“One of the chief men among the brethren”

Those who were Paul’s companions and traveled with him were highly favored, and justly so, for the Scriptures indicate those traits which made them so valuable in the service of Christ. Their stedfast and sacrificial lives should speak to each one of us, for if we have embraced the Pauline theology we are Paul’s companions also. The desire of those friends, companions and helpers was to aid in making known the glorious truth that had been revealed to and through the Apostle Paul by the Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus Christ. We, as Paul’s companions, should have that same desire, to further the gospel of God’s grace and to enable all to see those kindred truths having to do with God’s purpose in this present dispensation.

But now to brother Silas. When Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement and separated, Paul chose Silas to be his partner on the second missionary journey. Paul wanted to revisit the cities where he had been previously and to learn how the brethren were getting along. Paul had a true shepherd’s heart. He wasn’t content just to evangelize and then go on his way. He wanted the sheep nurtured, strengthened, stablished, and going on with the Lord. In the cities where churches were established he would tarry till the converts were grounded in the truth, or else leave one of his partners to do this. The Pauline method was to get souls saved through the preaching of the gospel and then to teach them, instruct them in the truth, so they could become teachers of others. Some were trained for the place of leadership and left with instructions to feed the flock over which they had been made overseers. And when Paul left for other fields of labor he was ever mindful of those left behind, as he wrote to the Philippians: “Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart.” Incidentally, there are those today who talk about discipling. This is not Pauline terminology. Those who use this expression think they are working under the great commission and are told to disciple all nations.

In Acts 15:22 we learn that Silas was one of the chief men among the brethren in the Jerusalem church. He was highly esteemed and was one of those entrusted with carrying the decrees of the council to the Gentiles at Antioch, assuring them they were not under the Mosaic law and that circumcision was not for them obligatory. Now, the two of them, Paul and Silas, start out from Antioch. They went north, then east, through Syria and Cilicia, no doubt stopping at Tarsus and ministering to Paul’s kinfolk and others won to Christ during the years he had spent there. Leaving Tarsus the two missionaries came to the Cilician Gates, a pass that runs for eighty miles through the Taurus mountains. About 300 years earlier Alexander the Great had come through this pass with his armies as he invaded the East. Now a greater than Alexander, with companion Silas, was passing through with a message that would revolutionize the world. Alexander was not aware of it, but God was using him to prepare the way for the preaching of the gospel. His conquests had made the Greek language universal and it was in this language that the New Testament was to be written and it was the language used by Paul as he visited the Gentile world.

Arriving at Derbe and Lystra, Paul and Silas so ministered the Word that “the churches were established in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5). Among the believers there was a young man, Timothy, who had perhaps been converted at Paul’s first visit. He was well reported of by the brethren, and had so grown in his Christian life and had become so useful that Paul determined that he should join him and Silas as they continued their journey. Having traversed the region of Galatia, Paul purposed to preach the Word in Asia. However, they were forbidden by the Holy Ghost to do so. Then they determined to go into Bithynia, a populous area on the Black Sea, but again they were forbidden. There was only one direction left so they headed for Troas, on the Aegean Sea. It was at Troas that Dr. Luke joined the party. Perhaps he had been summoned because of Paul’s health. Referring to that time he wrote: “Ye know how through infirmity of the flesh I preached the gospel unto you at the first” (Galatians 4:13).

One night at Troas Paul had a vision. He saw a man of Macedonia praying for him to come over and help them. Who was this man? Some think it may have been the Lord himself. He is the Son of Man and it could be that He was here identifying with those people in their need and praying for their help. At any rate, Paul took this as the leading of the Lord and immediately the little company took ship and headed for Neapolis, the port city of Philippi. This was the invasion of Europe, not by some military host, but by four men armed with the Word of God which is quick and powerful and sharper than any sword. How we thank God for leading His servants in this direction, for if He had allowed them to go east then perhaps China and India and Japan would have been the Christian lands and we of the western world would have been in heathen darkness.

The work in Europe had a most humble beginning. Philippi was not a commercial city and therefore not of much interest to the Jews, so there was no synagogue. A few godly people, however, met for prayer each sabbath day by a river side. The missionaries soon heard about this and the next sabbath met with these devout women and preached Christ to them. One of these was a businesswoman, Lydia, “whose heart the Lord opened, so that she attended unto the things which were spoken by Paul.” Note the expression: “Whose heart the Lord opened.” We need to keep this ever before us, that salvation is of the Lord and as we give forth the Word we are altogether dependent on the working of God’s Spirit. We need to pray for the hearers, that God would open their hearts, enlighten the eyes of their understanding, and reveal the truth to them. Not only was Lydia saved, but also her household, the first converts on European soil.

