Acts 16:1-35 A Church is Born
Ron Achterkirk sent me the following story this week from his church in the States.
' There is a man in our church, Jeff Benoit, who has a friend who served on President Elect Bush's campaign in Austin, and she called him to tell this story... Last week, Gov. Bush appeared at the thank you banquet for his campaign staff, and was going table to table to shake hands with the 1000+ campaign volunteers. He got to one lady, who by a brief comment she made, indicated she was a Christian. She was there with her 16 year old son. Gov. Bush asked him if he was a believer, too. He said he didn't think so. Gov. Bush then asked, "Do you mind if I tell you how I came to know Christ as my Savior?"
The boy agreed, and Gov. Bush pulled up a chair and witnessed to him for 30 minutes, and led him in the sinners prayer!! Jeff's friend was so choked up, she could hardly tell the story through tears. Yes, my dear friend, we are living in the end times. How glorious to know that our new president is a man that doesn't feel the political pressure to glad-hand 1000 people, but would take 30 minutes of his precious time to lead a teenager to Christ. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11', Ron Achterkirk
Someone responded yesterday, unhappy that I appeared to be endorsing the political position of George Bush. Before we judge another Christian for their politics, we need to ask ourselves what can we learn from their faith?
During the autumn we considered how we can become contagious Christians. In the Spring we are going to see what we can learn from a contagious Church (plug Mark Mikklebergs book). Whether its George the President or Paul the Tentmaker - it doesn't matter what the occupation, we can learn a lot from watching people share their faith. On this occasion a simple conversation by the river outside Philippi leads to the birth of the first church in Europe. That is what we are here for. To lead people to Christ, and build up Christ's Church. As we shall see in the weeks to come, in his letter to the Church in Philippi, Paul shows us life as it should be in our Church. He directs us to Christ-like servant relationships with each other and moves us on to personal holiness. This is how we become contagious. Infectious with the love of Jesus. Lets first discover how the church at Philippi was born. In Acts 16, we see three wonderful "openings"
1. How God Opens an Entire Continent (Acts 16:1-12)
Read Acts 15:36. It all begins with a look back.
1.1 They Looked Back (Acts 16:1-5)
It begins with a ministry review (Acts 16:1-5). Paul reviews the ministry. He goes back to build up the churches he has already founded. That is why at this time of year, instead of suffering the post-Christmas blues, I spend a lot of time reflecting on the year past and giving thanks for all the Lord has accomplished among us. (Hence the enclosed review of 2000). We don't praise God enough because we forget his blessings. So remember to look back.
1.2 They Looked Up (Acts 1:6-8)
The Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to enter Bithinya. Paul and his companions had their plans for the new year - go East - but the Lord had other ideas. They were in prayer, they sought God's guidance, they tried a few doors but God kept them closed. They looked back and looked up, then God gave them a vision of a man calling them to Macedonia.
1.3 They Looked Forward (Acts 16:9-10)
Obedient, they left at once. We need to do the same. They looked forward. They changed their plans as the Lord gave them a vision of new mission opportunities. What is the Lord saying to us about our future? We have our mission statement and a Five Year Plan but what should be our priorities for 2001? We need to be in prayer about how we can maximise our resources and talents (hence the time, talents and treasure challenge leaflets). We also need to be flexible and ready for new opportunities, not bound to rigid ways or the past. Read 16:11-12.
Philippi was a Roman colony, which meant that it was a "Rome away from Rome." The emperor organised "colonies" by ordering Roman citizens, especially retired military people, to live in selected places so there would be strong pro-Roman cities in these strategic areas. Though living on foreign soil, the citizens were expected to be loyal to Rome, to obey the laws of Rome, and to give honour to the Roman emperor. In return, they were given certain political privileges, not the least of which was exemption from taxes. This was their reward for leaving their homes in Italy and relocating elsewhere. This was how God opened up a whole continent. Reflection, Prayer and Specific guidance. It is in the same way we believe God will open up his will for your life and mine this year.
