Philippians-Week 1-New Beginnings
Title: Week 1 – New Beginnings
Text: Acts 16:13-40
Today is the beginning of a new series, we are going to begin to work through Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This letter is the only letter we have from the apostle Paul that is not based on instruction or correction. It is the most positive book in the New Testament! The main theme in this book is Joy. It’s a fitting theme since most of us would love to experience joy on a regular basis. As a matter of fact the search for joy consumes us in our culture today. We seek joy in all kinds of places, yet most people struggle to find true joy, the kind of joy that Paul talks about in his letter to the church in Philippi.
The Search for Joy
Our pursuits for happiness has lead humanity down a slippery slope. Many seek joy in monetary things, “if I can just afford to buy a bigger house, a newer car, then I will be happy”. Others seek joy in relationships. One thing that I have observed as a pastor about our North American pursuit of happiness is that we seem to hang our hopes on someone or something. “If I could just find the right husband, or wife, then I would be happy”, or “If I could just get my dream job, then I would find happiness and joy at work”. I could go on and on, my point is this….our pursuit of happiness, our search for joy and contentment isn’t working! In our culture today we are more discontent then ever before. We are driven by consumerism, and the pursuit of more. We self medicate with food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco. Mental health struggles are at an all time high. It’s not working, we are not finding true contentment, true joy when we do it the way the world tells us to. This is why we have Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Paul is going to teach us how to find true joy, and contentment. He is going to remind us that ultimate joy isn’t derived from comfortable circumstances, but from a living, vibrant communion with Christ. He doesn’t say. “Look at my house; now rejoice,” or “Look at my wife….my kids….my bank account.” No, he says, “Look at Jesus, like I am doing, and rejoice with me”.
Philippians is not just about joy, it is also about partnership. Partnership for the advancement of the Gospel. We are going to see that not only are we called to a life of joy, but also a life that fearlessly advances the Gospel with joy, as we work together in hardship. The advancement of the Gospel is always at the centre of Paul’s theology, it’s what drives him, and it should be what drives us!
Philippians is a letter full of encouragement around how to have good Christian friendship, and how to develop true community, true unity. It is a book full of coffee mug quotes and some of the most famous verses in the New Testament:
Philippians 1:6 (NIV): 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.
Philippians 1:21 (NIV): For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Philippians 2:12–13 (NIV): Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Philippians 3:20 (NIV): But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 4:13 (NIV): I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:19 (NIV): And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
There are so many more, it’s such a rich book. Many Christians have built their lives on verses like these. It is my hope that this series will help you find purpose, joy and contentment. I know that I have while studying for this series.
Before we can head into the book of Philippians I would like to take some time to give you some background context. So today we are not going into the text of Philippians, instead as an introduction we are going to be in the book of Acts, where we have the background story as to how this church in Philippi began.
Philippi was an important city in the province of Macedonia. It was the city that was most like Rome, a vibrant city thriving with wealth and prosperity. Philippi was an important city, and Paul’s first church plant on European soil. Think of it like New York City or LA today. It was a city that everyone had heard of. Most of the people that lived there were Roman citizens, so the Gospel was not a common thing, nor was the Jewish religion. Neither had really penetrated this city. There were no Christians and only a small group of Jews.
If you could turn your bibles to Acts 16:6, as we take a look at how the church in Philippi began. Essentially, you can group this churches beginning into two parts: submission to the Spirit and evangelistic encounters.
Submission to the Spirit
Paul is on his second missionary journey, and he receives a vision.
Acts 16:6–10 (NIV): Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
This is a key moment and something we need to take a moment to discuss. Paul as Luke tells the story does something extremely important in this passage. Paul listens to the Holy Spirit, he responds and goes. I can’t help but stress to you how important this is to the Christian life. Paul doesn’t push his agenda, he doesn’t go where the Spirit tells him not to. I am sure he had a plan, it was most likely to preach in Asia Minor, but for some reason the text tells us the Spirit kept them from this. Paul gets a vision from God and he goes. He doesn’t analyze it for seven days, he doesn’t question it, or pray about it for months. The text tells us that he had a dream, and the next day they went to where Pauls dream was telling him to go.
