The most cosmopolitan city in the world is Canada's largest city, Toronto.[1] Metro-Vancouver can't be far behind. Although these are Canadian cities, as I walk the streets I hear languages, smell foods, and see people from virtually every part of the globe. Some find this diversity a threat, I think it's a treat.

As the apostle John pulls aside the curtain we get a glimpse of heaven and hear the lyrics to a new song being sung to the 'Lamb on the throne' – Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:9-10):

Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,

           for you were slain,

and by your blood you ransomed people for God

            from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

            and they shall reign on the earth. 

This human diversity is a treat, not a threat!



Paul and his companions have been on the move throughout Asia Minor (i.e., present-day Turkey). They are directed to a new continent – Europe – and enter the city of Philippi, a Roman colony in northern Greece (Acts 16:6-12). 

Here they connect with three people who are as different from one another as you can imagine: an Asian business woman, a Grecian slave girl, and a Roman jailer.[2] Although Paul and his companions connect with others, these three represent a diversity of gender, personality, history, occupation, social status – and most likely, ethnicity, religion, and language.


Lydia (Acts 16:13-15)

Paul had a pattern he followed when visiting a new city. He first looked for a synagogue, or at least Jewish people. This makes sense for a number of reasons. For one, he had more in common with these people. For another, they had more in common with the culture in which Jesus walked. 

Philippi apparently did not have a synagogue. As a synagogue required a minimum of ten adult males, most commentators conclude that there was a very small Jewish population in Philippi. So here's what Paul did: "on the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. There we sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there" (16:13). 

Although we are not told specifically what they say, almost certainly it is about the promises of the Messiah in the Old Testament Scriptures (OT) and their fulfillment in Jesus

One of those listening is a business woman from Thyatira in Asia Minor. She is a "worshiper of God" and thus a proselyte of Judaism. What she hears is completely consistent with the OT, but beyond it. In Jesus Christ she realizes the fulfillment of God's promises and enters into God's new covenant. 

Luke (the author of Acts) puts her experience of conversion this way (16:14-15): 

The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. 

In Philippi, Lydia was about as close to Paul's culture as you could get. For her, becoming a follower of Jesus was a divine and complete extension of God's 'story' in the OT.


What does this mean for us?

Reflecting on the text so far (Acts 16:6-15), here are some of the points I gleaned: 

1.         Growing intimacy with God – I'm presuming this intimacy from a number of clues, such as: 

  • Their intention and activity in "preaching the word" (16:6, 10). In my experience, effective engagement in the gospel is unsustainable without an existing intimacy with God.
  • Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit's directions and their own personal experiences. We'll explore this more fully under the next point.


2.         Sensitive obedience – Although we only skimmed Acts 16:6-12 that text reveals numerous interesting features including:

  • Paul and his companions met "closed doors." As they attempted to move into new regions, twice the Spirit blocked their plans (16:6-7). Would this have raised their curiosity and their expectations?
  • Despite the Spirit not allowing them to enter regions they had selected, they continued to be active while being sensitive to the way forward (16:7-8).
  • Paul received a vision one night. We might not experience visions, but they do have biblical precedent. The vision of a Macedonian man is quite detailed (16:9). How did Paul know he was Macedonian? Was it his accent, his clothes, his words, or something else? We're not told – but somehow he knew.
  • Paul related the vision to his companions (16:10). In community they concluded that "God had called us to preach the gospel to them." 

So this obedience is sensitive to the directions of the Holy Spirit, circumstances and experiences, and the contributions of others.


3.         Active awareness – Paul and his companions were informed and competent in how they moved forward:

  • They moved from the port city to Philippi. Why? Probably because they had done their homework: they knew Philippi was "a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia" (16:11).

Timothy Keller recently observed that just 40 years ago, less than 3 per cent of the world’s population lived in cities. Now more than half the world’s population is living in urban areas and that means “more image of God per square inch than anywhere else in the world.” The mandate of the great commission should motivate Christians to be moving into cities, not retreating from cities.

  • Paul and his companions began by seeking those they had the closest affinity with culturally and religiously. This is probably a natural tendency, but there is more to it than that. 

These Christians reached into the lives of those with whom they shared the OT 'story': their history, values and beliefs, hopes and aspirations. Are we inclined this way? Do you and I desire to begin seeking those with whom we have the closest affinity? For you and me that is probably our own family members, our existing circle of friends, and the people who live in our neighbourhood.

  • Paul and his companions served together: "we went ... where we supposed ... we sat down and we[3] spoke ... (Acts 16:13). Those they spoke with not only understood, but also responded in faith. This would indicate that Paul and his companions worked together as a competent and effective team.


Reflection: What is new to me, or what has been reinforced for me, from this blog?  With whom do I have the greatest affinity (e.g., family, friends, neighbours)? How can I begin to seek out these people I'm closest to and "sit down and speak" with them about Jesus?

If you're unsure about how to "sit down and speak" with someone here's one approach that might help youShare Jesus Without Fear. This approach involves asking five questions and using seven Bible verses. 

This is an easy and effective way of engaging someone from a "traditional Western culture." It may not be as effective for those from other cultures – but we'll continue this topic in the next blog. 

Until next Friday,


John, a brother 

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[1] Based on Statistics Canada 2006 Census and 2011 National Household Survey. See also

[2] The diversity I state is perhaps a bit speculative, but not unreasonable. As Philippi was a Roman colony, veterans of the Roman legions were settled here upon retirement. It is probable that the jailer was one of these retired veterans.

[3] The Greek word translated "spoke" is in the first person plural form – that is "we spoke."

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