Sovereign Grace Blog

Sermon Summary - Church Planting - Acts 16:11-29

Church Planting

Acts 16:11-29

God is sovereign and active in planting churches. This passage marks the beginning of the church plant in the city of Philippi, which was the first church planted in Europe. Philippi was a Roman colony (Acts 16:12), which came with Roman citizenship. When Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke arrived in Philippi, they were seeking to preach to Jews first, as was their custom. They discovered that there was no synagogue, so instead they looked for a place of prayer (Acts 16:13) where Jews might be gathered. God was sovereignly working to bring Lydia to the Lord Jesus through their gospel proclamation. 

Lydia was from the city of Thyatira (Acts 16:14), a city in Asia. This town was well-known for expensive purple cloth, which would be worn by the wealthy as a status symbol. Lydia was likely a widow, who had come to Philippi to do business selling purple cloth. She was a “worshiper of God”, meaning that she was a Gentile woman who had come to believe in the God of the Jews without fully converting to Judaism. Remember that the Lord had forbidden Paul, Silas, and Timothy to preach the gospel in Asia earlier (Acts 16:6), but in God’s providence, they are now able to preach the gospel to Lydia, a woman from Asia. And while she was listening to Paul, the Holy Spirit acted, opening her heart. And there, the church in Europe was born. 

Then by God’s hand another coincidence brings forth a demonized slave-girl (Acts 16:16) who recognized Paul and company as “servants of the Most High God” (Acts 16:17). Her outcries announcing this eventually bugged Paul enough that he drove the demon out of her (Acts 16:18). This leads to the God-ordained trouble that happened next - their imprisonment (Acts 16:19-24). While Luke doesn’t say whether the slave-girl becomes a Christian or not, it seems likely that she was added with Lydia to the foundation of the church in Philippi. And lastly, the hardened prison jailer, who was shockingly awakened by an earthquake, was also converted into a Jesus-loving Christian, along with his family members. That’s the beginning of the church plant in Philippi, and more broadly, in Europe. What Lydia, the slave-girl, and the jailer have in common in the one and only Savior far exceeds any earthly bonds. 

As God orchestrated the salvation of these differing persons, these missionaries’ task was simple: be faithful with the gospel. Often we look at the outward appearances and circumstances of a person and doubt that they can ever be saved. But we should learn to never despise any person as unimportant when it comes to the gospel. 

Turning to the jail scene, we should also notice that Paul and Silas bore witness to the gospel by their changed lives along with faithfully proclaiming the message. Paul and Silas, still bleeding from the beating they took, knew that what happened to them was actually illegal. But rather than complain, they sang (Acts 16:25). When the prisoners are miraculously set free by the earthquake (Acts 16:26), the jailer is ready to kill himself to avoid the torture he would face for allowing the escape (Acts 16:27). But Paul saved his life by shouting out to him (Acts 16:28). Paul could have easily fled for escape, or sought revenge and let the jailer kill himself. But he was so gospel-centered that he was indiscriminately centered on the salvation of others, no matter the circumstances. 

Returning to the strange encounter with the slave-girl, we see one way Satan and evil spirits oppose the gospel, namely by appearing to be on the side of the gospel. Although the words spoken were true, the vessel and manner in which those words were delivered were a poor representation of the gospel. A false religion of fortune-telling is not helpful to the cause of the gospel. 

God is sovereign over planting churches, and over saving souls. He does it through the gospel being faithfully preached. God opens the hearts of some to respond with faith, while others reject the gospel because of the hardness of their hearts (Eph. 4:18-19). Lydia did not open her own heart; the Lord opened her heart. 

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