30 September 2010

Verse-by-verse through Philippians (4:14-4:17)

Philippians 4:14-17Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Imagine a general during the Civil War, standing there at Manassas or Bull Run or Vicksburg. He looks over across the field or the valley, sees the enemy approaching and shouts to his troops, “OK guys, let’s go get ‘em! Who’s with me?” And this unit over here says, “You know, I'm just not feeling it today.” Another unit says, “Do you think it’s a really good idea? I mean, it seems like a lot of work.” So all of a sudden, now, General Jackson or Pickett or whoever it may be is standing there, the enemy surrounding on all sides, and he’s left to fight the battle on his own. Now you have an idea of what it must be like for a missionary going out into the field they’re called to. They go out to do the work that God has chosen them to do. The church sends them out, packs a few sandwiches, they get to their destination, supplies run out, they send home word that they need help—nothing. To understand the reason for these Philippians having such great love for Paul, we’re going to go back and review the roots of the Philippian church.

Turn to Acts 16:1. Just like our poor Civil War general, when Paul and Silas left Philippi, they didn’t have anyone to help them except this new-found group of worshippers. Acts 16:1Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. The people of Lystra-Derbe were very Jewish in their religion; very zealous for the Law of Moses, and in fact when they found out Timothy’s father was Greek, they would not even listen to him unless he was circumcised. Paul refers to this as “mutilation” in Philippians 3:2Beware the mutilation. So Paul has Timothy circumcised, the people listen, and Acts 16:4-5They delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily. Eventually they make their way to Mysia, from there on to Troas—the ancient city of Troy. This once all-important city, site of one of the most famous wars in all of history—and now it’s a little fishing village. This is where Paul gets the word from God that he must go to Philippi.

Acts 16:9-11And 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 Roman colony. And by the time the first Sabbath rolled around, he had probably realized there was no synagogue in the city. That was always the first thing he did when he got to a new city was to go and speak in the synagogue. Thing is, in order for there to be a synagogue, there had to be 10 Jewish men who were the heads of a household. Considering the fact that Philippi was a Roman colony, those chances were pretty slim.

Acts 16:13-14And 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. Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. Whenever I talk about Luke’s style of writing, this last verse is one of my favorite verses to use. Details. We read that Lydia was a seller of purple, from Thyatira, and she worshipped God. Big deal, right? Yes it is a big deal. What is the big deal about selling purple? Well, today, we can go to Wal-Mart and pick up a purple shirt off the rack. Back then, you didn’t wear purple unless you were rich or you were royalty. So who could she tell the gospel to? One of the quickest ways to win a people is to win their leaders—their kings or their tribal chiefs, etc.

Richard Wurmbrand was a pastor in Communist Romania. He was imprisoned and tortured for 14 years for spreading the gospel. He wrote a book called Tortured for Christ. He says this:
“With love we planned a missionary work among the Communists in prison. And thereby we thought first of all about the Communist rulers. Some mission directors seem to have studied little church history. How was Norway won for Christ? By winning King Olaf. Russia first had the gospel when its king, Vladimir, was won. Hungary was won by winning St. Stephen, its king. The same with Poland. In Africa, where the chief of the tribe has been won, the tribe follows…We must win rulers, leaders in politics, economics, science, and the arts. They mold the souls of men. Winning them, you win the people they lead and influence.”

I've only had the chance to go out to Arizona, to the Navajo, once. I only got to talk to a handful of people. But, what would happen if a tribal chief embraced Christ? What would that mean for the rest of the tribe? Just like Lydia, no doubt, won the rulers and tribal leaders who bought her purple clothing. By winning them, she more than likely won the people they led and influenced. Not only could she take the gospel to the rich and famous, but she also was probably quite well-off because of her profession, so she was probably one of Paul’s largest contributors.

Another thing about Lydia—she was from where? Thyatira was one of the churches that Jesus commanded John to write to in Revelation 2:18-28. It was a very pagan city, and it was also known for its many skilled craftsmen—artisans, so we don’t offend the ladies. These artisans would get together and form guilds—kinda like an ancient form of labor unions. They would pool their skills and their resources and travel all around selling their wares. Not their whats—their wares. And each one of these guilds had their own “god” that they worshipped and which was their “patron god”—kinda like Catholics with their “patron saints.” So knowing all of this, we can surmise that when Luke’s original audience read that this woman from such a wicked and depraved city worshipped God to begin with, they would have been shocked to say the least.

The next Philippian that Paul led to the Lord was the jailer. The word “jailer”—eh. This fellow was more like a warden. He was the guy in charge of the jail. He may very well have been previously a rather high-ranking member of the Roman military. You see, when Rome captured this city from the Greeks in 42 B.C., they encouraged many of their retired military to relocate there and flood it with their culture. And when Paul and Silas were thrown into his jail, he was responsible for them, and if they escaped, Albert Barnes says:
“It was customary to hold a jailor responsible for the safe keeping of prisoners, and to subject him to the punishment due them if he allowed them to escape.”

Now we know that at midnight, Paul and Silas were singing songs and praising God (Acts 16:25). And what were the prisoners doing? Listening. Let’s talk about the prisoners for a moment. They weren’t singing with Paul and Silas—they were listening. They were probably thinking, “Let me get this straight—the God these fellows worships allow them to be thrown into this place, and they're praising Him? Silly little Jews!” But what did the God of these silly little Jews do at midnight? Not only do the doors fly open, what else happens? Acts 16:26Immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed. It was not uncommon, especially if a prisoner had been in there for an extended period of time, for their shackles to rust to the point that you could not open them. But what happened to these chains? They just fall off.

