Summary: This message launches as expository teaching of Philippians. The history in Acts 16 is explored laying a foundation for understanding Paul's relationship with the church. Philippians 1:1-2 are then analyzed and explained.
Today we begin a brief study of the book of Philippians, entitled Joyful Living.
I. PAUL'S RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS CHURCH:
Began in Acts 15 while on his 2nd missionary journey.
Prior to that, he and Barnabas have gone their separate ways because of the disagreement over John Mark.i Paul took Silas on this trip. When he and Silas got to Derbe, they added a young man to their team named Timothy. At that time Timothy may have been a teenager. We know he was very young because 15 years later, Paul refers to him as a young man (1 Tim. 4:12). Derbe was a town in Galatia about 130 miles NW of Antioch.ii
Paul intended to take the team into Asia, but the Holy Spirt told them not to go in that direction (Acts 16:6). As an alternative Paul decided to go to Bithynia and again God stopped them from going there. Then Paul had the famous “Macedonian Call.” In a vision he saw a Macedonian man pleading, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”iii That call took them to the Mediterranean port city of Neapolis, then ten miles inland to Philippi.iv
Philippi was the leading city in that part of Macedonia.v It was named after Philip, the father of Alexander the Great. Later under Augustus Caesar it was made a Roman colony. That declaration endowed the people there with Roman citizenship.vi This fact may seem incidental on the surface, but it is important to our story and to our study. As a Roman colony, the city took pride in its allegiance to Rome. At the time Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, Nero was emperor. By this time Nero had assumed the primary titles of Kyrios and Soter (lord and savior). The declaration of Jesus as Lord and Savior stood as a direct challenge to Roman authority which was particularly important to this Roman colony. This clash probably accounts for much of the persecution the Christians a Philippi were experiencing when Paul wrote to them.vii In chapter one he encourages them to stand fast in their faith. In 1:28-30 he continues:
"And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. 29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me."
So that is some of the background behind that persecution. The general populace in Philippi would have been resistant to any message that jeopardized their privileged status as Roman citizens. They would have opposed any message that might provoke the displeasure of Nero.
Let’s look at the events that took place when Paul introduced Christianity to the Philippians. It was about 49 A.D.viii when Paul and his team arrived at Philippi. Paul’s custom was to go to the local synagogue on the first Sabbath there and begin ministry in the city. But there was no synagogue in Philippi. It only took ten Jewish men to establish a synagogue. So, we know that the Jewish influence there was almost nonexistent.ix Philippi was a thoroughly pagan city.
There was, however, an unofficial meeting place outside the city by the riverbank where a group of God-fearing women met for prayer. As Paul shared the gospel with them, a woman named Lydia received Christ as her Lord and Savior.x She was a successful businesswoman from Thy-a-tira. Thyatira was famous for its skill in the manufacture and use of purple dye. Lydia had brought that skill to Philippi.xi After she was baptized, she persuaded Paul and his team to stay with her. The team consisted of Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke. We know Luke was in the team by the way he uses the pronoun “we” in the Acts record.xii
One thing I find interesting about the founding of this church and the Philippian letter is the prominence of women. Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Europe was a woman. She was a successful businesswoman. The second recorded convert was another woman—a young slave who was delivered from a demon. Lydia most likely became a leader in the new Christian church. Gordon Fee says, “The evidence from Acts indicates that at her conversion, Lydia became patron both of the small apostolic band and of the nascent Christian community. By the very nature of things, that meant she was also a leader in the church, since heads of households automatically assumed the same role in the church that was centered in that Household.”xiii
Women were also prominent in Paul’s letter to the church years later. In chapter 4 Paul addresses two women, Euodia and Synthyche. The two women were influential enough that the apostle deals specifically with their conflict. There is every indication that they were leaders in the church.xiv Paul refers to them as women who have “labored side by side with me in the gospel” (4:3, RSV). If they were not leaders, it is doubtful their conflict would have required Paul’s direct admonition.