What I’d like to do today is to just kind of introduce you to this church at Philippi; we’re going to look at how it started. So if you have your Bible with you, please join me in turning to the book of Acts, and chapter 16. Acts is another book that’s easy to find. It’s the first book immediately after the gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts. Chapter 16. Let me just set the stage for you. The year is probably about 51 AD. This is about 21 years after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. About 17 years after Paul was converted on the Damascus Road in Acts 9. Paul, as we now know him, was originally named Saul. He was a Jew, a Pharisee, authorized by the Sanhedrin to round up the followers of the one they called Jesus Christ. He spent many years learning the law, and in fact at one point in the book of Philippians we will see that he knew the law better than anybody else, even his teachers. Philippians 3:4-6—4 If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
Then we read in Acts 9 that one day, while travelling to Damascus the risen Christ appeared to Saul, and Saul immediately became a follower of this Jesus. He later changed his name to Paul, and the rest is history. In Acts 16, we read about what is called the “Jerusalem Council.” The issue was circumcision, and whether or not those who were not Jewish needed to be circumcised in order to be Christians. That one had to become Jewish through circumcision before they could be saved. This council, made up of several of Christ’s apostles, including John, James and Peter, prayed and heard from the Holy Spirit that no, you don’t have to be circumcised in order to be saved. Later on in that chapter, Paul and three of his companions—Silas and Barnabas and Mark—the one who wrote the book of Mark—get into what may be described as the first church fuss. Long story short, Paul and Silas go one way, Mark and Barnabas go another way. They would all be reconciled later on.
Acts 16:1-5--1 Then 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. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 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. 4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
Paul meets a young man named Timothy, the same Timothy who would become the pastor at the church in Ephesus, the same Timothy that Paul wrote to in 1st and 2nd Timothy. And there were still many Jews in the region that clung to the belief that you had to be circumcised. So Paul was carrying letters from the apostles stating that one does not need to be circumcised, yet he takes young Timothy and has him circumcised. Why do you suppose he did that? The Jews in that region—Derbe and Lystra and Iconium—these were not believing Jews. They still held onto the Old Testament law for their righteousness. I think what Paul was saying was this: I think he did this as a sign to these Jews, that it was not outward circumcision that saves a person, but circumcision of the heart, as it were, cutting away the things that hold us in bondage to sin. Romans 2:28-29—28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh: 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
It’s almost as if Paul was showing these men who clung to the Law, saying, “Look, he’s circumcised, OK? But guess what? He’s no more saved now than he was before. And he was not any less saved before you had me to mutilate him.” The same with baptism. You are no less saved before you get baptized that you are after. In fact, in Philippians 3:2, Paul warns the church at Philippi, Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation. Sometimes we have to take drastic measures in order to have people even listen to us. Paul saw and understood his audience. Timothy accepted that he would have to be circumcised in order for these Jews to even listen to them. Now, does this mean that we should follow all of the world’s customs just to get them to hear us?
Should we take the gospel to drug addicts and inmates? Absolutely. Does that mean we should do drugs and commit crimes to get the gospel to them? If something is not sinful, if it does not damage somebody’s conscience—especially ours—then we should try to relate, as best we can, without sinning, relate with those who need to hear the gospel. And without watering down the gospel. We need to let sinners know that they are no different than we were, but that the gospel that saved us is the same for everyone—repentance, faith, the cross. 1st Corinthians 9:19-22—19 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, (though not being under the law myself) that I might win those who are under the law…I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. In other words, he walked a mile in these people’s shoes, so that he could understand them better, and minister to them more effectively. He knew what it meant to be a Jew. He knew what it meant to be under the Law. He knew what it means to be outside of the Law. He knew what it meant to be homeless, to be hungry, to be wealthy, to be persecuted. In fact in Philippians 4:12, he says (I'm kinda paraphrasing here), I know how to be broke, and I know how to live it up. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. He has become all things to all men. Young Timothy learned this very quickly, and subjected himself to circumcision.
Verse 4. And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. What were those decrees? Flip back to chapter 15, start with verse 23.
Acts 15:23-29--23 And they wrote this letter by them: The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, “You must be circumcised, and keep the law”—to whom we gave no such commandment—25 it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 men that have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality: if you keep yourselves from these things, you will do well.
These were the decrees that Paul and Silas were delivering to the brethren at Lystra and Derbe.
Verse 5. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily. They were strengthened in the faith. No doubt they had felt as though they were under a yolk. That they not only had to believe in Christ as their Savior, but they still had to keep the Law of Moses, and all of its commandments. Do we? Romans 8:15 (ESV)—all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" Ever have a heavy weight lifted off of you? Some cloud over your head, some big event on the horizon, and when it’s finally over you just plop down and say, “I’m glad that’s over with!” That’s what was going on in these churches.
Here they were thinking that not only did they have to keep up with the Law of Moses, now we have this Jesus piled on top of it all. Paul brings them a letter that says, “No, you don’t need to be circumcised.” Together Paul and Silas and now Timothy—they are going around strengthening the churches in places like Lystra and Derbe and Iconium. You know, there is such a thing as safety in numbers. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12—9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up…12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Paul and Silas and Timothy were a threefold cord.
