THE GREEK CITY Philippi became the home of the first Christian congregation in Europe when the Apostle Paul and his companions visited on his second missionary journey. The account is in Acts 16:11–40.
The missionaries arrived in the city mid- week. It was Paul’s practice to attend the Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath to preach the Gospel. But it seems there wasn’t a synagogue in Philippi, probably because there weren’t enough Jews there. So Paul and his companions headed for a spot on the river nearby where they had heard that people gathered for prayer. There they found a group of women, and sat to talk with them.
This might seem unremarkable to us, but remember this was the First Century. Respectable Jewish men did not talk in public to women, it would be seen as demeaning. But Paul was not a man of his time—as far as he was concerned, when it came to preaching the Gospel, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female’ (Galatians 3:28). And so we’re introduced to Lydia:
One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 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 (Acts 16:14–15).
Worshipper of God
Thyatira was a city in what is now Turkey, which was famous for production of a high- quality purple dye which was extracted from a marine mollusc and was in demand throughout the Roman empire. Lydia was obviously successful and wealthy, and it’s been suggested that she was in charge of the Philippian branch of the dyers’ trade guild. She was ‘a worshipper of God’. She was probably not a Jewess, but had come to know the God of Israel and chosen Him over the futile gods of her homeland.
‘The Lord opened her heart.’ She had come to know the Jewish Bible and to love the Jewish God, and now this new preacher was explaining how God had revealed Himself and brought salvation to the world by His Son Jesus Christ. It all made sense, and she embraced Paul’s teaching.
‘Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ’ (Romans 10:17). That is the way we come to believe the Gospel. First we must read the Bible, and maybe have it explained to us. But it’s quite possible to hear the Gospel message, and to appreciate its compelling logic, and yet remain untouched by it. Lydia was not just intellectually interested in her religion— she had a receptive heart, and the Lord opened it.
Everything slotted into place. She knew this was truth. Possibly that same day, possibly after some further discussion, she was baptised—not alone, but her household as well! Maybe she had family, certainly she would have servants, and such was her fervour that they joined her in committing their lives to the Lord.
Then she urged the missionaries: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” What a beautiful invitation. She was determined that everything she had must be put at the service of the Lord Jesus Christ, and she would consider it an honour to show hospitality to her new brothers. The believer’s life inevitably involves sacrifice and commitment, it involves giving up time and resources in service. What a difference it makes when that service is seen as an honour and a privilege.
Lydia was not the kind of person who would take no for an answer. She ‘prevailed upon’ them. And so her home became the base of the congregation of believers as it grew in the city. Acts 16 goes on to relate the adventures of Paul and his companions as they preached. Eventually they were obliged to leave the city by the magistrates. ‘So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed’ (Acts 16:40).
The Gospel Grows
The congregation in Philippi was born and developed in the face of opposition and hostility from the locals and the authorities. It often seemed to be the case that congregations which had to struggle were healthier than those which had an easy existence. The Philippians appear to have had a special place in the affection of Paul. Later he wrote to them the Letter to the Philippians which we have in our Bible. It is a warm and joyful letter—which cannot be said for all his letters. In it he is concerned to encourage his brothers and sisters in the difficulties which they were still facing (Philippians 1:27– 29 ). Among other things he thanks them for the extraordinarily generous financial support which they have given him during his travels (4:10–20)—we can imagine that Lydia had a key role in this. Unlike some other letters, there is very little correction or rebuke. But there is one small issue which Paul wants to address:
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have laboured side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (Philippians 4:2–3).
Congregations of believers are families. As in all families, there are occasionally tensions and difficulties. It seems as though in Philippi there were two ‘sisters in Christ’ who found themselves clashing with each other. Euodia in Greek means ‘sweet fragrance’; Syntyche means ‘fortunate’. It could be that these are the actual names of the two women, but it is suggested that Paul is probably using false names so as not to embarrass them when the letter is read out. If this is the case, it’s not hard to imagine that Lydia is one of them. She was a strong-minded woman who was used to things being done her way, and perhaps found it difficult to accommodate another with other ideas.
See how Paul addresses the problem. Elsewhere in his letters, when there are problems of serious misbehaviour or wrong teaching, he tackles them robustly. But here are two faithful women who are finding it hard to get along. He appeals to a mutually trusted third party (whom he addresses as ‘true companion’) to help them to talk, and he entreats them with the utmost gentleness: ‘Agree in the Lord’. This is not a trite instruction—he is giving them the key to resolving their differences.
Jesus said, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:12–13). This is the reason why believers should love one another, care for one another, forgive one another and live in harmony—they are showing in some small way to each other the love that has been shown to them by their Lord.
The Family in Philippi
We’ve seen the story of one member of the Philippian church. Each of the members had their own story, wouldn’t it be lovely to know them all! Together they had a special place in Paul’s affection:
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 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 1:3–6).