Nine Counter-Cultural Truths About God from Acts 16:16-40

This Sunday, I'll be preaching a message from Acts 16:16-40.  In our church's worship services, we only dedicate about 25-30 minutes for the sermon, though our liturgy perhaps involves more Scripture reading than the typical free church.  That doesn't provide near enough time to exhaust the truth and applicational potential of the passage.  Our Equipping Hour which follows can provide a context for such extended teaching.  However, a decent portion of our congregation would prefer to engage in more dialogue rather than listening to another monologue during that time.  For those who are inclined to engage through reading and writing, I offer this blog as a forum.

While I will be focusing Sunday on the four primary responses to the gospel which we find in our passage, today I want to answer the question: What does this passage teach us about God and His mission?  The answers to that question are nothing short of revolutionary.  Dwelling upon the narrative as a whole, I observe at least nine truths which run against the grain of our cultures (including our Christian culture!) but that, when embraced, will turn the world upside down.

The first truth is that God desires all people to come to a saving knowledge of Him.  The overarching narrative of Acts tells the story of a God (the creator and ruler of the cosmos) who has commissioned and sent a missionary people to the ends of the earth proclaiming the way of salvation and the nearness of God's kingdom.  In Acts 16, God sends Paul and Silas to the people of Phillipi, a city in the province of Macedonia in Greece.  They are Roman in culture, polytheistic in religion, and quite satisfied with their place of cultural prominence.  But God wants to reach them with the true, good news that He reigns and that the door to His kingdom has been flung wide open by Jesus, Israel's (and now the world's!) Messiah.

  • Do you know Jesus Christ, God's Son, our savior and king?  If not, know that it is God's desire for you to know His love.
  • If you do know Christ, are you committed to inviting others to know Him?  If not, why not?
The second truth is that His power is greater than the demonic powers that oppress, as we see in Paul's exorcism of the evil spirit within the slave girl (vv. 18-19).  Cynicism among Christians in our time and place runs high.  Due to our waning influence over culture and society at large, many have assumed a defensive, reactionary posture based on a faulty view of reality.  By succumbing to the same dishonest and uncharitable strategies employed by the world, they betray a lack of trust in the power of God and His gospel to overcome lies, injustice and unbelief.  In contrast, confident followers of Christ employ the weapons of spiritual warfare commended by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesian church (Eph. 6:10-20) and trust in God for victory.

  • In what arenas of your life, or your sphere of influence, do you need to trust God's power over falsehood, oppression and injustice?
The third counter-cultural truth we find in our passage is that God's kingdom is not popular among those who are intent on building their own kingdoms.  We see this in the response of the slave owners who suffered economic loss as a result of the spiritual liberation of the demon-possesssed slave girl.  How often do we see this in our own day?  The reign of God has economic implications!  Some industries (porn, tobacco, illicit drugs, casinos, Hollywood, TV, video gaming, divorce lawyers, abortion clinics/doctors/drugs, to name a few) would be robbed of extraordinary profits if the gospel of God came to reign among them.  Some business owners would lose profit if the gospel caused them to implement more humane and equitable employment practices.  Some people would have to adopt less luxurious, self-centered lifestyles in order to put into practice biblical values like community, simplicity, Sabbath, and generosity of time, talent and treasure.  Start tinkering with our lifestyle choices and we get downright angry--even violently so!

  • Are there any ways in which you see God's kingdom and mission in conflict with yours?  If so, how do you plan to resolve those?
The fourth truth with which we need to come to terms is that God's mission is more important than our comfort and security.  As Paul, Silas, all the apostles, and countless other Christians have found out through the centuries, the center of God's will is not always the safest place to be (in earthly terms)!  God's will is not for you to be safe and comfortable, but for you to be fully engaged in proclaiming and demonstrating the gospel of His kingdom to those who have yet to embrace them.  A safe, comfortable life is a sure sign of complacency toward God's mission.  We have one life to live on this earth; let us spend it for the sake of God's glory and the redemption of the world!

