“WHY PHILIPPI?”

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MARCH 11th, 2018                                                                                       PASTOR DON PIEPER

In Paul's Footprints                                                                                      Acts 16:16-24; 25-40

 

                                                            “WHY PHILIPPI?

 

            Last week, we hit the road with Paul as he retraced his steps from his first mission trip across southern Galatia with Silas, his new traveling buddy.  Along the way Paul recruited his protege, Timo-thy, in Lystra, and then our author, Luke, in Troas before the Fantastic Four arrived in Philippi.  Wait;Philippi?  What's he doing in Greece? I thought he said he was taking the gospel to Asia!

 

            And what, you may ask, does Paul's trip to Philippi have to do with us today?  Why Philippi? Well, first of all, as we read last week, Paul's missionary team was repeatedly redirected by the Holy Spirit.  They had intended on going to Asia, and when that didn't work out, to Bithynia, but as Luke noted, “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there.”          (Acts 16:7)

                                                                                                                                   

            Instead, they wound up in the seaport of Troas: “That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was pleading with him, 'Come over to Macedonia to help us!'  So we decided to leave for Macedonia having concluded that God was calling us to preach there.  From there we reached the Roman colony of Philippi!”                  (Acts 16:9-10)

            So why are they in Philippi?  Because the Holy Spirit has sent them there.  But that raises another question, why did the Holy Spirit send them to Philippi?  Why Philippi? 

 

            Well, Philippi was located near the Roman port of Neapolis, right smack in the middle of the Egnatian Way, a network of roads connecting Rome with Greece & Turkey, making it a center of trade. The city was named after Alexander the Great's father, Phillip II of Macedonia,who fortified an ancient settlement in 356 BC to control the local gold mines.  It became part of the Roman Empire in 168 BC.  It was here that Mark Anthony and Octavian, (Caesar Augustus), defeated and killed Julius Caesar's assassins, Cassius and Brutus.   So it was a city rich with history and commerce. 

 

            In short, Philippi was a happening place, a cosmopolitan city of great influence in the growing Roman empire.  It was a strategic place to plant a church as a base of operations. 

 

            So why does this matter to us?  Well, because we gain some key insights here.  One, we learn that we sometimes need to give up our agenda, our plans, if we're to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

 

            Two, it's all about partnership.  On his first mission it was Barnabas.  Now Paul hooks up with Silas, then with Timothy as well as with Luke.   Together they prayed and listened for direction from the Spirit, looking for opportunities to engage those they met with the Gospel.  When they arrived in Philippi they headed to a place where people met for prayer. 

            Once there, Luke writes, “we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there.” (Acts 16:13)  We sat down, Luke writes.   They did it together.   We work better...together!

            [U-tube video of 3 short cartoons....]  They traveled in groups.  We work better...together!

                                                                                   

            Three, is for the three converts who reveal a remarkable mix of race, social status, gender and age of the infant church. The first was a wealthy merchant, a single mother from Thyatira by the name of Lydia.  The second was a local Greek slave girl and the third was a middle-class Roman officer.   These three and their families comprise an extraordinary cross section of the ancient, cosmopolitan world.  With these first three converts we have three different nationalities, three different levels of status, three age groups and three very different circumstances by which they came to faith. 

                                                                                    -2- 

 

            Christian author, Martin Bell, gave this cross-section of the church an interesting name: God's rag-tag army.  “Look!  Here they come – marching to the beat of a different drum, a drum beat that is off-beat.  And everyone is out of step.  And there!  You see.  The commander keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of his tiny soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or eat a lotus or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush.  Some are dressed in uniform; others are dressed in rags.  Some are red, others yellow, some black and others off-white.  How silly they look to the on-lookers as they pass by.  Yet the commander loves them..., and so the march goes on!” 

                                                                                                (from Martin Bell's The Way of the Wolf)                  

            That's the church in Philippi – a rag-tag army, and precisely how Christ envisioned the church – not a place where people work hard at looking good, but who are good merely by association with the one calling them to march to the off-beat of a different drum.  That's who we're meant to be - a gather-ing not of religious people but relational people, who see the church as a hospital for hurting people.

 

            That's why the church at Philippi is so key to us today.  This is a vision of diversity, not of people united by race, gender, status or political opinion, but called and gathered by the Spirit of Jesus who loved on sinners of every persuasion.  Born in 52 AD thru an extraordinary display of God's power and love, the church in Philippi points to something that this world, not only in the first century, but in the 21st, desperately needs!  The power of the Holy Spirit was unleashed when Paul told an evil spirit tormenting a slave girl to come out of her.  “Paul said to the demon within her, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!'  Instantly it left her.”  (Acts 16:18)   

 

            They are inprisoned as a result and it's there while they're praying and singing hymns of praise that “there was a massive earthquake..., and all the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!  The jailor fell down trembling before Paul and Silas and asked, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'”  (Acts 16:26, 30)   His life was forever changed!  That's number four...!

