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Church At Philippi

INTRODUCTION: Paul and his traveling companions were called by a vision to take the gospel into Macedonia, and the first stop was at Philippi. This began the evangelistic journey through both Macedonia and Greece. Paul and Barnabas had been together on the first journey through parts of Asia some years earlier, and they had established a number of churches. Silas was the primary partner with Paul as they revisited those churches before they moved west to Macedonia. The first contact was at Philippi with a group of women who had gathered outside the city beside a river for prayer. Paul and Silas suffered some very cruel treatment before they left the newly established church at Philippi.

NOTE: All scripture passages are taken from the World English Bible.


Acts 16 "1 He came to Derbe and Lystra: and behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewess who believed; but his father was a Greek. 2 The brothers who were at Lystra and Iconium gave a good testimony about him. 3 Paul wanted to have him go out with him, and he took and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts; for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered the decrees to them to keep which had been ordained by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. 5 So the assemblies were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily. 6 When they had gone through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit didn't allow them. 8 Passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 A vision appeared to Paul in the night. There was a man of Macedonia standing, begging him, and saying, "Come over into Macedonia and help us." 10 When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go out to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the Good News to them. 11 Setting sail therefore from Troas, we made a straight course to Samothrace, and the day following to Neapolis; 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, the foremost of the district, a Roman colony. We were staying some days in this city."

COMMENTS: When Paul was at Derbe and Lystra he met a young disciple named Timothy whose Jewish mother was a believer, and his father was a Greek. Paul circumcised him because of the Jews in that area, and then Timothy began traveling with Paul and Silas. As they traveled they told of the doctrines that had been established by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to be followed by the churches. Through this the assemblies were strengthened in the faith and they grew in numbers. The Spirit began to block some of the destinations they had thought to take, and then Paul had a vision in the night of a man begging him to come to Macedonia to help them. Paul and his companions believed the Lord had called them to preach the Good News in Macedonia. Therefore they set sail from Troas to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis. From there they went to Philippi, a Roman colony and the foremost of that district in Macedonia.


Acts 16 "13 On the Sabbath day we went forth outside of the city by a riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down, and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, one who worshipped God, heard us; whose heart the Lord opened to listen to the things which were spoken by Paul. 15 When she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and stay." So she persuaded us."

COMMENTS: When Paul entered a city, he would usually go first to the synagogue to witness to Jews. In this case he went outside the city to look for a place by the river side where there might be a prayer gathering, apparently because there was no synagogue in Philippi. Paul began to speak to a group of women who had gathered there, and he told them about Jesus the Christ. The woman named Lydia, who was already a worshipper of God, had her heart opened by the Lord to listen to the words of Paul. She and her household were baptized, and then she begged Paul and his companions to stay at her home. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, and apparently this business provided well for her to have a spacious home. Her plea was that if they judged her as one who was faithful to the Lord, she wanted them to be her guests, and they were persuaded to stay with her. Revelation has the only other references to Thyatira in scripture, without a record of when the gospel first reached that city. Revelation 1 "9 I John, your brother and partner with you in oppression, Kingdom, and perseverance in Christ Jesus, was on the isle that is called Patmos because of God's Word and the testimony of Jesus Christ. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice, like a trumpet 11 saying, What you see, write in a book and send to the seven assemblies: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and to Laodicea."


Acts 16 "16 It happened, as we were going to prayer, that a certain girl having a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much gain by fortune telling. 17 Following Paul and us, she cried out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us a way of salvation!" 18 She was doing this for many days. But Paul, becoming greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" It came out that very hour."

COMMENTS: This passage gives us the information that Paul and his companions had been regularly going to the place of prayer because it is stated the harassment by the young girl had taken place for many days. Even though she was possessed by an evil spirit, it could cause her to do no more than to declare the truth that the men were servants of the Most high God who were proclaiming the way of salvation. Using such a title made a clear distinction of superiority over all false gods who were worshipped, and the second part declared the need to be saved from the current state of life. Finally when Paul became sufficiently annoyed by this non-believing testimony, he turned to her and commanded in the name of Jesus Christ for the spirit to come out of her. The spirit came out of the girl that same hour, and her masters lost their source of much profit from her fortune telling. We are not given further detail, but the change in this girl must have been very dramatic to those who observed how rapidly the girl lost a mysterious capacity. This power that Paul had over a spirit did not seem to cause any fear or respect for Paul or the God he served. The masters of the girl were just unhappy that Paul had done it, and especially that he had done so in the name of Jesus Christ.


