God’s Work Is Your Work (Acts 16)


God’s Work Is Your Work

Acts 16

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Shawn Farrell and I serve as the college pastor here at Faith Bible Church. If you are 18 to 24, or know someone 18 to 24 who is looking for a community of believers that is seeking to know Christ, then please join us on Friday nights.

I want you to think back to your first job. Lean over to the person next to you and tell them what your first job was. Maybe it was decades ago or maybe just weeks ago. My first job was walking on the beach in a line with other guys, picking up trash—I made $4.25 an hour.

One of our college students told me the story of her first job. She was hired at a local frozen yogurt shop. At the end of her first shift, she shut off all the frozen yogurt machines and went home. She arrived the next morning to a floor covered in melted yogurt and a pink slip.

We all have had interesting experiences in our work life. This morning, I want to talk about a different kind of work–God’s work. What is God’s work? God is in the business of saving lost sinners. In Luke 15, He is compared to a man who left the 99 sheep to go and find the one sheep that was lost. In Luke 19:10, Jesus said that He came to seek and save that which was lost.

Did you know that God has called you to the very same work? In Matthew 5, you are compared to salt and light–agents used to impact a dark and decaying world. In 2 Corinthians 2:15, you are called a fragrance that leads some to salvation. And in Matthew 28, Jesus commissioned us all to make disciples. Whether you are a police officer or a full-time pastor, a student or a stay at home mom, God has called you to do His work.

This brings me to my thesis, the main point of the message today–God’s work is your work. Did you get that? God’s work is your work. This is the main lesson that lies before us today in the book of Acts. Please open your Bibles to Acts 16. Each Sunday, we have been working our way, chapter by chapter through the book of Acts and have arrived here in Acts 16.

To give us a running start, I’d like to read the chapter together with you. And I want you to pay particular attention to the three main characters–Lydia, the slave girl, and the jailer, as we will see God’s work in their lives. This is a long read, so buckle up. Let’s start in verse 6.

They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; 8and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.

13And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. 14A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. 15And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.

16It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, ‘These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.’ 18She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out at that very moment.

19But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, 20and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, ‘These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, 21and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.’ 22The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. 23When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!’ 29And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ 31They said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ 32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.”

The message is broken down into three points, three essential truths to understand, three keys that help us remember that God’s work is your work. First, you must remember . . .

1.  Lydia–God is sovereign, you are responsible  Verses 10 to 16

To understand that God’s work is your work, you must embrace the truth that God is sovereign and you are responsible. After Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy arrive in Philippi, verse 12 tells us that they were staying in the city for some days. In our vernacular, they were hanging out and they are waiting for the Sabbath. As was Paul’s habit, when he entered a city he started with the Jews–and so he would wait for the Sabbath and go to the synagogue. But in order to have a synagogue, there needed to be at least ten Jewish men.

But there is no synagogue in Philippi, because there were not ten Jewish men. And so verse 13 tells us, “they went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer.” About a mile outside the city, they find the river. And look at the end of verse 13, “and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.” Lacking a man to lead them, these women met to pray, read from the Old Testament law, and discuss what they had read.

One of the women, probably the leader, verse 14 tells us was “a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics.” This was a lucrative business, as these purple goods were often associated with royalty and held a premium. She was a salesperson–what we can infer that Lydia is independent and wealthy–two rare characteristics for women in ancient times.

We are also told in verse 14 that she is a worshiper of God. This phrase is used to describe a non-Jew who worshipped Yahweh, the God of Israel. She is not converted, but her heart is soft to spiritual things. Look at the end of 14–it says Lydia “was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.”

Four things take place. First) Paul spoke. We can infer from verse 10 that he preached the Gospel, that is the good news of Jesus Christ. Second) she “was listening.” Many hear, but not everyone truly listens. She is leaning in, trying to absorb all that he was saying. Third) it says “the Lord opened her heart.” In the Greek it is to completely open up.

It is a ten-hour drive to Lake Shasta each year for summer camp. There is a stretch on the I-5 up near Sacramento, where the sunflower fields line the freeway for what seems like miles. If you drive by at night, you will notice that all the flowers are closed up. But if you happen to drive by just before daybreak, you will see every flower facing east in anticipation of the sun. And when the first beam of light comes over the horizon, the flowers open in response to the warmth and light of the sun. And all day long, they follow the sun across the sky.

So it is in every unregenerate heart–closed off, hardened and locked in darkness until God opens and shines His light into the heart. Let me show this to you in 2 Corinthians 4:6 where it says, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

And so Paul spoke, she listened, God opened her heart, and finally in verse 14, she responded–that is, she turned from her sin and surrendered her life to Jesus Christ. And verse 15 tells us that she was not alone as her entire household was baptized along with her.

