PHILIPPIANS: Week 1 | FREED - from Prison to Peace
Topic: New Testament Passage: Philippians 1:1, Acts 16:6–16:40
PHILIPPIANS | FREED – from Prison to Peace
Introduction – Philippians 1:1, Acts 16:6-40
Good morning! My name is Randy and I’m one of the pastors here at Damascus Road Church. This morning, we will begin a series through the book of Philippians. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover – so I’m just going to dive right in!
The book of Acts is written by Luke – and it tells about the spread of Christianity under the leadership of the apostles. The church grows in several stages throughout the book of Acts. First it starts in Jerusalem, and then to Judea and Samaria, and then the surrounding region, and then to include Gentiles (as opposed to the Jews only), then to Asia Minor, and finally, in Acts 16 another stage begins as Paul and his missionary team find themselves in Europe.
We’ll spend the rest of our time in Acts 16, so go there now. Let’s pray.
PRELUDE – the Spirit of Jesus
As we walk our way through Acts 16, we’re going to learn about the formation of the Church at Philippi, but we will also learn some really helpful insights about how we should engage in introducing others to Jesus. And in case you didn’t know – disciples of Jesus are responsible for making disciples of Jesus.
Acts 16:6-10 ESV And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. -7- And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. -8- So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. -9- And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” -10- And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
How often do your plans not succeed? We should consider it the best thing in the world when we see our plans falling apart – because it means that God has taken over.
Paul, Silas, and Timothy are missionaries traveling around the western part of modern-day turkey. They’re preaching the gospel as they go. They’re beaten and stoned, but they keep at it. Paul is not deterred by human opposition. In Acts 14 he was stoned by an angry Jewish mob at Lystra. They thought he was dead, so they drug him outside of the city. He got up and went back into the city. And then, on the next day he starts walking to another city that is 65 miles away.
Paul is one determined guy… and it seems that he has a high threshold for pain. He pushes through human opposition, but as they’re traveling around they encounter a different kind of resistance that they don’t push through. The Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go where they want.
The New Testament refers to the SPIRIT more than 250 times – but only twice does this term the Spirit of Jesus appear. One where the Spirit of Jesus hinders… one where HE helps… which are really one in the same. Luke wrote Acts, and the other is from Paul. Guess where the other instance of this unique phrase is found… PHILIPPIANS 1:19!!
So Luke uses this unique phrase in describing the process by which Paul, Silas, and Timothy ended up in Philippi… and later, Paul uses the phrase in a letter to the Church at Philippi. Isn’t that cool! You see, though these two verses were written by two different human hands – those hands were driven by one Spirit. Here’s what Paul says in Philippians 1…
Philippians 1:18b-21 ESV …I will rejoice, -19- for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, -20- as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. -21- For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Paul experienced the divine resistance from the Spirit of Jesus, and he knows that led him to Philippi. He must have remembered that experience with such affection, because we can see the trust and faith it gave him, to the point where he writes a letter from prison to those very ones who were saved because his plans fell through. And as he remembers, he’s reminded that the Spirit of Jesus is there helping.
While I could (and want to) preach an entire sermon on these few verses, I will exercise self-control and move on. But I want you to see and appreciate how the story that unfolds is orchestrated by God, not by man. The spread of Christianity to a new continent started with Paul’s plans failing. So let’s not get so upset when our plans fail too.
ESTABLISHING THE CHURCH AT PHILIPPI
The reset of Acts 16 tells about the events that served as the beginning of the church at Philippi. I’ll go through it piece by piece, but here’s the basic breakdown of how this went. Now, imagine this being the framework being laid out in a modern-day church-planting manual, “How to Plant a Successful Church – 7 steps to a thriving church”
- Step 1: Find a wealthy lady with a big house and baptize her and her household.
- Step 2: Upset the local status quo, get everyone mad at you.
- Step 3: Get thrown in Jail. Results are best if you get beat up really badly first. Step 4. Sing songs and pray while you wait for an opportunity to share Jesus with your prison guard.
- Step 5. When the opportunity presents itself, tell the prison guard about Jesus. Baptize him and his household.
- Step 6. Get out of prison.
- Step 7. You’ve planted a church – time to move on.
That’s actually what happens! Of course, I’m being comical how I set it up – but when you step back and look at it, the way this all unfolds isn’t like we’d plan it ourselves… we’ll look at these events in three stories:
Story 1 – Conversion of Lydia
Acts 16:11-15 ESV So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, -12- and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. -13- And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. -14- One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. -15- And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
After Paul has his vision of the Macedonian man asking for his help, they immediately get to work. They literally get there as quickly as they can. They initially land in Neapolis but then make their way to Philippi. And then things take off. They meet a group of women by the river – one is named Lydia.
