Pastor David B. Curtis


The Sovereign Birth of a Church - Intro to Philippians

Acts 16:6-34

Delivered 05/03/1998

We are starting a new study this morning in the book of Philippians. I would ask that you prepare each week by reading ahead and doing some studying and praying over the text. Then after the message, I would ask that you would be a faithful "Berean" and search the Scriptures to make sure that what I am saying is so. Then I would ask that you apply the truths that you learn to your life.

Philippians has been called the "Epistle of Joy." This should make it very practical to our lives since we all would like to have joy. In our day, the search for tranquility is on in a big way. In order to get peace of mind, Americans are swallowing tons of tranquilizers. In addition to the drugs, there are thousands of books telling us how to have tranquility.

I remember hearing Bill Gothard tell the story of a survey that he gave when he was in high school. He asked the other students what they wanted out of life. The top three answers were; love, joy, peace. How about you, do you want love, joy and peace in your life? Isn't it interesting that the world is looking for the very things that God promises to those who love Him?

This little epistle of Philippians with its 104 verses pictures a man who has tremendous joy. He has unearthed life's most cherished treasure. He is a man who's life is characterized by joy.

Philippians 4:4-6 (NKJV) Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
Philippians 4:10-13 (NKJV) But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

This man who has learned life's greatest secret was a prisoner in Rome, facing the possibility of death by execution. Yet, in the midst of very bad circumstances, he has joy. Joy is mentioned 16 times in these 104 verses. Jesus Christ is mentioned 47 times, not counting personal pronouns. Paul's joy was found in Christ. Paul's relationship to Christ brought him joy.

The world views joy or happiness as an attitude of satisfaction or delight based upon some present circumstance. Now, you don't have to be a brain surgeon to figure out that if your joy or happiness is related to circumstances that you're going to spend a lot of time without joy or happiness.

Biblical joy or happiness is not related to circumstances at all. Joy is a deep down confidence that all is well, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what the difficulty, no matter what the problem and that is very different from the joy or happiness that the world finds apart from God.

Joy or happiness, to be understood in a biblical sense, must be understood to be related to God's sovereignty.

Joy was a distinguishing characteristic of Paul. Why? He was preoccupied with Christ and His sovereignty. He knew God was in control!

Why do so many Christians today lack joy or happiness? God wants us to be happy, he wants us to have joy. Jesus said in John 10:10 " I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly."

John 15:11 (NKJV) "These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

One reason that so many believers lack joy is SIN. For some strange reason, they think that they can live in sin and have God's blessing. They think they can find joy and happiness when living in disobedience to God, and it just won't happen. When David repented of his sin he prayed:

Psalms 51:12 (NKJV) Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

A second reason why many Christians have no joy is misplaced confidence. We put our confidence in the wrong things, and this robs our joy.

Philippians 3:1-3 (NKJV) Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. 2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh,

The opposite of rejoicing in the Lord is to put your confidence in the flesh. Too often we place our confidence in our flesh instead of in the Lord.

Luke 10:17-20 (NKJV) Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." 18 And He said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 "Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. 20 "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven."

We are not to rejoice in what we can do, but in who we are -- God's children. This is the foundation of our joy, our names are written in heaven. This is the doctrine of election. We are to rejoice because God has chosen us in eternity past to be His children. Our names are written in heaven, that should give us joy no matter what our circumstances are.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 (NKJV) But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,

The word "beginning" is the Greek word arche, which is the same word used in:

John 1:1 (NKJV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.

As long as God existed, which is forever, He had chosen us to be His children. He chose us in eternity past and will never change His mind. That is security, and that is something to rejoice in.

I would like for us to go to Acts 16, and look at the sovereign birth and background of this church in Philippi. In Acts 16, we also see Paul's unshakeable joy in action, and God's sovereignty; in salvation, and in suffering.

Acts 16:6 (NKJV) Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.

The "they" here is Paul, Silas, and Timothy. This is Paul's second missionary journey. This took place around A.D. 50-53. They were forbidden to preach the word in Asia. Doesn't that sound strange to you? These guys were missionaries.