2. How God Opens an Individual Heart (Acts 16:13-15)
The Jewish population in Philippi must have been very small since there was no synagogue there, only a place of prayer by the river outside the city. Lydia was a successful businesswoman from Thyatira, a city renowned for its purple dye in what is today, Turkey. She probably was in charge of a branch office of her guild in Philippi. God brought her all the way to Greece so that she might hear the Gospel and be converted. She was "a worshipper of God," a Gentile who openly worshiped with the Jews.
She was seeking truth. Paul talked with her about Jesus - the word used means personal conversation, not preaching. God opened her heart to Jesus, she believed and was saved. She boldly identified herself with Christ by being baptised, and she insisted they stay at her house. All of her household came to Christ and the first church in Europe is founded in her home. God opens an entire Continent by opening a single human heart - and a foreign businesswoman at that. The kingdom of God advances won by one. Never forget that. One by one. The third part of the story explains how the church grew in Philippi.
3. How God Opens a Prisons Doors (Acts 16:16-40)
No sooner are lost people saved than Satan begins to hinder the work. In this case, he used a slave girl possessed by an evil spirit who had made her masters wealthy by telling fortunes. The Roman Empire was sustained by slaves. In fact there were more slaves than Roman citizens. They were often the defeated men, women and children of the tribes and nations conquered by Rome as the Empire expanded. Indeed when the Romans came to Britain, English slaves became one of our principle British exports. As Paul and his "team" went regularly to the place of prayer, witnessing to those who would listen, this girl shouted after them day after day. "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who show us the way of salvation!" Notice it was many days before Paul finally acted. He did not want either the Gospel or the name of God to be "promoted" by one of Satan's slaves, so he cast the demon out. Satan may speak the truth one minute and the next minute tell a lie; and the un-saved will not know the difference. The owners had no concern for the girl; they were interested only in the income she provided, and now that was gone.
Their only recourse was the Roman law. Paul and Silas were Jewish and were propagating a religion not approved by Rome. Moved by both religious and racial prejudice, the magistrates acted rashly and did not investigate the matter fully. Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten and put in prison. It looked like the end of their witness in Philippi, but God had other plans. Instead of complaining or calling on God to judge their enemies, the two men prayed and praised God right through the night. Prayer and praise are powerful weapons. God responded by shaking the foundations of the prison, opening all the doors, and loosening the prisoners' bonds.
They could have fled to freedom, but instead they remained right where they were. Paul's attention was fixed on the jailer, the man he really wanted to win to Christ. It was a Roman law that if a guard lost a prisoner, he was given the same punishment the prisoner would have received. The jailer would rather commit suicide than face shame and execution. It was the jailer who was the prisoner, not Paul; and Paul not only saved the man's life, but led him and his family to Jesus. "What must I do to be saved?" is one of the most important question we can ever ask. Lets be ready to give the right answer when asked.
It is moving to see the change in the attitude of the jailer as he washes the wounds of these two prisoners who were now his brothers in Christ. One of the marks of true repentance is a loving desire to make restitution and reparation wherever we have hurt others. We should not only wash one another's feet, but should also cleanse the wounds we have caused others. The city officials realised they had no convincing case against Paul and Silas, so they sent word to the jailer to release them. Paul, however, was unwilling to "sneak out of town," for that kind of exit would have left the new church under a cloud of suspicion.
Paul and his associates wanted to leave behind evidence of their own integrity as well as a good testimony for the young church in Philippi.
So Paul makes use of his Roman citizenship and challenges the officials on the legality of their treatment. This was not personal revenge but a desire to give protection and respect for the church. The magistrates respectfully came to Paul and Silas, escorted them out of the prison, and politely asked them to leave town. But Paul and Silas had one more thing to do. They remained in Philippi long enough to visit the new believers and do some follow up Bible Studies. This is how the first Church in Europe was born. How God opened up an entire continent, by opening up a human heart, an enslaved spirit and a prison door. Lets close by highlighting seven significant signs we can learn from Philippi - signs of a growing church.
1. It was a Multiracial Church (Acts 16:14-16, 29)
Lydia was a Turkish businesswoman, the slave girl from somewhere else in the Empire, the Jailer and his family were either Greek or Roman. Paul and Silas were Jews. The church reflected the multiracial nature of Roman society, as ours must today.
