As the Apostle Paul began his second missionary journey strengthening previously planted churches, he planned to travel northeast, toward modern day northern Turkey. However, the Holy Spirit forbid him to speak the word in Asia (Acts 16:6). In fact, the “Spirit of Jesus did not permit them” to go there (Acts 16:7). Instead, they traveled west toward Europe under the Lord’s leading. Why? Because Paul had a vision during the night of a man in Macedonia (present day Greece), saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).
So, immediately they concluded that the Lord was calling them to preach the gospel to them, and they went. The first city they came to was Philippi. Paul and his traveling companions went to the riverside outside of the city to find people who would be gathered there for prayer. Women were there, and as Paul shared about Jesus, God opened the heart of an influential business woman named Lydia and she believed (Acts 16:14). Paul and his team then shared with her whole family and they all believed and were baptized (Acts 16:15).
What an incredible start for this mission team as they were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The gospel is shared for the first time on European soil and a house church is birthed. Lest one think that things always go this well, the following events take a different turn for Paul and Silas. As they continued to stay in Philippi for many more days a slave girl with a spirit of divination began following them. She continually said, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17).
Paul finally has enough and casts the spirit out of this girl. Her master sees that his form of profit is now gone and drags Paul and Silas before the authorities, accusing them of throwing the city into confusion by proclaiming unlawful customs (Acts 16:19-21). The authorities beat them with rods and throw them into jail. Things definitely have turned downward…or have they?
While in jail Paul and Silas sit shackled singing praises to God. Around midnight an earthquake rocks the jail and all the prison doors and shackles are unfastened (Acts 16:25-26). Fearing that the prisoners had escaped, the jailor intends to kill himself, but Paul cries out to him, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28). The jailor then asks the question of all questions—“Sirs, what must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:29)? “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” Paul and Silas reply, “and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30).
Here are a several take-aways from this visit to Philippi. First, gospel advancement relies upon the leading of the Holy Spirit. Where do we go? Just be faithful to go and trust God to lead you in where to go. Second, gospel advancement involves engaging people where they are. Go where people are gathered and engage them with the gospel. Third, share the gospel and trust God to open hearts. Ours is not the responsibility for results, but for faithfulness to share. Fourth, gospel advancement often involves opposition. Here is the bottom line, the devil does not like for us to advance the gospel. Therefore, don’t be surprised when opposition arises; in fact, expect it. Last, gospel advancement, amidst opposition, often leads to opportunities for God to do the unimaginable. God can use demon possessed girls, earthquakes, and jail cells to change sinners’ lives. If we will simply listen, we might hear the faint cry of someone “over there” saying, “Hey, come over here. We need your help!”