The Path of Paul to More Peoples Than Peter

Acts 16:14-30

And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us. And it happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a certain slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.” And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened. And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep and had seen the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Last time we saw Paul and his companions forced west by the Holy Spirit. We wonder why the Spirit stymied speaking the gospel in the Galatian region but we also are taking a long view of Scripture, considering the context to see what unfolds. I left us with a bit of a cliffhanger last time and will leave us with one this time as well. Bit by bit and little by little we will watch the Path of Paul and his companions which now includes the likes of Luke, the author of the book. Luke writes a historical narrative, an account of the acts of the apostles. Remember that Luke doesn’t and can’t include everything that happens. Also remember that he has just joined them, and does give a detailed description of what happened to them after the Holy Spirit forbid them from preaching in Galatia in Asia Minor and from turning north to Bithynia. They are headed west–my friends, Paul is headed towards Europe.

Stopping in Macedonia, they went down to the river to pray, where the women were. “And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.”

Context is king–while we see that Lydia was a worshiper of God, she was not a disciple of Jesus Christ. First, Luke called her “a certain woman,” not, “a certain disciple.” That is our first clue. But the icing on the cake is the following: “the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Then we also see her baptized, along with members of her household. Even those who worship God need to be converted by the Spirit to Jesus. That is, one must be born again. Lydia believed in God but had not been transformed, having her mind changed, placing her faith in Christ and on his cross. She probably had never heard the name of Jesus. Yet we see what we often do, God has gone before Paul, preparing the way, softening hearts. We are not told if Lydia was a proselyte, but the context does give us a hint that she was not Jewish. Notice that she had to argue and beg with Paul and his colleagues to stay under her roof. Some traditions die hard. Nevertheless, Luke tells us that she prevailed.

“And it happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a certain slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, ‘These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.'” Since context is king, we must keep reading because it appears as if this young woman was encouraging the townspeople to listen to Paul and his companions. But in literature, especially in the Bible, things are not always as they appear at first glance, with a glossing over of the text. Write this down, mega-church pastors.

“‘These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.’ And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out at that very moment.” In other words, she had a demon; what came out of her mouth was demonic. And not only this, but her soothsaying as well, but we’ll come back to this as the context unfolds. For now we see that demonically, as the apostle Paul and his colleagues went down to the river to pray and speak about Jesus, they were accosted by this young woman, against her will. After some time of putting up with it, Paul had enough and cast out the demon, in an instant. It’s a pattern that we often see in the Bible. Things can go on for a while but eventually they get dealt with. Paul endured persecution until it boiled over and he was stoned, for example. Keep your eyes open for this type of patient endurance which ends with either of two ways. Back to our fortune telling young woman.

She was “a certain slave-girl having a spirit of divination, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling.” Keep this in mind as we continue in the context. “She kept crying out, saying, ‘These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.’ And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out at that very moment. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, ‘These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.’ And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.”

This is fairly self explanatory but I would like to focus on the fact that Paul freed the slave-girl from a demon but her masters only cared about their bottom line. Also, Paul was a Roman citizen and while Jewish, he was not preaching Judaism but Jesus. Certainly Paul used the Jewish Scripture to present Jesus but he certainly was not promoting Judaism. The point is, the Romans of that region were being hypocritical and lovers of money. Reading the book of Acts certainly helps us better understand Paul’s epistles. In one or two, he even mentions today’s text. It was historical, it happened.

After being stripped and beaten for casting out a demon and praying, preaching and teaching about the prince of peace, Paul was placed in prison with his companions. “And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened.”

I don’t know how many blows many blows was but I assume it was many blows. Paul, Silas and probably others, but presumably not Luke, were beaten severely. Yet after being thrown in the innermost parts of the prison, they sang a song. My version reads that they sang a hymn. To which I always wonder; “why was there a pipe organ in the innermost parts of the prison?” I realize that this is a stupid and juvenile joke, and one that I have oft repeated, but not in these missives, to the best of my recollection. Today I listened to part two, of the Worship Wars on dogmatic dispensationalist radio. In it, they were horrified, or, feigned horrification, at pastors who said to objecting parishioners about the style of music, “if you don’t like it, go somewhere else.” And that is horrible. Nevertheless, I don’t have parishioners, I don’t have an offering plate, I don’t do communion with you, I offer what I have for free, without cost or advertisements, therefore I will say, if you don’t like the following, you can always stop reading– and it is only my opinion: if the songs that offend the dogmatic dispensationalists were written by Wesley, to the tune of an organ, they would love them. On the contrary, if these songs were written by Wesley, to the tune of an organ, the contemporary church would hate them. I see clearly it’s over style and not content. I have proof but I am not sure if I should divulge it.

It may be better to sit this one out as I have said that I would do–no one wins in these worship wars. Part of the problem is praise is only part of worship. In what definition of the word “worship” do we see the singing of songs? Praise is only a part of worship. Let me state this emphatically; words absolutely do matter in worship with song. The problem is that the words of many old and cherished “hymns” are equally as erroneous as some of our modern “praise songs.” Hymn is the English transliteration of the Greek word meaning “praise song.” All I can say to the dogmatic dispensationalists and hypocritical hymn lovers is to examine yourself before you judge others. I am with you in that many modern worship songs are corny and not exactly doctrinally correct, but neither are your’s. We don’t want to start a war over this. After a few minutes of thought, I have decided that I should probably provide proof. The song that plays at the end of every broadcast of this particular dogmatic dispensationalist radio program contains the words; “you are the love song that we’ll sing forever.” Yet the dogmatic dispensationalists argued that most modern praise songs are love songs. In my opinion, that is walking a very thin line. If you recognize the song I quoted, know this; I think it’s a great song, yet a song that does require literary license. And if you think that maybe I am taking things out of context, that’s the point. The preceding were my opinions, let’s get back to solid truth. But before we do let’s look at my (sarcastically speaking) favorite hymn of all time; “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses… and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.” That’s gospel gold!

