The first five verses of this chapter deal with Paul and Silas revisiting some of the towns that Paul had preached in before.
Along the way they met a young man, possibly in his teens, named Timothy, who would become an important and long-lasting friend to Paul. Paul was obviously impressed with him, as was the surrounding community. But since Paul knew they would likely encounter legalistic Jews, Paul had Timothy circumcised, presumably so that Timothy would not lose credibility with the Jews they were trying to communicate the truth to.
The trio continues on, delivering the Jerusalem council's response to legalism to the nearby churches that Paul had been to before. It's a cool and "edgy" idea today to rebel against systems of authority. The word "accountability" makes us feel confined, or judged. While no leadership on earth is perfect, and human leaders should not expect to avoid questioning, we also see here that as a result of these churches' accountability to the council in Jerusalem, they were "strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers."(verse 5) There's certainly nothing wrong with testing the words of our leaders, but it would seem we shouldn't automatically rule them out, either.
Something interesting happens in verses 6-8. Paul and Silas chose the area of Phrygia and Galatia, not because God clearly said, "go there", but because he told them where NOT to go. The rest was educated and prayerful guessing. They saw Mysia coming up and knew it was technically part of Asia Minor(which they were supposed to avoid), so veered away to Bithynia in the north. But Jesus didn’t want them there, either.
At times, these great men, in line with God’s will, were confused wanderers, having NO idea what was coming next, but trusting that they were in the will of God because they kept their eyes on the mission God had given them: Create disciples, who would create disciples, who would create disciples… Very often we don't get the specific direction from God that we would like. "Should I quit this job? Sell this house? Start this ministry?" We may try things out that we believe are in the will of God, only to see them fall apart. We can take comfort in knowing that this happened to Paul, too. And while it may seem less than productive to us, these aren't "detours" from God's plan. Paul used what knowledge he had available to make wise decisions and made serving God and others his number one priority. He hit some U-turns, and so will we, but this is a simple formula that anyone can honor God with.
Later, Paul forces a fortune-telling demon out of a slave girl who had been making money for her owners with her demonic ability. (Although the demon spoke the truth regarding Paul's identity and purpose, it was likely a distraction that made it difficult for Paul and the others to build relationships with those they met. This probably led to Paul's frustration, followed by the excorcism.) Having lost a good source of income, the slave owners slandered Paul and company and had them beaten and thrown in jail.
In the middle of the night, an earthquake rocks the prison. All cells are opened and manacles break free. The lone guard wakes up, sees the damage and assumes the worst: He feel asleep on the job and the prisoners escaped!
Assuming his life would effectively be over anyway for neglecting his duties, he prepares to kill himself. Amazingly, Paul and friends haven't left the prison and quickly tell the guard not to kill himself. This must have spoken volumes to the guard. How could they not have taken advantage of this kind of impossible opportunity to escape? He seemed to recognize that these men had something about them that he needed to have, too.
Before the night was done, the guard and his family had become believers in Christ. Now for the twist at the end of this tale. When the authorities release Paul and company in the morning, they find out that they are citizens of Rome. Beating a Roman citizen without trial is illegal. (You can verify this by jumping ahead to Acts 22:25) Paul knew this. He and his friends had a "get out of jail free card" that they could have used at any time. Before the first lash hit their backs, before the stocks were put on their feet, or anytime overnight in prison. But somewhere in this, Paul and his partners saw an opportunity to share the truth in a powerful way, and so willingly accepted the suffering they knew would come! Wow.
Next Time: Searching For Truth In "Spirit Blade: Chapter 3"!
Coffee House Question
What "detours" in your life can you think of that God took you through before establishing you in something? Are you experiencing a "detour" now?