Earthquake, jail is shaken, doors fly open, chains fall off. And keep in mind, there was probably not a whole lot of light in this part of the prison. The warden can see the doors are open, but probably can't see much of anything else. He’s fearing the worst and he’s ready to fall on his sword. BUT! Acts 16:28Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Now, keep something in mind. In verse 12, and in verse 18, Luke tells us that Paul and Silas had been in town for many days. So this jailer has been hearing these “silly little Jews” preaching about their God and about this Christ. He had probably heard of the resurrection and thought it nothing more than a fable invented by a bunch of misfits who had fallen out of favor with Jewish society. But now he sees the power of Christ, sees the power of the faith of Paul and Silas, sees what mighty things Christ will do when His people praise Him. And he cries out that most famous question, Acts 16:29“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This man, who had probably been mocking them and their God, is now begging them to tell him about their God.

Again, Pastor Wurmbrand:
"A Russian Army captain came to a minister in Hungary and asked to see him alone. The young captain was very brash, and very conscious of his role as a conqueror. When he had been led to a small conference room and the door was closed, he nodded toward the cross that hung on the wall. He said to the minister, 'You know that thing is a lie. It’s just a piece of trickery you use to delude the poor people to make it easier for the rich to keep them ignorant. Come now, we are alone. Admit to me that you never really believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God!' The minister smiled. 'But, my poor young man, of course I believe it. It is true.' The captain cried, 'I won’t have you play these tricks on me! This is serious. Don’t laugh at me!' He drew out his revolver and held it close to the body of the minister. 'Unless you admit to me that it is a lie, I’ll fire!' The minister said, 'I cannot admit that, for it is not true. Our Lord is really and truly the Son of God.' The captain flung his revolver on the floor and embraced the man of God. Tears sprang to his eyes. 'It is true!' he cried. 'It is true. I believe so, too, but I could not be sure men would die for this belief until I found it out for myself. Oh, thank you! You have strengthened my faith. Now I too can die for Christ. You have shown me how.'

I have known other such cases. When the Russians occupied Romania, two armed Russian soldiers entered a church with their guns in their hands. They said, 'We don’t believe in your faith. Those who do not abandon it immediately will be shot at once! Those who abandon your faith move to the right!' Some moved to the right, who were then ordered to leave the church and go home. They fled for their lives. When the Russians were alone with the remaining Christians, they embraced them and confessed, 'We, too, are Christians, but we wished to have fellowship only with those who consider the truth worth dying for.'"
Once our Philippian jailer had seen that Paul and Silas considered Christ worthy of remaining in jail for, even dying for, he realized that this Christ was worthy of devoting his own life to. Another thing we need to remember about our Philippian warden: after he confessed Christ, he had to go back to work at the jail. And like the tribal leaders and chieftains we talked about earlier, do you think this fellow had more than a little influence on his guards? He was willing to die to avoid disgrace before—how much more will he be willing to die for the God who has saved him? One more thing: between Lydia and this jailer we have two people from two slightly different backgrounds. In Lydia, we have a woman who worships Almighty God in the midst of a devoutly pagan city. And in the jailer we have a man who worshipped the Caesar in the middle of a devoutly pagan city. And yet they were both saved by the same Christ. They both saw the things Paul suffered in Philippi.

Acts 16:40So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed. And because these brethren saw that Paul and Silas were willing to go to those lengths—and even further, if must needs be—they knew they needed to give them whatever aid they needed to carry out their mission. So, after Paul and Silas leave Philippi, they head west, Acts 17:1-2, 4They passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures…And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. From everything I've read, Paul’s time in Thessalonica was not limited to those three weeks. Because how many times did the Philippians send him aid while he was in Thessalonica? Philippians 4:16For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. If he was only there for a few weeks, they would not need to send help more than once. He was probably there for about 5 or 6 months.

And in all that time, only the Philippians sent him anything. Then, after the devout Jews chase them out of Thessalonica, they continue west. Acts 17:10-11Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. Notice a pattern here. Who does he go to first—Jews, or Greeks? Which is, I believe, what he is alluding to in Romans 1-2, when he repeats the phrase, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile (Romans 1:16, Romans 2:9-10). The gospel came first to the Jews; they rejected it; it was then given to us Gentiles.

At any rate. Paul then heads south to the region of Achaia by himself, leaving Silas and Timothy in Berea. Achaia is the region which contained the cities of Cenchrea, and Athens, and Corinth. And still, the only church to send him aid was the church in Philippi. And it is for this reason that he tells the Corinthians that he was grieved by having to accept help from another church so that he could minister to them. 2nd Corinthians 11:8-9I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need. That word translated “robbed” literally means “To strip the weapons off of another to use for one’s own purposes.” He considered the fact that he had to accept help from the Philippians as a sort of robbery.

We’re gonna stop right there. Now that we’ve got a little background on these folks, next week we’ll look a little deeper at their giving, and their serving, and the kinds of sacrifices that are acceptable and pleasing to God, and the rewards for giving with the right motives—as well as the rebukes for giving with the wrong motives.

Jesus Christ is Lord.
Amen.

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