Paul in Philippi – Part 6

And now we come to the conclusion of this little series. Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke have ministered in Philippi, bringing the truth of the gospel to a small group of women who gathered by the river for prayer. Lydia was among their number, whose heart the Lord opened to receive the gospel preached by the traveling band of missionaries. A demon-possessed slave-girl is the catalyst that ultimately leads Paul and Silas into suffering for the sake of the gospel.

After they are beaten, bound, and imprisoned; Paul reveals that he and Silas are Roman citizens. They should not have been treated in such a manner. And here is the rub for us today. Paul waited to reveal their citizenship until after they suffered terribly. Why did he wait? The text does not say and I have found precious few commentators who devote any space at all to theorizing. So while there may not be any dogmatic conclusions concerning this delay, it is a question worth meditating on. Think about how you might react in the face of real persecution from the state. Should we always withhold our defense until after unrighteous punishment has been meted out? I don’t think we can say that conclusively because the text does not specify. But are there times when it would be the right thing to do, what God calls you to in that season? It appears to be a distinct possibility. God may call you to suffer unrighteous persecution for the sake of the gospel, even when there is a way out of the persecution before it occurs.

Can we begin to wrap our “successful Christian life” minds around this? Were we to fall into this kind of trouble for the sake of the gospel and then fall back on what we’ve learned about “victorious Christian living”, where would we land? After all, if we are doing (and saying) the right things, there should be only victory. At least that’s what some people tell us, some very “successful” people who lead churches and ministries defined by a message of “victory”. Yet, here we have Paul and Silas giving us an example to follow that is so very unlike the “victory” lifestyle. I understand the temptation… weighing the promise of great physical blessings against the reality of trials and persecution.

Brothers and sisters, one of these lives is victorious. One is a lie. God calls you to true life,




Paul in Philippi – more to come this week

The last two weeks have been furiously busy. I had to fill the pulpit at my church for the last two Sundays. Preaching is not something I take lightly. Needless to say, I was preoccupied with preparations. The sermon I preached two weeks ago is a practical application of the truths I’ve been writing about concerning Paul in Philippi. I will be posting the sermon here tonight, followed by a final post for this series later this week.

I have also been teaching through Philippians in my adult Sunday school class. I have been challenged on many fronts, especially the gospel courage that Paul, Silas, and Timothy display during their journey.

Thank you, dear readers, for sticking with me. Writing is not a quick thing for me. You are more patient than I deserve. I have opportunity this week and next to devote myself to serious studies. God help me to mine precious gold with hands of clay.

Paul in Philippi – part 4

During Paul and Silas’ midnight prison worship service, an earthquake has opened up the doors of the Philippian prison and everyone is unshackled. The earthquake awakens the jailer, who upon surveying the open prison immediately decides suicide is his only option – assuming the prisoners have escaped. Strangely, not one of them is missing. Paul cries out in order to save the jailer from himself, who now seeks lasting salvation from the hand of the Savior. What a dynamic turn of events! Confusion, fear, thoughts of suicide, the metallic rattle of a sword being drawn, despairing of life itself, hope, true freedom. The jailer, roused from sleep by an earthquake and thrown immediately into utter despair, has found rescue at the foot of the cross, led there by the very prisoners he placed within the prison that same night.

Paul and Silas, shown no mercy by the jailer since their arrival, answer his plea with a simple message of mercy. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” The jailer’s heart is changed, demonstrated in washing their wounds, housing, and feeding Paul and Silas. There is much rejoicing in his home, for real life has come to stay. Where death and fear have reigned, rejoicing drives them out as the Lord ascends in the heart of this man and his family.

The next day, the magistrates send their messengers to the jail with instruction to release these two prisoners. Paul insists that the magistrates come themselves and apologize for mistreating him and Silas, who are Roman citizens. Fear boils over in the hearts of the magistrates. They, as rulers in a Roman colony, have abused their fellow contrymen.

Here is the point I find supremely stunning and challenging. Paul and Silas could have asserted their Roman citizenship when all this trouble began, but they didn’t. Think about that for a day or three. I’ll be back in a few with some more thoughts on this curious turn of events.

Paul in Philippi – part 3

When we left Paul and Silas in Philippi, they had been dragged before the magistrates in the market, falsely accused of crimes, stripped, beaten repeatedly with rods, thrown into prison with their feet in stocks. What irony. The gospel of peace has stirred up a hornet’s nest in Philippi. The freeing of a slave girl from demons has lead the truly free into suffering and chains.

Imagine how curious the other prisoners were about the new arrivals in their midst. A prisoner’s view of the world becomes microscopic. The prison itself seems to encompass the whole world. Paul and Silas have been delivered into this tiny world – the free placed in prison chains in order to free others from eternal chains.

Put yourself in the other prisoners’ place for a minute. A pair of battered and bloodied magician tricksters have landed in the inner prison. Rumour surrounds their arrival. “These are the men who silenced the soothsayer slave-girl with but a command. What kind of men are these? They’ve already been beaten before their arrival here. There is so much concern about their magic they are taken straight to the inner prison, foot stocks shackling them.” You can be sure the prisoners are straining to see and hear everything surrounding the spectacle lived out before them.

“Who are you? Where have you come from? What have you done?”

They did not have to wait long to find out what these two “criminals” were about. Around midnight, after gathering strength sapped by their trial and beatings, Paul and Silas pray and sing songs of praise to God. All the prisoners are listening to them. What kind of God is this, whose suffering servants give no pause in their praises?

