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[Lesson 9] Spiritual Discernment

(Acts 16:1-40)

Second Missionary Journey A.D. 50-52

Paul was a man with a plan. After revisiting the churches established in his first missionary journey he would head into the province of Asia (Asia Minor), then into Bithynia. But Paul discerned that the Holy Spirit had clearly closed these two doors and was, instead, sending him westward across the Aegean to Greece. Paul was willing to lay aside his will, as Jesus had done for the Father (Luke 22:42), and be guided by the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit continued to lead Paul and Silas on quite a journey to encourage the early church and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. However, even in the midst of God performing amazing miracles through them, they encountered brutal resistance to the gospel message. Yet God worked through their suffering, drawing people to Himself and changing lives forever. Paul and Silas, empowered by the Holy Spirit, carried out their mission in amazing ways as churches were “strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5).

Through the Holy Spirit we can know peace and joy even in the toughest of circumstances. If you will allow Him, God will continually present you with open doors for ministry in your sphere of influence regardless of your circumstances. Will you choose to journey with Him, like Paul and Silas did?

“Discernment is a discipline, and like other disciplines such as prayer and reading the Bible, it is one that all Christians should seek to practice and should seek to practice deliberately.” (Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, p. 15)

Read Acts 16:1-40 in one sitting to get the whole picture. As you do, read it thoughtfully—as a love letter. Pray that God would open your heart to the truths He has for you from this text.

Follow Paul’s second missionary journey with this map.

Day One Study

Read Acts 16:1-5.

1. Describe Timothy. What was the reasoning behind his circumcision? How does this not contradict the message in Acts 15? Was this a wise move? Explain. See also 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and Galatians 2:3 (for a different situation).

Deeper Discoveries: Timothy was probably in his late teens. Other teens such as David, Daniel, and Joseph served the Lord mightily in the Old Testament. What qualities of teens do you think make them particularly useful to God’s work? How can this knowledge help you in dealing with the Christian youth of today? See the advice given by Paul to Timothy as a young pastor 13 years later in 1 Timothy 4:12-16.

2. What message did the three proclaim in the churches of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium?

Think About It: Two to three years earlier, Paul had been badly mistreated in this area, even stoned in Lystra. Yet, he returns. What gave him the courage to return? Would you have had the courage to return?

Day Two Study

Read Acts 16:6-10.

3. Discovering the Facts: What role did the Holy Spirit play in directing Paul’s ministry to Troas?

Scriptural insight: These hindrances may have been circumstances, a word of prophecy, a vision, or some other phenomenon. God planned for people in both Ephesus and Bithynia to hear the gospel later (18:19-19:41; 1 Peter The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 398)

4. Share Your Life: Have there been times when God has intervened in your life to prevent you from going somewhere you wanted to go or doing something you thought you should do? What were the issues? What was your response? What were the results?

5. Share Your Life: God literally called Paul to a specific ministry in a specific place through a vision. You may have heard missionaries tell their story about God’s calling for them to go somewhere specifically in the world. God is still calling Christians to missionary service in His name, but sometimes it’s difficult to hear His voice amid the clamor of other “voices” in our culture.

§         What are these other “voices?”

§         Are you willing to be adventurous for the Lord—to go anywhere and do anything the Lord wants you to do? If God would call you to missionary service, even locally, would you be willing to go / serve? Share with your group.

Think About It: We often learn about life and discern our life path / actions in the wrong way. It isn’t the long-term accumulation of knowledge; it’s how obedient to God we are with the information we can immediately discern. God would rather I have understanding of 2 verses that I obey immediately than 20 verses that I don’t. Obedience is the key to discernment. It’s not “capture and remember;” it’s “hear and obey.” (Chip Ingram)

Deeper Discoveries: Examine these other references to God’s calling on a man’s life. When, where, why were they called, and how did each respond?

§         Isaiah 6:1-8 —

§         Acts 9:3-6; 15-16; 26:12-19 —

§         Jeremiah 1:4-5 —

Day Three Study

Read Acts 16:11-15.

