STUDY 1: THE BACKGROUND OF THE CHURCH IN PHILIPPI

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

Paul, along with his companions who included Silas, Luke and, possibly, Timothy, headed up the initial proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in what we now call ‘Europe’.

Prior to this, Christian mission had reached the area we call ‘Turkey’, and Paul’s intention was to continue preaching and teaching in that region.

Read Acts 16:6 – 10. Answer these questions:
[1] Look up a map of the region in the first century AD. Identify all the provinces and towns mentioned in these verses.

 

[2] What did Paul plan and attempt to do?

 

[3] What prevented him from doing what he planned?

 

[4] How did the Lord reveal his plan for Paul?

 

[5] How did Paul respond to the Lord’s intervention?

 

Note: This supernatural divine guidance was actually quite rare. Paul, having been commissioned to take the Gospel to the Gentiles [Acts 9:15; 13:2,3], moved with great personal freedom of choice within that commission. This is the only reported time when God intervened to prevent Paul moving to certain places, and gave Paul a specific revelation about the direction he should travel.

Read Acts 16:11 – 15. Answer these questions:
[1] Describe the city of Philippi.

 

[2] Suggest the significance of Paul going to the river on the Sabbath.

 

[3] Suggest why Lydia is called ‘a worshipper of God’ before she responded to the Gospel.

 

[4] Suggest the difference between ‘a worshipper of God’ and ‘a believer in the Lord’.

 

[5] How did Lydia become a believer?

 

[6] How was her belief in the Gospel expressed?

 

Paul’s initial ministry in Philippi was very peaceful, just sitting down by the river and speaking to a group of women, and the Lord opening Lydia’s heart, not only to respond to Paul’s message, but also to invite Paul and his companions into her house to stay.

It appears that Lydia and the others gathered by the river for prayer were either Jews, or Gentiles who had embraced the Jewish faith. They were there on the Sabbath, the Jewish day of worship. Even before hearing the message of Jesus Christ, Lydia was ‘a worshipper of God’. The Lord opened here heart to believe the Gospel message about Jesus Christ.

The fact that she, ‘and the members of her household’ were baptized indicates that they also confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, embracing him to whom the Jewish scriptures referred with many promises and prophetic anticipations of his coming.

Read Acts 16:16 – 24. Answer these questions:
[1] What happened some time later, that disturbed the earlier peace?

 

[2] How did this slave girl know the truth about Paul’s faith and the message he taught?

 

[3] Suggest why Paul put up with what she was doing for many days before he commanded the evil spirit to leave her.

 

[4] What made the spirit leave?

 

[5] How did this affect the girl’s owners, and what did they do?

 

[6] What impact did this incident have on Paul and Silas and their ministry?

 

It is clear from these verses that Paul really wanted nothing to do with this demon-possessed slave girl. Just as the demons had recognized the identity and authority of Jesus Christ, so they recognized the integrity of Paul and his message. The demon in the girl knew who Paul was and whose servant and apostle he was. The demon also knew the power of Paul’s message – that it was the way to be saved. For many days Paul ignored the girl and the demon. His purpose was not to go around casting out demons but to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. Like Jesus, he was not on a mission to hunt out demons.

But here he is confronted with one, very vocal, very loud, very disruptive, very persistent.

Finally, in the name of Jesus Christ, he commanded the demon to come out of her. And it did. Just as demons did at the command of Jesus.

And here we need to note some important facts, which are quite different from some contemporary practices in dealing with demons (evil spirits):

It was quite obvious that the girl ‘had a spirit’.
She was not a believer.
Paul did not get the demon to identify itself.
Paul needed to command it only once.
It was obvious that the demon had left, for she immediately lost her predictive power.

Although Paul’s response to the demon was confrontational, it was very straight-forward and simple, and it was effective.

Another important fact is this: That this girl with the demon ‘predicted the future’, and she did it so well that her owners made money from this miraculous ability. This should alert us to the fact that when something miraculous occurs we ought not automatically conclude that God has done it. The power of the evil one was at work in this girl, as it is in all counterfeit ‘miracles’.

See these studies for extended discussion of demons.

See this study for further on this aspect of the miraculous,  and Section D in  this study.

Read Matthew 7:21 -23; 24:24; Revelation 13:12-14 for relevant warnings.

 

 

Read Acts 16:25 – 40. Discuss/answer these questions:
[1] How did Paul and Silas behave in prison?

 

[2] How does their behaviour compare/contrast with your behaviour when you are in difficult circumstances?

