Philippians 1:1-2, “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Book of Acts closes with the Apostle Paul (who is a Roman citizen by birth) on his way from Jerusalem to Rome to stand trial before Caesar Nero. The year is 62 AD and the beloved Apostle is being held in the capital city under house arrest. Keep in mind, Paul is under constant supervision - being guarded by a four-man rotation of Roman soldiers.
As he awaits word when his case will be heard, Paul wisely utilizes his time by writing letters. Known as his “Prison Epistles” Paul will pen a letter to Philemon in addition to three specific churches located in Ephesus, Colossae, and this church in Philippi (north eastern Greece)!
Aside from writing these letters, we also know Paul ends up witnessing to the men guarding him. From Paul’s perspective he wasn’t a prisoner of Rome; instead, as a “bondservant of Jesus Christ”, Rome was now his prisoner! He literally possessed a captive audience!
It would appear from the substance of this letter that, upon hearing of Paul’s incarceration, this Philippian church immediately sends a man named Epaphroditus to Rome with financial aid in order to help cover some of Paul’s practical needs. (Note: A full examination of Paul’s writings will reveal this church gave such a gift on five separate occasions.)
Then, when it was finally time for Epaphroditus to leave Rome and return home to Philippi, Paul writes this letter to the church in order to express his thanks. It’s why he address his note “to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.”
As you read through the Pauline Epistles you will discover that this letter to the Philippians reads much differently than the others. Paul doesn’t have to defend his character or justify his apostleship. He doesn’t rebuke them for teaching false-doctrines or falling prey to heresy.
Actually, it’s rather amazing that Paul never once mentions the word sin, nor does he feel inclined to speak out against the works of the flesh or carnal living! Instead, all of Paul’s exhortations center upon these believers going deeper in their love and unity with each other.
There is no question this Philippian church Paul had founded some 11 years earlier held a special place in his heart. The letter is both warm and tender. As we work our way through the text, you will see how Paul gushes with both a joy and a deep longing for his friends.
In order to understand Paul’s special relationship with this church (which I think is vitally important for you to fully grasp the substance of what he writes), this morning I want to look back at the time the Apostle spent in Philippi recorded in Acts 16 and then in Acts 20!
For context, whereas the Apostle Paul began this second missionary journey with Silas and later Timothy possessing a clear course of action (the plan was to revisit the churches he’d planted during his first trip), as he begins to make arrangement to move from the region of Galatia into new, uncharted territories, Paul encounters an interesting obstacle.
In Acts 16:6 we read, “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” After traveling through the region of Phrygia (Antioch) and all of Galatia, the plan was to move further East into Asia.
And yet, it’s at this point something peculiar occurs…We read, “They were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” This Greek word “forbidden” implies the Holy Spirit hindered them. So verse 7, “After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them either. So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.”
It’s likely that after being unable to travel directly into Asia, Paul maps a new course hoping to figure out another way to access this area. Because this plan also fails to materialize it would seem he now recognizes “the Spirit” was behind all of these unspecified setbacks. As such Paul decides to head west - the opposite direction to the port city of Troas.
While I am not sure how “the Spirit” closed the door for Paul to venture into Asia, one thing is evident… The Spirit was acting with intention! Always remember a closed door is often the Spirit’s way of leading you to the open door He wants you to walk through.
Verse 9 explains why Asia wasn’t in the cards… “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.’” As Paul is waiting for the Lord to tell him where to go, at some point “in the night”, he receives “a vision of a man of Macedonia (Greece) pleading with him to come and help.”
And it’s in this moment everything crystalized for Paul… The Spirit had resisted him going into Asia because He wanted the Gospel message to move into the heart of the Roman Empire! Most amazingly Christianity is about to take a significant leap into Europe.
Verse 10, “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we (pronoun implies Luke has joined the crew) 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 we were staying in that city for some days.”
Now that Paul’s received his marching orders, he waists no time getting after it! Luke says, “Immediately we sought to go!” From Troas - Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke sail to Samothrace (a quick lay over) before heading on to Neapolis where they proceed another 10 miles inland to the city of Philippi (the capital of the region of Macedonia).
Originally founded in 356 BC by Philip of Macedon, the city of Philippi would later become the retirement community for Roman military veterans. As a result of its strong Roman presence, the city was officially dubbed “a colony” of Rome and money flowed into the city for renovations. Philippi also was placed under the municipal law of Rome and was directly governed by two military officers appointed by the Roman senate. The city was Italian soil!
Luke tells us that after chilling out “in Philippi for some days”… Acts 16:13-14, “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.”
Since “on the Sabbath” Paul and the crew aren’t visiting a local synagogue as was their custom, but instead go “out of the city to the riverside where prayer was customarily made” we can conclude a minimal Jewish community existed in Philippi. As a matter of fact, we’re given the indication the only Jewish representation was a group of “women who met there.”
