Summary: It is God who sets things in motion, and God who opens hearts to the Gospel.
THE ENCOUNTER OF OPENNESS AND TRUTH
It is a bit of a cliché, but ‘when God closes one door, He opens another’. This was certainly the experience of Paul and his companions: Silas (cf. Acts 15:40), Timothy (cf. Acts 16:1-3), and Luke (cf. Acts 16:10). We are not told how, but one way and another two negative commands were given by the Holy Spirit. However, they were balanced by a positive leading.
First, after revisiting the congregations in Phrygia and Galatia, ‘they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia (i.e. Turkey)’ (Acts 16:6). So they continued on towards Mysia, and would have continued on into Bithynia, but for a second time the Spirit ‘did not permit them’ (Acts 16:7). So, skirting round Mysia, they continued in the only way they could, and ‘they came down to Troas (on the Aegean Sea)’ (Acts 16:8).
Here the positive leading came in the form of a vision, revealed to Paul: a man he identified as “a man of Macedonia” stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). Together, “we” (reports Luke) “sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:10). As with many a missionary after them, they were not following their own carefully thought-out strategy, but God’s promptings and irresistible leading.
So they sailed from Troas and headed first towards Samothrace (a rocky island rising 5000 feet out of the sea). The next day they landed in Neapolis (i.e. Kavalla). Two days to sail 150 miles (Acts 16:11), as opposed to the five days it took them to sail back (cf. Acts 20:6). From Neapolis they had a ten-mile hike inland to Philippi, the capital of that region of Macedonia, Greece. There they were staying for some days (Acts 16:12).
On the Sabbath day the missionaries headed out of the city, “to a place by a river side where prayer was customarily made” (Acts 16:13). Modern-day missionaries might seek a platform in the heart of the city: but Paul and his companions were rather teaching by a riverside outside the city; and their listeners evidently were not rabbis and philosophers, but such women as regularly met there for prayer. God’s ways are not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:9).
Now prayer meetings have sometimes been the very places where revivals have begun. Finding these seekers after the one true and living God, Paul was duty bound to inform them of the limits of the Judaic faith which they were, up to a point, following. There is no doubt at all that Paul would soon be sharing his message: ‘Jesus Christ and Him crucified’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2), and all that that entailed.
We are here introduced to Lydia, a business woman, and a worshipper of God. “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). From God’s perspective, this was the encounter which He had been working towards all along, making it inevitable that Openness and Truth should meet together here, at this time, in this place, involving these people.
The reason Lydia submitted herself and her household to baptism (Acts 16:15a) was not because of some clever oratory, powers of persuasion, or manipulation on the part of Paul. It was entirely of God, beginning to end, no matter what instrumentation He may have used. The proof of Lydia’s newfound faith was then manifested in the hospitality which she compelled the missionaries to accept (Acts 16:15b), and which was still available for them when they were released from prison (Acts 16:40).
May the Lord open our hearts, and the hearts of our households, and the hearts of His people everywhere to the truth. And to His name be all the praise, the honour, and the glory through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.