Paul in Philippi
Paul in Philippi: As the Apostle Paul ventures into Europe on his second missionary journey, he encounters three very different types of people — a wealthy woman of status named Lydia, a spiritually oppressed slaved girl, and a Roman jailer. All three experience the saving power of God in Jesus’ name, highlighting a simple lesson: Everybody needs Jesus. Recorded on May 28, 2023, on Acts 16:11-34 by Pastor David Parks.
Podcast: Download (Duration: 35:04 — 80.3MB) | Embed
Subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Email | RSS
The Life of Paul is a new sermon series (mostly) from the book of Acts in the Bible. The Apostle Paul has a fantastic story. Born Saul of Tarsus, Paul was a brilliant young man who was a violent persecutor of Christians. But then he met Jesus, which changed everything. Eventually, Paul would become not only the preeminent Apostle to the Roman world but one of the most influential people who ever lived. Paul’s story offers a great case study of what it looks like to learn the way of Jesus.
The theme of our preaching ministry this year (which runs through the end of June) has been Learning the way of Jesus. And today, we’re continuing a sermon series on the life of the Apostle Paul. And we’re using Paul’s story as a case study for learning the way of Jesus. Because Paul was born Saul of Tarsus, a brilliant young man who was a violent persecutor of Christians. But then, when he was about 25, Paul met Jesus, and he became a Christian, which set his life on a completely different path. By his early 40s, Paul had served for a time as a leader of the vibrant, growing church in Antioch before being sent out as a missionary with his coworker, Barnabas, and their young helper, John Mark. They had a successful trip to the island of Cyprus (with the exception that John Mark bailed and went back home), but Paul and Barnabas continued into modern-day Turkey before coming back to their home base of Antioch. We saw most of this first missionary journey last week in Acts 13, and just a reminder that if you’ve missed any of the sermons in this series, you can always go back and watch on the Church Center App or on YouTube. Well, today, we’re picking up the story of Paul’s second missionary journey. But for the next few weeks, we’ll consider his work in several notable cities, including Philippi (today), Athens (next week), and then, on his third journey, to Ephesus. But today, in Philippi, we’ll see Paul and his team have remarkable success but also cause such a disruption they get beaten up by a mob and thrown into prison. Now, in some ways, this is just normal life for Paul. But through it all, we see a remarkable poise; we see that Paul has this unusual ability to have joy (and literally keep singing!), even as life seems to be crumbling around him. This joy, regardless of his circumstances, is exactly the theme of his letter to the Philippians Paul would write later — when he was in prison once again. If you have a Bible/app, please take it and open it to Acts 16:11. We’ll put the Scripture up on the screens for you as well. But today, we’ll start with a little intro passage for context. And then we’ll encounter three people in Philippi who are saved by God: first a powerful woman named Lydia, then a slave girl, and then a Roman jailer. Let’s start with the intro:
Acts 16:11-12 (NIV), “11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.” So again, this is the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. But one detail we haven’t mentioned yet is that when leaving for this journey, Paul and Barnabas had a serious problem. At the end of Acts 15, Luke writes, “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.” (Ac 15:39-40) Relationships are hard for everyone, even apostles. Perhaps it was Paul’s fiery temper that couldn’t handle John Mark bailing on them on the first trip. Or maybe Paul was being wise while Barnabas was foolishly being overly accommodating to his younger cousin. Or maybe something else happened. But sadly, they went their separate ways. Now, over the years, we know that Paul and John Mark reconciled and were close by the end of Paul’s life. But here, on his second journey, Paul traveled with Silas from Antioch north through Derbe and Lystra (where they added Timothy as a younger apprentice to their team). Eventually, they made it to Troas, where they picked up Luke, the author of Acts, which is why he starts saying, “we put out to sea,” “we traveled,” “we stayed,” and so forth. They sailed from Troas, stopping at the island of Samothrace before landing at Neopolis, the port of the Greek city of Philippi. Now Philippi was located on a major highway which meant it was vital for trade and likely fairly wealthy. Luke says was a Roman colony and a leading city of Macedonia. This was an important and strategic place for the gospel. Historically, we know that a number of the citizens were veterans of the Roman military. As such, there would have been a strong connection/allegiance to Rome and to the Emperor — potentially a dangerous place to preach that Jesus was the true King, deserving of our ultimate allegiance. So now the stage is set, let’s meet the first European convert to Christianity.
Acts 16:13–15 (NIV), “13 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. 14 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. 15 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.” Let’s pause here. So, there don’t appear to be enough Jewish people in Philippi to support a synagogue. But there are people who are meeting on the Sabbath to pray. These aren’t necessarily all Jewish people but are worshipers of the God of Israel — people who would have possibly been open to hearing the gospel. One of these was a woman named Lydia. We’re told she’s a dealer in purple cloth or purple dye, which was a highly sought-after commodity in their day. Purple clothing was a status symbol because it was expensive to make. So Lydia was likely very wealthy and influential as a business owner and the head of a household. Perhaps she was divorced or widowed, but all this meant she had more autonomy than most women of her day. But it was this woman who heard Paul’s message about Jesus, who died for sins and rose alive as the King of heaven and earth. And Luke says that “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” And this is a picture of both grace and faith. The Lord opened Lydia’s heart by his grace through the power of the Holy Spirit. And she responded by believing and trusting in Jesus by faith. This is what a relationship with God looks like; God does his part, and we do our part. And following Lydia, her whole household believed and were baptized. Immediately, this wealthy woman of high status/privilege starts serving, offering her home to Paul’s team and then later offering her home as the meeting place for the church there in Philippi. It’s worth pointing out that generosity/hospitality are often signs that someone understands the generosity/hospitality of God in the saving work of Christ. We give because he first gave. We welcome people in because he first welcomed us. Ok! We’re off to a good start in Europe. Let’s continue and meet the second person, a woman of a very different status.