She’d be a wealthy woman because she was a seller of purple goods. Purple dye was very expensive – it took 8,000 mollusks from the Eastern Mediterranean to make 1 gram of purple dye. Lydia was probably influential, successful, and well-traveled. She was actually from Thyatira – in vicinity of the very area that the missionaries had sailed from – imagine going on a mission trip to Mexico and bumping into someone who was interested in what you had to say who grew up in Seattle… that’s what this would have been like.
Things worth noting about what happens with Lydia, the first known European convert…
- The missionaries were intentional and strategic in their evangelism. Luke says that they remained in the city until the Sabbath, at which point they went outside the gates and went to the river. They weren’t going sightseeing or birdwatching. They were intentionally pursuing opportunities to talk to people about Jesus.
Luke says that Lydia is a worshipper of God. That is a term that simply means she believed in the Jewish God, but didn’t follow all their practices. It is very likely that there was not a large Jewish community in Philippi. Jewish law would have required that if there were less than 10 Jewish men in a community that they could not form a synagogue. If this was a case, they’d establish an outdoor place of prayer near water. It really seems like that’s what’s going on here. They are trying to find people who would be open to discussing Jesus with them.
What would it look like for you to be intentional and strategic in sharing the gospel?
- God had prepared Lydia’s heart. Look at what it says in verse 14, “The Lord had opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”
This is very important. We can have all the systems and structures in place and we can know all the answers to all the questions – but for evangelism to lead to conversion, God must act supernaturally in people’s hearts.
So what do we do with that? This truth will sometimes lead Christians to apathy and indifference, but it should free us to share boldly because success and failure is not determined by how well we do or if we say the right or wrong things.
2 Timothy 2:8-10 ESV Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, -9- for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! -10- Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
The Word of God is not bound! It cannot be bound! So we can endure everything for the sake of the elect – even looking like a fool – so that the unaware elect in our lives may know Jesus!
- Lydia responds to the Gospel and reacts by immediately being on mission.
Lydia wastes no time. She invites Paul and his team to stay with her.
Story 2 – A Demon-Possessed Slave Girl
While the missionary effort starts off with a situation that seems pretty ideal (from a fleshly standpoint), it doesn’t stay that way for long…
Acts 16:16-18 ESV As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. -17- She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” -18- And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
Sometimes evangelistic opportunities occur as the result of our intentionality and strategic thinking – like it did with Lydia. But sometimes it makes less sense to us. Sometimes, God throws someone into your path… maybe even someone who is difficult to love.
As Paul and his team are going back to the place of prayer, they are met by a girl that is enslaved and oppressed. Not only is she a literal slave, she is a spiritual one too… enslaved by an evil spirit – or demon. She followed the group for many days – we don’t know how many days this was, but I have to admit that I was a little upset with Luke for not sharing more details about all this, because it is a very strange episode.
The girl follows them, shouting that they’re servants of the Most High God… which seems to be a really weird thing for a demon to say. Although the only other place in the New Testament where someone mentions the “Most High God” is a demon-possessed man in Luke 8. You may remember the story – it involves a herd of pigs.
In case that’s not weird enough, Paul finally sets this girl free, but it seems like he does it out of annoyance more than anything. Why did it take him several days? What happened to this girl? We don’t know… but reading on, we see that her owners were pretty upset losing their source of income…
Acts 16:19-24 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. -20- And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. -21- They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” -22- The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. -23- And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. -24- Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
The owners of the slaves grab Paul and Silas and drag them into the marketplace, bring them before the city rulers and accuse them of violating Roman law and whip the watching crowd into a frenzy. Rather than having a trial or finding out more information, the magistrates order them to be beaten with rods – and they inflict many blows.
What does this remind you of? The enslaved and oppressed person is set free while the one who delivers her is falsely accused and beaten…
Paul and Silas don’t just talk about the gospel, they display the gospel by suffering for the sake of a slave girl. Jesus took the punishment that we deserved for our sin in suffering and dying on the cross. By his stripes we were healed. His chastisement brought us peace. His death brought us life. He demanded nothing of us, and yet gave all of himself.
Perhaps Paul had this in mind when he wrote this to the Philippian church, remembering the beating he took for a slave girl, who quite possibly was a member of the church…
Philippians 2:3-8 ESV Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. -4- Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. -5- Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, -6- who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, -7- but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. -8- And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Story 3 – The Philippian Jailer
So Paul and Silas are thrown in prison… having been brutally beaten. How do they respond?
Acts 16:25 ESV About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
The response to the situation is joy. This is incredible. But look at what happens next.