 

[3] What did God do to change the situation?

 

[4] Should we expect that God will always intervene in a miraculous way when we are in trouble? Explain your answer.

 

[5] Suggest why the jailor asked Paul and Silas how to be saved?

 

[6] What simple answer did Paul give him? And is this answer an adequate basis for salvation?

 

[7] How did Paul and Silas follow up that simple answer?

 

[8] What did Paul and Silas do before they left Philippi?

 

Acts 16:25 – 40 is historical narrative. Its purpose, like all of Acts, is to relate the history of the beginning and early growth of the church through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But although it is written as history, it also states and confirms truth – it reveals both the theology and the practice of these original believers.

Paul and Silas
The fact that Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God shows us that both the word of God and the Spirit of God were at work in their lives, shaping their mindset and their perspective:

Ephesians 5:18 – 20 teaches us that praying (thankfulness to God), singing hymns, making music in your heart are expressions of being ‘filled with the Spirit’.

Colossians 3:16, similarly says that these attitudes and actions result from letting the word of God dwell in us richly.

It is only because they knew and embraced the word of God and were submissive to the teaching and direction of the Spirit of God that these two servants of God sang hymns and prayed where another person, a person without faith and trust, a person ignorant of the word of God, or a person rebellious against the Spirit of God, may have grumbled, complained, despaired or even cursed.

As we will see as we study Philippians, through the strength that God supplies Paul could be content in whatever circumstance God allowed to come his way.

The earthquake
[Note: there were many occasions when God did not miraculously deliver Paul from his enemies.]

If we were in prison, and God sent an earthquake which unlocked not only the door but also the chains that held us, what would our automatic response be? Wouldn’t we assume that God was providing a way of escape, and dash out of there as quickly as we could? The jailor, when he woke and saw the open doors, automatically assumed that everyone would have escaped.

But Paul and Silas didn’t. Nor did the other prisoners. And that, perhaps, is an even greater miracle than the earthquake.

God is obviously at work here, because he had an still greater miracle that he was about to accomplish – the saving of one who was lost, and not just one, but his whole family.

The one thing necessary
The jailer’s question was short and direct: ‘What must I do to be saved?’ and Paul’s answer was equally short and direct: ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved...’

It was a critical moment. The jailer had just been interrupted in a suicidal act. He was overcome with the whole situation, and trembled on the floor in the presence of Paul and Silas. Fear. Awe. Gratitude. A whole range of emotions pummelled him. Paul’s immediate answer had to be brief and clear. That was all that the jailor could take in at that moment.

But it was enough. Simple. Straight. Sufficient. Sufficient to take a person from death into life. Sufficient to change condemnation into justification. Sufficient to exchange enmity with God for peace with God.

‘Believe in the Lord Jesus ...’

Not ‘believe that he died on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice for your sins’. But simply ‘believe in the Lord Jesus ...’.

This minimal belief, this faith without which a person cannot be saved, is affirmed by other scriptures:

Read these verses. What is the one thing that saves?
John 1:12

John 8:24

Romans 10:9

In summing up what had happened to the Philippian jailer, Luke wrote: ‘he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God ...’ (Acts 16:34). To believe in Jesus is to believe in the one true God. It is to repent of all other ‘god’ concepts that we might hold in our minds, and to acknowledge that in seeing Jesus, we see God, in knowing, Jesus we know God, in receiving Jesus, we receive God. To believe in Jesus is thus to undo our Genesis 3 rejection of God and to return to God. In Jesus we find and we know the one true God. In coming to Jesus, the Son of God, we have come home to God the Father.

Here in Jesus, the jailer found what his former pagan beliefs could never provide: here in Jesus he found, and came to believe in, God, as Paul and Silas followed up their initial answer with more truth as they spoke the word of the Lord to him.

For further discussion about this minimal (but massive) belief that saves go to these studies. 

 

‘... and your household’
Four times the jailor’s family or household are mentioned.

‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household’ – verse 31.

‘Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house’ – verse 32.

‘... then immediately he and all his family were baptized’ – verse 33.

‘... he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family’ – verse 34.

It is clear from verse 34 that the jailor’s whole family/household believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the ground of their salvation. That is the prerequisite of their baptism.

 

Acts 16 ends with:

The magistrates becoming alarmed when they learned that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, and requesting Paul and Silas to leave the city (vv 35 – 39).

Paul and Silas going to Lydia’s house and encouraging the believers, then leaving the city (v40).