Acts 16: 7-10 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Notice the change from the "they" in verse 6 to the "we" in verse 10. Luke has now joined the team. The Spirit was guiding them directly. God told them, "Don't go that way." God sovereignly called Christianity to Europe. This experience of revelation is not the norm in the Church today. You are not going to get a Macedonian call. In the transition period, from Pentecost to the second coming in AD 70, God worked in the church through miraculous gifts and spoke to His prophets. Revelation -- God unveiling Himself, making Himself known. Paul received direct revelation. Inspiration -- The Holy Spirit making secure that revelation which was known. This was done through the writing of the Word of God. Revelation was God unavailing Himself, and inspiration was God securing it in the canon of Scripture. Revelation and inspiration are closed. God is not giving revelation today. If he did, it would be on par with the Scripture and binding on your life. Illumination -- God making Himself understood through the writings. God speaks to us today through His word.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The Scripture is all we need.

Acts 16:11-12 (NKJV) Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days.

Philippi was about 10 miles inland. It was founded in 368 B.C. by Philip , father of Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great was very instrumental in having the known world at that time speaking Greek. As he conquered, he made his subjects speak Greek. Philip had founded Philippi because there was no more strategic site in all Europe. There is a range of hills which divides Europe from Asia, east from west, and just at Philippi that chain of hills dips into a pass so that the city commanded the road from Europe to Asia, since the road must go through the pass.

Philippi had rich gold and silver mines which Philip used to finance his military campaign. Philip said, "No fortress is impregnable to whose walls an ass laden with gold can be driven." Proverbs puts it this way:

Proverbs 18:16 (NKJV) A man's gift makes room for him, And brings him before great men.

The gold mines were eventually depleted and the town died out. The subsequent enlargement of the city resulted from the important event which occurred here in 42 B.C.

Near Philippi was fought the battle in 42 B.C. which resulted in the victory of Antony and Octavian (the future Emperor Augutus ) over Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar. (It is from Shakespear's references to this battle in Julius Caesar that the undying misquotation, "We shall meet at Philippi", is taken.) After the battle, the victors settled a number of their veterans at Philippi and made it a Roman colony.

It was the custom of Rome to send out parties of veteran soldiers, who had served their time and been granted citizenship, to settle in strategic road centers. Usually these parties consisted of three hundred veterans with their wives and children. These colonies were the focal points of the great Roman road systems which were so engineered that reinforcements could speedily be sent from one colony to another. The Roman roads were incredible. They were cement foundations with huge blocks put on top of them. They were well maintained and ran for miles and miles. They connected all these colonies together. These cities were founded to keep the peace and to command the strategic centers in Rome's far-flung Empire. At first they had been founded in Italy; but soon they were scattered throughout the whole Empire, as the Empire grew. In later days, the title of colony was given by the government to any city which it wished to honor for faithful service.

Wherever they were, these colonies were little fragments of Rome and their pride in their Roman citizenship was their dominating characteristic. The Roman language was spoken; Roman dress was worn; Roman customs were observed; their magistrates had Roman titles; and carried out the same ceremonies as were carried out in Rome itself. They were stubbornly and unalterably Roman and would never have dreamt of becoming assimilated to the people amidst whom they were set. Philippi was a miniature Rome

The distinctive prerogatives of a colony were;

1. Autonomous government. 2. Immunity from tribute and taxation. 3. Treatment as if they actually lived in Italy.

It was a strategic place for a Christian Church as travelers passing back and forth would come in contact with the gospel, and if converted, would carry it to their ultimate destination.

What did these missionaries do when they got into the city? They most likely got jobs to support themselves and then they began to look for ministry opportunities.

Acts 16:13 (NKJV) And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.

There was no synagogue in Philippi. Ten men were needed to start a synagogue. So, obviously, Philippi had a very small Jewish population. Paul's custom was to first go to the synagogue, "to the Jew first." When there was no synagogue in a town, the Jews would gather by a river for prayer.

Paul receives this great Macedonian vision-- God had called him to Europe and he gets to Philippi and ends up meeting with a bunch of women at a river. Most preachers I know would have lost their joy right here. But Paul wasn't in it for the numbers, he was happy to preach the gospel to whom ever would listen.

Acts 16:14 (NKJV) Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.

At this river gathering, was Lydia, her home town was Thyatira, a city in Asia Minor. The Spirit directed Paul away from Asia because Lydia was not there at the time she was in Europe. Lydia was an Asian but she was now living in Europe. She had a house and a business in Philippi.

