Church Planting in Philippi (15:36-16:40)

Bible Passage: Acts 15:36-16:40

Here we have the start of the second missionary journey and this time the team has changed. Paul is no longer travelling with Barnabas following an argument about whether to take John Mark along (Barnabas was proved right to think the best of him in the end) and so Paul took Silas and Timothy with him and went west. Over the coming chapters we see the team looking to plant churches into different Greek cities, starting with Philippi.

The Call of God: The reason why Paul went to Philippi was through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He had tried to go into Asia and Bithynia to minister, but in both cases felt like the Spirit was saying ‘no’ so didn’t go. In contrast, going to Macedonia was not Paul’s own idea but was prompted by a vision in the night of a man from Macedonia calling for help. It is not wrong to have plans and respond to needs in front of us, but Paul shows how important it is to hold those plans lightly and be ready to respond to the leading of the Spirit in situations where he says ‘no’ and in situations where he says ‘go’.

Opportunistic Mission: The chapter tells the stories of some of the people who Paul and his team led to Christ in Philippi. First there was Lydia, and this came about through an encounter by the river on the sabbath (a space where god-fearing people went to pray). The second was an unnamed slave who had a spirit of divination and had been following the team around. Her conversion happened through a work of power as Paul cast out the demon from her. The third was an unnamed jailer along with his family, and this came about when Paul stayed behind during a jailbreak to prevent the jailer being killing himself. These stories are very different and show different aspects of evangelism. It is important for us to think strategically (like Paul going to the river), to pray powerfully (like Paul did for the servant girl), to seize opportunities presented to us (like Paul did with the jailer) and to share with those close to us (like the jailer did with his household).

A Diverse Church: It is striking to note how different the people who formed the core of this church are from each other. Lydia (who was the host and likely one of the leaders) was a person of-means. She had a house large enough to serve as a base of operations for the church and ran a business. The fact that she is called a head of household makes it likely she was widowed and so was probably middle-aged or older. The slave girl was at the opposite end of the social scale, and was young and vulnerable. The jailer was a man in a working class profession, better off than the slave girl but less well-off than Lydia. Because the households of Lydia and the jailer were also saved this would have brought in others, including children and more servants. This community brought together people of all different backgrounds who had little else in common, and displayed a range of gender, age and social class – just as the church should.

Potential Applications:

  • Spend some time listening together to the Holy Spirit. Is there places he is putting on your hearts to church plant (or places that you sense he is closing the door to)?
  • Challenge people to think about their own evangelism. Are there elements of what we see in this passage that they are confident in? What areas do you feel prompted to grow in?
  • Reflect on the challenges of diversity in the church. How much of this do you see in your church, and what can be done to strengthen the unity of people from different walks of life?