At the close of chapter 15 we learn that the companionship of Paul and Barnabas in service was abruptly terminated. Associated together almost from the time of Saul's conversion (for he was introduced by Barnabas first to the disciples at Jerusalem, and afterwards to active service in Antioch), and knit together, as it would seem, by their common devotedness to their Lord and to His work, as well as by true Christian love in the Spirit, they now came into conflict upon the question of the suitability of John Mark to accompany them on another missionary journey. He had been with them before as "their minister" (chapter 13:5), to serve them in any necessary way in connection with their evangelistic labours; but whether because he could not endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, or because his heart was on his home, he, for some reason or other, soon departed from them, and returned to Jerusalem. On this account "Paul thought not good to take him with them," although Barnabas had "determined," or at least was "minded," that he should go, "and the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other." Whatever the failure of these devoted men in this matter, it was evidently of the Lord that their companionship should now cease, and that Paul had the fellowship of his brethren in the action he had taken.
Paul was probably much more free for his service after his separation from Barnabas. It is difficult at all times for one who has been the leader to fall back into a subordinate place, and Paul, be it remembered, was the Lord's chosen vessel, and as such it was requisite that he should be untrammelled and unfettered. This he now became through the unhappy dispute with Barnabas, who, though he had been "a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith" (chapter 11:24), seems to have been, on this occasion, swayed by natural affection. (See Col. 4:10; Acts 12:12.) From this point onward Paul is the prominent object of the inspired record. Barnabas is seen no more, and we learn from this that however godly and devoted a servant may be, if he once get out of the current of the Spirit of God, even though he may be never so active in service, and be much used in blessing to souls, he has lost his true place, because out of communion with the mind of his Lord. If, moreover, the place of testimony be forfeited it is never recovered, notwithstanding that there may be complete restoration of soul. Paul having chosen Silas, and having been "recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God," departed, "and he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches."
The Spirit of God calls especial attention to the apostle's visit to Derbe and Lystra, because there he came into contact with Timotheus, who was a divinely prepared companion for Paul, one who could and did "minister" to him as John Mark could never have done.* Thus attended, Paul went through the cities establishing the churches in the faith, throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia. (Chapter 16:5, 6.) The last named place might well claim our passing attention as an illustration of the manner in which the Spirit of God oftentimes alludes to the activities of a servant. The fact of the apostle's visit is alone mentioned (so also on his going there a second time, chapter 18:23), and yet what experiences are concealed in this brief mention! The apostle would appear to have been detained through sickness, for it was through infirmity of the flesh he preached the gospel unto them at the first. And such was the effect of his preaching that they received him "as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus." (Gal. 4:13, 14.) And all this is only mentioned by Paul afterwards to recall the Galatians to the truth of the gospel, from which they had been turned aside by Judaizing teachers. We might be tempted to blazon abroad such a revival," but the apostle was a workman who wrought for the eyes of God, and not for the eyes of men. (Gal. 1:10.)
*See the touching reference in 1 and 2 Timothy to the apostle's special ties to, and intimate affection for, Timothy - his "dearly beloved son."
Following upon this, a remarkable account is given of the way in which he was constrained to visit Europe. He was "forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia," and then, "after they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not." (vv. 6, 7.) Was Paul out of communion with the mind of his Lord? We know not; but it is clear that the Lord was watching over and directing His servant, and that the apostle was in subjection to the guidance given. He had not long to wait for the Lord's will. He came with his fellow-labourers down to Troas, and there in the night "a vision appeared to Paul." A man of Macedonia stood, "and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us." The source of the vision and its significance were immediately perceived, for both Paul and his companions assuredly gathered therefrom, that the Lord had called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia. Happy servants, unentangled with the affairs of this life, they were free and ready to set forth at the Lord's bidding, and they immediately embarked, with a fair wind,* for the opposite shores. In two days they reached Neapolis, and from thence they journeyed with all despatch "to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony." (vv. 11., 12.)
