What a difference a few years makes… In the grace of the Lord, Paul has begun his second missionary journey. Do you recognize the areas? Derby, Lystra, Iconium…Paul was here 5 years ago and the “atmosphere” was significantly different – then it was life threatening. Now, we see the church growing.
In today’s passage, there are three short stories and one overarching message for us. First, Paul includes Timothy in his mission – they are in Lystra, the same place Paul was stoned earlier…my how time can change things. He has Timothy circumcised not because he thinks Christians should be circumcised to complete their salvation – Paul clearly believed that circumcision was religiously indifferent (cf. 1 Cor 9). He had Timothy circumcised because he was of mixed heritage. Timothy’s mother Eunice and grandmother Lois raised him a Jew although he was, let’s say an irregular Jew because his father was Greek. The Jews to whom Paul would be preaching the gospel would be offended and not listen if a man with a Jewish mother was uncircumcised.
Second, Paul’s vision in Troas – they have left the towns in southern Galatia and head north but the Spirit says go west and they end up in the port of Troas. Verse 9 is the key here – the evangelization of what we call Europe today is the the Spirit-guided goal of this journey. This evangelization is under divine guidance – it is the work of God and not humans…something we have seen before…Paul and the others listen.
Third, from Troas to Philippi where Paul meets Lydia…on the sabbath looking for a place of prayer. Paul’s M.O. is consistent – enter a town, look for a synagogue or the Jewish community. But here, in Philippi where there were few Jews, Paul and his companions look for a place of prayer on the sabbath. Here, amongst other woman, one is listening, Lydia, and “the Lord opened here heart to what Paul was saying”…on the sabbath. She was a worshiper of God, a term used for Gentiles (like Cornelius) who were not proselytes to Judaism but who did worship Yahweh – they were not yet Christians.
But what is the main theme? It’s simple: “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.” We see three examples of God’s work in his desire to have his church grow through the individuals he uses. We also see that it is because these individuals do one thing…they proclaim the message of the gospel and God opens hearts.
As we go forward today and tomorrow, when you have the chance to talk with individuals in your circles of influence…or maybe the grocery store, or Sunday in Hoffman Hall or in the pew right beside you…what will the conversation be like…you never know when another individual will come to know Christ through God’s use of you by his Holy Spirit. I pray this would be so and that the CHURCH is strengthened and grows daily in number!