THE FOUNDING OF THE CHURCH IN PHILIPPI:
Now we’re going to turn from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, to the story from the Bible about how this church was founded. Every church has a starting point: The church I pastor in Beausejour was founded in 1993 – 21 years ago at the time of this writing. Our church started with a couple of families doing a Bible study and has grown to around 150 people today. When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, it was about 10-11 years after he had started the church. The story of how this church was planted in found in Acts 16:11-34.
The Book of Acts is an important book in the New Testament because it tells the story of the beginning and the early growth of the first 33 years of the Christian church. When you’re studying the New Testament, you can read through Acts and hear about Paul’s missionary journeys, and then you can turn to the letters that he later wrote to many of those churches. An understanding of the background of the church in Philippi will help us to understand some of the things Paul is writing to this church.
- LYDIA AND HER FAMILY:
“Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace and the next day came to Neapolis…” (Acts 16:11). This particular verse in Acts is a significant one –a hinge point in the story of the church. Acts was written by Luke, a doctor who investigated the life of Jesus (his first book is called the Gospel of Luke), and then wrote down a history of the church (this second book is Acts). For the first 15 chapters of the Book of Acts, Luke talks about how they (the Christians) did this, and they did that.
But then all of a sudden, in Acts 16:11, Luke says, “We ran a straight course.” He begins narrating from a first person plural perspective because he is with Paul and his missionary team. When Paul and Silas went to start the church in Philippi, Doctor Luke was with them! He travelled with them from then until the end of the Book of Acts. So this is a first-hand, historical account of what happened when Paul started the Philippian church.
“(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. 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. 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. 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.” (Acts 16:12-15).
Philippi was the capital city of Macedonia, and it was the first place where the Gospel was preached in Europe. It was a great place to start a new church. Now typically when Paul went out on his missionary journeys, the first thing he would do when he went into a new city was to head to the Jewish synagogues. There, Paul would proclaim Jesus as the Messiah to the Jews, and encourage them to put their faith in Jesus Christ. But when Paul arrived in Philippi, there was no synagogue. That’s significant, because in order for there to be a synagogue in a community, there had to be at least ten Jewish men. And because there weren’t even that many righteous men in town, Paul had to go out to preach at the river where there were a bunch of praying women.
From the group of women who were praying by the river, there was a woman named Lydia who was a seller of purple. If you know anything about the first century, purple was a very expensive dye, and for her to be a merchant of expensive purple cloth meant that she was rich. She was a prominent person in this community, and as Paul began preaching about Jesus, Lydia put her faith in Him. She was the first European convert; the first Christian in the new Philippian church.
As Paul preached Jesus as the Saviour, the only way to Heaven, God opened up Lydia’s heart to believe in Jesus, and her whole family was saved as well. God cares about families! Maybe you have a mom or dad, a brother or sister, or a son or daughter who doesn’t believe in Jesus yet: start praying for them. God loves families, and all it takes is one person to turn to Jesus, and that one person can start praying for their family, and God will begin to do wonders. So don’t give up! Maybe you’ve been praying for your family for years. Keep praying. God who began a good work in your family through you will be faithful to complete it, and one day you will see your whole family come to know Jesus.
Pastor Chris Jordan