Uniform 11.15.2015: From Derbe to Philippi


Acts 16:1-5, 8-15

The late comedian Mitch Hedberg talked about people who helped their friends move. “I like to help my friends stay,” he deadpanned.

I think that one of the basic questions of the Christian life, not to mention of human existence, is whether we should go or stay. On the one hand, we admire the sacrificial faithfulness of those who leave home to follow Jesus wherever he leads, especially if it’s to some faraway land. On the other hand, a lot of us are going to stay right where we are. It may even be in the place where we were born and have spent all our lives.

I wonder if all of those who go wonder if they should have stayed and if all who stay wonder if they should have gone.

The Clash were hardly the first ones to ask, “Should I stay or should I go?”

When I left my home in Georgia, I didn’t head for the ‘Frisco bay. I went to Kentucky. Later I went back to Georgia, then moved to Tennessee, and a few years later back to Georgia again. I left my hometown forty years ago and never went back. A few months ago I did move to my father’s hometown, which is nine miles from mine. I reckon I’ve kind of gone and stayed. I’ve had my cake and eaten it, too.

The best I can tell, the Lord needs some to go and some to stay.

Paul met a disciple named Timothy in Lystra in Asia Minor. Paul wanted Timothy to go with him as he continued his journey, and Timothy went. No doubt it was the right thing for Timothy, who became a vital minister in his own right, to do. When Paul got to Philippi, which was in Macedonia, a woman named Lydia received the good news of Jesus and was baptized. She was from Thyatira, also in Asia Minor, but at some point she had relocated to Philippi. After she and her household were baptized, she asked Paul and his companions to stay in her home, which they did.

Timothy served by going. Lydia served by staying. But they both served.

You know, even when you go, you wind up staying, at least for a while, where you went. It’s important to discern whether the Lord would have you stay or go. But maybe the most important thing is to serve faithfully wherever you happen to be.


1. What do you think of Paul having Timothy circumcised? Given that Paul didn’t believe that circumcision mattered in matters of salvation, why did he do it? What does that decision say about what we should be willing to do to share the good news of Jesus effectively?
2. Is there danger in making changes in order to make the message more acceptable to a particular group? Are there any situations in our context that require us to make such calls?
3. Do you detect any irony in the fact that after Paul had Timothy circumcised, they went around telling churches that the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) had decided that Gentile believers didn’t have to be circumcised? Can this tension be instructive to us, especially in light of the fact that the churches grew in strength and numbers? How or how not?
4. Paul had a vision that led his companions and him to go to Macedonia. How do we perceive the Lord’s leadership in carrying out the ministry to which God has called us?
5. Lydia extended hospitality to Paul and his party. How can we practice hospitality in our day and time?

Reference Shelf

Timothy’s Circumcision

Paul’s circumcision of Timothy (v. 3) has created much conversation among interpreters. It’s likely that Timothy’s circumcision indicates that he was Jewish. To be sure, some ancient, medieval, and modern interpreters argue that Timothy was not Jewish. But in the flow of the Lukan narrative, it would make no sense for Paul to circumcise a Gentile. This is precisely what certain believing Jews insisted on in Acts 15:1, 5 and precisely what the Jerusalem leadership decided was not to occur (15:19, 28-29).

The narrator appears, therefore, to want
readers to conclude that Timothy is Jewish, despite the fact that his father was Greek. One cannot offer explicit documentation prior to the second century AD that the maternal lineage determined whether a child was Jewish. But Luke apparently assumes the practice that was formally documented only later. But if Timothy was Jewish, why was he not already circumcised? The notification that Timothy’s father was Greek might bear on the question.

Perhaps as a child of a “mixed union,” Jewish and Gentile, Timothy would not have been considered a legitimate child of Abraham and, hence, not eligible for circumcision. But if this were the case, then why would Timothy be eligible now? If it were “the Jews” who thought Timothy to be an illegitimate child because his father was Greek, it makes no sense to say that Paul circumcised Timothy “because of the Jews.” Readers might infer that Timothy’s Greek father, now dead presumably, forbade Timothy’s circumcision as an infant. His passing, combined with Paul’s concern for the Jews, led to Timothy’s circumcision. Admittedly, there is no sure way to fill this narrative gap.

J. Bradley Chance, Acts, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2007), 277.

Lydia’s Background

The narrative concerning the conversion of Lydia and her household (vv. 14-15) is quite laconic. What did Paul say to her? Readers likely will fill the gap by recalling earlier sermons that Paul had preached. Who is included among “her household” who were baptized? Slaves? Children? Readers concerned over the issue of infant baptism will insert or not insert small children into the household, depending on their own views concerning the practice. The narrative implies that Paul and his friends accepted Lydia’s invitation to stay at her house (“she prevailed upon us”), but does not report what took place there.

The presence of such gaps actually allows the stated features of the narrative to stand out more boldly. The narrator specifically notes that Lydia is a dealer in purple cloth, a worshiper of God, and one who offers her home to Paul and his companions.

The city of Lydia’s origin, Thyatira, was located in the region that shared Lydia’s name. It was known for the production of wool and purple dyes. Revelation addresses a letter to the church there (cf. Rev 2:18-29), though it makes no mention of the city’s trade in textiles or dyes. Purple was associated with wealth and prestige, most likely because the production of this dark, colorfast dye required massive amounts of marine snails, from which the dye was produced. The narrator’s notation of Lydia’s profession, along with her having a house large enough to accommodate Paul and those traveling with him, implies that she moved in circles of influence.

The note that Lydia was “a worshiper of God” likely indicates that she is non-Jewish . . . Paul and Peter have encountered non-Jews before. Typically, when “God-fearers” hear the gospel their response is positive (e.g., Cornelius [Acts 10–11] and Paul’s preaching at Antioch of Pisidia [Acts 13]). Gentiles who have no grounding in the Jewish tradition are often prone to misunderstanding, even if Luke presents some sympathetically (recall Lystra [Acts 14:8-20]). Thus, the narrative raises the expectation that Lydia, a worshiper of God, will respond positively to Paul’s preaching, which she does. Yet the story of the Philippian jailer will make clear that any Gentile, regardless of prior understanding, can receive the benefits of the gospel.

Luke takes care to note that Lydia, following her baptism, was insistent that Paul and the others stay with her in her home. Such an invitation serves to legitimate her faithful response to Paul’s words: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home” (v. 15). Her insistent invitation indicates that faithful response to the gospel includes the sharing of responsibility to care for fellow believers.

Chance, 283-84.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Uniform Series Curriculum Editor.


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