We had begun a lengthy study of the book of Philippians last July. We got through the first chapter before we took a break to do our study of systematic theology. And today and next week will be kind of a refresher course to get us back up to speed. Our study began with a look at how the church at Philippi got started, we find that in Acts chapter 16. Let me give you a little background. The city of Philippi was located in the southern region of Greece, a region called Macedonia. In 1st and 2nd Corinthians, Paul mentions how he will come to visit the church at Corinth after he passes through Macedonia.
This region also contained the cities of Thessalonica and Berea. It was a Greek city but it was a Roman colony—the city had been overtaken by Rome in about 42 BC, and all the people who lived here were Roman citizens, and as you read through Philippians, if you kinda keep that in the back of your mind, it helps to understand why Paul wrote some of the things he did in that letter. And why he opened with these words: Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus Christ. Most scholars believe that Paul wrote Philippians in the year 62 AD at the same time he wrote Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians, and Philemon. And together these are known as the Prison Epistles.
So, let’s go ahead and go into the text. The first thing we see in Acts 16 is this is where he meets Timothy, whom he would later appoint to be pastor at Ephesus. And in Acts 16:3, Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. Now it’s kind of curious that Paul would do this because in the previous chapter, we would see that Paul was given letters from the Jerusalem Council—James and Peter and John—concerning the issue of circumcision. There were Jews who said that “OK, you Gentiles can follow Christ, but you have to be circumcised first.” And Paul had in his hands letters saying that no, you do not have to be circumcised in order to be saved—yet he takes young Timothy and has him circumcised because of the Jews. Why would he do this if he didn’t have to? There were probably those who still said, “Ah, I don’t believe you, those letters are forged” or some other such thing. So Paul says, “Fine, you want to cut him up, go ahead—but it won’t change a thing, he’s saved now, and he’ll still be saved after you mutilate him.” And in fact, in Philippians 3:2, he writes, Beware the dogs, beware evil workers, beware the mutilation.
So now Paul and Silas have a new companion in young Timothy and if you skip down to Acts 16:9-12—And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them. Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And it was a colony that belonged to whom? Rome. Philippi was what you might call the “capital” of that region. So they get there, and when the Sabbath day came around, what did Paul usually do on the Sabbath when he came into a new city? He usually went into the synagogue to preach Christ. But if you look in verse 13, what do they do? And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. Chances are this city had no synagogue because—well, was this a city where one would find very many Jews?
So he goes out to the riverside and there he meets who? Lydia. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. When Luke sat down to write, he managed to include some very important details that we tend to overlook. OK, she’s from Thyatira and she worshipped God. And? But if we recall, Thyatira was one of the seven cities that Jesus told John to write letters to in Revelation 2:18-29. It may very well have been even more pagan than Rome itself. And for this woman to be worshipping God—truly was an act of God. And she sold purple. Meaning that she was rubbing elbows with what kind of people? Today, if I want a Minnesota Vikings jersey, I call, click, or go online and I can have my purple jersey tomorrow. You couldn’t do that back then. So Lydia had the opportunity to take the gospel to the rich and famous.
And let me show you something. When Lydia heard, did she decide on her own that, “Oh yeah, that makes sense, I think I'll believe that.” No. How and why did she believe? The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. We can read the Bible from one end to the other and back again. But unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes to understand what’s written, then it’s just so many words. There are atheists who have read the whole Bible and think it’s a bunch of fairy tales. Why? Because God has not opened up their hearts to accept it. And notice the order—she heard, she believed, THEN she was baptized.
Now, were things all sunshine and roses for our weary travelers in this Roman colony? Skip down to verse 16. Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. If you want to know where to place your money on the Super Bowl or the UT-Florida game—don’t bother watching ESPN—or RomeSPN—don’t bother calling the Vegas bookmakers. You call these guys, and for a (probably not-so) modest fee, they will have this young woman conjure up spirits to tell you who to place your money on. Are there “psychics” who do have some ability to see the future? Yes. But where do they get there power from? It ain't God (see Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
So in verse 17, she’s following them around for days on end, and finally Paul reaches the end of his rope in verse 18 and declares, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. And the people rejoiced. Right? Does anyone ever leave the Mafia? Does a pimp let one of his hookers leave without a beatdown? Have you ever noticed that the more illegal the actions, the more violent those people are? But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.
