By Joseph Ametepe
"And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, 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 stock" (Acts 16:22-24).
The spiritual lesson I would like us to look at from the passage above and its context is:Obedience to God not only leads to blessings for the believer, but also persecution.
Paul and Silas, along with Dr. Luke and Timothy, began what is called the second missionary journey after Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement and separated. After being prevented by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in the west coast province of Asia Minor (western part of modern Turkey) and Bithynia (also part of Turkey), Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man, standing and appealing to him to come over to Macedonia and help them. When Paul related his vision to his team, they all concluded that God was calling them to preach the gospel in Macedonia (Acts 16:1-10). I like the fact that Paul and his team worked as a team. God gave the vision to Paul, but after sharing it with the rest, they were united on the direction God was leading them as a team. How we need that sense of unity in ministry teams today in following God's leading! United about God's direction for them as a team, they decided that the time had come to change course. Instead of going east, they went west. For the first time, the gospel would be preached on European soil. This was a historic moment for the church as a whole. Philippi, the leading city of Macedonia, would become the first European city in which the Good News of Jesus Christ was preached.
Having arrived at the city of Philippi, the team stayed there for some days. What happened during those days? The Holy Spirit did not to tell us about what happened during those days. But I believe that during those silent days, the first missionaries to Europe, Paul, Silas, Dr. Luke, and Timothy, spent further time in prayer and preparation for the work God had called them to do. After those silent days of prayer and preparation, the team made a strategic move. On the Sabbath they went outside the city gate to a riverside where they expected to find a place of prayer (Acts 16:13). Apparently, there was no synagogue in the city of Philippi. So they looked to go somewhere else. There is no doubt in my mind that the Spirit led them there. Because when they got there, several women had gathered there (Acts 16:13). God was at work preparing the way for His obedient missionaries. I like what Paul and his team did upon arriving at the riverside where the women had gathered. They simply sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there (Acts 16:13). There was no major publicity. There was no special evangelistic "program" to put on. There was no special gospel musicians or bands to take the stage and "move" the crowd with their special music. No! There was none of that! The missionaries simply sat down and spoke to the women. Paul and his team made sharing the gospel message simple, not sophisticated. Indeed, we still have a lot to learn from the first missionaries to Europe and their simple and straightforward method of reaching the lost with the gospel.
Certainly, their obedience to the call of God brought about a blessing for the first missionaries to Europe. Upon preaching the gospel message outside the city gate of Philippi, the Lord opened the heart of Lydia to respond to Paul's message. Lydia became the first convert to Christianity in Europe. She and the members of her household who believed were baptized (Acts 16:15). They would certainly become the first born-again members of the Philippian church. No doubt, there was great joy in the camp of the missionaries. Why? They had experienced the blessing of new life in Christ. There was also joy in heaven as the holy angels of heaven celebrated the salvation of Lydia and the members of her household. But things quickly turned sour for the missionaries. A slave girl, having a spirit of divination, who had made a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling, followed Paul and his team. Shouting, she said, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved" (Acts 16:17). Paul tolerated this for awhile, but finally he became troubled (ticked off) and turned and commanded the spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. Instantly, the spirit came out (Acts 16:18). This was another victory and blessing in the camp of the missionaries. But after this, things went from bad to worse for them. When the owners realized their hope of making big bucks was gone, they seized the prominent leaders of the missionary team, Paul and Silas, dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They were accused of throwing the city into an uproar. Unfortunately for Paul and Silas, the crowd also joined in the attack against them. Without carefully investigating the charges against the missionaries, the magistrates ordered Paul and Silas to be stripped and flogged and shut up in the most secure part of the prison (Acts 16:19-24).
I thought when a believer in Jesus Christ obeys God, life should be all blue skies and blessings for him or her! That's what we are taught. In fact, there are many books written on the blessings of obedience. That's fine! Read them! But please understand that that's just one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is often neglected. It is often ignored or brushed over. Few, if any, are the books written on the scriptural teaching that obedience to God also leads the believer into the path of persecution. Looking back over his life and sharing with Timothy, his own life experience of all the persecutions he had endured because of his obedient response to God's word, Paul wrote through the Spirit: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). Through the Spirit, Paul was reminding Timothy: "Please be reminded of this! As you serve God in your ministry, don't forget that there are two sides of the coin of obedience. On one side is blessing. On the other side is persecution. Keep that in the forefront of your mind. When the blessings come in response to your obedience to Christ, enjoy them with a grateful heart. When persecution comes in response to your obedience to God, embrace it, but not with a grumbling spirit, but with a good heart, knowing that the God you belong to and serve is sovereign. He will work all things for His glory and for your good and growth."
Personally, I have learned and continue to relearn this important teaching on obedience. When I first obeyed God in abandoning my career in civil engineering to become a minister and messenger of the gospel, I thought life would be all sunshine and streams of blessings. But soon, God began to teach me that my obedience to Him would also lead me into the path of persecution and hardship. He did not disappoint me on that. Through the help of His Spirit, I have enjoyed His blessings with a grateful heart, as well as embraced the hardships He's permitted in my life with a good heart, knowing that He is working all things for His glory and for my good and spiritual growth. What about you? Are you enjoying the blessings of obedience today? Please, enjoy them with a grateful heart. But remember, a time will come in your life of obedience when you will be called upon to embrace persecution with a good heart! He is working all things for His glory and for your good and growth in Him! Blessed be the name of the Lord!