Philippians - How the Work Began
"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
And so we embark on a journey through Paul's letter to the Philippians. But in order to start the journey and find when God "began a good work" at Philippi, we need to go to Acts!
Now, here's a little side trip you'll need to make. Click on the Scripture reference at the end of this sentence and spend two minutes reading Acts 16:6-34. After reading that passage, the following three points will make more sense.
1. Consider the call. It is remarkable to have our vantage point and to see how Paul came to Philippi. In our text from Acts, there are a couple of unexpected turns in verses 6 & 7 where the Holy Spirit forbids the men to "speak the word in Asia" and then the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to visit Bithynia either. What is going on? Why would the Spirit not allow the gospel to be preached in these areas? The answer is - we don't know! Perhaps it would have meant certain death for Paul and his companions, or the timing wasn't right for those people to hear the Word. Whatever the answer, we are at least able to see clearly that God had Paul on a fast track to Philippi. From a vision while in Troas, Paul receives definitive instruction - to cross the Aegean Sea and help the people there.
What we're learning here is that God definitely has a plan, and we definitely don't always know what it is, or how it's coming together. But seeing how God worked in calling and leading Paul's missionary party, we ought to realize that this is normative for all of God's people. That is, God is at work even when we're not noticing, or the way is confusing or unclear. I suspect that one day we'll look back on our own lives and stories and discover the Lord's hand not just her or there, but all over the place, in everything.
2. Consider the cultural climate. What kind of place was Philippi? What was it like to live there? History tells us that it was a Roman military colony and that a good number of retired soldiers lived there. Prevalent worldviews and belief systems would have included the “emperor cult” that revered the emperor as “lord and savior.” There also would have been a multiplicity of Greek/Roman gods which were revered and worshiped.
It was also a bustling city – a “leading city” in the region - according to Acts 16:12. There were gold and silver mines nearby, and we learn from the passage that the men with the demon possessed woman were making a living off of her “prophecies.”
So, in Philippi you had a strong political presence, loads of idolatry, and a greedy interest in commerce by whatever means necessary - basically today’s world, right?
So it makes sense that there was a pushback when the gospel entered the life of Philippi. For Paul and Silas, that pushback came in the form of a hurried trial, a beating, and jail time. Even so, we see that it was all part of God’s sovereign purpose so that a man and his family could be transformed by the Gospel and then become the foundation of the Philippian church.
As we step into our culture with the Gospel, the culture will pushback. We shouldn't expect anything different. The reason is because the culture is made up of people, people whose ideas and worldviews rebel against God, just like we used to. But we shouldn't fear or back down, because as we follow the call into our culture, we'll be doing it to win converts.
3. Consider the converts. When Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke entered Macedonia (Greece) it was the first time the gospel was preached there. And who was the first convert according to Acts was a woman named Lydia. “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” which was, presumably, the full Gospel of Jesus Christ. And who else was saved and baptized that day? Her entire household!
We also witness the transformation of the jailer. This man, far from being a God-fearer like Lydia, comes to a moment of crisis in his life and cries out for an earthly rescue, but instead hears of something even better! Paul declares "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." There's that word "household" again! The Spirit of God was busy drawing not only individuals, but families as well. Praise God!
So, the first converts at Philippi were normal, everyday people. A woman with her own business, and a blue collar man working at the jail. And from there, starting with their families, God built his church in that city. And that’s how the work in Philippi began.
Paul could have easily taken credit. He could have said, “I started the work there,” because he did, didn't he? But Paul knew that there is a God in heaven who does what he pleases (Psalm 115:3, Psalm 135:5-6) to accomplish his redemptive purposes. He had called Paul into a specific culture so that specific converts could be made. God had started that work, and so Paul could say wholeheartedly, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”