Philippians Day Two
September 16, 2020, 5:00 AM

Lydia
Philippians 1:6-8

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.
It is right for me to feel this way about you all,
because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,
both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

In his splendid little book (weighing in at just over ninety pages long), “Philippi: How Christianity Began in Europe: The Epistle to the Philippians and the Excavations at Philippi,” Eduard Verhoef walks through the first four centuries in the life of the Church at Philippi. He analyzes the archeological ruins— the inscriptions left behind, the extant records of the names of past city officials; recovered family lists; ancient accounts and the New Testament’s record. During the ministry of Paul and Timothy, he estimates 33 charter members around the year 60 A.D. The colony then saw steady growth through the centuries, but not as much as you might imagine: 58 members by the end of the first century; 233 members by the year 200; and 945 members by the beginning of the fourth century in 300 A.D. (See Verhoef, pp.23-24). When the fourth century dawns with Constantine the Great’s Edict of Toleration (311 A.D.), Christianity begins to come out of the catacombs and secret house church gatherings. Subsequently, three basilicas were built within the ancient ruins of Philippi, indicating there was a healthy representation of Christians in Philippi going into the fourth century onward.

The Philippians were not a rich, well-to-do church. Mostly Gentile freed people and locals amid lots of retired Roman soldiers and officials, coupled with Roman pride. Likely, this is why Paul utilizes some military, athletic and citizenship imagery to communicate the Gospel in this place, e.g. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (3:13-14). But the overall impression we get from both the Acts and the epistle, is that these poorer, lowlier residents take to the Gospel, and love Paul and his team. Paul can say from the heart, “I hold you in my heart,” and “How I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Let me take the rest of this entry to describe one of those dear ones whom he befriended in Philippi.

In the late first century, there was evidently no significant Jewish presence in Philippi. Acts 16:12-13 says that when Paul, Timothy and Luke arrive in Philippi during their second missionary journey, they “remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we [note Dr. Luke using the first person plural here] supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.” They evidently found no synagogue in Philippi on the Sabbath. They had to go outside the gates of the city to find a place of prayer. This would be quite the Providential excursion.

The team likely exited the western gate of the city via the Egnatian Road that ran through the heart of the city. It must have been named “Main Street,” but I don’t think any street signs from the first century have been recovered yet… Tongue firmly in cheek here. About a mile northwest, they find a group of women praying by the Zygakti River – really a creek. Luke continues (16:14), “One of the women who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God.” This language means these women are Gentile God-fearers. They were sympathetic with Judaism— but not fully converted. (For men, that would require circumcision.) What comes next is extraordinary! “The Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul[!]” God enabled Lydia and her friends to hear salvation. The Word was heard. If God doesn’t initiate, people remain dead. Just pause a moment to let that sink in. Dead people can’t hear spiritually, much less make spiritual decisions. This is why I will sometimes introduce the Scripture readings by adding a clarifying phrase to “Listen to the Word of God” with this – “and listen for the Word of God.” Without the enlivening Spirit, The Word is just literature. Dead people don’t do Jesus. This is why Revelation says “Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power…” (Rev. 20:6). The "first resurrection" is the spiritual resurrection Lydia experienced at the Zygakti River that Sabbath morning! In this significant spiritual awakening, not only was God birthing the Church of Philippi, but this woman would hereafter be known as the first convert to Christ on the continent of Europe.

Amazing! Out of 10,000 Roman soldiers and Roman elites stationed in the city, God chooses a lowly Gentile woman, and a group of women to be the first converts. Isn’t that just like our God? To favor those who wouldn’t normally be favored in that society. Kind of reminds me of the angels appearing to the Shepherds first “on a cold winter’s night that was so deep” in Bethlehem; or Jesus appearing first to Mary Magdalene and the other women at the Garden Tomb.

I do find it also intriguing that the area in which Paul found these women praying is now a modern town named after Lydia. Lydia (the town) is a thriving community today. There is a chapel adjoining the Zygakti River there to mark the spot of the paradigm shifting encounter, the Baptistry of St. Lydia. Right behind the chapel, there is even a modern hotel, named after Lydia, of course... She did provide Paul and company a place to stay after the baptism. However, paradoxically, ironically, the former great and mighty Roman colony of Philippi just to the east of Lydia, is today an uninhabited ghost town of ruins. That’s God’s economy! The mighty are brought low; and the humble are exalted.

In the pictures above, the acropolis of Philippi behind the chapel, to the east. Also, the baptistry of the chapel.

The baptismal site on the Zygakti River. As you can see, quite an arrangement for baptismal services!

The story concludes with this: “After [Lydia] was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying (16:15), ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ And she prevailed upon us.” Based upon her belief in and profession of Jesus, her family follows her in baptism. There’s much here for Baptists and Presbyterians to discuss. Hmmm. This is one of five household baptisms we find in the Acts. There will be yet another household baptism recorded here in Philippi with the Jailer and his family.

The Gospel is off and running in Europe in a most unusual, unorthodox manner. We can be thankful to the Acts account of this beginning in Philippi— A window to life in Philippi.


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