Acts 16 "19 But when her masters saw that the hope of their gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 When they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, "These men, being Jews, are agitating our city, 21 and set forth customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans." 22 The multitude rose up together against them, and the magistrates tore their clothes off of them, and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 When they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely, 24 who, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and secured their feet in the stocks."

COMMENTS: When the masters of the girl saw that their hope for continued profit from her fortune telling was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. They told the magistrates that the men were Jews who were causing an uproar in the city by advocating customs that were not lawful for Romans to accept or observe. Jews were apparently not in any favor among the citizens there, and this new group with Paul was very open about their beliefs. Without specific details being given of the offense, the gathered crowd joined in the tumult which would have made it virtually impossible for Paul or Silas to demand their rights as Romans. . The magistrates had the clothes torn off of Paul and Silas, and they were severely beaten. They were thrown into prison and the jailor was ordered to keep them safely. He put them into the inner prison with their wounds untreated, and placed their feet into stocks so they could not even move around. Paul and Silas also did not make an appeal directly to the jailer that they had been unjustly treated since they were Roman citizens.


Acts 16 "25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were loosened. 27 The jailer, being roused out of sleep and seeing the prison doors open, drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, "Don't harm yourself, for we are all here!" 29 He called for lights and sprang in, and, fell down trembling before Paul and Silas, 30 and brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.""

COMMENTS: Paul and Silas were probably thrown into prison during the daytime, so they would have already been in their confinement for at least several hours before midnight. What a surprising response this must have been to the other prisoners who heard Paul and Silas praying aloud and singing hymns of praise to their God even in these difficult conditions. An earthquake is not an unheard of event, but this one called a great earthquake had special timing and such a precise controlled impact. The prison did not collapse, and the jailer's house was apparently not damaged. However, at the prison the foundations were shaken, all the doors were opened, and the bonds of all the prisoners were loosened. The jailer was roused from his sleep and took up his sword before he went to the prison entrance. When he saw all the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought that all the prisoners had escaped and he would be killed anyway for failing in his duty. Paul yelled to him not to harm himself for all the prisoners were still there. The jailer called for some lights, apparently from other staff at the prison, and he rushed in and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. When he brought them out he respectfully asked what he must do to be saved. Now the jailer was moved in his heart to respond to what the young girl had been declaring: that these men served the Most High God and had the message of salvation. He knew what had happened this night was not just a natural occurrence. They said very simply that if he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ he would be saved, and they included that his entire household could be saved in the same way.


Acts 16 "32 They spoke the word of the Lord to him, and to all who were in his house. 33 He took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was immediately baptized, he and all his household. 34 He brought them up into his house, and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his household, having believed in God."

COMMENTS: Paul and Silas gave more detail about the word of God to the jailer and his whole household. The jailer did a very kind act to these prisoners in his charge as he cleaned the wounds of Paul and Silas. The jailer and all in his household were baptized. After that Paul and Silas enjoyed a meal together with them, with great joy because the jailer and his entire household had believed in God.


Acts 16 "35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the sergeants, saying, "Let those men go." 36 The jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, "The magistrates have sent to let you go; now therefore come out, and go in peace." 37 But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us publicly, without a trial, men who are Romans, and have cast us into prison! Do they now release us secretly? No, most certainly, but let them come themselves and bring us out!" 38 The sergeants reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and begged them. When they had brought them out, they asked them to depart from the city. 40 They went out of the prison, and entered into Lydia's house. When they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them, and departed."

COMMENTS: When the new day began, the magistrates sent sergeants to instruct the jailer to release Paul and Silas. When the jailer told Paul they had been released and could go in peace, Paul asserted their rights as Roman citizens and insisted that the magistrates come personally to release them. They had beaten publicly without a trial, and cast into prison men who were Romans! Paul said he would not allow them to release them secretly after such an injustice, so they must come in person for the release.

Paul and Silas had apparently returned to the prison, and this would have kept the jailer from suffering any penalty from the magistrates since they had not given him permission to release them. When the sergeants reported to the magistrates what Paul had told them, they were afraid when they realized what they had done to Roman citizens. So they came in a very different demeanor from the previous day, as they begged Paul and Silas as they brought them out for release. When they came out the magistrates asked them to leave the city, but Paul and Silas did not do so until after they had gone to Lydia's house to visit and encourage the brothers. Since Lydia's house had been the host accommodations for Paul and his companions, the others of his group would have been there to leave Philippi with Paul and Silas. There may have been a later connection between the believers at the jailer's house and those at Lydia's house to become the church at Philippi, but there is no record of that.


