In Philippi Paul finds a group of women praying beside a river to whom he shares the good news. One of the women listening was Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. We are told that the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. It is always necessary for God to work regeneration in the heart before someone believes. Lydia and her household were baptized, and she then hosted the first gathering of believers in Europe in her home. It is worth noticing that Lydia had come from Asia where Paul had desired to preach but been prevented by the Spirit – his first convert in Europe is from the very place he had been prevented from speaking in. We lose nothing when God’s providence leads us elsewhere. Nor does God disregard our heart’s desires.
The next time Paul, Lydia and the other believers go to the place of prayer by the river they are met by a slave girl having a python-spirit by which she was able to do fortune telling. She was owned by people who made money from your spiritual abilities with the occult – one recalls Simon the Magi from Samaria. While her words are correct – these men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved – Paul is troubled that the proclamation about Jesus is being tied to this false spirituality. Consequently, he commands the python-spirit to go out of her.
As soon as that happens her owners realize their hope of making money had gone out. They then accuse Paul and Silas before the magistrates of advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice. This will be a regular feature of the opposition Paul faces around the Aegean Sea. There will always be an incompatibility between the secular world view and the kingdom world view. The world knows this, and it is a tragedy when Christians do not.
As had been the case with the apostles in Jerusalem, being beaten and imprisoned does not prevent joyful praise and the singing of hymns to God. What an incredible thought that the other prisoners were listening to them! Will the new Philippi Church immediately have a prison ministry?
Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose – an act of God no less than an angel of the Lord opening the prison doors for Peter and the apostles that the word might continue to be proclaimed. Expecting the prisoners to have escaped the jailer expects death. About to do the deed he is arrested by Paul and Silas, falling on his knees before the men hours earlier he had treated harshly but whom God had freed in response to their hours of singing praise, the jailer asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”. The equally famous reply: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.” Paul and Silas speak the word to him and to all the others in his house. He washes their wounds and they wash him in baptism. A middle-class Roman joins the Church in Philippi with joy.
Having been freed, Paul and Silas meet with the new Church at Philippi in Lydia’s house – a wealthy Asian woman, a poor Greek slave girl and a middle-class Roman – varying socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds but now one in Christ. A Church birthed by the river through the word, through suffering and through the power of Jesus.