Acts 16:26-34 ESV and 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 unfastened. -27- When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. -28- But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” -29- And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. -30- Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” -31- And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” -32- And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. -33- And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. -34- Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
An earthquake comes in the dead of night and shakes the building so hard that the doors open and the prisoners were freed! This is it! Their chance to get out of prison. It seemed so clear that they would have escaped that the jailer prepared to end his life, since that was the penalty of losing prisoners.
On the surface it seems that God brought an earthquake to bring freedom to the prisoners – or at very least to Paul and Silas. I’m sure that Paul and Silas would have known about the other times that Angels had come to miraculously free apostles from prison (Acts 5, Acts 12), but they didn’t flee prison.
Why didn’t they flee? Why didn’t they pursue the freedom that was offered to them by the circumstances? The only reason I can think of, is that the Spirit made it clear to them that they should remain in prison.
Again, we see a beautiful picture of the gospel as Paul and Silas willingly give up their freedom so that the one who is holding them in jail could be set free from his prison of sin and rebellion against God. It also seems that Paul and Silas are having an effect on the others in jail – because we’re told that nobody flees, they all remain.
The jailer also reacts. He believes, is saved, and is baptized. Not only that, but his household believed also.
Now, a couple of things that I think are worth pointing out here…
- The SPIRIT of Jesus is still directing all of this. While it’s cool that the slave girl was delivered, she’s not the point of the story. We don’t even know if she was converted… but this is another example of God’s plan including pain and suffering for his servants… I’m sure this wasn’t how they drew up the plan. In this, we again see the beauty of the Gospel so clearly against a backdrop of undesirable circumstances.
When they’re beaten and thrown in prison, they sing and pray. They do so in such a way that it gets the jailer’s attention. He sees something different – not righteous behavior – from his perspective they were rabble-rousers. He saw JESUS alive in them.
Philippians 4:12-13 [I have learned how to be content]… I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
The strength to do this comes from God himself. While Lydia comes already prepared to hear, the SPIRIT oozing out of Paul and Silas in a moment of suffering is what HE uses to prepare the jailer.
- The Jailer is immediately transformed. A sudden transformation occurs as the jailer has a heart that cares about the wounds. He takes them up to his home – probably a home that was set above the prison – he feeds them and washes their stripes. I imagine Paul explaining the stripes of Jesus as the source of true life and healing. The gospel transforms.
Acts 16:35-40 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” -36- And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” -37- But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” -38- The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. -39- So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. -40- So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.
God ultimately brings about the freedom Paul and Silas surrendered. Did you notice this? With no explanation given, the magistrates send the police to tell the jailer to let them go. It’s quite possible they were shook up by the earthquake and understood it as a sign they had done something wrong. The point is that God does amazing things when we trust him.
God doesn’t promise deliverance from whatever imprisons us in this life. Some of you in this room will be faced with incurable disease. Some of us will experience economic hardship. Some of us will endure bitter pain in this world. All of our lives will include experiences that we would rather not endure.
These are the consequences of sin. We live in a broken, fallen world – under the curse of sin. And one thing that affects everyone across all socio-economic spheres is death. You will die one day. And while God doesn’t promise deliverance from undesirable circumstances – he does promise peace, joy, contentment, and freedom for those those who put their trust in him.
Perhaps you are here this morning and you don’t really want anything to do with Jesus. If that’s you – let me tell you that you aren’t just here by accident. God designed for you to be here. He caused someone or something to get you to this place right now where you’d be exposed to the truth of the gospel. The truth that you are more sinful than you could ever understand but also that God loves you more than you could ever imagine. And that God, in his love for you, and in desiring that the world would know his greatness – God was falsely accused. He was beaten. He was scourged and whipped and mocked and hung on a cross, dying a torturous death all the while crying out to his Father in Heaven, “Forgive them – they don’t know what they are doing.”
This forgiveness is offered to you. It seems like Paul and Silas do a good thing for the jailer… but they’re just getting what sinners like them… like me… like you… what we all deserve. Their act of sacrifice pales in comparison to the God of the universe crucified for our sin. He did that for you – I would love the opportunity to talk with you if you’re interested in hearing more.
A bunch of people get baptized in Acts 16. We had a baptism last week, which is always so fun and exciting to see. I pray for the plumbing in this tub to get worn out. That we’d be seeing and celebrating new life in our midst. Isn’t that something you want to see too?
The SPIRIT of Jesus is at work. But we have a part to play. We are missionaries in our schools, neighborhoods, grocery stores, families… who are you praying for? God has put unaware elect people in your life… trust the Spirit of Jesus at work in you.