            The church in Philippi was born out of an outpouring of God's power!  When Claudia and I sat down by the ruins of the first church building there we heard a sound like hundreds of flutes playing....!

 

            The church in Philippi was born out of an outpouring of God's power!  Many here attribute the birth or growth of their faith to some display of God's power as well... (Shawn) For others, the develop-ment of their faith was more gradual and perhaps less dramatic, like Lydia's children and those of the prison guard, who came to a point where they didn't know a time when they didn't believe in Jesus.  Others, like the slave girl, were in a very dark place.  Josh shared his violent history, full of contempt, anger and rage – and now look at him! The fact that these three conversion stories reflect such diversity shows it doesn't matter how you came to faith so much as you walk in the confidence that “God, who began a good work within you, will continue his work until it is finished!”   (Philippians 1:6)

 

            Lydia, a prayerful woman who, upon hearing these guys talk, realizes that there is something missing in her life.  She’s a career woman long before there was such a thing.  Driven by success, but burdened with an emptiness, a crack in her wall widens as “the Lord opened her heart”.  (Acts 16:14)   

                                                                                   

            Then there’s the slave girl who's in bondage to an evil spirit.  She's having fun telling people their future and, in the process, making a fortune for her master, tho' her real master enslaves her from the inside out!  So Paul steps up to the plate and in the authority Jesus  gives to all who follow his lead, slams the enemy out of the park, silencing the demonic voices that seek to confuse God's power with that of the great deceiver.'Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said, 'I command you in the name of Jesus to come out of her!'                 (Acts 16:18)

                                                                                    -3-      

                                   

            And of course who can ignore the irony of the jailor’s story?  Under orders to lock them up in stocks for the night, the guard has it easy. The prisoners looks half dead already! It was after midnight when the walls shook, the lanterns went out and the locked doors swung open off their hinges. When the dust had settled the guard paniced.  He'd failed... His family would be dishonored! He draws his sword and...suddenly someone yells out, “Hey!  Stop!  You don't want to do it that!”  (Acts 16:28)

 

            That's number five, they came alive as they were set free, Lydia from her inner wall, the slave girl from the influence of the enemy & the jailor from his captivity to a false religion.  As a Roman, he'd been raised with a pagan world view, that there are many gods and these gods are angry, and need to be appeased.  It's ironic that God shook open the prison doors in order to rattle his cage...!

 

            Paul and Silas forego physical freedom so that this man might know eternal freedom who in turn goes out on a limb by bringing them home!  As Luke notes, “He brought them into his house and set a meal before them and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.”

                                                                                                                                                (Acts 16:34)

            They were free!  They no longer had to appease angry gods because their sins had already been forgiven by the Son of the Living God.  Their natural reaction of being set free from captivity, is that of joy and generosity.  His joy was so contagious that his entire household got all caught up in it..., not unlike the contagious joy of the American, British and Australian POW's at the end of World War II...  

            [1st DVD clip from the film, Unbroken; 2:04:30 – 2:05:50]  Being set free unleashes joy...!

           

            These multi-faceted forms of captivity are prevalent today as well.  People are entrapped in the confusion of false religions, or confined behind walls of fear, grief or anger erected or held captive by demonic interference.  But if the son of man sets you free, you will be free indeed!  For some, spiritual freedom occurs when the inner storm is silenced, as was the case with Louie Zamperini...

            [2nd DVD clip from the “Bonus” section of Unbroken; 12:43 – 15:35]

 

            The wall of anger and inner torment was gone.  The nightmares faded from memory and Louie became a force to be reckoned with, in Jesus' kgdm.  In the eve of spiritual liberty Paul & Silas model the perfect preparation: “Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God.”                                                                                                                                              (Acts 16:25)

            It all began with prayer and praise.  That's one reason why this is so vital - it restores our focus! Guided by Jesus' Spirit, Paul and Silas boldly engaged those in chains with a message and power of spiritual liberation.  And God is still on the move today, setting people free by his Spirit, so that as in Philippi, “the chains of every prisoner (may) fall off!”  (Acts 16:26)     

 

            Why Philippi?  Because God's on the move, then and now - 'cause we work better...together!