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First House Church in Philippi

February 13th, 2022

One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. (Acts 16:14) Passage: Acts 16:11-40

Last week we learned about how the second missionary journey began. Barnabas and Paul had a sharp disagreement in dealing with John Mark. They took separate routes. Paul took Silas and went to the cities where he had preached during the first journey. In Lystra, Paul found Timothy a committed disciple, ready to join the mission team. Paul’s team tried to preach in the province of Asia, but the Holy Spirit did not allow them to do so. One night Paul had a vision of a man begging, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” The mission team was convinced that it was God’s call for them to preach in Macedonia. Today’s passage tells us how God worked through them in Philippi.

Verses 11-12 read, “From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.” Philippi was a strategic city to preach the gospel in Macedonia. The city was new to the team. They could not find a synagogue. On the Sabbath they went outside the city gate to the river, trying to find a place of prayer. They found some women gathered there. Maybe the women were there washing cloths by the river. The mission team did not miss the opportunity to share the gospel with these women. We can imagine that Paul shared the gospel while Silas and Timothy were supporting him and the women were listening. It was a group Bible study by the river.

Verse 14 reads, “One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Lydia was a business woman, a purple cloth dealer. In those days, purple cloth was used by upper class. She must have had quite networks with upper class in the region. She was a worshiper of God. Probably she had accepted Judaism. Let us see how Lydia responded to Paul’s message. Lydia could have been occupied with business mindset, “How to make profit by selling purple cloth. How to deal with her customers, etc.” But she paid attention to Paul’s teaching. She listened carefully when Paul shared the gospel. Then the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

According to Romans 10:17, faith comes from hearing the message, the word about Christ. It makes us think about “What is my attitude in hearing the word of God?” While we have worship service online as we do today, no one can check what’s going on in your mind: whether you are listening to the message, or you are thinking about something else. When you read the Scripture, is your heart open to the word of God? 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Often studying the word of God together in a group or one-to-one with someone opens our eyes to understand deeper. That’s why we have one-to-one and group Bible studies. Last Wednesday, we had a group Bible study on Genesis chapter 40 led by Anna Kaye. Joseph was falsely accused and put in prison. There, he took care of other prison mates. He was a good shepherd in any situation. He also believed in God’s sovereignty. When the right time came, God raised him to be the governor of Egypt and used him in saving many lives. We were touched and inspired by studying the word of God together. Lydia in Philippi joined the Bible study with the mission team. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

Let us see how Lydia responded. Verse 15 reads, “When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” Lydia and the members of her household were the ones baptized first in Philippi. She was the first fruit in Macedonia. She invited the mission team to stay at her house. It seems that Lydia’s house was big enough to accommodate them. But it was not easy to do so. It meant providing rooms for them to sleep as well as meals to eat. What a great encouragement for the mission team!

In this way, Lydia’s house was the first house church in Philippi, in Macedonia, and in Europe. Her house was used for Bible studies, prayer meetings, and fellowship. Lydia’s house church was a good example for early church Christians. Later Apostle Paul mentioned Pricilla and Aquila in his greetings in Romans, “Greet Pricilla and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus. ...Greet also the church at their house” (Romans 16:3,5). This indicates that Pricilla and Aquila opened their house as a house church for the believers in Rome.

Late Dr. Samuel Lee inspired us to follow the footsteps of those who opened their houses as house churches. One of the mottos of our ministry is a house church ministry. We invite God’s people to our homes and have fellowship with delicious food, Bible studies, and prayer meetings. God blessed Frank and Wendy’s house church with two lovely sons, Joseph and Isaac. They sometimes invited us to have fellowship in their home. We pray for Anna Kaye and Matthew to establish a beautiful house church. Their wedding will be held in May this year. We also pray for Charles Jr. to establish a house church. We pray that God may raise 12 house churches among us.

One day the mission team went out to the place of prayer. They met a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She began to follow the mission team shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” (17). She followed them for many days. Paul became so annoyed rebuked the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” (18).