It is hard to imagine a more disparate group than a successful business woman, a slave girl who owned nothing, not even herself and a hardened jailer. Racially, socially and psychologically they were worlds apart, yet all three changed by the grace of God and all welcomed into the same church. Others just like them are waiting to hear of Jesus in our community. Perhaps the Lord has brought them here to Virginia Water from the other side of the world, whether on a short term business contract or as a slave to someone on the Wentworth Estate - yes there are migrant workers in our community - some held against their will. How will you treat them? There is no place for nationalism, segregation or racial prejudice in the church. The question should not be 'where are you from? but like George Bush asked, 'Do you know Jesus as your personal Saviour?'
2. It was an All-Age Family Church (Acts 16:15,31,40)
Lydia's household and the Jailor's household included the children - they made up the bulk of that first Church. Last week we had a discussion at the PCC about what to do over the lack of seating in church when we are all together, as will happen in a little while. Someone made the observation, 'but there are plenty of seats when the children are gone.' Self evident - but see how it sounds if instead we say, 'but there are plenty of seats when the adults are gone.' Like the Philippian church, we are and will remain, an all-age extended Family church, worshipping together, adults and children, every Sunday. And if there isn't enough room then we will have to create more. Children are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today.
3. It was a Contagious Church (Philippians 1:1, 4:2-3, 18)
Paul wrote his letter probably from prison in Rome in 61 AD. That's about ten years after he had helped found the church in Philippi. He writes to the saints, the overseers and deacons. He mentions Epaphroditus, Euodia, Syntyche and Clement - evidently people who had come to faith as a result of the witness of Lydia and the Jailor. A growing church will be a contagious church. Evangelism is and will remain our first God-given priority here at Christ Church. That's why next Friday we have the Riding Lights Theatre Company here, then on the Sunday we are having our first Annual Thanksgiving Service for Christ Church School. Everything we do should be shaped by the question - how can we reach more people with the good news of Jesus Christ? And - what are we doing that may be a barrier or an obstacle to people coming to know Jesus?
4. It was a Missionary Church (Philippans 2:25-30)
Not only had Epaphroditus come to faith and been discipled but had then been sent out by the church in Philippi to serve alongside Paul. I rejoice when we see people, not only giving their lives to Christ but hearing God's call to serve him here and overseas. Julie Andrews left for Cuba yesterday.... Mission is and will remain a priority at Christ Church.
5. It was a Generous Church (Philippians 4:10-19)
The Christians of Philippi were in the early days the only church that funded Paul's ministry as he set off to evangelise Macedonia. The only Church. In our Five Year Plan we have pledged to give an increasing proportion of our voluntary giving to mission. So, our mission giving has grown from £6,000 to £23,000 in the last four years. In our Budget Challenge 2001 you will see our aim is to give away more than £25,000 to mission work this year. As the Lord has blessed us, it is only right that we share it with others.
6. It was a Typical Church (Philippians 4:2-3)
It wasn't a perfect church because it was made up of human beings, sinners saved by grace, who like the Corinthians and the Galatians, still had a lot of growing up to do. So Paul tells Euodia and Syntyche to be reconciled and agree with each other. But wait a minute - Paul is in Rome, they are in Greece. How did he know they had fallen out? Bad news travels just as quickly as good news. Division within the Church causes great harm. It distracts us from being Christ centred and destroys our witness in VW. Hence much of Paul's letter is about being like Christ (see Philippians 2)
7. It was a Christ-Centred Church (Philippians 1:26,29; 2:1,5; 3:3,20)
Rejoicing in Christ, suffering for Christ, united with Christ, glorying in Christ, waiting for Christ. Surely this is the reason why church in Philippi was growing. It was multiracial, all age, contagious, missionary, generous and above all, centred on Jesus Christ. The letter is addressed to the saints in Philippi but it was also written to you and I to enable us also to continue to grow as a church. I commend it to your reading this week. Read Philippians 2:1-11 as homework.
Thank you to Ron Achterkirk for the story on George W. Bush and to Warren Wersbie for some of the ideas used in the exposition.