There was another woman at Philippi, a slave girl who possessed the spirit of divination, or fortune telling. For some reason she was attracted to Paul and his companions and followed them about, crying out, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). No one ever gave a better testimony than this about Paul and his companions. They were indeed the servants of the most high God, and they had come to Philippi to shew them the way of salvation. But Paul was grieved, for by this action the gospel testimony was being hindered. Also, God’s work does not need the endorsement of the world, particularly the spirit world. It may be, too, that Paul saw in this girl, in spite of her disordered mind, a longing after God. At any rate, Paul commanded the spirit in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of the girl, and it came out. What power in the matchless name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The masters of this girl, seeing their hopes of further gain were now gone, and desiring to avenge themselves on the man responsible for this, laid hold of Paul and Silas. They brought them to the magistrates and accused them of being Jews and teaching customs which were not lawful for the Romans to observe. This stirred up the populace and the magistrates, without further inquiry or the semblance of a trial, commanded to strip and beat them. The record says: “And when they had laid many stripes upon them” (Acts 16:23). This was probably one of the five times when Paul received forty stripes save one. Following the beating they were cast into prison and the jailor charged with keeping them safely. He thrust them into the inner prison which was a lower dungeon with a mud floor, where they were laid on their backs and their feet made fast in the stocks. In all of this, friend and companion Silas was side by side with Paul and suffering just the same as he. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).

Here were these two faithful servants of Christ, their backs bleeding and painful, laid out in a most uncomfortable position in that foul smelling prison pit. Their distress and discomfort could hardly have been greater, yet what was their reaction to this hateful treatment? “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God; and the prisoners heard them.” What were they singing? Perhaps one of the Psalms, like the 46th, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” And the prisoners heard them. Those prison walls which had often echoed with the oaths and curses of hardened criminals now echoed with the praises of the two redeemed and rejoicing saints. But suddenly the songs were interrupted: there was a great earthquake, the prison walls rocked, the doors were thrown open and the bonds fell from the prisoner’s feet. The jailor, aroused from his sleep and seeing the prison doors open, assumed the prisoners had escaped and was about to take his own life, for he knew if that were the case his life would be forfeit in the morning. Paul seemed to sense what the jailor was about to do, and cried with a loud voice to assure him they were still there. The jailor called for a light and entered the dungeon, and shaking with fear fell down before Paul and Silas and asked that most important question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

What did this heathen jailor know about being saved? He had no doubt heard the slave girl crying out that these men had come to tell them the way of salvation, or how to be saved. Paul and his company had been in the city for several weeks and it is likely the jailor heard them preaching. He had dismissed the whole idea, though, not feeling there was anything from which he needed to be saved. Now, convicted of his sin, he cries out from the depth of his soul, “What must I do to be saved?”

In answering the jailor’s question, or any other Scriptural question, it is imperative that we rightly divide the Word of truth and make sure that our answer is based on that portion of the Word having to do with the present dispensation of God’s grace. What may be truth for God’s people in one dispensation may not be true in another. For instance, when John the Baptist was “preaching the baptism for the remission of sins” and the people came to him he told them, “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.” That is not what we would tell a seeking sinner today. When a lawyer came to Jesus asking what one must do to inherit eternal life the Lord referred him to the law and said, “This do, and thou shalt live.” We would tell that person today that eternal life is the free gift of God and is not obtained on the basis of our doing. When Peter’s hearers on the day of Pentecost asked what they must do, Peter replied, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” That is not God’s message for today. In rightly dividing we must recognize that God brought in a new dispensation and ushered in a whole new program with the Apostle Paul.

What was Paul’s answer to the jailor’s question? He simply said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Of course they told him more than this; they told him what he was to believe concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. It says: “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.” They told him that the Lord Jesus Christ, by His death on Calvary’s cross, fully atoned for our sin; that He put away our sin by the sacrifice of Himself; that we are to cast our doing down and rest alone on what Christ has done for us. One of Paul’s great themes was that of justification by faith alone, apart altogether from law-keeping, religious endeavor or man’s doing. This is the preaching of the cross, which is foolishness to the natural man. To tell some people that salvation is on the basis of faith alone, our trust in the work of another, is altogether contrary to human reasoning and is branded as foolishness. Filled with miserable pride, man thinks he must have some part in it. The great English poet, William Cowper, in the following well describes man’s attitude toward this doctrine of faith alone.

O how unlike the complex works of man
Heaven’s easy, artless, unencumbered plan.
No meritricious graces to beguile,
No clustering ornaments to clog the pile.
From ostentation as from weakness free,
It stands like the blue arch of Heaven we see.
Majestic in its own simplicity.
Inscribed above the portal from afar,
Conspicuous as the brightness of a star,
Legible only by the light they give,
Stand the soul-quickening words, BELIEVE AND LIVE.
Too many, shocked at what should charm them most,
Despise the plain direction and are lost,
“Heaven on such terms!” they cry with proud disdain,
Incredible, impossible, and vain.
Rebel because ’tis easy to obey,
And scorn for its own sake the gracious way.