1 Thessalonians 2 "1 For you yourselves know, brothers, our visit to you wasn't in vain, 2 but having suffered before and been shamefully treated, as you know, at Philippi, we grew bold in our God to tell you the Good News of God in much conflict."

COMMENTS: Paul explained in his letter to the Thessalonians that the difficult and unjust treatment he and Silas endured at Philippi actually gave them a boldness to declare the gospel of Christ despite violent opposition. There was a buildup of extreme pressure at Thessalonica and Paul reminded the believers there that the gospel will still reach those who are open to receive it. The conflict at Philippi had come from Gentile Romans, while in Thessalonica it began with Jews, but soon included upper class Gentiles who did not want anything to interfere with the benefits they had in their Roman society.


Acts 17 "1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 Paul, as was his custom, went in to them, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ." 4 Some of them were persuaded, and joined Paul and Silas, of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and not a few of the chief women. 5 But the unpersuaded Jews took along some wicked men from the marketplace, and gathering a crowd, set the city in an uproar. Assaulting the house of Jason, they sought to bring them out to the people."

Acts 17 "10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroea. When they arrived, they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed; also of the prominent Greek women, and not a few men. 13 But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Beroea also, they came there likewise, agitating the multitudes. 14 Then the brothers immediately sent out Paul to go as far as to the sea, and Silas and Timothy still stayed there. 15 But those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens. Receiving a commandment to Silas and Timothy that they should come to him very quickly, they departed."

Acts 18 "1 After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth. 2 He found a certain Jew named Aquila, a man of Pontus by race, who had recently come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome. He came to them, 3 and because he practiced the same trade, he lived with them and worked, for by trade they were tent makers. 4 He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks. 5 But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. 6 When they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook out his clothing and said to them, "Your blood be on your own heads! I am clean. From now on, I will go to the Gentiles!" 7 He departed there, and went into the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshipped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord with all his house. Many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized. 9 The Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, "Don't be afraid, but speak and don't be silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many people in this city." 11 He lived there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them."

Acts 18 "18 Paul, having stayed after this many more days, took his leave of the brothers, and sailed from there for Syria, together with Priscilla and Aquila. He shaved his head in Cenchreae, for he had a vow. 19 He came to Ephesus, and he left them there; but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay with them a longer time, he declined; 21 but taking his leave of them, and saying, "I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem, but I will return again to you if God wills," he set sail from Ephesus."

COMMENTS: The two selected passages from Acts chapter 17 give only brief detail, but it appears that the total time Paul spent in Thessalonica and in Beroea was just a matter of months due to the threat of uncontrolled violence against him. I did not include the portion of chapter 17 about Paul's brief time in Athens. After Paul had been at the synagogue in Corinth for a few Sabbaths, Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia and joined him there. When there was strong rejection of Jesus as the Christ at the synagogue, Paul no longer went there, and he found a separate locations where he could teach. Verse 11 then gives the time period as 18 months that Paul taught the word of God among them before he left for Syria. He stayed in Ephesus for several months and then made a circuit of travel on his way to Jerusalem for the feast days.


Acts 19 "8 He entered into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for a period of three months, reasoning and persuading about the things concerning the Kingdom of God. 9 But when some were hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all those who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks."

Acts 19" 21 Now after these things had ended, Paul determined in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." 22 Having sent into Macedonia two of those who served him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while. 23 About that time there arose no small stir concerning the Way. 24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen, 25 whom he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, "Sirs, you know that by this business we have our wealth. 26 You see and hear, that not at Ephesus alone, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are no gods, that are made with hands. 27 Not only is there danger that this our trade come into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be counted as nothing, and her majesty destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worships." 28 When they heard this they were filled with anger, and cried out, saying, Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!""

Acts 20 "1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, took leave of them, and departed to go into Macedonia. 2 When he had gone through those parts, and had encouraged them with many words, he came into Greece. 3 When he had spent three months there, and a plot was made against him by Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he determined to return through Macedonia. 4 These accompanied him as far as Asia: Sopater of Beroea; Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians; Gaius of Derbe; Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. 5 But these had gone ahead, and were waiting for us at Troas. 6 We sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas in five days, where we stayed seven days."

