Jesus’ promise: Matthew 16:18, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.
- It is His church.
- He is building it.
- It faces opposition.
- It will prevail.
Jesus’ plan: Acts 1:8, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
Jesus’ plan? Ordinary people Spirit-empowered bearing witness of Him. A simple plan.
The church in Philippi came into existence according to Jesus’ promise and Jesus’ plan.
Beginning of our study through the book of Philippians.
Going to begin at the beginning. In Acts 16 we read of how the church came into being.
Let me give you some dates, so we can understand things according to their timeline in which they occurred.
- 33 AD – Pentecost
- 50 AD – Paul’s missionary team comes to Philippi.
- 62 AD – Paul writes the book of Philippians.
So the events we read about in Acts 16 are about 17 years after Pentecost. And Paul’s letter to the church is written ~12 years after the church began.
Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke are on a missionary journey.
They were sovereignly led to go to Macedonia.
God brought them there and to a riverside prayer meeting where they preached to some women. Paul shared the gospel with Lydia. The Lord opened her heart to the gospel. She became the first convert to Christianity in what we now call Europe.
The gospel ventured forth to the remotest part of the earth.
But their missionary work in Philippi was not complete. They remained there and found opportunity to preach the gospel there.
In fact, their preaching of the gospel was met both with opposition and opportunity. The gates of Hades were there waiting for them. But the message of the gospel would prevail in the hearts of some and a church would be borne in Philippi.
We have an amazing set of characters in this chapter:
The team of missionaries: Two Jews, a half-Jew, and a Gentile. The head of the team had previously been a persecutor of Christians. But God called him as the Apostle to the Gentiles. And he was willing and determined to expend himself in preaching of the unfathomable riches of Christ.
- The women meeting at the place of prayer.
- A God-fearing businesswoman, Lydia.
- A demon-possessed fortune-teller.
- Some unethical profiteers.
- The chief magistrates.
- An angry mob.
- Some eavesdropping prisoners.
- A panic-stricken jailer.
HOW DID THE CHURCH IN PHILIPPI BEGIN?
According to God’s plan. God sovereignly and deliberately purposed to send the mission team to Philippi. They had thoughts of going to other regions, but they were Spirit-led to not go to these places. God led them instead to go to this particular place. God led them there and God worked through them to begin a good work in that place. We are reminded of what Paul would later write to the church: Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” It was God who began that good work in the church in Philippi and in the lives of the individuals who made up that church. And because it was God who began the work, they (we) can be confident that He will finish what He started.
Through the preaching of the gospel. That was their purpose in going (Acts 16:10). They went to preach the gospel—the glorious message of Christ’s death for sins and resurrection from the dead; that power of God unto salvation to all who believe; that matter of first importance to which we must be faithful. The plan was simple, preach the gospel and leave the rest up to God. We should note that the term “gospel” appears in the book of Philippians 9X.
Amidst much opposition. The preaching of the gospel message met with much opposition. And that’s always the case. First a demon-possessed slave girl worked to distract Paul. When Paul exorcised the demon from her, her masters got upset. Then the whole town was in an uproar. The magistrates had Paul and Silas arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. The Devil and the world are opposed to the truth about Jesus. And any attempt to further the cause of the gospel is met with this kind of thing. Paul would later write to these Philippians: Philippians 1:27-30.
In triumph amidst opposition. Despite opposition, the cause of the gospel went forward. Lydia and her household were saved. The demon-possessed fortune-teller was delivered and saved. The Philippian jailer and his household were saved. In fact, God used the difficult circumstances to further the cause of the gospel. In jail, Paul and Silas were singing hymns of praise and praying. And the prisoners were listening. Then God caused an earthquake, and shook everything up. The jailer was about to kill himself, but God used all of it—and the jailer and his household came to faith. God works this way. Paul would later write to the Philippians from jail in a subsequent imprisonment, saying: Philippians 1:12-14. God loves to turn things around. He is a powerful God. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in our lives. The surpassed greatness of His power has been availed to us. God can use your difficulties to advance the cause of the gospel—trust Him; depend on Him; look to Him amidst your troubles.
In an unexpected manner. It’s not the way that we would have done it. It’s not the way that we would have drawn it up. Note that there is no mass conversion here. God did that at Pentecost. But not in Philippi, when the church was borne there. A businesswoman and her household; a slave-girl fortune-teller; a jailer and his household. Luke apparently stayed there, so he was a part of this work too. But they weren’t many, and they aren’t the kind of people men would have chosen. They were ordinary people. People like you and me. Why does God choose people like that? We don’t have to wonder. He has told us—1 Corinthians 1:26-31. And, if you are a believer, God has chosen you too. And He did not choose you because of your wealth or intellect or influence or good looks. He saved you by His grace and by His grace He equips and leads you to serve. The key to your success is not your own ability, but your availability. Lydia serves as a good example for us. She was saved and then she made herself available. She welcomed the missionary team into her home. And then, after the salvation of the jailer and his household, she welcomed them all into her house. And a church was born.
God did the work. He was at work. He saved those folks. He began a church. He did it according to His own wisdom, love, and power.
- To the lost. There is a message to you in this passage. Perhaps you now understand yourself to be in a place like that Philippian jailer. Without God and without hope in this world. Here is God’s message to you: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved.” It’s a very simple message. You are drowning in your sins. God has provided for you a life-boat. He asks nothing more of you than to get yourself into that lifeboat. You cannot save yourself. There is nothing you yourself can do to atone for your sins—but God has provided, through the death of His Son for sins and His resurrection from the dead, a means of salvation. You need to trust in Him. You need to get into the boat!
- To the saved. The work of saving souls is God’s work. He privileges us to have a part. We can plant and we can water, but it is God who causes the growth. Too often we try to take on God’s responsibilities. He does the work. Our part is to trust Him, obey Him and be used by Him in the work that He is doing. To be available to be used by Him as a channel of blessing. Are you available? Can God call on you? Are you listening to what He has to say? Are you being led by Him? You are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared beforehand for you to do. Are you available to be used by Him that others will be blessed by Him through you?