Bible References: Acts 16: 11-15; Philippians 1-2
The Message Version:
11-12 Putting out from the harbor at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days.
13-14 On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart—and she believed!
15 After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Paul had been unable to go anywhere but west to Troas. In Troas, Paul had a vision where he saw man of Macedonia begging him to come and help them. So, Paul set out for Macedonia and came to Philippi (Acts 16:6-10)
So, Paul comes to Philippi. He comes to the colony of Philippi – which was a “miniature Rome”. Philippi was a leading city in the region. In coming to Philippi, it was the same as if you were coming to Rome. Paul goes in obedience to the calling by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to be the message and preach the gospel to the people of Macedonia.
As you read Paul’s story in the New Testament, you will find that he usually looks for the community of faith – usually the Jewish Synagogue or believers of Jesus Christ. And as was his custom, he went on the sabbath where he expected to find a place of prayer (synagogue) near a river. We’re told that he found a proseuchē, a prayer-house. Whilst it has not been confirmed whether a synagogue existed at Philippi, it appears that there may not have been enough men to have a synagogue (10 Jewish men were needed to have an established synagogue) Why near a river? Because part of the synagogue/Jewish religious practice needed ‘living water’ and living water is running water not cistern water. Cistern water is collected during the wet season and stored. The river would provide living water for ritual washing as part of their faith practice. Whilst we’re not sure if there was a synagogue, there was a house of prayer and the narrative tells us that women had gathered there. Paul and Silas begin to speak with them. Interestingly, Paul and Silas meet Lydia.
What do we know about Lydia?
1. She was a woman. We don’t hear about a husband.
2. She was a business woman – a dealer in purple cloth. She had independent wealth.
3. She sold purple cloth. The significance of this? Purple could only be worn by royalty and wealthy. So, she sold expensive cloth to the very wealthy of the region and was wealthy. There were rules about who could wear purple, so she has connections with wealthy and royalty.
4. She was originally from the city of Thyatira. Thyatira was well-known for purple dye.
5. She was a worshipper of God. Yet she was gentile (non-Jewish by birth). She has discovered the God of the Jewish people and she had chosen to follow and obey God instead of the multitude of pagan gods and goddesses that were revered across the Roman empire. The message of bring shalom, God’s peace, had already come to Philippi. There was a Jewish influence in this colony; and this provides Paul and Silas a foundation to speak the message of Jesus. The community of God’s people, although not Christians, must have been putting God on display and this invitation to follow God, brought Lydia to follow God instead of Caesar or one of the multitude of deities.
6. She was mistress of her own home and her house was large enough to accommodate her family and anyone else she wished to invite to stay. Additionally, the house was large enough to accommodate a gathering of Believers to hold worship.
7. We learn later that her home became the first church in Philippi. Do you realize that Lydia is also a foundational member of the church in Philippi? [* In some parts of the Roman Empire, women could play prominent roles in their Jewish communities, especially in places where women already had some social freedoms. Ancient inscriptions survive that show a few women were even called leaders of synagogues. Other women were patrons of synagogues and were prominent and influential in their Jewish communities. Lydia may have been a patron of the Jewish community at Philippi. It is likely she became both a patron and a leader of the church in Philippi.]
Lydia believed the message that Paul preached. The Lord opened her heart and she believed Paul’s message. She believes the good news. What is the proof that the kingdom of God has come to Philippi? Immediately she shows what it means to the be the message. She wanted to bring peace to those around her and opens her home. She wants to bring peace (Shalom) to those around her. She shows hospitality to Paul and Silas. [Lydia “persuades”, or “prevails” upon, Paul to accept her hospitality. The Greek verb used here, parabiazomai, “reflects the Middle-Eastern custom of initially refusing an offer only to have it repeated and accepted on a second or third occasion.” The same verb occurs in Luke 24:29 in a similar context.)] This would have been at great cost to her. She worships Jesus Christ as Lord instead of Caesar or one of the other well-known and acknowledged deities.
Being a Christian could potentially impact her ability to buy and sell. Yet Lydia not only believes, but her entire household are baptized and follow the Messiah – Jesus Christ. Then in response to the peace and freedom she experiences in coming to know Christ, she opens her home to God’s people.
Her witness must have been real because later in the story after Paul and Silas are released from prison, they return to Lydia’s house to see the church before leaving the colony.
When reading the Book of Philippians, note how Paul is thankful, how he encourages the church at Philippi to rejoice. He holds up this group of Christians to the Lord with great affection.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Paul then continues to give them a progress report on what has happened since he left them:
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preaches Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
At the end of Chapter 1 Paul encourages the church at Philippi:
Life Worthy of the Gospel
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit,[e] striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
Paul’s letter must have encouraged this church which was operating in a colony of Rome. Regardless of their background, the Philippian church was loved by Paul and remembered. He wrote to encourage them and provide a progress report on what was happening to him.
Philippians is actually an encouraging book. We see Paul’s great love for this church which not only responded to the message of Jesus Christ, but also saw to ensure Paul received practical help whenever they could.
This church flourished in spite of Caesar worship and the multititude of other deities. It flourished in spite of difficulties. Paul calls the believers in Philippi ‘dear friends. How wonderful it is when we can call each other ‘dear friends’ in the faith.
Does it matter if we are male or female? No. Throughout the New Testament we read of a number of women – the woman at the well in Samaria, Lydia (Philippi), Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene (Jerusalem, Bethany), Phoebe (Romans), Priscilla who taught alongside her husband Aquila in Rome. There are others you will find as you read the Bible in both OT and NT.
How do we bring God’s message to a confused, hurting world? Be the message. How we live, what we say and how we act matter. It’s not easy. Only in the strength of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who set the example for us, can we accomplish this.
Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4 (NIV)
1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (The Msg) Philippians 2:1-4