As Paul shared the Gospel with these ladies, Luke tells us “a certain woman named Lydia heard” whom “the Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” Because of the description of Lydia provided in the text, it’s likely she was a Roman citizen from a wealthy family of Thyatira who sold fabric to the Roman nobility living in Philippi.
Most incredibly, this woman Lydia becomes the first convert in Philippi… Acts 16:15-18, “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.
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. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, ‘These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.’ And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour.”
Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke end up using Lydia’s home as their base of operations while ministering in Philippi. Whether they “went to prayer” every Sabbath we’re not sure; and yet, what we do know is that “for many days” they end up being hounded by “a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit” who was continually crying out that they were “servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” Not exactly the PR who’d want!
How long this occurred we don’t know, but things reached such a boiling point that “Paul, greatly annoyed” eventually commanded the spirit to come out of her! The language indicates he resisted dealing with the situation until he could literally no longer take it!
Though I fully believe God had a plan to liberate this young girl, Paul knew what the reaction would be. Without this spirit yielding a supernatural result this girl would no longer be of any value to her masters - which would in turn bring some heat upon Paul and his budding ministry. I’m convinced Paul waited because he had to prioritize ministry. A work needed to occur in Philippi (the formation of this new church) before he kicked the hornets nest.
Verse 19, “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. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, ‘These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.’”
While Paul’s ministry in Philippi was yielding fruit, it clearly came at a cost… First, “they seized Paul and Silas and drag them into the marketplace to the authorities.” Then they accuse them of “troubling the city” by “teaching customs which are not lawful for Romans to receive or observe.” A violent opposition coupled with an unfounded allegation is dangerous!
In response to these charges we then read (verse 22), “Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
Don’t forget what Paul’s really guilty of… At this point all he’s done is ministered to a group of women and cast a demon out of a slave girl! And still what does Paul get in return? Luke tells us that after being stripped naked (“the magistrates tore off their clothes”) Paul and Silas are then “beaten with rods” in the public square. Luke says, “They laid many stripes on them!”
Then these men, bruised and bloody, are “thrown into the inner prison.” It should be pointed out that Roman prisons were often nothing more than subterranean pits making them cold, dark, filthy, and poorly ventilated. Since the “jailer was command to keep them securely” not only are Paul and Silas’ hands fastened to a wall, but their feet were “fastened in the stocks” (a form of torture.) And yet, in spite of all of these things, look at their reaction…
Acts 16:25, “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” In using the word “but”, in a literary sense, Luke is placing the reaction of these men in context to everything that has just happened to them.
Luke is seeking to illustrate how absolutely abnormal it was that following a violent arrest without provocation, false accusations without reason, an unmerciful beating without cause, and an unjust imprisonment as if they were criminals of the worst order - Paul and Silas responded to their circumstances by “praying and singing hymns to God!”
In their suffering these men resisted the natural urge to doubt their purpose (what did we do wrong), take pity on themselves (woe is me), complain about their plight (this is not fair), or even grow angry over their current state of affairs (a desire for vindication). Instead, Paul and Silas made a decision they would rely on the God behind their circumstances by coming to Him in “prayer and the signing of hymns.”
This detail that “the prisoners were listening to them” is not an accident. I can imagine the sound coming from the bowels of this prison around midnight was the strangest noise any of them had ever heard. You see the reaction to Paul and Silas’ praise caught everyone’s attention because it was completely abnormal. How could these men praise God when the natural reaction would have been to curse Him?
I hope you understand your life demonstrates a greater manifestation of the supernatural power of God when your circumstances are difficult as opposed to when everything is hunky dory! The reason the world listens with greater attention when a Christian suffers is because they want to see if your reaction will be any different from their own.
Verse 26, “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. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.’”
As Paul and Silas are singing to the Lord during the midnight hour, we’re told “suddenly” or literally without forewarning “there was a great earthquake” that so shook the prison that not only were “all the doors opened” but “everyone’s chains were loosed.”
Then “awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open” we read the “keeper of the prison… supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword to kill himself.” According to Roman law the penalty for allowing a prisoner to escape custody was that the soldier responsible would assume the escapee’s sentence. Realizing the severity of the situation this Jailer decides it would be better to kill himself than suffer a humiliating death.
Consider the scene! Though Paul and Silas have been thrown into prison unjustly, they have maintained their Godly character by praying and worshipping the Lord! Then, in the midst of their worship, an earthquake supernaturally opens the doors and looses their chains…
And yet, while it would have been easy to see this as the providence of God making way for their escape, recognizing what would befall this Jailer if they fled, “Paul called with a loud voice” pleading with the man to “do himself no harm, for they were all there.” Amazing!
I’m convinced as Paul saw the scene unfolding he couldn’t help but realize this earthquake was not intended to be a means of escape, but instead was designed to create an opportunity whereby they could minister to this Philippian Jailer!