Acts 16:16–24 (NIV), “16 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. 17 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.” 18 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. 19 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. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.” Let’s pause here. Now, this is such a funny but weird story to me. So Paul had already encountered forces of spiritual darkness during his first journey on the island of Cyprus. And here, there’s a young slave girl who has a “spirit by which she predicted the future.” But literally, Luke writes that she has a python spirit. In David Peterson’s commentary on Acts, he explains that, “Python was originally the name of the snake or dragon that inhabited Delphi (originally Pythia) and in Greek mythology was killed by Apollo. This snake became a symbol or representative of the underworld. Apollo was thought to be embodied in the snake and to inspire ‘pythonesses’ as his female mouthpieces. Plutarch…called such soothsayers ‘ventriloquists’ because they uttered words beyond their own control.” [David G. Peterson, The Acts of the Apostles, 2009).] The owners of this slave girl had made a great deal of money because they sold her oracles not for her benefit but to use her for their gain. But then, while Paul’s team was working in Philippi, this unnamed slave girl followed them for many days shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Paul becomes so disturbed or annoyed by this that he turns to her and commands the evil spirit to leave her in Jesus’ name, and it does. She is set free from the evil spirit, but she is not yet free of her human owners. And what a contrast to Lydia! Lydia has a name, while this girl was unnamed. Lydia was the head of a household, while this girl was a slave. Lydia had a profitable business, while this girl was exploited by others for their profit. Lydia had options, while this girl had none. And yet they both needed to be saved, both needed to be set free from the power of sin and death, both needed Jesus, and both experienced the power of God. There’s much more I’d like to know about this girl. Did she follow Jesus after this encounter with his power? Did the church at Lydia’s house welcome her in? We don’t know because this incident caused a major disruption, and she seemed to be lost in the shuffle. When the owners realized that God’s power had disrupted their business, they whipped up a mob with the accusation that Paul, as a Jew, was advocating “customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” Now, this is ironic because, in many other places, the Jews accused Paul of advocating customs unlawful for them in welcoming Gentiles into the church because of Jesus. But in Philippi, the Gentiles were upset because they were disrupting their profit off paganism with the true power of God. Paul can’t seem to win. As a result, Paul and Silas are publicly stripped and beaten before being thrown into prison. But the story doesn’t end there. We meet the third person to respond to the gospel, an unlikely convert, but certainly not the last to come to faith in Jesus through Paul in prison.
Acts 16:25–34 (NIV), “25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 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. 27 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. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 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.” What a crazy story, right? It’s funny to think that these are the people who made up the initial church plant in Philippi: a wealthy woman and her household, a slave girl, and a Roman jailer and his household. Probably not what I would be praying for in terms of a core team to start a church. But this is who God brought together. Praise God! But after the earthquake, the jailer was ready to kill himself either to punish his loss of honor for failing his duty (thinking all the prisoners had escaped) or he wanted to avoid the pain and suffering of being punished for his unintended failure. Paul seemed to know what he was thinking and intervened, reassuring him that he hadn’t failed his assignment. When the jailer realized what had happened and that Paul had Silas hadn’t run off, he asked the most important question anyone could ask. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And Paul, still bloodied from being beaten and filthy from prison, responded with a message he had shared no doubt many times, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” And wouldn’t you know it, the jailer and his whole household believed and were baptized. And similar to Lydia, he immediately starts serving. He washes their wounds and brings them into his home, and they share a meal together. And Luke shares this last detail, that Paul’s joy, the joy that never died even when Paul and Silas were in prison, was now shared around the table. This unnamed Roman jailer was filled with joy because of his faith in the Most High God and in Jesus, his Son. The jailer had a new King who held his allegiance above even his allegiance to Caesar. And his new King didn’t rule him by force/power or by honor/shame, but by sacrificial love and grace and truth. This man of rank and authority needed Jesus just as much as Lydia or the slave girl. And he experienced the saving power of God to set him free, just as they had. So what does this mean for us today? How do we apply this to our lives?
I’d like to close by making the case that we need this same saving power of God today. Every one of us. Everybody needs Jesus. Whether we are people of wealth and status or power and privilege, people with a name — or whether we are people with nothing. Whether we are people blessed to have many options in life or we feel like we have basically no options. Whether we are young/old, rich/poor, liberal/conservative, whoever we are, wherever we come from, and whatever we have done or has been done to us, everybody needs Jesus. The way of salvation is clear: hear the gospel, the good news that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world and rose again from the dead. And believe in him. Trust in him. And learn to follow his way in life, and you will be saved. This good news is for you and all your household. It’s for everybody. And we are a church that is all about this good news. And we are a church that unites all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds for the glory of God. And this is what we long to see in the city of Appleton and beyond; men and women and even children experience the joy and the saving power of God, who sets us free and welcomes us to his table because of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Let us pray.