Philippians: The Gospel Comes to Town (1)

Acts chapter 16 records the evangelism of Philippi and the first gospel preaching in Europe. Philippi was the first city of that part of Macedonia (v 12, JND) encountered by the missionaries, rather than “the chief” (AV), which was actually Thessalonica. Notice the place, its main problem, and some of the characteristics and experiences of the preachers.

The Place (Acts 16:12)

Historically, Philippi was founded in 350 B.C. and named after Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great; as such it had a proud heritage. Geographically, the city was located on a plane between the Pangaeus and Haemus mountain ranges, approximately nine miles from the Mediterranean, thus enjoying a warm and pleasant climate. The city was extremely accessible, being on the Agnation Way, an important Roman highway spanning Macedonia from east to west, and facilitating brisk travel and commerce. Although the place had prosperedeconomically with its gold mines and fertile soil, it was spiritually poor. Philippi’s educational opportunities were also well recognized, with a reputable medical school located within its walls. Despite having a population of 200,000 – 500,000, there were few Jews, and hence no synagogue. Therefore, Paul started his preaching at Philippi by a river side, where prayer was made (v 13), in contrast to his habit of beginning in the synagogue. Politically, the city was a colony (v 12) – a miniature Rome (Robert H. Mance) – thus enjoying all the privileges of Roman citizenship; its inhabitants were deeply conscious of this (vv 20, 21). No doubt there was a certain “kudos” for living at Philippi and enjoying the privileges of Roman citizenship, including exemption from taxation and flogging, which Paul, as a citizen of Rome by birth (Acts 22:28), highlighted on more than one occasion (Acts 16:37; 22:25). Cicero recorded it as “a dreadful deed to bind a Roman citizen; it is a crime to scourge him; it is almost parricide to put him to death.”

The Problem (Acts 16:16 . . . 38)

Philippi would have been a fine city to live in. However, beneath the bright veneer lurked the dark and ominous presence of sin, which bound its inhabitants (Rom 6:16), and from which some were to be liberated through the power of the gospel. Three specific evidences of sin surface in the Biblical record:

The mention of a prison (v 24).

The selfishisness of the girl’s masters (v 16).

The magistrates’ beating Paul and Silas in violation of their own laws (vv 37, 38).

Philippi needed to hear of the Lord Jesus Christ Who alone can remove sin.

The Preachers (Acts 16:17)

These preachers enjoyed God’s guidance (vv 6, 7, 9). They “were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia” (v 6) and prevented from going south. Further, “the Spirit suffered them not” to go north into Bithynia (v 7), but they were finally called westward into Macedonia (v 9). Not all hindrances are Satanic in origin; here the hindering force was God the Spirit. With two negative elements and one positive, God’s mind quickly became apparent; there was only one obvious route to follow. As we daily obey God’s Word, the Lord’s guidance will eventually become clear to us also. Humanly speaking, it appeared strange guidance, since in Macedonia the missionaries were beaten and flung into a dungeon. Nevertheless, God used their imprisonment to bring about the jailer’s conversion. They promptly obeyed the divine call (v 10), just as every Christian should be obedient to the Lord. In writing this record of the early church, Luke is frequently involved in the action, and so instead of referring to “they,” he uses “we,” including himself. Luke apparently joined the missionary party in Troas (vv 8-10), and remained in Philippi when the others passed on to Amphipolis (17:1). Perhaps one possible reason for this was the local medical school in Philippi (Luke was a doctor). These men were humble and self-effacing, not thrusting themselves into the limelight – Luke never mentioned himself by name. They were also willing to speak to possibly a small company (v 13), not discouraged because multitudes did not flock to hear them. Their remarkable testimony is clear from the words of the demoniac: “These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation” (v 17). They faithfully underwent intense suffering, being beaten with rods (v 22), and being thrust into the inner prison, and their feet made fast in the stocks (v 24). Suffering is only to be expected for the Christian, for “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The Philippian believers were soon to learn this personally (Phi 1:30). The damsel’s verbal assault on the missionaries was as they went to pray. It was at midnight Paul and Silas prayed (v 25), teaching us that prayer should characterize the saints in all circumstances, as Paul later reminded the Philippians (Phil 4:6). On conversion, one of Paul’s main activities was prayer (Acts 9:11). Although persecuted they also enjoyed peace (v 25) – “with backs bleeding and sore, with their feet cramped in stocks and in the blackness of the inner dungeon at midnight, they sang praises to God.” Christians can still enjoy an inner peace in the Lord Jesus Christ which circumstances cannot disturb (Phil 4:7).