Acts 16:13
A Holy Hunch
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

From the Bible: Acts 16:13; I Corinthians 3:6

Acts 16:13 (Holman) On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we thought there was a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women gathered there.

While in Troas, on the west coast of Asia minor (now Turkey), Paul received the Macedonian Call. “During the night a vision appeared to Paul: a Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!”” (Acts 16:9). In response to this call, Paul decided to take the Gospel into Europe for the first time.

He sailed northwest to the north end of the Aegean Sea, where he landed at the port city of Neapolis (now Kavala).

From there he walked ten miles west on the great Roman military road Via Egnatia.

Crossing over a steep mountain ridge, he reached the plain beyond, where the city of Philippi (now Fillipoi) was located.

Finding no synagogue and no believers in the city, Paul decided to act on a hunch. It turned out to be a holy one. He knew if there were Jews in town, they would gather on the Sabbath somewhere in a set-apart place of prayer, away from the pagan temples and near a source of water due to their ritual washings.

Therefore, on the Sabbath he walked outside the city limits about one mile to the Gangites (now Angista) River. His hunch proved correct. A group had gathered there. The result was the conversion of Lydia.

In the Old and New Testaments, God’s people always felt a need to gather in groups. This was true in Judaism, as Paul knew. And once Christianity jump-started, groups and churches appeared everywhere. Boom! They were there.

After Jesus ascended, they gathered in an upper room (AC 1:13). After Pentecost, they gathered in the temple complex (AC 2:36), where they kept meeting a long time (AC 5:12). Roland Allen called this ongoing group reproducing phenomenon “the spontaneous expansion of the church.”

Groups and churches came in all sizes. For example, in Ephesus Paul worked with big and small, teaching “in public and from house to house” (AC 20:20). Many did well and lasted a long time; others did poorly and ended quickly.

Through it all, the idea of starting new groups, whatever their size or final outcome, never wavered among the first Christ-followers. The desire of the early Christians to be together was insatiable. I wish this would be true of us.

These gatherings provided the setting in which believers practiced and mastered the never-ending process of spiritual reproduction. Reproduction is who we are as Christ-followers. It is what we are to do, on at least three levels. Disciples, groups, and churches should be reproducing themselves.

One, each disciple should be reproducing a disciple. Are you replacing yourself? Do you have a close relationship with someone you are training, and bringing along to carry on the work in your place?

To help you reproduce disciples, I urge you to proactively build relationships by starting a life group. We need Bible studies in homes, apartment complexes, workplaces, public buildings.

Get people together. What do you have to lose, twelve weeknights for one semester? What do you have to gain? Maybe a firsthand experience of God’s mighty power. Over time, some gatherings become churches that go on for decades.

Two, groups should be reproducing groups. Urge your Sunday School class, and other groups you are in, to start another group. Always think in terms of multiplication. Spread out. Extend to others the rewarding fellowship you enjoy.

Three, churches should be reproducing churches. Church-planting is nothing more than an intentional organized way to carry on at a church-wide level the DNA inclination to reproduce that God has instilled in Christians.

Paul described the church as being “God’s field” (I Cor. 3:9). One important trait of a field is, it lets seeds reproduce so that crops can multiply and grow. No one calls a desert a field. The meaning of the field metaphor is, in the church things are planted and grown so that an abundant crop may be harvested.

Based on his own imagery of “God’s field,” Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (I Cor. 3:6). Notice three truths in this passage.

One, Paul “planted.” Planted what? The church at Corinth. Paul was a church-planting machine (AC 14:23). We call his four preaching tours Missionary Journeys. They could as accurately be called his Church-Planting Journeys.

The Antioch Church is to be commended for sending out its all-stars, Paul and Barnabas, to plant churches. The believers at Antioch were willing to sacrifice in order to make church-planting a success. We too have sent out some of our finest, people who had a holy hunch, as Paul did, and planted a church.

We send people, and also have a chance to sacrificially and specifically give money to church-planting. We can financially contribute to the cause. Our Foundations for the Future offering is a miracle, placing on us a staggering stewardship.

How did this offering happen to Second? How did we stumble into it? A man at Second several years ago had a holy hunch, as Paul did. He felt we might someday want to transfer funds from debt reduction to ministry production.

For our church-planting efforts, some of our best people need to go, and all of us can give money. Finances are essential for young churches to succeed. Everything a church does is in some way connected with the one dollar bill.

Two, “Apollos watered.” He was the change agent God used at Corinth. In a field, once a crop is planted, workers have to perform different tasks to help crops grow. They make appropriate changes at opportune times to produce the harvest. Churches also have to change to remain vibrant.

Planting churches lets us make necessary changes. We do not compromise doctrine, but do alter methods and appearances to be more appealing to the unchurched.

For instance, church-plants help us shed our crusty institutional image. They give us a way to circumvent big buildings and avoid what unbelievers view as a proud look. A common nickname for our facility is Fort God. The largest church building in our region is sometimes dubbed Six Flags Over Jesus.

Three, “God gave the growth.” Only God can bring success. The most important thing we could ever do for our church-planters would be prayer in the form of intentional intense intercession.

Intentional – organized in our prayer folders. Otherwise we’ll pray “for me, my four, and no more.” Intense – “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16b KJV). Intercession – our Lord intercedes for us, we should strive to be like Him, and intercede for others.

In the first century, God blessed church-planting. It was a century very similar to ours in many ways – Pagan, anti-Jesus, sinful, superstitious, hopeless.

It is my hunch, and I pray it is a holy one, that church-planting could be blessed of God today in our twenty-first century, as He blessed it in the first century. If so, the result would be a time of remarkable growth.