Acts 20 "17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called to himself the elders of the assembly. 18 When they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you all the time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears, and with trials which happened to me by the plots of the Jews; 20 how I didn't shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus. 22 Now, behold, I go bound by the Spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there; 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions wait for me. 24 But these things don't count; nor do I hold my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to fully testify to the Good News of the grace of God. 25 "Now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I went about preaching the Kingdom of God, will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am clean from the blood of all men, 27 for I didn't shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Take heed, therefore, to yourselves, and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the assembly of the Lord and God which he purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know that after my departure, vicious wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Men will arise from among your own selves, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore watch, remembering that for a period of three years I didn't cease to admonish everyone night and day with tears.""

COMMENTS: When Paul returned to Ephesus he taught in the synagogue for three months until strong opposition to the way of the kingdom of God developed. Paul separated the disciples and taught for two years in the school of Tyrannus with impact reaching even beyond Ephesus to much of Asia. Paul's reputation in Ephesus became well known and beginning in verse 21 we find that Paul had determined in the spirit that after he made a final trip through Macedonia and Greece he would go to Jerusalem and eventually to Rome. He sent Timothy and Erastus ahead to Macedonia while he stayed in Ephesus awhile. Paul had confidence in Timothy to be one of his representatives to the local churches where he had previously been with Paul, even though his name was not mentioned while they were in Philippi. After Timothy and Erastus had left Ephesus, Demetrius, one who made silver shrines of Artemis started a public uproar against Paul as he claimed his teaching was defaming their goddess.

Order was restored in Ephesus after a number of hours of uproar, and Paul met with the disciples before he left the city. He traveled through Macedonia encouraging the believers in those areas, but none of the churches are specifically named in the scripture. Then he went into Greece and spent three months there, again with no church named. He was about to set sail for Syria from Greece, but he became aware of a plot against him, so he decided to go back up through Macedonia. The scripture records that Paul had companions from Beroea, Thessalonica, and Asia: this included Timothy and Tychicus whom he had sent ahead to Macedonia before he left Ephesus. The seven mentioned by name went on to Troas while Paul stayed in Philippi until after the days of Unleavened Bread, but there is no other detail while he remained there.

I omitted much of the narrative, then chapter 20 and verse 17 tells of Paul being at Miletus as he continued his journey to Jerusalem. He sent to Ephesus to request that the elders of the assembly join him there. He reminded them that he had humbly taught Jews and Gentiles repentance toward God, and faith toward the Lord Jesus publicly and from house to house. He warned them that there would be vicious men to come in among them to disrupt the believers, and even some would arise from within speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Paul summarized that he had spent three years with them, admonishing them night and day with great emotion.

The outline sections from B through G provide the historical record in Acts about the establishment of the church at Philippi. Lydia is the only person whose name is given, and her house was clearly a place where believers met. She was likely a Jew since she was already a follower of God, but she did not know about Christ before Paul arrived. The jailer and his household represented another location of a body of believers, and we are not told specifically, but it seems likely that they were all Gentiles. The last time that Paul passed through Philippi was at the very least five years after his first arrival based on the record of his other travels. There are no male leaders named in Acts for the Philippi church, and no mention of any special help that they had provided to Paul During his travels.


Thank you, Lord, for this unique church which began from a prayer meeting of women beside a river outside Philippi. Paul had seen a man in the vision pleading for him to come to Macedonia to help them, but when he found no synagogue he did not pass up the opportunity that was available to present Jesus to assembled Jews. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was very obedient to the Lord from the time the angel told her she would have a son by the Holy Spirit. She was at the cross when Jesus died, and afterward she was part of the church at Jerusalem. Other women were in the crowds that followed Jesus during his ministry, and women were the first to see him at the tomb when he arose. When Timothy joined Paul to travel with him, we learned that his mother was a Jew who was also a believer. I am very thankful, Lord, for the many Christian women who have crossed my path of life, and especially for the wonderful Christian wife you provided for me. Lord, if severe trials come into my life, I want to have the kind of response that honors you, and could have a positive impact for others who might then turn to Christ in faith. The world is not the place of reward for the Christian, but our joy will be complete when we are called home to be with you, our Lord and Savior, to serve you forever. Hallelujah, Amen!

Published 19 October 2015