Well, after this, Paul wants to go through what’s called here “Asia,” in verse 6. But verses 6-7 tell us, they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. Not the continent of Asia--Russia, Japan, China and all that. This is what was at the time known as Proconsular Asia. The area that is now the western coast of Turkey, on the Aegean Sea. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. It wasn’t that God didn’t want these people to hear the gospel. He just had something else He wanted Paul to do.
So God gave him a vision. He wanted Paul to go up to Macedonia. Go directly to Macedonia, do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200. You know, when God wants us to do something specific, if it needs to be done there will be times when God shuts off every way of escape. He will lock every door, bolt every exit, and put bars on every window until you have no choice but to do what He has called you to do. This is what he does to Paul here. He says, “Paul, I’ve got a certain place I need you to go, and I am going to shut off every other direction, so that you have no choice but to go to Troas.” Which is where Paul winds up. Anybody ever have that happen? Paul wanted to go west—he couldn’t go west. Then he wanted to go northeast—couldn’t go northeast. So he only has one direction he can go, and that is northwest into Troas.
Verses 8-10. 8 So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. This, believe it or not, is what used to be known as the city of Troy. Don’t let that word “down” fool you. Yes, they're going northeast. But it’s kinda like around here how we say we’re going “up to Gatlinburg.” We actually go southeast, but go up a mountain. Troas was on the coast, it was a seaport. If you wanted to travel by boat, you had to go to Troas, which was down from—lower in elevation than—Mysia. 8 So, passing by Mysia they came down to Troas. 9 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.” 10 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. So Paul and Silas and Timothy are called by God to go to Philippi. Philippi was a Greek city that was under Roman control. A city that has no idea about God or who He is. So they were going to have to introduce these people to a whole new way of thinking and believing. These people believed in “gods.” But they had no idea about this Jewish God. See, in Roman mythology, we humans are nothing but pawns in their little games and their little temper tantrums.
They had no idea what “sin” was. And even if they did have some concept of right and wrong—which they did, to a certain extent—it was not so much about sinning against their “gods.” It was more about between persons. If I stole something from you, in the Roman system of thinking, it was nothing more than a personal matter. It wasn’t a violation of any kind of decree from on high. I offended you—that was it. The only law they had was Roman law. Sound familiar? Kinda like what we see today, no? I truly believe that this country is reverting back to the Roman way of thinking. Because modern society has almost no concept of sinning against God. It’s all about “What you did to me.” It’s all horizontal. What system of thinking do we have to thank for that? Evolution. We’re it, buddy! There’s nothing, no being, any higher than man. We don’t have to answer to anybody but men. Stealing, murder—those are simply offenses against people. They will be punished in the here and now, there is no such thing as “eternal justice.”
So going into this area that was given over to pagan worship, and convincing these people that there is only one true GOD—singular—and that it is Him and Him alone we sin against, was not going to be easy. Does God always call us to do easy things? If He only called us to do easy things, how could we ever know how awesome and how powerful He is? He doesn’t always send His people into flowery fields. Many times He sends them right smack dab into the thorns and thistles. He sends this threefold cord into a city that is given over to paganism, the worship of false gods, and a city that is ruled by a government that will eventually become notorious for killing Christians in some of the most barbaric ways possible. In fact, it was the Romans that came up with one instrument of torture and death that we are quite familiar with. Any ideas?
You know, these movies that make it out like the Roman Empire was a good thing. “Gladiator.” Fighting for the “glory of Rome.” The Roman Empire was one of the most despicable displays of human depravity the world has ever seen. It was built upon the egos of men who sought glory for themselves. We strive for a kingdom that is built upon the glory of God. We have no idea what it was like to be a Christian in a Roman territory. It would be like becoming a Christian in a Muslim country today. If you were lucky, they just cut your head off and got it over with.
But here, God is telling Paul, “Go into this land that is under the authority of these pagans. Preach the gospel to these people, even if it means losing your life.” Try getting that through people’s heads today. That the gospel is more important than our happy little lives. Anyway.
Verses 11-15—11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. 13 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. 14 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. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.
So Lydia and these women she was speaking with were, you might say, charter members of the church at Philippi. Today they ould hang a plaque in the lobby and have these women's name on it, listing them as the charter members of their church.
One thing that was in Paul’s favor was that at this early date, at the time, it wasn’t seen as being much of a threat. “OK, there’s this little Jewish group that has their little teacher. Yeah, OK, whatever. Just so long as you understand that your king is Caesar.” In fact, they didn’t really have a name for this movement. Most of the time it was simply called “The Way.” Six times in the book of Acts, the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are referred to simply as “The Way” Acts 9:1-2—And Saul…asked…that if he found any who were of The Way…he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. Acts 19:23—And the same time there arose a great commotion about The Way. Acts 22:4, Paul says, “And I persecuted this Way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.” Acts 19:9, 24:14, 24:22 all refer to the body of believers in Christ as first being called “The Way.” In fact, where were they first called “Christians?” (Acts 11:26).
We will pick up here next week, and learn more about the significance of this band of women who will become the first Christians on the European continent.