It’s my opinion, in this moment, Paul realized this Jailer was the man from Macedonian in his vision… Verse 29, “Then the Jailer called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’”
Well if there had been any doubt in Paul’s mind as to the larger purpose behind his present situation it was dispelled rather quickly by this Jailer’s question… “What must I do to be saved?” Talk about an open door! The man wants Paul to tell him how to be saved!
Acts 16:31-34, “So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.”
The Jailer asks a simple question, “What must I do to be saved?” and Paul responds with a simply but profound answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!” Not only has Lydia, her family, and the slave-girl received Jesus, but now this Jailer and his entire family believed and “were baptized!” Note: This is all happening in the middle of the night!
Acts 16:35-37, “And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, ‘Let those men go.’ So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, ‘The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.’ But Paul said to them, ‘They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.’”
Paul’s concern was that while the magistrates had come to recognize both he and Silas were innocent of the charges that had been levied against them, releasing them “secretly” when they had been accused “openly” would do nothing to publicly set the record straight.
Paul wisely understood that the only way to keep his name from being tarnished (which might have affected the effectiveness of this new church) was to demand a public acquittal! This is why he decides to play his trump card by letting it slip that he and Silas had been “beaten and thrown into prison” as “uncondemned Romans.” This was a huge no-no!
Verse 38, “And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. So they went out of the prison, entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.”
After getting what he wanted and following their release from prison, Paul with Silas return to “the house of Lydia” where they visit with “the brethren” before “departing.” Note: Since we’re told “they departed” Paul chooses to leave behind Luke to pastor this new church.
While Paul “departs” Philippi after only a short time with them, this wouldn’t be his last visit. According to the first several verses of Acts 20, during his third missionary journey and directly following an extended period of time ministering in the Grecian city of Ephesus, Paul eventually passes back through town specifically in order to visit with this church.
Though the stay short and we have no specific record of what occurred during his time in Philippi, one thing of note does happen - Luke rejoins Paul in his missionary travels. The implication being that this church was now established with solid, local leadership!
My point in looking at Paul’s history in Philippi is really two-fold… First, background always provides greater color and context. The Philippian church was important because it was the first established in Europe! Which is really an astounding fact when you consider Paul had no intention of traveling West until the Spirit hindered him from going East!
I think Paul was fond of the Philippians and the time he spent there because he knew it had been entirely a work of God. Paul had no plans to travel to Philippi. And yet, following his vision in Troas, there was no question Philippi was exactly where he was supposed to go.
Paul had a love for this church because what God accomplished in Philippi marked a significant turning point in Paul’s life. From this moment forward, as he continue further and further away from Jewish influence, Paul really would become the Apostle unto the Gentiles.
But there is another reason I think it’s important to look back at Paul’s time in Philippi before diving into his letter… Because the letter is so personal you need to know who “the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi” actually were - the people Paul is writing to!
When Paul thought of the Philippians there is no question he thought of Lydia and those women he first ministered to down by the river. Paul thought of Lydia’s family and how gracious it had been that she opened up her home to strangers.
I’m sure as Paul was writing he thought of the slave-girl he’d liberated from demon-possession. No question some 11 years later she was now all grown up. Paul probably thought about her new husband and family. How Jesus had so radically transformed her life!
Beyond all of this… In writing to these Philippian saints, Paul thought of the Jailer and his family. What a crazy night that had been! The beating, earthquake, desperation, salvation, a baptism in middle of the night! “Man, God works in mysterious ways!”
Paul was invested in this church in Philippi! He’d personally suffered in order to see this church birthed and established. Paul had made sacrifices for their wellbeing - even going so far as to leave behind his personal doctor to insure this baby church grew to be healthy.
Paul loved these Philippian believers dearly and it’s clear they reciprocated this love with an equal fervor. In the years that followed Paul’s visit, there is no doubt this church blossomed. The foundation Paul had laid remained firm and the Gospel was changing countless lives.
As we close and in context to his experiences in Philippi, Paul pens this letter seeking to accomplish three simple goals… First, Paul wants them to know how thankful he is of them. Not only is he grateful for the work God was doing through them, but their willingness to support him financially and partner with him in the ministry was deeply humbling.
Secondly, Paul will write in order to address an honest concern. Think about it… In his Philippian imprisonment Paul had been supernaturally freed. I’m sure it was only logical that these believers wondered why, in his Roman incarceration, the same thing hadn’t occurred.
In this letter Paul is going to explain that God actually takes two very different approaches when it comes to delivering His kids from suffering. Sometime God grants deliverance from our trials, while in other instances, His grace is designed to deliver us through our trials.
And finally, Paul writes because he wants these believers to know that because their joy was based in the amazing grace of God and not their present circumstances, they could truly rejoice in whatever situations they found themselves facing.
The vertical peace discovered when one bases their spiritual life on God’s grace enables that person unspeakable joy regardless of their horizontal environment. As we study this letter you will see that the Apostle Paul, writing from a Roman cell unsure if he’d live or face a brutal execution, was at peace because he was presently enjoying grace!
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