Building a Spiritual Family Tree (Acts 16:11-15)

Currently I have a friendly competition going with my good pal Arnold Horst. He’s not nearly as competitive as I am about this, but I’ve drawn him into the contest of counting grandchildren. He’s leading me at this moment by a score of 13-9, but I have another on the way and the deeper bench for the future. (My slogan for the family is: “We’ve only just begun to reproduce!”)

I have several family members (particularly my mother-in-law) who are really into ancestral research, using the incredible wealth of varied internet resources to build unbelievable family trees of hundreds and hundreds of people. She even found out that we are cousins from seven generations back – into the 1700s! (Hey, we’re all cousins somewhere back there!)

What would it look like to have a spiritual life family tree? Think about the person who brought the gospel to you and to your understanding. Who brought that person to Christ? And before that, who was your “spiritual great-grandparent?”  And then, looking in the other direction, how many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can you claim, spiritually speaking?

As we move on today into the next section of Paul’s life as recorded in Acts 16, we see the missionary party heading into Europe for the first time – to the Macedonian (northern Greece) city of Philippi. And we see also that the pronoun of the writer Luke changes from a third person reporter, to a first person plural “we” … indicating that Luke has now personally become a part of the team.

Acts 16:11 – From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Clearly there was a very minimal Jewish element in the Roman colony of Philippi – a place established to be a sort of mini-Rome, populated by Roman citizens and soldiers. Lacking a synagogue, Paul and his travelling companions knew that the place to find any worshippers of Yahweh would be along a riverside. And there they find only some women, including a successful businesswoman named Lydia who was a God-fearer – meaning a Gentile who worshipped the one true God of Israel but who was not an official proselyte. The sovereign hand of God is evident in the story, as she is obviously prepared to hear the story of Christ and, along with her substantial household, become the beginning of a movement of the gospel into Europe.

At first glance, this does not seem to be a very auspicious beginning. One would more likely expect that God should prepare the message to first go to some prominent male leader of great standing in the community. But great things can become of small beginnings. In fact, if we could make a spiritual family tree, probably most of us would be eternal-life-descendants of Lydia. As we’ll talk about later in this series, the church at Philippi would prove to be the one that most blessed Paul and created the least difficulties for him.

Not everyone is a great evangelist by gifting. In fact, most people are not. But all of us have a commission to be witnesses of the gospel within our spheres of influence. And who know what all God might accomplish through some single person any of us may be used by God to introduce to faith. We might find (perhaps only later in heaven above) that we have a huge number of grandchildren and generations descending from us. That is a very cool thought!