Summary: Part 1 of a series on Philippians, this message describes Paul’s first visit to Philippi.
The First European Church
Melbourne Community Church
Today we’re going to start a series on Philippians. We will study Paul’s letter to the Philippian church verse by verse. First, let’s look at where the letter to the Philippians fits in the New Testament. It is easy to divide the New Testament into four main categories.
The gospel of Luke and Acts are essentially Luke I and Luke II, historical accounts of the life of Christ and the early church. We can separate the letters by author.
n Hebrews ?
Many New Testament letters are named for the author: Peter’s letters are I and II Peter; John’s letters are I, II and II John; James’ letter is called “James.” Paul’s letters are named for the recipients, either church congregations (Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians) or individuals (Timothy, Titus, Philemon). The authorship of Hebrews is an interesting mystery, but the short answer is we really aren’t sure who wrote that letter. We can further divide Paul’s letters into smaller categories.
Paul’s early letters that clearly presented the gospel message are often considered his “gospel letters.” The pastoral letters were written to Timothy and Titus to guide them in leading their churches. The prison letters were written while Paul was imprisoned. Philippians was a prison letter.
After the gospels, much of the New Testament revolves around the life and ministry of Paul, born Saul in Tarsus. Let’s take a quick look at his life.
SHOW MAP – Roman Empire (Tarsus)
Life of Paul:
n Convert (Acts 9)
After his conversion, Paul began traveling to spread the gospel to Gentiles outside of Israel. His first missionary journey took him to several cities in Asia Minor, now Turkey.
SHOW MAP – 1st missionary journey
This journey gave rise to a question about the new converts: How much did the Gentile believers have to act like the Jewish believers? The Judaizers essentially taught that Gentiles must convert to Judaism, then Christianity. Paul battled their false teaching throughout his ministry, and he devoted considerable attention to this question in his letters, like Galatians. The church leaders wisely met at Jerusalem to resolve the dispute, and they concluded that it was not necessary for Gentile converts to fulfill Jewish law in order to become followers of Christ. They placed very few restrictions on the Gentiles:
Jerusalem Council (Acts 15)
n Don’t eat food sacrificed to idols.
n Don’t drink blood.
n Don’t eat the meat of strangled animals.
n Abstain from sexual immorality.
Paul was eager to spread the news of the Jerusalem Council, so he made plans for his second missionary journey. Today’s story takes place during this trip.
SHOW MAP – 2nd missionary journey
Paul made a third mission trip which retraced many of the steps he took in his second trip.
SHOW MAP – 3rd missionary journey
Many refer to Paul’s trip to Rome as a 4th missionary journey, but Paul went to Rome as a prisoner. Of course, he continued to minister on the way and after he arrived.
SHOW MAP – journey to Rome
Let’s go back to Acts 15 and pick up the story there. This is after Paul’s first missionary journey and after the Jerusalem Council.
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.
John, also called Mark, is the author of the gospel of Mark. Mark had traveled with them during the first missionary journey, but he left them and returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Paul and Barnabas had different spiritual gifts and temperaments, and we can see the differences in their response to Mark. It’s no surprise that Barnabas the encourager was willing to continue to work with Mark.
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 brothers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Is this the first church split in history? Not really. The disagreement between Paul and Barnabas did not divide a congregation. Nevertheless, we can learn from their example. Many of us have been involved in Christian organizations that have become divided. We can learn from Paul and Barnabas that it is possible for believers to decide to stop working together, but both continue to be used by God to advance his purposes. Let’s look at Paul and Barnabas. Which one was right? Who was wrong? Do you suppose we’ll get to hear them continue their dispute in Heaven? The Bible does not record the details or emotional intensity of their conversations, but neither Paul nor Barnabas was distracted from his calling. They agreed to stop working together, but both continued to serve the Lord. One of the first principles we can learn from this scripture passage is that God can divide and multiply at the same time. Remember it is possible, even likely, that Mark grew in the faith because of the responses of both men. It is obvious that he received encouragement from Barnabas, but he also received from Paul an exhortation to be more dependable.