So they get beaten with rods, they get thrown in jail—and toss out any ideas you might have about today’s jails. This was 2000 years ago. You didn’t get 3 hots and a cot. You got 1 cold bowl of whatever and—if you were lucky—a stone floor. If you didn’t get a stone floor, what were you going to sleep on? "This is mud we're sitting in, right?" It says in verse 24 that they were thrown into the inner prison. Four stone walls, deep below ground, water seeping in, and there they were, sitting in the mud—if it was mud. If you know what I mean. They didn’t have indoor plumbing in there. And in verse 25, it says that at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. They weren’t joining in with Paul and Silas—in fact these guys probably thought Paul and Silas had gone around the last bend, because again, what culture are we talking about? Roman. According to Roman mythology if you were in a bad spot, you had done something to upset the gods and they were not smiling upon you and were in fact punishing you and you had to find some way to make it right. Had Paul and Silas done something to make their God angry? No, they were being obedient—yet God was allowing them to suffer for it. Until now.
Does God know where these guys are? There is nowhere we can go that God can't find us. Psalm 139:7-12—Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into Heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You. Jonah tried to hide in the bottom of a ship headed for Spain. Did God find him? And even in an inner prison, surrounded by four stone walls where no light could find its way in, God did. Verses 26-27, Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. Why? Because if you were a Roman soldier charged with guarding a prisoner, and that prisoner escaped, guess who was taking his place?
Kinda reminds me of another time when a group of Roman soldiers was charged with guarding, I think it was a tomb, and there was a great earthquake, and the soldiers fled. Now, is God going to shake the jail every time one of His children is imprisoned for declaring Christ? If He doesn’t, does that mean you don’t have enough faith? It actually means that you have the kind of faith that will not be backed down by the world. So, the warden runs in, he’s about to end his life because all the prisoners are gone—except, they're not gone!
Verses 28-29, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out—he took them out of the jail first, made sure they were safe, and asked that famous question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” “Well, come here and let me take you through these 4 spiritual laws. First, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Uh, no. “Just say this little prayer with me.” No, not so much. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” And if you read verse 32, did Paul take him through a little 15-minute tract and rush him into a prayer? No. In fact, read through verse 35, they were there all night. The household believed immediately—and THEN they were baptized—but Paul spent all night telling them what it means to follow Christ.
So we move ahead—1, 2, skip a few, Philippians—if we turn to Philippians 1:1, we see one example of how Paul thought of himself in the light of knowing Christ. Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus. Servants is eh; bondservants is OK, slaves—perfect. The Greek word is δουλος (doulos). It has the connotation of one who owed a massive debt. They either owed directly to another person, or that other person paid their debt, and now the debtor owed his life to the one who paid his debt. Sound familiar? Do we know of Someone who paid a debt for us, and to whom we owe our entire lives? Now timeout here. Don’t confuse this kind of slavery with the atrocity that took place here in America. So many people who despise the Scriptures like to say, “Well, why doesn’t the Bible condemn slavery?” It does, actually. If you read Colossians 4:1 and James 5:4-6, they both talk about how slave masters are to treat their slaves properly, and in fact the letter to Philemon was written to tell a slave master to deal kindly with his runaway slave once he returned and accept him as a brother.
Again, dealing with a Roman culture, we have to put things into that perspective. Paul knew that the people he was writing to knew what he was talking about. He knew that when he called himself a doulos, the people that read this would understand that he thought of himself as one who owed his very life to the One who paid his debt. Then look at verses 3-5—I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. Look at the words he uses. He didn’t just give them a passing thought once in a while. They were ALWAYS on his heart. The same with the Corinthians and the Ephesians and the Colossians. ALWAYS in EVERY prayer with ALL remembrance.
And then he tells them that if it was God who started the work, He will not leave it undone. Verse 6. Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. This is one of the clearest verses that show us that if we are truly saved we can never be lost again. And we’re going to close on this. This was one idea that took so long for me to get through my head. Because what’s the tiny little four-word phrase we always hear? Once saved, always saved. It’s true, but it’s a whole lot deeper than that. I developed a definition of salvation that may not be perfect, but I think it helps us understand the concept a little better. I see salvation as being “the restoration of the right relationship between God and a man.” Not “between God and man” as in “all mankind” because that’s impossible since not every single person will be reconciled to God. But look at what Paul says here. He WILL complete it. A better way to say that is He will perform it or even better than that He will perfect it. If God perfects something, can we unperfect it?
The Greek word is επιτελεω (epiteleo). It comes from the same root word as τετελεσται (tetelestai), which we find in John 19:30 when Jesus cries out “It is finished!” It is completed! It is accomplished! It is perfected! It’s done! Nobody can undo it! God restored it, no man can tear it apart. Romans 8:38-39—For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Who is “us?” The saved, the brethren. Nothing shall separate the saved from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.