The female slave recognized that Paul and the mission team were the servants of the Most High God. What she did seems good for the mission them. Why do you think Paul was so annoyed and rebuked the spirit? The spirit in her was an unclean spirit. The spirit did not honor Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Recognizing Paul as a servant of God is different from honoring Jesus as Lord and Saviour. We have another example in Jesus’ ministry. When Jesus met a demon-possessed man, the demons recognized Jesus as the Son of the Most High. But Jesus rebuked the demons to come out of the man. Remember that recognizing Jesus as the Son of God does not mean salvation. Even demons and unclean spirits recognize who Jesus is. Believing in Jesus means believing that Jesus is my Saviour and Lord who died for my sins and rose from the dead. By faith in Jesus, we are saved and become the children of God.

At Paul’s command, the unclean spirit left the slave girl. Once the spirit left her, the girl was not able to predict the future anymore. Then the owners of the girl could not make more money through her. They seized Paul and Silas, and dragged them into the marketplace. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans...” (20-21). Paul and Silas were beaten and severely flogged. They were thrown into the inner cell of a prison. The jailor was warned to watch them with extra vigilance.

What did Paul and Silas do in prison? Verse 25 reads, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Paul and Silas could have wondered why this happened to them or despaired. But nothing could stop them from praying, praising, and preaching. A miracle happened that night. Verse 26 reads, “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” God intervened with his almighty power to release his servants. The jailor woke up and noticed the prison doors open. Prisoners’ escape could mean a capital punishment to the jailer for negligence in duty. The jailer tried to kill himself. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (28) Paul and Silas could have escaped the prison. But they took care of the trembling jailor as shepherds. The jailor recognized Paul and Silas as God’s servants and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (30) Verse 31 reads, “They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’”  They declared a simple and clear message, “Believe in the Lord Jesus!” Paul and Silas spoke the word of God to the jailor and all the members in his house. All of them were were baptized. The jailer served the mission them with a meal. He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. Not long before, the jailor was about to kill himself. Now he was filled with joy. That’s the power of the gospel.

The next day, there was an order from the magistrate to release Paul and Silas. How did Paul reply? Verse 37 reads, “But Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out’” (37). Paul and Silas could have taken the order and walked away quietly.

It seems that it was not necessary for Paul to argue with the officers. Why do you think Paul spoke up like this? Why not just shake the dust off from their feet and move on? Paul was a Roman citizen. At that time, Rome colonized the entire regions including Palestine. People in Roman colonies, who had political power or wealth could obtain Roman citizenship. Paul’s family might have been upper class among the Jewish diasporas in Tarsus and obtained Roman citizenship. Roman citizens had some privileges. They were not to be bitten or imprisoned unless their crimes were proven according to the Roman court system. If a Roman citizen was condemned with a death penalty, the accused one could appeal to the Roman Emperor. Why do you think Paul used his Roman citizenship here? He used this in advancing the gospel of Christ. In this way, he did not have to face unnecessary persecutions or mistreatments. Later, Paul used his citizenship to go to Rome with the vision of evangelizing the Empire and had intensive Bible studies in a rented house while waiting for the verdict (28:30). Paul was an expert in the Jewish law as a Pharisee. He later used this background to tell us the purpose and limitation of the law from the perspective the gospel in Christ. We learned that Moses received 40 years of wilderness training. Prior to this, Moses had high quality of education in the Egyptian palace. This palace education was a good foundation for his leadership and literacy. God used him to write the first 5 Books of the Scripture.

Our education and professional experience may be useful in advancing the gospel. I pursue Doctor of Ministry degree so that it may be useful in serving disciple making ministry among young people. We may wonder, “What’s the point of going through hardships in studying and getting degrees?” When you endure hardships and trainings to the end, God will use them in advancing the gospel and for his glory.

Young Disciple Christian Fellowship – RU