Sunday School Series: Context of Philippians

18 01 2017

Author’s Note:  We will be beginning a series in Philippians on Sunday, to prepare for this, I have referenced some scripture in Acts to help give us a context for understanding the church’s history.  I hope this helps in your understanding, because it certainly helped mine!

Paul and Silas are travelling around, preaching and ministering to areas and churches in Acts.  The first time (that I know of) that Paul visited Phillipi, he had a lot of things going on!  I was interested in these events so I started reading.

Meeting Lydia  Acts 16:11-15:

From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

This is the first opportunity that we have to meet Lydia, and it certainly won’t be the last.  Lydia will later be a member of one of the founders of the church here.  She will raise Timothy who will later become a “son-in-ministry” to Paul.  Paul probably had no idea that he would meet someone who would be so influential to his ministry.

  1.  Lydia was successful financially.  She was a seller of cloth, and was actually probably selling in the marketplace when she heard the message of Paul.  She was in a group of women who probably were makers or sellers of cloth like her.  She sold purple cloth, which was the most expensive of the cloths, because the dye was the rarest found.  Reserved for royalty and higher-income families, she had very wealthy clients who probably paid a hefty sum for her cloth.  The fact that they mention her name at all, and what she does, indicates that she is in a prominent position in the society, because everyone would’ve known who Lydia is by her trade.
  2. Paul’s words made a believer of Lydia in Christ Jesus and his resurrection.  It says that Lydia already was a believer in God, so she was probably Jewish in faith already.  But God opened her heart to Paul’s message, it says, and she began to believe.  God used Paul’s words to convict the heart of Lydia.  Just a moment ago, I tried to put myself in Lydia’s shoes.  I tried to imagine that I was a Jewish person, and then Paul was standing there with a message from God.  I was faced with a choice, to continue to believe what I believe, or to change my heart and follow God.  I’ll be honest and readily admit that I wasn’t so sure that it would be an easy choice for me to make.  But I’m glad that she did, because God used her in amazing ways to impact the world for the sake of the Gospel.
  3. Lydia allowed God to use her to minister to other people through hosting them. All because Lydia believed, her household also began to believe.  They all were converted and they all were saved.  Then, she invited Paul into her home.  As wealthy as she was, she was able to use that wealth to give rest and refuge to the ministers of God because she had extra room in her household.  She used her possessions and what she had to not only lead her household but to also, give Paul and Silas a place so that they could be ministered to.  I’ve never been a vagabond minister, a nomadic disciple, but I imagine it would be very draining to give and give of yourself the way that Paul and Silas did, without return.  I imagine she gave them food, a place to sleep, and Christian company that cared about their struggles.  Often, we forget that even though Paul and Silas were moving and grooving great things for God, they also had their own struggles that they dealt with on a daily basis, and they wrestled with.  It must have been very wonderful to ease their personal load by sharing their troubles with another person, by finding a person to pray for them.

Paul and Silas Identified Acts 16:  16-19

 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.

So obviously, there has been quite some time between the first few verses of today’s examination and the verses in this section.  Which is fine, but I think we need to acknowledge this.  So what happened in between verse 15 and 16?  A lot, from what I can understand.  See, if these things happened the next day, scripture would say the next day, it’s usually pretty keen on keeping up with that.  So, it had to be some time after Lydia was converted, so to speak, and in the meantime, Paul and Silas probably set up camp there and was ministering to the people in the area.  No doubt that their connections with Lydia created some really influential connections for Paul.  The church probably had started out of Lydia’s home and was growing in the knowledge of God.

