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January 23, 2010
The Church at Philippi
It is plainthat there was a church at Philippi (Philippians 1:1; 4:15). The letter that is our book of Philippians is addressed to this church (Philippians 1:1). But, where is Philippi and what was it like? How did the church start here? Most importantly, what was the church there like?
The Greek historian Appian aptly described the city of Philippi as the gate between Europe and Asia. It rests 10 miles inland from Neapolis, its port. When first built, the city commanded the road uniting the interior of ancient Thrace with the coast. This position was key to ensuring access to agricultural resources and wood for shipbuilding. Philippi was nearly the terminus of the Ignatia Way, a military road joining Rome and the East and a much valued line of communication.
In 360 BC the exiled Athenian politician Callistratus led a group of Thasians in founding the colony of Krenides. It was positioned on the acropolis of what became known as Philippi, due to abundant nearby springs and natural fortification.
Pestered by local tribes, the colonists were forced to seek protection from the Macedonian kingdom. King Philip of Macedon gladly took the city because of its advantageous location, fortifying it with strong walls and naming it Philippi. The city quickly began to exploit the nearby gold mines, helping to develop it into an important economic center.
After the 168 BC Battle of Pydna, Philippi was annexed by the Romans. When Macedonia was divided into four administrative districts, Philippi was included in the first district.
In October of 42 BC, the armies of republican Brutus and Cassius battled with the heirs to Julius Caesar’s policy, Mark Antony and Octavian, in the fields just to the west of Philippi. The defeat of Brutus and Cassius signaled the end of the republican constitution of Rome. After the battle Roman colonists and veterans were settled in the region of Philippi. The city officially became a Roman colony in 27 BC (Acts 16:12). Octavian gave the citizens of Philippi the same rights and privileges as they would have were their land part of Italian soil.
This is the background of the people and the place, but, for us there is something else that is important. How did this church begin?
This church began with a call: “A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’” (Acts 16:9). There is a call even yet; it is not the same call as this one was. Is it not a shame that more do not understand the message of Jesus? “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).
This church began with the preaching of the gospel: “… and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled” (Acts 16:12,13). Lydia and her household heard and obeyed the gospel: “… and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). A little later the Philippian jailor heard and obeyed. “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household” (Acts 16:30-33).
This group of new Christians formed the new church in Philippi (Acts 2:47). Saved people meeting, working, and worshipping together form a new local church to this day. Indeed, there is no other way! But, what did the church look like?
This must have been anoutstanding church — a group to be thankful for. Notice Paul’s statement, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all” (Philippians 1:3,4).
This church was asoul-winning church: “… in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:5). Listen to the story of participation that Paul tells! (Philippians 4:10-20).
This church was a faithful church from the beginning — from the first day until the time of this writing: “… in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:5).
This church had an open heartfor poor saints. “Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, …” (2Corinthians 8:1‑5; cf. Philippians 2:25).
This church was consecrated in service. This was why they could so give. They had first given themselves to the Lord: “… but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (2Corinthians 8:5).
This church was fullyorganized. They accomplished much because they adhered to God’s plan: “… To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1).
This church is a church to encourage us. Notice how Paul felt about them. Hear how he described them: “my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). A great church? Yes. A great encouragement and help to others? Yes. But, did they need anything? Yes. What were the needs of this church?
•They needed to be of the same mind (Philippians 1:27; 4:2).
• They needed to be careful in life (Philippians 1:27).
• They needed to have prayer for them (Philippians 1:9-11).
• They needed to remain humble (Philippians 2:4-11).
• They needed to think on important things (Philippians 4:8,9).
• They needed to be joyful (Philippians 3:1; 4:4).
• They needed to be content (Philippians 4:6,11).
They needed a lot of things, even though they had so much. There is not a church in existence, no matter how faithful and diligent, where these things are not needed. These are the things that make growth possible. These are the things that are pleasing to God.
The letter sent to this church can be of great profit to us and all others who read it and meditate on it. A great church is made of great Christians. Are you as these were? If not, why not begin today to obey and grow as Lydia, the jailor, and their respective households?
— S. Scott Richardson Sr.