Deeper Discoveries: Using a Bible Dictionary, study notes, or an internet search, discover the city of Philippi as Paul knew it. What was life like there?

6. Discovering the Facts: What was Paul looking for in verse 13? Why? What did he find instead? What is known about Lydia?

Historical insight: “Inscribed on the arches outside the city of Philippi was a prohibition against bringing an unrecognized religion into the city; therefore, this prayer meeting was held outside the city, beside the river.” (Life Application Study Bible, p. 1992)

Deeper Discoveries: In Acts 16:14, the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message. She was already a worshipper of God. What does this verse reveal about the Lord’s work on a heart that is already leaning toward Him? Support your answer with scripture.

Day Four Study

Read Acts 16:16-40.

7. Summarize the events in vv. 16-24.

Historical insight: Her “spirit”, a “python”, was a demonic spirit associated with a mythical snake worshipped at Delphi that supposedly could tell the future. Such persons spoke involuntarily, so the term “ventriloquist” was used to describe them. (NIV Study Bible, p. 1678)

8. The declarations of the slave girl were true, so why do you think Paul became so troubled by what she was doing?

9. Contrast the real reason Paul and Silas were seized (v. 19) with the expressed reason (vv. 20-21). You will see this again in Lesson 12.

10. Contrast the experiences of Paul and Silas in vv. 22-24 with their response in vv. 25-28. Why do you think they were singing and praying like that? Read Ephesians 5:18b-20 and Psalm 42:8. Who enabled them to do so? Who was benefited by their doing so?

Think About It: This is one of three beatings and several imprisonments Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 11:23-25. Yet, in 2 Corinthians 4:17, he calls them “light and momentary troubles.” Could you?

11. Share Your Life: How does their response to difficult circumstances impact you? Who enables you to respond the same way? Have you experienced this yet? What happened? If not, are you willing to trust the Holy Spirit to do this in your life the next time you face difficult circumstances? Share with your group.

12. What was the jailer’s response to all that he had witnessed (v. 27-30)? How was his home impacted by this event? What do vv. 33-34 reveal to you about the immediate work of the Holy Spirit in his life?

13. Share Your Life: In v. 29 the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?” What is the “good news” message of 16:31? Do you have a plan to share the gospel with others? How would you respond if someone asked you the same or a similar question? Include Scripture references.

Deeper Discoveries: In Acts 16, members of both Lydia’s and the jailer’s households were saved and baptized along with them (vv. 15, 32, 34 after hearing the gospel). See also Acts 10:24, 33, 44; 18:8, Romans 16:10-11, and 1 Corinthians 1:16. Research Greek or Near Eastern culture during this time period, especially the meaning of “household.” Does history give us any clue regarding the reason the households so quickly followed their masters in believing the gospel for themselves?

14. When word came of their release from prison, Paul & Silas asserted that their rights had been violated and refused to leave. Why do you think they chose that moment to declare their Roman citizenship? Why were the magistrates alarmed? What did they do in response?

Think About It: In only two places in Acts was Paul harmed or threatened by Gentiles—in Philippi and in Ephesus (19:23-41). In both instances people were losing money in vested interests and in each case Paul was vindicated by a Roman official. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 401)

15. Lydia is portrayed in Acts 16:15, 40 as a hospitable woman. How did Lydia’s opening her home to Paul and his companions benefit them as well as other Philippians?

16. Share Your Life: How do you show hospitality? Could God reach others through the gift of hospitality in your life? Share with your group.

17. In this passage, Paul and Silas were keenly aware of the Spirit’s leading in their lives. Review the occasions when they exercised discernment about where to go, what to do, and what to say.

18. Share Your Life: As Chip Ingram said in the “Think About It” box on page 77, “Obedience is the key to discernment.” Read the poem at right. Reflect on your own willingness to practice discernment as you follow the Spirit’s leading in your life.

Deeper Discoveries: Read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. What kind of relationship did Paul have with them? How did they encourage him as much as he did them?

Fired Up And Ready For Adventure:

Review the scripture passage covered in this lesson for evidences of the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. What will you ask God to do in your life?