Intro: I want to give a little history lesson this morning. Not that I am at all qualified – I never did history at school. I had this innate laziness that said, “Why write a great long essay when you can write short equation?” So I was strictly science and maths. There’s too much rote learning in history; dates, and kings and all that – far easier to learn a principle and apply it. It wasn’t till much later on that I developed an interest in history. You see, I came to see that a big proportion of the Bible is history. God revealed His ways and His nature in His dealings with people in their lives – in history – not in abstract principles of theology. In the Bible we do not have a systematic theology but the dealings of God in the reality of people’s lives. The Old Testament is a record of the history of God’s people Israel. The Gospels are a history of the life of Jesus on earth; Acts is a history of the church. If God speaks so consistently through history, don’t you think it rather unusual that we pay relatively little attention to church history? Has God stopped speaking through what He is doing in people’s lives? So this morning I am going to look at a little church history [P] – history of the early church.
Early church history: Now history is all about dates and I don’t have much of a liking for dates, unless they are in scones. But around A.D. 30-33 Jesus died and rose again and for a period of 40 days was seen by many witnesses to be alive. Then He ascended to heaven and told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Gift of the Father. Ten days later was the feast of weeks and at that time, when Jews from all the surrounding nations were gathered in Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit came down on the believers, they spoke in tongues – the Church was born. Now Jesus had told His disciples just before He ascended: [Acts 1:8 You will 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.] And that is exactly what happened – the Holy Spirit came upon them and they received power – then the trouble started. You follow the history of the church and it is a story of one trouble after another. Persecution arose immediately and intensified to such an extent that most believers were forced to leave. But as they were scattered they took the Gospel with them and the church spread. And here is something that we see time and again: difficulty is not disaster! [P] God uses it to accomplish His purposes [P]. First it spread from Jerusalem up into Samaria [P,P] where Philip saw many respond – we are talking 2-3 years after the Resurrection. The Samaritans had distant connection with the people of Israel. But soon the Gospel spread even to the heathen Gentiles! Up into Syria, a church was established in Antioch [P] – and Greeks believed. The church was spreading just as Jesus had said – and it was through difficulty, through persecution. Now from this church in Antioch the Holy Spirit sent out a couple of men, one of them a former persecutor of the Church – who we know of as Paul. Now it is some 15 years since the Resurrection. They took the Gospel further, first to Cyprus and then into Asia Minor, [P] what we know of today as Turkey, to the areas of Phrygia and Galatia. Their consistent method was first to preach the Gospel in the local synagogue and when the Jews rejected the message they would turn to the Gentiles. Everywhere they went people believed and churches were established. Then they returned to the fellowship that sent them out. Some time later, 17 years after the Resurrection in about A.D.50, Paul decided to encourage and strengthen these infant churches, he wanted to see how they were getting on. So he, now with a man called Silas, returned to the churches that they had established – but Paul was always keen to press on [P] to share the Good News with those that had never heard. So they pressed on westwards into Asia [P] but the Holy Spirit forbade them to speak there [P]. I want to read the account so you realize what the Scripture says – this was not things going wrong: [Acts 16:5-8 So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily. They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.] It was God Himself who was preventing them! So they were not allowed to speak in Asia, so they turned in the opposite direction, north-east, to Bithynia [P]. But again the Holy Spirit did not allow them to go there [P]. Now imagine we are at the missionary prayer meeting – the church is expanding everywhere and suddenly there is a halt. We would be praying for God to open the door, to allow those who are without the Gospel to hear. But we would be praying contrary to God’s will! It was the Spirit of God who stopped them. [P] Just because things seemed to be going wrong didn’t mean that they were! God was in control of circumstances and using them to direct His servants. The only direction left to go was to the north-west – and they came to Troas, where they could go no further [P], they were at the coast. You know? God’s work and vision is always way bigger than what we conceive. The disciples were focused on Jerusalem but it was way bigger than that – God sent the Gospel out into Judea and Samaria. Paul had a bigger concept, he wanted the Gospel to go to the Gentiles – but even his concept was too small. He was thinking of the East. The Jews are Semitic people, intrinsically they belong to the East. And there was a big difference between East and West. The West had taken over, the Greeks and then the Romans had invaded – but they occupied the land, the people were still Eastern in approach, in mindset – they did not embrace the Western culture – it did not sit easily with them and that is why the occupiers had such a tough time of it. They never became Greek. The East was much earthier, tied to the land, concrete and practical. The West was intellectual, metaphysical, abstract, philosophical. You know? We are Western people. There is a barrier between East and West. The West was cultured, but it was debased, idolatrous to the core with a pantheon of gods – the East in comparison was unsophisticated and backward – but real! God was no abstraction and metaphysical philosophy – your religion was your life, not some mental concept. You look at the East today, be it Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, animism – the religion may be false but it is an integral part of their lives, not just something they do on Sunday. Paul was not contemplating going further West – that was Europe, Greece, Rome – the West. But God’s plans were greater! [Acts 16:9-12 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.” When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them. So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.]. Paul had come to the end of his ideas, God stymied them; now God speaks directly, brings revelation and a direction that Paul had never contemplated. To Macedonia! [P] That is in Europe! We all know of Alexander the Great who conquered the world, spreading Greek culture and language wherever he went – but Alexander wasn’t from Greece – ask Angelina, he was a Macedonian! In fact Philippi was named after his father, Philip. Here is the heart of Greek thought and ideals, of the West! [P]. To Philippi. The Gospel had come to Europe, eventually to us – we are indebted to the fact that Paul heeded the Macedonian call.