You see this all the time in the book of Acts, God leading someone to a place they never expected to go, and they respond. That’s what living a life centred on the Gospel is all about, responding. Submitting to the Spirit. That is how the church in Philippi began, through Paul’s willingness to go and make disciples.
But going is not enough is it? Once you get to where God has called you to go, you have to do something. This is exactly what Paul does, there are three different types of evangelistic encounters described: The first meeting is with Lydia and some other ladies:
Acts 16:13–15 (NIV): 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.
Luke tells us that Lydia is a significant individual. She was a women of means (dealer of purple cloth), who worshiped God, but that doesn’t mean she was a Christian. She was probably a God-fearer. But when Paul spoke the Gospel God opened her heart to believe, her household also believed. She immediately has Paul and his team over to stay with them. This was a common response in the book of Acts. Whenever someone responds with belief in the Gospel they immediately reach out in hospitality by opening their homes. You will notice that women play a very important role in the church in Philippi.
God is beginning, through Paul to develop a church in Philippi. We have our first members, Lydia and her household. As we continue in the story we turn to the next encounter Paul has:
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.
Paul’s second evangelistic encounter landed them in jail. Paul didn’t even realize that this was his second evangelistic encounter. Instead he was annoyed by the girl, so he dealt with the spirit living in her. Then because this causes the people to lose money, they put Paul and his friends in jail. Yet, the slave girl received Christ, she was a native Greek, poor and in spiritual turmoil. Even Paul didn’t see things playing out like this. This young girl was very different from Lydia, who was Asian, rich and a God-fearer. We are told this background information for a reason…..to show the diversity in God’s church. And to show us that our plans are not always God’s plan. The church in Philippi was extremely diverse, made up of unlikely people.
God isn’t done yet. Paul and his buddies (Timothy and Silas) are now in prison:
Acts 16:25–34 (NIV): 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 work of God! Even when Paul and his buddies are in prison, when it looks like this missionary trip to Macedonia was a bust, God uses their stay in jail to reach someone. Can you imagine if Paul, Timothy and Silas would have gone into a woe is me funk when they were arrested. Can you imagine if they would have sat around complaining and second guessing why they listen to Paul’s dream in the first place. Then they wouldn’t have been there for God to use to bring the good news to this jailer. This story teaches me that even when things don’t make sense, even when it seems like I am down on my luck, I have to have joy in my heart, I have to respond to my difficult situation with joy, instead of complaining. This is exactly what Paul, Timothy and Silas did. They sang hymns to God instead of grumbling, they found joy. Also, notice they were others centred. When they could have ran and been free they didn’t leave because of their care for the guard. It was their care for others that caused them to be able to show this jail guard the gospel. Notice how the jailer responded…..with hospitality and a meal. It’s important that you remember this pattern.
In Acts 16:35-40 we read how the missionaries got an official release (after some drama) and were asked to leave the city. But before they did, Luke writes:
Acts 16:40 (NIV): After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.
Lydia’s house became the meeting place for the new church in Philippi. A wealthy Asian woman who feared God was saved by hearing the Gospel, a Greek slave girl in spiritual turmoil is saved through Paul’s deeds, and a blue collar Roman jailer who was indifferent to spiritual things believes in the gospel because of the example that Paul and his companions give in a moment of crisis.
Each of these stories show us how God uses us to share the Good News in unique ways to individuals. Each individual becomes part of the church, and progressively a small movement takes over the world! The beginning of the church in Macedonia shows us how different people, reached in different ways makes up a beautiful diverse church that Paul deeply loves. It is this church that would go on to support Paul through prayer and financial gifts as he continues to share the good news to the Gentiles. The church in Philippi partners with Paul and continues to be part of planting more churches. They don’t become inward thinking, they remember their humble beginnings and continue to support the call to bring the Good News to the world. This is why Paul loves this church, they get it, some of his other churches have lost their way, but not the church in Philippi.
As we work through the book of Philippians we will see just how much Paul loves this church, how he loves their diversity and their passion for joy in the Gospel.
Big Idea: Responding to the leading of the Holy Spirit creates unique opportunities to reach others, and it opens the door to joyfully and fearlessly advancing the Gospel to a broken world that needs some good news.