Lydia was a seller of purple -- she was a business woman, probably a widow. The place of her birth was located in the heart of the region of the purple garment industry. Such garments were expensive. The purple dye was derived from the shellfish in the waters of Thyatira, and the throat of each shellfish produced only one drop of dye.

Since Philippi was a Roman colony, it was naturally an excellent market for purple garments. Romans loved the royal color. With it they trimmed togas and tunics, and wove it into their rugs and tapestries.

Our text says that Lydia "worshiped God" -- the Greek phrase denotes a Gentile who had become a proselyte of the Gate. It says of Lydia that she "heard us" -- Paul preached Jesus Christ the fulfillment of the Old Testament types. Paul preached Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.

Now please notice carefully what it says about Lydia's heart, "whose heart the Lord opened" -- this is the doctrine of Sovereign Election. It doesn't say that Lydia opened her own heart. You might be wondering about:

Revelation 3:20 (NKJV) "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

Does this teach that God knocks on our heart's door and waits for us to open it? No! This verse is not talking about salvation, but fellowship. Lydia didn't open her heart, God did.

It doesn't say that Paul's preaching opened Lydia's heart. It says, "The Lord opened it." Salvation is a sovereign act of God. Notice who it is that believes the gospel.

Acts 13:47-48 (NKJV) "For so the Lord has commanded us: 'I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'" 48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Those who God had appointed to eternal life, believed. Until God does a work in our lives, we cannot believe.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV) But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

According to Scripture, the natural man is the man without the Spirit.

Jude 1:19 (NKJV) These are sensual persons, who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.

The word "sensual" is the same Greek word as "natural" in 1 Corinthians 2:14. The natural man, the man without the Spirit, is incapable of understanding the gospel. The natural man can no more receive the gospel than you could receive a radio station without a receiver. Salvation is of the Lord and until God opens a person's heart, they cannot believe.

Ephesians 2:1 (NKJV) And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,

Until God gives you life, you cannot respond to the gospel. Dead men do not respond to anything.

Man today will allow God to be sovereign everywhere except over their will. When it comes to the will, man thinks he's sovereign.

I was sharing this doctrine of God's sovereign election with a friend, and he said to me, "That sounds like heresy to say that God is sovereign over man's will." I responded, "As a matter of fact, it is your position that the church has regarded as heresy." In the fifth century, the Council of Ephesus condemned Pelagius's views of man's free will and upheld Augustin's view of irresistible grace.

In the seventeenth century, the Council of Dort condemned the five points of Arminianism and held to the position that salvation is of the Lord. In the eighteenth century, a man named John Campbell, a Scottish preacher, began to preach that man could choose God of his own free will. Scotland threw him out of the church and declared him a heretic.

We are infiltrated today by humanism. The majority of believers now hold to what the historic church has always condemned.

John 1:12-13 (NKJV) But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Man is not born again by an act of "the will of the flesh," but of God. The evidence of the new birth is faith:

1 John 5:1 (NKJV) Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.

The word "is" is in the perfect tense - has been. The one who believes that Jesus is the Christ does so because he has been born of God.

Acts 16:15 (NKJV) And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." So she persuaded us.

As an outward evidence of her conversion, Lydia was baptized. So we see very clearly that God is sovereign in salvation.

Acts 16:16-18 (NKJV) Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation." 18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And he came out that very hour.

A female fortune teller who was possessed by an evil spirit follows them yelling. This must have brought some attention. Paul commands the evil spirit to come out of the girl. Paul had the spiritual gift of miracles or power. This was the supernatural ability to cast out demons. As the early church came to full maturity in A.D. 70, these supernatural gifts ceased. See "The Perfect has Come."

Why did Paul cast the demon out? Wasn't it good advertisement for him? What she was saying was true. But Paul didn't want any connection between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of God. Just as we wouldn't want Hugh Hefner doing commercials for our church.

Acts 16:19 (NKJV) But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

What is the real bottom line issue here? Money!

Acts 19:23-27 (NKJV) And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. 24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. 25 He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: "Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. 26 "Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. 27 "So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship."

The issue was Paul was costing them money. I think we face this same situation today in the abortion issue. Abortionist are making big money.

Acts 16:20-21 (NKJV) And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, "These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 "and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe."