Now give me a minute to show you the sovereignty of God was linked with the obedience of Paul. They set out to go east, and verse 6 says they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit. They try to go north, and verse 7 says the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them. They end up in Troas, and they can’t go south because there is nothing but open ocean for hundreds of miles. Then in verse 8 God directs them through a vision. And so they go west to Philippi. Paul obediently responds–human responsibility. God sovereignly leads.

But when they arrive, there is no synagogue and no men–only a small group of Gentile women. And yet Paul faithfully dispatches his responsibility to preach the Gospel. This is Paul’s obedient responsibility. God opens Lydia’s heart to the message and she is saved–divine sovereignty. Put the two of these together, and Lydia becomes the first convert on European soil.

God’s work is your work. The work of salvation belongs to God, the work of preaching the Gospel belongs to us. This is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:6 and 7, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

How does God want to use you to accomplish His work? I don’t know. He may open a door at work. He may put you in a new co-op in this homeschool craziness. He may ask you to move to a new city or a new state. He moved Lydia from Thyatira and He moved Paul across an entire continent to get to Lydia. He has His sovereign purposes, and wherever He leads, you are to be His ambassador, because His work is your work. We need to remember second that . . .

2.  Slave Girl–God is powerful, you are not  Verses 16 to 18

Look at verse 16, “It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer”–I assume it was the next day. Don’t you love the fact that Paul is headed right back to the same place? “A slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling.”

Here we meet the second character in this chapter–another woman, but very different from the first. Lydia had a name, she is nameless. Lydia was free, she is a slave. Lydia was wealthy, she produced wealth for her owners. Lydia was a worshipper of God, she is controlled by a demon.

Verse 18 tells us she had “a spirit of divination.” The Greek is interesting–it could be translated she had a python spirit, which refers to a great serpent, the oracle at Delphi and the god Apollo. This cult claimed to predict the future. Now sleight of hand, parlor tricks, and skillful deception in the name of magic are one thing–but this is totally different. This is demon empowered divination. And it is no surprise that she was being exploited by her owners for financial gain. Verse 16 tells us that they had quite a good little business going because of her.

But as Paul passed by, in verse 17 she cried out, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” At first glance, what she says seems to be helpful, as she reveals not only their true identify but also their mission. But the natural assumption to those listening was that the salvation of the Most High God and her brand of demon empowered prophecy were somehow linked together.

In verse 17 it says, “She kept crying out.” This has the idea of continual shrieking or screaming. And verse 18 says, “She continued doing this for many days.” And in 18, Paul it says, “was greatly annoyed.” Her words were like nails on a chalkboard and he became exasperated, angry, and provoked in his heart.

By the way. this is about as far as a man or a woman can go with a demon alone. We too can be greatly annoyed–that is frustrated, troubled, and provoked when we see the negative effects of demonic activity and spiritual warfare. And yet, on our own, you and I have no power and no authority over the demonic world. It reminds me of the story of the sons of Skiva in Acts 19, who try to cast out demons. And verse 15 says, “The evil spirit answered and said to them, ‘I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ 16And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”

The power to confront, oppose, or cast out demons belongs to God. And He has demonstrated His dominance time and again. It started with the original rebellion in which Lucifer, along with one-third of the angels, rose up against God saying, “I will make myself like the Most High.” Revelation 12:4 tells us that his rebellion ended when He was thrown from Heaven. Jesus said in Luke 10:18, “I saw him fall from heaven like lightning.”

His rebellion continued in the garden where he deceived Adam and Eve and thus the human race was cast into sin. For this, God promised that his head would be crushed by a future Redeemer. Across the Old Testament, Satan repeatedly tried to wipe out that Messianic line, and when that failed he sought to turn the hearts of the people away from God. Over and over, he challenged, and God proved himself to be the One with power.

In the New Testament, he opposed Jesus directly. In Matthew 2, he tried to kill Jesus as a baby. In Matthew 4, he tested Jesus in the wilderness, calling Him to bow down before him. During His ministry, it was quite the opposite as demons fell at His feet. In Luke 4:34, “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us?” This echoes James 2:19, “The demons believe and shudder.”

Romans 16:20 says, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” And Revelation 20:10 says this will happen in a lake of fire, where he will be tormented day and night forever. God is all powerful and no force, human or demonic, can stand in His way.

And so come all the way back to Acts 16–Paul turns, and verse 18, speaks directly to the demon, “’I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out at that very moment.” The demon responds in complete obedience and submission. And I want to remind you that the power is not in Paul. Even though he was an apostle uniquely commissioned and gifted by God, the power was not his and the power is not yours. The power is God’s—it is always God’s.

As a footnote, Luke doesn’t tell us what happened to this slave girl. But it is fun to think that maybe she too was saved and that the little fledgling church that met in Lydia’s house took her in when her masters abandoned her. The task of standing against the forces of evil is God’s work. And yet God uses Paul to accomplish His work. And once again we see that God’s work is your work. We have seen that God is sovereign, you are responsible. We have seen that God is powerful, you are not. And finally . . .

