A disruption is a person or thing that interrupts an event, activity, or process by causing a disturbance or problem, or introducing innovation. There is much disruption going on in ACTS 16. ◊
The year is AD 50 and the Apostle Paul has been staying at length in Antioch after his trip to the early Church leadership meeting in Jerusalem (see Acts 15).
He traveled the 300 miles back from Jerusalem with Barnabas, Judas, and Silas and then gathered the congregation of growing believers in Antioch to present the council’s letter outlining the acceptance of Gentiles into the Christian fold even without the Jewish practice of circumcision.
This was a big deal that allowed for the expansion of the Christian Gospel without people getting caught up in legalistic religious debates. However, people being people, this did not eliminate personal disputes as even Paul and Barnabas split ways over personnel decisions.(See the John Mark issue in Acts 15:36-41.)
The Disruption by the Holy Spirit
Paul, now traveling with Silas (and Luke!) goes northwest this time directly through Asia Minor and revisits the young churches in Derbe and Lystra. He selects Timothy from the region, the son of Jewish/Greek parents (his mother was a believer), to be part of his second major missionary trip which would last well over 2 years and take them into southern Europe and Macedonia including Athens, Greece.
But there’s a curious passage early in ACTS 16 that gives us a glimpse of the disruptive nature of a boldly-lived Christian life:
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16:6-10)
We are told to pray and follow the leading of the Lord. Literally. While we do not get any further facts about Paul’s reason for not going north into Asia but rather further west to Macedonia, I would confidently attest that it was through the direct nudging or pressing of the Holy Spirit on Paul’s traveling decisions.
The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God (same thing) is the great disrupter of all plans that counter God’s will in our life and in this world. The problem is that this great disrupter, of man’s ways over God’s purposes, is not always heeded, or even heard.
Paul has learned to carefully pray, listen, and obey. He is our human model for a boldly-lived Christian life that does nothing without God’s approval through submissive prayer and holy validation – in whatever form it may come, even dreams and visions.
And regarding any and everything in life, even beyond things of ministry.
Demonic and Human Disruptions
After meeting an influential woman in Thyatira named Lydia, Paul and his team encounter a slave girl who is possessed by a demonic spirit and being used for monetary gain:
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. (Acts 16:16-18)
When her businessmen/owners realized that their making-money source was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.
They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. (Acts 16:19-24)
There is disruption here in the spiritual realm, where a demon disrupts the life of a witting or unwitting human – the slave girl. There is also disruption here in the destruction of a viable though corrupt business led by the owners of the slave girl through the power of the Holy Spirit and the spirit piercing words of Paul.
Finally, there is disruption and an uproar of the city sparked by the lies of the owners who convince the magistrates and feckless crowd to have Paul and Silas severely beaten and tossed into jail.
Earthquakes and Civic Disruption
But God is not mocked. Certainly He is not controlled and ultimately managed by anti-Christ people even with civic authority:
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” …
When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”
The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison…. (Acts 16 19-39)
God, the great disrupter, uses human vessels like Paul, and Barabas, and Silas, and Luke, and even you and me to disturb and disrupt a broken world He loves and longs to restore for His purposes. He uses His Holy Spirit and has power over the entire spiritual and physical realm. It’s all a matter of what God is accomplishing and how His vessels respond and comply in obedience.
Are you a disrupter for Christ like Paul? Have you been disrupted by God?
After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left. – Acts 16:40