Notice that they view Paul as a Jew. The early church was viewed as part of Judaism by the Romans. These men are being hypocrites, the issue here was not religion or politics but money.

Acts 16:22-24 (NKJV) Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Because of their proclamation of the gospel, Paul and Silas were beaten with a bundle of rods. They would strip them and beat their back, sides, and legs. The Jews would limit such a beating to 39 hits but the Romans had no limit. They beat them as long as they wanted.

After their beating they were placed in the inner prison-- this would be a cell with no window, no light, no fresh air, and no bathroom. In this inner prison they placed them in stocks- they would stretch their legs as far apart as they could and then lock them in the stocks and then chain their wrist to the wall.

Let's pause here and put ourselves in their sandals. How would you respond in this situation? Have you ever come even close to what these men experienced? They had been beaten, they were bleeding and in great pain, put in stocks in a stinking dark prison. They weren't suffering because they did something wrong. They were doing exactly what God wanted them to do, as verses 6-10 make clear. They were living obedient lives and they were suffering. This is undeserved suffering. They were suffering for righteousness sake.

How did they respond? No doubts, no questions, no complaints -- they trusted God. They knew that God was sovereign even in their suffering. I'm sure they knew the story of Joseph and how God works all things together for the good of those who love Him.

Genesis 50:20 (NKJV) "But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

They trusted that God would work this out for good. Their attitude of trust and confidence of God's control is demonstrated in their actions.

Acts 16:25 (NKJV) But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

We can understand them praying. We would be praying, "God why did you let this happen to me, God why don't you do something?" Or, "God, judge these pagans for their sin." They weren't praying imprecatory prayers -- God wipe them out. They were praying and singing. How could they be singing at a time like this? What could they possibly sing about? This is a demonstration of JOY in adversity. Their joy was unaffected by their circumstances. Paul didn't just talk about joy, he experienced it. It says, "And the prisoners were listening to them -- what a testimony! The word "listening" is the Greek word epakroaomai, it means to listen intently. The people who heard them singing knew what had just happened to these men. And here they are singing about God. These folks were listening to every word they were saying.

Acts 16:26-30 (NKJV) Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here." 29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

This was a maximum security prison. The worst criminals in Philippi must have been there. Notice verse 28 -- "do thyself no harm" -- there is no bitterness in Paul toward those who hurt him. In the midst of his pain, Paul is concerned with others. Just think about how concerned you are about others when you are in pain.

Look at the jailor's question in verse 30. How did he know to ask that question? Maybe he had heard the slave girl or maybe he heard Paul preach, surely he had heard him sing. If you saw two men go through what Paul and Silas did and then heard them singing, wouldn't you listen to what they were singing? The hymns they sang would have most likely contained the gospel. Their songs would have been filled with solid biblical theology.

What did they sing? Well obviously we don't know, but the early church had hymns they circulated among the people, devoted almost exclusively to extolling the person and work of Christ. We know of a few of these hymns, they are:

Colossians 1:15-20 (NKJV) He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, 20 and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
1 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV) And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Preached among the Gentiles, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.

Another one of these hymns is:

Philippians 2:6-11 (NKJV) who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This passage was most likely not used as a hymn until after Paul wrote it but it gives you an example of what they sang about. They sang of Christ and His glory.

Acts 16:31 (NKJV) So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household."

This is a well known verse. We are saved by faith and faith alone. Believing is understanding and assent to the propositions of the gospel. Trust in Christ and Him alone and you will be saved.

Acts 16:34 (NKJV) Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

Why does God allow Christians to suffer when they don't deserve it? So God may be glorified as we trust in Him.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NKJV) And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

God's glory shines through our weakness. Notice Paul's attitude:

2 Timothy 2:10 (NKJV) Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

God's glory is on display when we rejoice in the midst of suffering.

This is the church to whom Paul writes the letter of Philippians. A wealthy business woman, Lydia, and her household; possibly a slave girl; a Roman jailor and his household; and all who have come to faith in Christ since he left.

As Paul writes this letter he is in jail again, yet his joy in Christ is not diminished. Paul knew joy and he tells the church at Philippi to rejoice!

Philippians 4:4 (NKJV) Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!

People will fail you, plans with fail you, possessions will fail you, but it doesn't need to touch your joy. Christ will never fail you and he's always in control.

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