Based on John 20, the writer pictures Mary Magdalene with Jesus. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.”‘ Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and that He had said these things to her.” Quite the opposite of tarried there, Jesus said to stop clinging to him. It’s a good thing I am not the president of the Southern Baptist Convention or I would ban all singing until everyone was happy–meaning, singing in a Southern Baptist church would be banned forever.

“And he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own.” This really isn’t found in the context of John 20. Yes, he spoke, yes he walked, but this song is like a Christmas pageant with an innkeeper, donkeys, camels and wise men, none of which are mentioned in the text concerning the birth of Jesus. I didn’t start this blog to debate the dogmatic dispensationalists, I started it so that people would read their Bibles, utilizing a hermeneutical tool such as the CAGED method, where; context is king, author’s aspirations to his audience are apex, genre is the general, expository exegesis of examples enlightens and dividing rightly the word of truth either confirms or cancels our preconceived notions and presuppositions. Nevertheless, almost everyday I listen to dogmatic dispensationalists demean all discourse but their own, without providing proper contextual support. Like the mega-church pastors, who only do it for a half hour at a time, the dogmatic dispensationalists diabolically debate all other opinions for almost an hour without anything more than citing a verse here and paraphrasing a verse there. This is what would call a classic case of not considering the context. It’s not being resolute, it’s being stubborn. It’s not growth, it’s stagnation. And it certainly isn’t grace, charity or liberty. Like the Pharisees it is their way or the highway. Unlike the Pharisees, I believe that they truly love the Lord and are honestly trying to be approved servants. To the dogmatic dispensationalists I give this caution; be very careful that you are not hindering people from coming to the Lord–holding fast to your culture and traditions, pining for yesteryear and a rapture rescue. The grass was not greener yesterday and God has plenty of salvation left in his pocket. This gets us back to today’s text. Remember the demon was doctrinally correct in the slave-girl. The demon spoke the truth concerning the apostle Paul and his colleagues yet he was hindering their ministry.

I am not comparing the dogmatic dispensationalists to demons, but expressing the fact that truth matters–obidience matters more. In today’s text, the Romans in the region opposed Paul, claiming that his Jewish customs were against their customs and culture. Nevertheless we know that Paul was a citizen of Rome, by birth, as well as being a former Pharisee. Notice that Paul is still a Roman citizen but no longer a Pharisee. Look closely at the context–we see baptism not circumcision, prayer at the river’s edge not sacrifice in a temple and speaking about Jesus not the Law of Moses. Even when the young woman with a demon was set free from demonic captivity, the masters of the young woman saw the end of their profits from her profitable prophecies and not her freedom. The context is quite clear, the people present were in fear of Paul and his colleagues changing their current culture.

Fast forward 1,975 years or so and we see the same things. Young christian musicians read the Bible and see that the kingdom of heaven does not come all at once, but they take a long view of Scripture, seeing that the Scripture, in no uncertain terms, says that the kingdom of God starts small but gets larger as time progresses, not regresses. These young christian artists sing songs about Jesus building his kingdom on earth. This is not only a preposterous presupposition to the dogmatic dispensationalists but boarders on, and in the minds of some, is heretical. The question is, who is correct? Should Paul have not cast out the demon due to cultural conflicts? Should we silence everyone who sings essentially, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” Revelation reads, “John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood, and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father; to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen. BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. Even so. Amen.”

The dogmatic dispensationalists arguement is that the following promotes “Kingdom Now, Dominionism:”

“Build Your kingdom here
Let the darkness fear
Show Your mighty hand
Heal our streets and land
Set Your church on fire
Win this nation back
Change the atmosphere
Build Your kingdom here
We pray.”

Dominion theology and Kingdom Now theology are two entirely different angles of approach to Scripture. That’s the dogmatic dispensationalists first misstep. The more glaring one is the content of the song. It suggests–merely suggests–an amillennial, historic premillennial or post millennial eschatology. Therefore it doesn’t fit their pretribulational rapture eschatology, which says that the world gets worse and worse. To which I always question the starting point of the downward spiral. When did the world start getting worse? After the flood? After the cross? After Woodrow Wilson was elected? Jesus said, The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR come and NEST IN ITS BRANCHES.” The dogmatic dispensationalists would say to Jesus, “you cannot say it’s the smallest of seeds because it’s not.” Literally, literally, literally. We remember that the Bible is literature and we read it in a literary fashion and not in a absolute, literal fashion. Otherwise we all would have to cut off our right hand and gouge our eyes out. Should we not grant the same literary license to contemporary christians lyricists? The worship wars are not about lyrics, otherwise I would leave them alone–it is clearly about culture. As far as lyrics are concerned,  my two cents says to examine yourself first, using the exact same measurement on yourself as you do to others. Then it will become apparent that it is about personal preference. Now that I have devoted entirely too much time to this–much more can be written–let’s keep it in context.

Paul was proclaiming the kingdom of Christ in a very different culture, and it gets him beaten and thrown in prison with their feet locked in stocks. (Much like in his own culture.) “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened. And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep and had seen the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!’ And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'”

I wouldn’t dare to ruin the cliffhanger by telling you what Paul says, but I will tell you somethings that he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say to sing with organ accompaniment. He doesn’t say to argue amongst the brethren over minor doctrinal differences. We also notice that the jailer was inspired to believe. More on this next time, lord willing. But for now we see Paul and his companions on a rocky road to all sorts of people. Shouldn’t we be on the same path? Doctrine is great but before we teach doctrine, we have to find followers.

 

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