salvation known. Not an unbelieving demon. Second, this outcome triggers manís opposition in 19-24. This reaction in vs 19 illustrates the very sobering and sad reality that people will use people for their own selfish purposes. A love for money will make people expendable. Satan uses this kind of love to destroy peopleís lives. So enveloped by the cloak of personal greed and revenge, a complaint is lodged and Godís servants are seized, dragged, beaten, imprisoned and chained 19-24. The clamor of the crowd allowed to prevail over investigation of the facts, sweeps everyone along from the masters, to the authorities, to the crowd and finally to the guards. Everything, however, is part of the sovereign plan of God by which he moves eventually toward the salvation of another household destined to become believers. Third, God uses the wickedness of Satan and the greed of man to accomplish the work He is doing in the heart of a man and his family 25-34. All of the safeguards in place for maximum security proved futile as we will see. How could they be praying and praising God here? Praising God does not depend upon our circumstances. We are to rejoice in the Lord always Phil 4:4. We do not rejoice in our circumstances but with the understanding that our sovereign God controls every circumstance of life. Even unjust imprisonments. We evaluate our circumstances in lite of what we know to be true about God. We may not know how a circumstance is being used by God but we can rejoice in the fact that He is. The combination of an earthquake, foundations shaking, doors opened, chains unfastened reveals that man nor Satan can interfere with the work God is doing. All of this, to bring the gospel to a jailer ready to commit suicide for fear that he ahs lost his prisoners vs 27. Astonished at the unbelievable turn of events his defenses are stripped away and his heart is now open to respond to the preaching of the gospel. The jailer was already aware of salvation because of his statement in vs 30 possibly from learning about the girlsí cry about the way of salvation having done so for many days vs 18. With the greed of her masters, which was why Paul and Silas were imprisoned, he had the opportunity to ask for salvation. So God used all of this to get to this one man and his household. This prompts us to ask if we too are willing to be available to Godís leading for the ministry of the gospel no matter what the circumstances associated with bringing it to those prepared to hear it and receive it. Another household has come to faith in Christ 31-34. God loves to work in families. Two households to which salvation has come are now found in this city. Nothing happened as man would have planned it, but everything as God planned. Fourth, a strong spiritual foundation is now sovereignly layed by these conversions in the city 35-40. There are brethren at Lydiaís house, whose number unknown, and now there is the family of the jailer. Their future security prompts the challenge by Paul in vs 37 and they encourage this group before departing. (1) Those seeking will get the gospel. (2) God goes to great lengths to bring it to them. (3) He uses us.