“What is this? The ground is shaking? First they silenced the slave-girl with words, and now their songs start an earthquake?!?! I can’t believe what I’m seeing. The prison doors wide open. My shackles, lying on the floor next to me. … so strange. My head… all this shaking. I must be dreaming.”

to be continued…

Paul in Philippi – part 2

What does successful Christian ministry look like? What does successful Christian living look like? More specifically, what is the typical American evangelical viewpoint of these? I will venture a guess that, for many, it runs along the lines of a megachurch combined with a relatively trouble-free life that is not punctuated by serious setbacks or suffering until the typical illnesses that befall the elderly. Since there are large numbers of evangelicals who can’t attend a megachurch, their success goal is tempered downward in terms of the size of the building, the numbers in attendance, and the peripheral ministries surrounding the core ministry of the church. The spiritually-minded evangelical would throw in the occasional convert and witnessing opportunities. The “more reasonable” secular-minded evangelical would instead focus on the happiness-level of their day-to-day life.

Paul and Silas have suffered nagging harassment from a slave girl possessed by a spirit, attacks of the crowd in Philippi, false charges, being stripped and beaten repeatedly with rods, and are now sitting within the inner prison, their feet held in stocks. How would our modern-day evangelical self-evaluate at this point? (Inner dialogue: I thought God had called me to Philippi. I must have been mistaken. In fact, where is He? How could He let me get stuck in a situation as bad as this? Maybe He doesn’t love me anymore. I’m such a complete failure in ministry. After all, what kind of Christian ends up in circumstances like these? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) Paul’s situation is so totally foreign to the success-based, happiness-based mindset of so many evangelicals, I fear we would fail and fall in droves were we placed in similar circumstances.

Grab your Bible and read Acts 16:1-24 now before continuing in this post. You can find it online at Bible gateway if you don’t have your hardcopy handy.

Back now? Ok. What would you do? How would the account read if it was your back and your feet, your skin on the line? I’m serious. I can’t answer for you.

What do Paul and Silas do?

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25, ESV)

Talk about getting hit in the head with a 2×4. I don’t know about you, but I stand convicted. They were singing hymns of praise to God! In the midst of the battle, Paul and Silas didn’t lose heart and they didn’t merely whisper blessings to each other. They prayed and sang the praises of their God with great courage and gusto. The other prisoners were listening to them. God is their shield and portion, in the midst of this present trouble. And let’s be clear about it. This is trouble. It hurts. The beatings, stocks, the filth of the prison, the immediate unknown future which could pour even more brutality over them. Where do they turn? To sing the praises of their Savior.

I must confess that I have never, in my life as a U.S. citizen, feared anything remotely resembling the kind of physical suffering that Paul and Silas endured. Have you? I thank God for the U.S.A. and the freedom from religious persecution we have been blessed with. After seeing what Paul and Silas are put through, I am amazed. The hammer of the state falls heavily on heaven’s clay jars but does not shatter them. Instead, they ring with praise as the blows fall.

We will see the glory of the Lord shine even more brightly in part 3.

to be continued…

Paul in Philippi – part 1

We are in Acts 16. Paul is on his second missionary journey. He left Antioch with Silas, drew young Timothy into the journey at Lystra, and is joined by Luke in Troas. The call to Philippi is supernatural. Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia asking him to come over and help. He answers the call and the band of evangelists heads to Philippi.

What does Paul find when he gets there? He starts by looking for a synagogue but finds none. This leads them to look for a place of prayer by the river, hoping to find a group to preach the gospel of Christ to. They succeed in finding a group of women by the riverside, including Lydia, who will become the first convert to Christ in the establishment of the church in Europe.

Paul and his companions stay in Philippi for several days, continuing to visit the little group at the riverside, teaching them the way of salvation. Conflict arises. A slave girl possessed by a spirit of divination starts raising a ruckus, focusing unwanted attention on the evangelists as they seek to establish a church in Philippi. She continues this harassment for many days. Finally, Paul has had enough. He turns and casts the spirit out of the slave girl in the name of Christ.

The slave girl’s owners immediately realize their prophet of profit is fallen silent and they know who has staunched the flow of money. They drag Paul and Silas before the judges, hurling false accusations and stirring the crowd to join in the attack. They are stripped of their robes, repeatedly beaten with rods, and thrown into prison. Having received a command to guard them securely, the jailer takes extra precautions with these so-called rabble rousers, placing them in the inner prison and fastening their feet in stocks.

This is an opportunity. An opportunity to:

1) Question God’s call to Philippi?

2) Doubt God’s love or even existence in the
face of these current troubles?

3) Consider themselves failures in ministry?

4) Pray and sing hymns to God in full view of
the other prisoners?

Before you answer, place this in the context of current evangelical thought concerning successful Christian ministry. And no, I’m not thinking of Joel Osteen. Put it in the context of your local church and how the evangelists’ mission would be judged, or how you personally might respond if you were in Paul’s shoes, er… sandals.

The meta is open. Fire away.

Paul and Philippi – Your Homework

I’m working up a new series of posts examining Paul and the church at Philippi. I hope to have the first installment online this week.

I’m currently teaching through Philippians in my Sunday school class. It’s a real eye-opener. I’m consistently being challenged by the Word in several areas. I want to share what I’m learning on this blog also.

In preparation, please read Acts 16 and the account of the establishment of the church at Philippi. I believe there is much potential for good interactions in the meta, so come prepared.