  1.  Even demons recognize that God is at work.  Meanwhile, in their day to day life, Paul and Silas were going to the marketplaces each day, and sharing the gospel.  This lady, we don’t know her name, but she was a fortune teller.  We do know her occupation.  Well, she started walking behind Paul and Silas, telling everyone who they were and what they were doing.  I imagine she wasn’t following from afar, I’d like to imagine that she was almost like a parrot, squawking every time that Paul turned the corner.  She was taken by this spirit who told the future, and she was able to identify these people by what they were doing, whose they are, and what their message was.  I’m sure the evil spirit was motivated by wanting to send people running from Paul.  I’m sure it was meant to deter Paul’s work from being effective.  My point is this, even people who aren’t involved in the things of God can recognize when God is at work.  I’m not saying those people are full of demons and all of those things….not at all.  But what I am saying is that it’s easy to recognize when God is at work through his people.  In fact, it’s hard to hide God working in his people!
  2. God will provide a way out or a way through obstacles  Far too often, though, when we are encountered with an obstacle or something/someone who opposes what we are doing, we shut down.  Or we give up.  We think that if God brings obstacles and hardship, he must not be in it, right?  Oh dear believer, nothing could ever be further from the truth!  When we encounter the obstacles and hardships we face in ministry, that’s just the time for us to buckle up and prepare for something great to happen!  In Paul’s case, he dealt with the figurative parrot for days, until he couldn’t take it anymore, and then, he turned around and cast out the demons that were inside this fortune teller.  At that very moment, they were gone.  She was vacant of the spirits that robbed her of herself at that very moment.  I imagine she just sorta stood there, stunned, and walked away.  I wonder what happened to her?  Anyways, back on track, God provided the way for Paul to leave his obstacle of that parrot, and he will provide the same way out for us.
  3. If God works, expect consequences!  Paul’s consequence is found in the owners of this fortune-teller, who no doubt, were angry that their source of income was done away with, she was good for nothing, in their eyes.  So they grabbed him, and honestly, they probably felt like Paul was stealing from them.  “They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”(vs 20-21) He was stealing their livelihood, their person that they could use and abuse.  He liberated her from their bondage, forever.  Can I just take a moment and say that those same words are the very same that the enemy says about those that we minister to?  He says the very same things about those who find encouragement under the wings of our care and concern.  He says the very same things about those that find hope in the way that God uses us.  So we’d better be ready for consequences.  When we submit to God’s call to ministry, then we’d better be ready for consequences.  Regardless of the consequences.  In the case of Paul and Silas, they were humiliated in the marketplaces, stripped of their clothing and flogged.  Then, they were jailed.  (Vs 22-24)

Paul and Silas and their Ministry in Prison Acts 16:25-40

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”

The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.

This is a rather intense story.  I’ll try to refrain from summarizing, and insulting your intelligence, but I do want to make some commentary.

  1. Paul’s Response.  I think Paul and Silas’ response to being jailed is very interesting here.  It’s actually very contrary to what our human nature leads us to do.  Paul and Silas went into jail and were given the highest area of security, and not only that, they were chained to the stocks.  I don’t know if you know anything about stocks, but when in a prison in that time period, the stocks were literally bolted/connected to the entire foundation.  So in order to break these locks and chains, it would have to take a super-human hulk person to do it.  So they’re given the tightest of security, and if it were me, I can honestly say that I would truly, truly be woeful and pitching a fit like a four-year old.  Instead, they used the opportunity to minister.  How often am I presented with an opportunity to minister, but because of my own selfishness, I don’t?
  2. Paul’s impact.  Because Paul was faithful to use any opportunity to minister, God opened the chains that bound him, and kept him captive.  Likewise, when we minister, God will open those chains that bind us, because that’s what he does.  When my heart was broken in times past, when I allowed myself to be used, God healed me, in ways that I never thought possible.
  3. God saves!  Well duh!  But look at it!  Look how God used Paul’s situation to bring more people to him!  It is so true, that God can use any and every situation to bring people to knowing him, and God can use any and every situation to change hearts!  There is no heart that is too hopeless that he can’t lift.  Look at that jailer!  After the earthquake, God broke the prison, and the jailer awoke, thinking that all of the prisoners were gone, and he was ready to kill himself.  He was ready to face death instead of hope.  But God pulled him out of that area of despair and he saved him!  How exciting!
  4. The Message spreads.  Prison cannot contain the message of God.  Bad news cannot contain the message of God.  God’s message and his ministers on this earth will not be contained.  They will not be silenced.  Even though Paul’s message, they attempted to silence, it was not.  Knowledge of the works of God spread.


After this, Paul left the area.  The church in Philippi grew and more and more people were adding to the family of God.  No doubt Paul received word of the church’s growth in numbers and no doubt that he was continuously hearing encouraging words from this body of believers.

This is the context of the book of Philippians.  If I have missed anything, understand that I’ve never studied the Bible academically, I’m just sharing what I know.  I hope this helps you understand more of the book of Philippians and their church.




One response

22 01 2017
Sunday School Series: Happiness, Joy and Partners in Ministry, Philippians 1:3-11 | deafragamuffin

[…] Note:  Please see the previous post to give you some of the context of this church’s founding and Paul’s relationship […]

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