A Church Is Born

A CHURCH IS BORN

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all God’s people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Philippians 1:1.

Today we embark on a journey through another of Paul’s letters, this time one with a completely different tone and motive from his letter to the Galatians. The people of the Galatian church had been influenced by the Judaizers to believe that they needed to become Jews by adhering to all the Jewish laws and customs before they could become followers of Jesus. Paul had to write a very strong letter to them straighten up their understanding of the gospel.

His letter to the Philippian church, by contrast, was a happy one, prompted by deep love for the people in Philippi who were the first on European soil to believe in Jesus.  They had been generous to Paul, sending him financial help on more than occasion. He wrote to thank them and to encourage them in their faith despite the odds stacked against them in the Roman Empire. Paul himself was a prisoner in Rome at that moment, having been sent from Jerusalem for trial before Caesar.

Paul was evangelising in Asia Minor on his second missionary journey when he had a vision. He was in Troas, having been prevented from travelling north by the Holy Spirit. In his vision he saw a man from Macedonia, a province in Greece, calling him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Assuming that it was God’s Spirit speaking to him, he responded immediately and set sail into a new region.

His first convert in Macedonia was a wealthy Greek woman, Lydia, who lived in Philippi. She and some other women who believed in God, met for prayer beside a river outside the city. Paul and his travelling companion, Silas, joined them and Paul grabbed the opportunity to tell them about Jesus. Lydia’s heart was moved by the Holy Spirit. She believed in Jesus and was baptised. She offered her home to the travellers and they remained with her during their stay in Philippi.

Philippi was also the place of unexpected miracles. Paul and Silas were detained for releasing a slave girl from bondage to a demon. The resultant uproar stirred up by the slave girl’s owners who had just lost their source of income because Paul had evicted the demon who used the girl to tell fortunes, landed Paul and Silas in the city jail, fastened in the stocks and brutally mutilated by a whipping.

In their pain and discomfort they could not sleep. Instead of complaining about the injustice they were suffering, they began to sing. An unexpected earthquake rocked the prison, burst open the doors and set all the prisoners free. The outcome was another miracle. The jailer took the two men home, washed and cleaned them up, treated their wounds, fed them and listened with astonishment to the gospel. He and his whole family believed and were baptised there and then, adding another whole family to the infant church in Europe.

They were released from prison the next morning, and escorted from jail by the very magistrates who had sentenced them, having been informed by Paul that they had mistreated Roman citizens. Thus began the strong relationship that Paul had with the church in Philippi. Lydia’s house became the centre of the fellowship there.

Paul gives us a small insight into the leadership of the church. He mentions overseers (elders) and deacons. These were not so much offices as functions. There seems to have been a plurality of elders – a wise safeguard against dictatorship which can so easily creep into the church. There was also a group of people who served, called deacons. We can glean the function of a deacon from Acts 6 where men were chosen to serve food to the widows in the church in Jerusalem.

There was no pomp and ceremony in the early church. Everyone was equal, even those who led and those who served. Their leaders were servant-leaders, carrying a great responsibility to ensure that the people were guided by the word of God and were walking in the truth. According to Peter, the role of the elders was to give themselves to the study of the word and to prayer. It was their task to understand and interpret Jesus’ yoke according to His disposition and to bind it on the people, loosing them from every other yoke that brought them into, or kept them in bondage.

How far the church in many quarters has wandered from its original pattern. It is up to us to return to the simplicity of Jesus’ call, “Come, follow me!”

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Luella Campbell


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