Texts: 1 John 5:6-13 and Acts 16:9-15.

Where are we?

1 John has risen to its climax, tying together God’s love for us with our love for our neighbors and the way that love (in both its forms) identifies us as children of God. Now the letter wraps that all up in the reality of Jesus Christ, who is our assurance of eternal life.

We’ve fast-forwarded in Acts from the time just after Saul’s (Paul’s) conversion when Peter shared his divine vision of including the gentiles. Barnabas has taken Saul on a missionary journey to Asia Minor (now Turkey) and then back to Jerusalem. There, a meeting of the church set down rules for gentiles in the church: no eating food sacrificed to idols; no sexual immorality; no eating any meat with blood in it – this is a tiny subset of the Jewish law, most likely a reference back to the covenant with Noah after the flood (Genesis 9:1-17).

Now we join Paul on his second journey. He’s gone through Asia Minor with Timothy, whose father is Greek and whose mother is Jewish. Before hanging out with the Jews of Asia Minor, he had Timothy circumcised (note that this requirement was explicitly removed by the Jerusalem council). Following the Spirit, they have come to Troas on the northwest corner of Asia Minor. Across the sea were Macedonia and Greece, much farther into the gentile world than the Gospel had yet gone.

What’s going on here?

It would seem that John was writing to counter a teaching that reduced Jesus’ ministry to one element – that only the presence of the Spirit matters, or only that Jesus was baptized, or only that he died. The author here insists on the equal testimonies of water (baptism), blood (death), and Spirit (the continuing presence of God in the church).

By our faith, the truth of the Spirit dwells in us and attests to God’s own faithfulness. The content of this faith is that in Christ we have eternal life. This author doesn’t define “eternal life” any more explicitly than the author of John’s gospel does.

Just as in the Gospel of John, this author states the purpose of the work. In the Gospel, it was to prompt faith in the reader. Here, the purpose is to encourage those who already believe that they do in fact have eternal life.

After this passage, the letter concludes with an exhortation to call others back from sin and to hold fast to the true God.

The main character in the book of Acts is the Holy Spirit. The immediate context here is that Paul and Timothy had tried to circle back through Bithynia, on the north side of Asia Minor, but the Spirit wouldn’t let them. Luke doesn’t tell us how they discerned this roadblock, but they knew it was there. (Imagine they had started on I-94 in Madison. Now they were in Moorhead and wanted to cut back through Bemidji, but there’s a mystical “Road Closed” sign on Highway 2.) Now Paul has a dream that convinces the group they should cross the Aegean Sea. As always in this book, the initiative is with God, not the members of the church.

After Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, he had a dream that revealed Ananias as the particular one who would come to give his sight back. Here, the Macedonian has no particular identity, and we don’t learn anything more about him later in the story.

Note the sudden shift to a first-person narrator: “we got ready to leave…” As the rest of Acts focuses on Paul’s missionary work, it picks up the immediacy of a travelogue. Who is this narrator? According to tradition, this shift indicates that Luke has now joined the travels, either right here in Troas or before when Paul passed through Antioch. Given how Luke prefaced his gospel with the awareness that he was compiling other accounts of Jesus’ life, it’s reasonable to think this was his approach to the book of Acts as well. In this case, the sudden narrator would indicate the emergence of a new source in the story.

Philippi is an important city, an extension of Roman power. In this way Paul’s ministry here echoes Peter’s trip to Caesarea last week.

Because the city was filled with gentile power and gods, worshipers of the God of Israel would have gone out of town for worship. Paul apparently kept his practice of Jewish worship throughout his ministry in the gentile world.

Lydia, from a pagan trading city in Asia Minor and a merchant herself, would probably have been on the very margins of what Jewish community there was in Philippi. Her work would probably have involved her in a trade guild, which would entail certain ritual acknowledgements of Greco-Roman gods. Although on the edge of the Jewish community (she’s a “worshiper of God” but not a full keeper of the Law), she would have had resources and connections. No husband is named, so she might have been a widow, a divorcee, or simply unmarried. “The people of her house” would have included any children, but also extended relatives, staff (both hired and slaves), and perhaps others in her care.

So what?

Paul goes to a comfortable place (the Jewish place of prayer) on his journey into unfamiliar territory. He hasn’t yet fully transformed into the “all things to all people” apostle to the gentiles, but he’s getting there. Are we more comfortable sharing our faith with people who are like us? Or do we feel differently, more comfortable sharing with people we might not have as much in common with?

I hear a challenge in Lydia’s invitation, “Come and stay in my house if you have decided that I am a true believer in the Lord.” Is there a chip on her shoulder from the marginal place she may have had in the Jewish community? How do we welcome those who don’t believe in the same ways we do?

This question pulls me back to 1 John’s comment that the purpose of the letter is to let believers know they have eternal life. What’s the purpose of our dealings with each other? With other members of our community? How can we remind each other (gently and positively) of the things that are most important?