When morning dawns the magistrates, perhaps a bit worried because of the action they had taken the night before, sent word to the keeper of the prison, saying, “Let the men go.” But Paul refused to go. He declared that what the magistrates had done was illegal as both he and Silas were Roman citizens. Further, he said they had publicly beaten and imprisoned them and now they needn’t think they could get rid of them privately. If they wanted them out they would have to come themselves and publicly apologize and escort them out. This they were forced to do. In forcing the magistrates to take this action Paul was not thinking simply of himself and Silas, but mainly of those who would be left behind. They would be far less prone, now, to trouble the new Christians. They urged Paul and Silas to leave the city, as they wanted no further trouble, but they were in no hurry to do this either. They went to the house of Lydia, where they met with all the believers and encouraged and fortified them. How long they tarried with the brethren at Philippi is unclear, but they finally departed, leaving behind the church which Paul loved above all others.

In all the excitement at Philippi there is no mention of Luke and Timothy. Perhaps they were having an all-night prayer meeting in Lydia’s house, and perhaps it was in answer to their prayers that God sent the earthquake. Luke left the others at this point, and Paul and Silas and Timothy resumed their missionary journey. Leaving Philippi the little party headed west on one of the old Roman roads, the Via Egnatia which ran across Macedonia to the Adriatic Sea. It must have been difficult going for the two who had suffered the scourging and the rough treatment, but with joy in their hearts they pressed on. They passed a couple of minor cities but continued on toward the more important city of Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue. Here they began their ministry, showing from the Scriptures that when Christ (the Messiah) came He would have to suffer and die and rise again from the dead, and that this Jesus, whom they were preaching, was indeed the Christ. In addition to the Jews in the synagogue there were many God-fearing Greeks, and a great number of these Greeks heeded Paul’s message and believed. This angered the unbelieving Jews and they set all the city in an uproar. What riled them up? They were “moved with envy.” This was one of the sins that brought about Christ’s death. When they brought Jesus to Pilate we read that he “knew that for envy they had delivered him.” What a damnable sin is this sin of envy, of being jealous of others, and yet how prevalent even among Christians. On this occasion all Thessalonica was in an uproar and they were seeking the servants of the Lord to do them harm, but the brethren got Paul and Silas out of the city by night and on the way to Berea.

At Berea they followed the same procedure and began their ministry in the synagogue, but met with better reception. In connection with this there is a verse often quoted: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Christians are urged to be Bereans, and rightly so, to lend an ear to the preaching, and then to do something more: to go to God’s Word and make sure that what they heard was according to the Book. It should be said here that there were some noble Thessalonians. There is no record of any church at Berea, but many at Thessalonica believed and a church was established to which Paul addressed two of his epistles, and in which he praised them highly for their faith and labor of love.

The Lord blessed the preaching of the Word at Berea and many believed, including some women of high estate as well as a goodly number of men. When word reached Thessalonica, though, that the gospel was being preached in Berea, the Jews sent some of their ruffians to Berea to again stir up the people against Paul. Before the trouble could get started the brethren thought it advisable for Paul to leave. They escorted him to the seaport where they boarded a vessel which took them down the coast to Athens. There they left the apostle, carrying back a message for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.

As Paul walked about Athens, while waiting for his companions, his spirit was aroused by the sight of all the idols. On every hand there were temples and altars erected to some deity, and Paul was so stirred by this that he began to reason with the Jews in the synagogue. Then in the market place he encountered the philosophers and idlers who gathered there to throw out new ideas. Paul seized the opportunity to join them and to bear a testimony as to the one true God, and he also preached to them Jesus and the resurrection. His speech was so intense and he spoke with such assurance that some called him a babbler. Others, who were always desirous of hearing some new thing, brought him to Areopagus, and there, at historic Mars’ Hill, Paul addressed these worldly wise, humanistic thinkers. He told them there were many gods, but only one true God, and this one true God had created all things and needed nothing from them. He did not need their temples, statues, altars, or any other work of men’s hands. And this God was the Governor of the universe, all was ordered by Him and under His control, and some day in resurrection all would be judged by Him. At this point some interrupted and mocked and the audience disbanded. Well illustrated was the text: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (I Corinthians 1:21). However, the Word never returns void and there were some who believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite (member of the court held on Mars’ Hill) and a woman named Damaris.

Paul did not spend much time at Athens as the likelihood of establishing an assembly there seemed rather remote, so he left and went on to Corinth, about forty miles to the west. Silas and Timothy had joined Paul briefly at Athens but had been sent back to Thessalonica, and now they rejoined him at Corinth. Here they spent eighteen months teaching the Word of God. It was during this time that the two letters to the Thessalonians were written, in each of which the apostle includes Silas’ name in the salutation as a fellow-worker with him.

As another chapter closes we say goodbye to comrade-in-arms Silas. He stood in the forefront of the battle with Paul and had some battle scars to prove it. What a comfort and encouragement to the apostle to have him stand shoulder to shoulder with him in the midst of the fight. It is because of men like this, willing to hazard their lives and well-being, that we have the truth in hand today. Silas was one who was willing to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. He bore the cross, unmindful of self, and will one day wear the crown.