History of Philippian church: They came to Philippi – read what it said: a “leading city”. This was a key centre in Macedonia; furthermore it was a Roman colony. It was on the Egnatian Way [P] – a major Roman road, the main east-west route from Rome, connecting the Aegean and the Adriatic seas. Romans built well – built in 146 B.C., over 200 years old when Paul travelled it; now, over 2,000 years later it is still there! If Greek was the prevailing culture and philosophy, the ruling power was Rome – and Philippi was a Roman colony. This was as thoroughly west as you could get, apart from perhaps Rome itself. Here was the combination of Greecian and Roman – western thought (Greece) and western might (Rome), philosophy and rule, mind and might. Where was God in this place?! Well, almost absent from the residents of the city. There was this man in the vision calling them, but worship of the true God was almost absent. In those days Jews travelled widely in the Roman world, doing business everywhere. And where they lived they established their own places of worship, the synagogues. Paul’s practice, as we have seen, was to first preach in the synagogue but read what happens in Philippi: [P] [Acts 16:13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.] For a synagogue to meet you need a minyan, at least 10 males over the age of 14. How come Paul didn’t go to the synagogue as he always did? There wasn’t a minyan. There were those who worshipped God, but not in a synagogue, they met for prayer, not for teaching and the study of Scriptures; not men but a group of women, not in a synagogue but by a river. Philippi was a sizeable city yet there were not even 10 יְהוָה worshipping males in it. Still Paul went first to those who knew of יְהוָה and worshipped Him. Let’s read what happened: [Acts 16:13-15 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate (not even in the city) to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.] They went to the riverside [P] (the Gangas), where people who were seeking God would be. Knowledge of the true God was at a low ebb in this place but God still had His chosen ones there – it was He Himself who opened the heart of a wealthy businesswoman and she believed. And she responded in practical love, she opened her home to Paul and his companions – basically left them with no option, they would be calling her an unbeliever, saying that her confession of faith not genuine, if they didn’t accept. In fact this proved to be an enduring characteristic of the Philippian church – generous, caring, practical love and support of others. But all did not go smoothly – wherever Paul went he encountered trouble: [Acts 16:16-24 It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, (that is the place by the river) a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” She continued doing this for many days. – there was not much worship of יְהוָה but there was spiritual activity. Everywhere Paul went he met spiritual opposition – should we expect any different? But we expect God to make everything to go smoothly for us! If you are making an impact on satan’s dominion you will get a reaction – But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” – it was a spiritual power confrontation, and the Holy Spirit equipped Paul with power! This was God at work! – And it came out at that very moment. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place [P] (there is the market place where this girl plied her craft) before the authorities, and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates [P] (there is the bema or judgement seat where Paul and Silas stood), they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.” The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison [P], commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.] There was opposition everywhere, the demon-possessed girl, her masters, the crowd, the magistrates – all were against them. In fact, if we are in a spiritual conflict, should we expect anything other than difficulty? Here is a promise from God’s Word (for those who are in to claiming God’s promises): [2 Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.] Again imagine our missionary prayer meeting – Paul texts back to us telling of what has taken place and we have an urgent prayer meeting asking God to release them. But remember God is in control, [P] we want the unpleasantness to be over rather than having our priority that God’s purposes be furthered. A family that God had chosen would not have been saved without this incident. [Acts 16:25-40 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; (they weren’t bemoaning their situation, thinking all had gone wrong and calling for prayer for their deliverance – their eyes were elsewhere!) and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, (before prisoners who were under him) and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (I always find this response unusual – he was suicidal, going to kill himself, now he wants to be saved! He thought that his life would be required for his failure, was going to kill himself – but coming that close to death he realized that he wasn’t prepared for it! He was not ready to meet his Maker! He needed to be saved. It was revelation, I believe, God revealed to him his spiritual need.) They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”(some have drawn from this household salvation but you will see that the whole household were instructed in God’s word and all were baptized, each chose to commit themselves to Jesus) 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. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. (all in the household heard God’s word, all believed and all were baptized.) Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, (and Philippi was proud of its Roman status and placed great stock on being Roman) and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.] Again there is difficulty and trouble. Paul is forced to move on before he can see the church established. What is going to become of it? So there we have the history of the establishment of the church in Philippi in A.D.50. What did he leave behind? A group of women who believed; a strange mixture, including a business woman and a former demoniac. A mixed group – a wealthy woman, a slave girl, a jailer. There were others of course, but it was a small group and not built on the base of those with an established strong foundation in God’s word. Paul had spent very little time there before he was obliged to move on. What would become of this infant church? Well, it did remarkably well! Very few problems arose, and not of the grievous nature that occurred in other places. They showed a loyal devotion to Paul and the teaching he brought. They excelled in generous practical Christian living, supporting Paul through thick and thin. When he moved on to Thessalonica they sent a financial gift [Philippians 4:16 for even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.]. They gave generously to the poor in Israel. And later Paul took their gift along with that of other churches back to Jerusalem [P](7). I actually think that he wanted to smooth things over with the Jews and Jewish believers and thought that this gift would appease them because they did not like his activity among the Gentiles. The church in Jerusalem knew that Paul had money and had ideas on how to use it. But it did not work out the way Paul envisaged – a riot occurred when he went to the temple, he was arrested and because of the inability to get a fair hearing appealed to have his case heard before the emperor. Again, things went wrong – difficulty and trouble everywhere he went. But it was not things going wrong [P] – it was God’s purpose to bring the message right to the highest ruler – a purpose that was there before Paul even became a Christian – this was God said when He first called Paul [Acts 9:15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;] And later He said to Paul: [Acts 23:11 the Lord stood at his side and said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also.”]
History of Paul’s imprisonment: And this trial before the emperor was no smooth sailing either – literally! On the way to Rome he encountered a storm [P](8), was shipwrecked, bitten by a snake – difficulty at every twist and turn – but it was not things going wrong. Do any of you listen to radio Rhema? Have you heard the Ad that goes: “What are you going through? There is nothing God cannot help you with. Call Christian prayer line.”? It is as if God is there solely to get us out of our troubles. [P] But let me say, God does not exist for the purpose of getting us out of our difficulties – in fact our difficulties may very well be engineered by Him to accomplish His purposes! So Paul eventually ends up in Rome under house arrest awaiting his trial before the emperor [P](9) – and they weren’t in any hurry to expedite his hearing. Here is Paul the great apostle, church planter, itching to get on an preach the Gospel, to go to regions that had never heard – in particular he had his heart set on going to Spain. But here he was impeded and incarcerated, from AD 60-62, unable to have freedom to go and spread the Gospel. Always difficulty and trouble. [P] Had things gone wrong? Many of the letters of Paul we have in the New Testament were written when he was in prison. For centuries Paul has been helping to build up the church through those letter that were written while he was imprisoned – an influence way beyond his lifetime – all because things went “wrong”! God uses these difficulties to accomplish His purposes [P]. We make Paul out to be a superhuman apostle – but he was human – read 2 Timothy and you get an insight into how he got disheartened in a Roman prison. He was human and needed the support of his brothers in the faith – and where did it come from? This church in Philippi! Even when he was in prison they did not abandon him. They were one of the few churches to send Paul money to support him [Philippians 4:15 You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone;] – they did earlier on when he was in Corinth [P](4) – and now he was under house-arrest, he couldn’t earn an income and yet had to pay for accommodation and food, they sent another gift – but not just money they sent someone personally to cheer him up [Philippians 4:18 But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.]. They sent Epaphroditus – they not only gave what they had, they gave themselves. Epaphroditus came and poured himself out in service to Paul (10). He got sick and nearly died while there in Rome serving Paul – again, things did not go smoothly [P] [Philippians 2:25-30 But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. (they were concerned for him, and he was concerned when he heard that they were concerned! They had great love and care for each other) For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.]. This is Christian life in action, practical love at work – pouring yourself out for others – this is how church should be! The Philippians held back nothing – loyal, loving and generous. Paul loved and appreciated them and sent them a letter of thanks [P](11). They were concerned, not only for Paul, but also for Epaphroditus when they heard about his condition. So Paul sent Epaphroditus back to them, bearing his letter to them, to ease their concern and so they may rejoice in having him back with them. This fellowship had brought much joy to Paul – and joy and thankfulness are the key features of this letter that he wrote to them. So over the next few months, God willing, we will have a look at this letter that Paul wrote to a church that was functioning as it should be. It was not perfect but they are an example to us [P] – they were loving [P], loyal [P], giving [P], caring [P] – and it was expressed in action. They had encountered Jesus – and He had made a difference in their lives – now His life was in them and seen at work in them. There was difficulty but God is working through it to accomplish His purposes. Seldom do things go smoothly but remain loyal and loving, faithful [P] – persevering in the face of the difficulties that assaulted them, thankful [P] and full of the joy of the LORD [P] – trusting Him that He is accomplishing His will through all that we go through. This was the character of the Philippian church, may it be evident in us also [P].