3.  Jailer–God’s plan is perfect, so trust Him  Verses 19 to 34

In verse 19 it says, “But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities.” Outraged by their economic downturn, they drag Paul and Silas to the city square. And after a brief hearing, verse 22, “They tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.” This is pretty much what it sounds like in the English. The accused would be struck by wooden sticks over all parts of the body.

Verses 23 and 24, “When they had struck them with many blows [this was a repeated and heavy beating], they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.”

When I got to this point in my study I stopped to ask, what in the world? Had they done something wrong? Are they outside God’s will? Doesn’t God love them and have a wonderful plan for their life? After all, they obeyed when they followed the vision that led them to Philippi. They obeyed when they preached to Lydia. They cast out a demon by the power of Christ. They had done no wrong.

And yet in a flurry of activity, they are arrested, beaten, and thrown into jail. And there they sat in the stinking hole of a Roman prison–beaten, bloody, and in chains. And again I ask, are they outside God’s will? Obedience led to pain, hardship, and suffering. They could have complained–I would have. They could have questioned God. They could have thrown in the towel. But verse 25 tells us it was about midnight and Paul and Silas are singing and they are praying. Instead of complaining, they worshipped. Their feet may be in bonds, but their hearts are in Heaven.

How do you choose to worship when circumstances are tough? Let me give you two helps–remember the circle and play the long game.

1.  Remember the circle

Nothing touches you that is not part of God’s perfect plan. Let me illustrate–this central dot on the ground is you, and the circle represents God. The arrows represent the trials and difficulties of your life, unique to each of us. This could be financial uncertainty, family turmoil, debilitating health issues, Covid frustrations, anxiety, depression–and the list goes on.

Here is the point–each of these arrows that threaten to pierce your heart are part of God’s wise and perfect plan for your life. Nothing makes it to you until it goes through Him. Each trial has a specific and unique purpose in the hand of the Almighty. Paul said in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Or said by Job 13:15, “though He slay me, yet will it trust in Him.”

Allow Charles Spurgeon to apply this to our lives. He said, “There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them. –Spurgeon

2.  Play the long game

Or better said, keep an eternal perspective. Imagine that the length of this football field represents eternity. Going all the way down this field are hashmarks, the little white lines spaced a yard apart. I want you to pick one–that hashmark represents your life. From birth to death, all your life is contained in that little white line. Now compare that to the vastness of eternity.

James says that your life is just a vapor that is here today and gone tomorrow. And if you would endure through suffering and trials like Paul, then you must play the long game–you must see your life in light of forever. Second Corinthians 4:16 to 17, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Short-term trials bring long-term reward.

Paul and Silas trusted God and faithfully carried out His work. And the result, which they could not see from their jail cell, was part of His perfect plan. Verse 26, there is an earthquake. In 27, the jailer assumes the worst. Paul reassures him in verse 28 that everyone is accounted for. And in verse 30, he falls at their feet in fear and says, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

This is the question that all who feel the weight of their sin must ask. How can I be made right with a holy God? Most assume it is based on personal goodness and moral excellence. The divine scales will tip in my favor because I am a pretty good person. Some think it is based on family heritage or religious upbringing. But this is not what the Bible teaches. The message of salvation is found in verse 31. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

There is a great simplicity in the message of salvation. The message is Jesus Christ. Believe in Christ. Believe only in Christ. Believe wholly in Christ. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Me.” There is not only great simplicity, there is also great certainty in the message of salvation. He says with full confidence, “and you will be saved.” There is no hesitation, no ambiguity–this is a guarantee. It is designed to give full assurance. It is a promise and the promise is certain.

There is finally a great scope in the message of salvation. He said, “you and your household.” The message is not for a few, it is for all. It is for everyone. It is a universal invitation. It was offered to a rich businesswoman named Lydia, it was offered to a poor slave girl, and here it is offered to a pagan Gentile jailer. Romans 10:13 says, “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

And this man’s heart, like Lydia’s, was opened by God and he gave his life to Christ. And verse 33, “And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.” One church father said, “He washed them from their stripes, and was himself washed from his sins.”

Verse 34, “And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.” The salvation of God came to this house and along with it great rejoicing. Paul and Silas trusted God’s perfect plan and lived out Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” What a story.

Would you turn with me to Philippians 1? I think it would be fitting to end our time there. This is the letter written to the church at Philippi. The recipients most certainly include the people in Acts 16. Starting in verse 3 Paul says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

The good work that was begun that day by the riverside will be completed in the day of Christ Jesus. Until that time, God’s work is our work. And if we are to be found faithful, then we must remember . . .

1.  God is sovereign, you are responsible

2.  God is powerful, you are not

3.  God’s plan is perfect, so trust Him

What an amazing God we serve–one who saves even the most unlike of sinners. And uses us to accomplish His purposes. Let’s pray.

About Shawn Farrell

Shawn leads the college ministry and serves as an elder at Faith Bible Church

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