  • In what ways might fear and comfort be preventing you from following in the footsteps of Christ and committing yourself wholly to His mission?
The fifth truth is that even though following Christ entails sacrifice and suffering, He is still worthy of utmost praise!  In v. 25, we find Paul and Silas "praying and singing hymns to God"... locked in their prison cells... at midnight... having been falsely accused and unjustly punished.  How many of us would do the same?  When you are treated unfairly; when you endure seemingly meaningless suffering and loss; when you are stuck and can't find a way out of the "prison" you're in; do you lash out at your persecutors? yourself? God?  Or have you learned to accept even the most difficult of circumstances as opportunities to experience His grace and bear fruit for His kingdom?  Let us learn this well.

  • In what ways, if any, is God showing you the sufficiency of His grace in the midst of suffering?  
  • Are there any roots of bitterness you need help digging up?
The sixth truth is that God is able to deliver us from trials, but only does so when it serves His purposes.  Oftentimes, God does bring deliverance from peril and oppression, just as he freed the slave girl from spiritual bondage, Paul and Silas from physical bondage, and the Philippian jailer and his household from spiritual and psychological bondage.  Paul and all but one of the other 11 apostles ran out of "get out of jail free cards," meeting death by persecution.  God spared their lives insofar as was necessary for them to carry out their roles in His redemptive mission.  As Joseph observed in Gen. 50:20, what some people intend for evil, God can redeem for a good purpose.  The recent murder of a six-year-old girl in our community has stirred many people, especially in the faith community, to acknowledge the blight of homelessness in our community.  The Lord can redeem this horrific event for good.  May He use us to do so!

  • From what trials are you depending on God for deliverance?  
  • What would it mean for your relationship with Him if He did not deliver you from those during this life?
The seventh truth is that God loves His enemies and calls us to love ours as well.  God sent Paul and Silas to a people who worshiped other "gods" and practiced socially and culturally oppressive superiority over other religious and ethnic groups in the region--including God's people.  Paul and Silas, fully realizing this, demonstrate compassion toward the jailer guarding their cell.  Not only did they prevent him from committing suicide and share the gospel with them, but they remained in the prison even after they were free, perhaps to forestall the punishment of the jailer on whose watch they would've escaped.  Perhaps no truth is less popular in the American Church today than this one.  When we "fight the good fight" of advancing and defending truth, our goal is not to destroy or shame those who are opposed to the truth.  Though it requires extraordinary maturity, we must advocate winsomely and respectfully for truth while making it clear that we are doing so out of love for those who scorn, malign and mistreat us.  Jesus Christ is "full of grace and truth," and He intends to fill us with the same.

  • What enemies do you have the most difficulty loving?  Why do you think that is?  
  • In what ways does the example of Christ empower you to love your enemies?
The eighth truth is that God liberates all of those who trust Him for salvation!  We know that the jailer and his household experienced spiritual conversion, or rebirth, by embracing Christ as Lord by faith.  As a result, they are guaranteed a place in God's eternal kingdom as well as a place within God's eternal family, the Church.  The same is true for you and your neighbor.  It matters not what you've said or done in the past, what ethnicity or nationality you are, what material wealth or social status you have.  The table of fellowship with God and His family is open to all who embrace Jesus Christ and trust in His word by faith.

  • Are you trusting Christ for salvation from sin and eternal separation from God?  
  • Are you experiencing the liberating power of the gospel over your circumstances?
The ninth truth, which we see in the closing paragraph of ch. 16, is that God is concerned with outward witness, not just inward conviction.  You may have noticed Paul's unusual response when the jailer told him and Silas the authorities had freed them to go.  They refused to go until those who had wrongly accused, beaten and imprisoned them looked them in the eyes and apologized publicly for the wrong they had done.  This was not due to pride, selfishness or vindictiveness.  Rather, it was out of concern for the public witness of the gospel and the Christian community.  God's name and people had been publicly shamed, and Paul is intent on restoring their honor on the public square.  As believers, followers and worshipers of Christ, it is our duty and privilege to represent Him to the world.  When His name, His word, or His people are publicly mocked and ridiculed, it behooves us to lovingly but boldly defend and uphold them in the public square.  Contrary to the opinions of many of our government leaders, true religion is not kept to oneself.  It is not a matter of mere private conviction, but has profound implications for every sphere and moment of life.

  • In what ways does your light shine in the world?
  • In what arenas of life do you feel intimidated to speak and embody truth?
  • In what ways might God be calling you to defend and advance truth (with grace!) in the world?
  • How might the Church equip and empower you to do so more readily?

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