*It has often been pointed out that a subsequent return voyage took five days. (Acts 20:6.)
No doubt existed in Paul's mind that the Lord had sent him to Philippi, but it does not appear that when he arrived he was clear as to his special field of labour. He must still wait on Him who had sent him, and thus they "were in that city abiding certain days." What patience is needed by the true servant. Activity is easy, but waiting is always a test and a discipline. But when a servant is in the Lord's path he will be ever found where the Spirit of God is working; and accordingly on the sabbath Paul and his companions "went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we* sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither." (v. 13.) Such was Paul's first audience in Europe, composed of a few women. It is often God's way to produce the largest results from insignificant beginnings. Service of this kind requires faith, and because it is so often lacking there are some who can do nothing without publicity and a crowd. Judging according to sight it seemed hardly worth Paul's while to come so far to address these few women, but the assured sense of being sent of the Lord stills doubt and gives confidence and courage. Paul therefore would be as happy in speaking to these as to a multitude.
*It has often been noticed that the narrative passes in verse 10 from the third person into the first. It is now "we." It may be that Luke the writer of the book joined Paul at this junction.
Although the audience was small a mighty work of God was wrought there on that day. The Lord opened the heart of Lydia to attend "unto the things which were spoken of Paul." She belonged to Thyatira, and, as it is expressly said that she was a seller of purple, it is probable that she was in Philippi for the purposes of her business. That she was a proselyte is shown by the statement that she "worshipped God;" whether, like Cornelius, she had been already born again cannot now be ascertained, but it is certain that while listening to the message of Paul the Spirit of God wrought with the glad tidings of grace, and produced faith in her soul, and so completely was she converted that she desired at once to avow her faith in Christ, and "she was baptized and her household." She moreover identified herself with the messengers of blessing to her soul by constraining them to accept her hospitality during their stay in the city. One soul had been thus won for Christ, and if the work during this first visit of the apostle did not assume large proportions, it was yet so thorough that it became the foundation of an assembly which, as to its spiritual state, was surpassed by none of which we have record in the New Testament. As the stability of a house depends much upon its foundations, so the character of an assembly is often derived from the nature of its commencement.
Whenever God works in power Satan is sure to step in to obstruct and, if possible, to defeat the end in view. But, as often, he sought in this instance to conceal his opposition by an apparent endorsement of Paul's mission. "These men," cried Satan's agent day after day, "are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation." There was no testimony to Christ in these words; indeed, as the apostle afterwards wrote to the Corinthian assembly, to enable the saints to distinguish the actings of evil spirits in their midst, "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." All that Satan therefore could hope to accomplish was to frustrate the preaching of Paul and his companions by taking them under his patronage, that he might claim the results. Paul, as led of the Spirit, discerning the true nature of the enemy's wiles, refused any such co-operation; and, grieved that it should be proffered, acting in the name of Jesus Christ, expelled the evil spirit. Would that all the servants of the Lord were as quick to detect the working of the enemy, and as faithful in refusing help in the Lord's service from any quarter in the world. The Spirit of God is the all-sufficient power for the servant, and to seek for, or to accept, any influence or aid in addition to this is to corrupt the work and to limit the action of the divine Word.
Before proceeding further, it may be permitted to us to call the reader's attention to this small trickling stream which welled up in Lydia's heart under Paul's preaching, as the commencement, the source on earth, of that mighty river of blessing which has since flowed throughout the whole of Europe, and has brought eternal blessing to millions of souls. If travellers gaze with interest on the sources of the mighty rivers of the world, much more may the Christian delightedly contemplate the beginnings of the work of grace in Europe, and remember, as he ponders upon it, that he himself is eternally indebted to that same grace which Paul proclaimed in this city of Philippi. True that Satan has since succeeded in largely corrupting the truth of God, so that the pure gospel is but little known even in Christendom. But the word of God remains, and cannot be destroyed, and God will surely accomplish His purposes of blessing in spite of the enmity and subtlety of the foe.