Biblical Places Spiritual Spaces - Philippi

It was an exciting time for the disciples of Jesus. A church had been planted in Antioch, the third largest city in the Roman Empire, in a very organic manner by followers of Jesus from Cyprus and Cyrene (modern day Libya) who had been scattered from Jerusalem because of the persecution associated with Stephen. When this news reached the disciples in Jerusalem, the disciples sent Barnabas, to Antioch, probably to see if help was needed. But why Barnabas?

We first met Barnabas in Acts Chapter 4, right before the story of Ananias and Sapphira.

34 There was no poverty among them, because people who owned land or houses sold them 35 and brought the money to the apostles to give to others in need.

36 For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means “Son of Encouragement”). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. 37 He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles for those in need.                                Acts 4:34-36

 Luke wants us to know that Joseph / Barnabas is:

  • A man who is known for his supernatural gift of encouragement;
  • He is from the tribe of Levi, who are schooled from birth in all the rituals of Temple worship;
  • And that he is originally from the island of Cyprus.

All three of these pieces of information now come into play in the narrative.

Having coffee in the Old City of Jerusalem

Craig, Michael, Flint and Luke - 2006

Imagine for a moment that you are with the group of Jesus’ disciples who are sitting around sharing their morning coffee in Jerusalem when a friend arrives and tells them the news of what is happening in Antioch.  Peter, James, John and others then begin asking questions, and discover that it is their disciples Fred and Barney from Cyprus who are heading the move of God in that city.

“Just a minute.  Barnabas, aren’t these guys your friends?” they ask.

“Yes, we went to synagogue school together. We fished a lot as well.”

“Well,” Peter says, “We learned a lot about how Greek and Romans think when we were with Cornelius those days in Caesarea, so why don’t you go visit your friends, and see what is going on. They might need a little encouragement.”

“Okay Peter.  I’d love to go catch up with Fred and Barney.  They left town so suddenly that I really didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I’m glad to hear that God is using them. I’ll leave next week.”

Now this is all hypothetical, but very probable that a conversation like this took place. Here is what Luke records in acts 11:

22 When the church at Jerusalem heard what had happened, they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. 24 Barnabas was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and strong in faith. And many people were brought to the Lord.
25 Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch. Both of them stayed there with the church for a full year, teaching large crowds of people. (It was at Antioch that the believers were first called Christians.) Acts 11:22-26

Barnabas does arrive in Antioch, and sees his friends, who catch him up on what God is doing.  As he spends time with these new formerly pagans but still pig-eating gentiles, he realizes that they need some solid teaching to counter their habitual thinking.  These new Christians are excited about Jesus, but still living in the manner that they are accustomed, just as they were living before they received Christ: Living with their girlfriend, drinking to excess, smoking weed, stealing from their employer, disregarding the feelings of those around them, wearing inappropriate clothing, using foul language etc.etc.

You know, the things we all used to do. 

Barnabas had “sudden inspiration”.  God gave him an answer to his prayers:

25 Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to find Saul. 26 When he found him, he brought him back to Antioch.


Pomegranates on Mt Carmel 

Sudden inspiration is a sign of the activity of the Holy Spirit.  When we are asking God for guidance in His Plan for Our Day, He drops things into our spirits that appear to come out of left field, but are really the answer we need to accomplish the goal that He has set, and for an aspect of the plan that we may be even unaware of. Barnabas had the answer to his question how he was going to disciple these Greek and Romans.  He suddenly remembered Saul.  And he knew that he had to go find him.

But why Saul? How are these two connected?

Once again, it is from a relationship that we see got started in Acts 9.

26 When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They thought he was only pretending to be a believer! 27 Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus. Barnabas also told them what the Lord had said to Saul and how he boldly preached in the name of Jesus in Damascus. 28 Then the apostles accepted Saul, and after that he was constantly with them in Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He debated with some Greek-speaking Jews, but they plotted to murder him. 30 When the believers heard about it, however, they took him to Caesarea and sent him on to his hometown of Tarsus.                                         Acts 11:26-30

Barnabas befriended Saul a few years earlier when the former Christian Killer returned to Jerusalem after his Damascus Road Experience proclaiming, “Jesus IS Lord”! Why would Barnabas do such a thing?  It was probably another ‘sudden inspiration’ from the Holy Spirit.  Now the Bible teacher and the worship leader are serving in this Greco-Roman congregation- the very first of its kind.

Eventually Barnabas and Saul were numbered among the leaders of the Antioch church, (Acts 13:1) and the Holy Spirit directed them to thier first missionary trip- to Cyprus and then to the Galatia region of central Asia Minor (Modern day Turkey), where they successfully planted a number of congregations. They took along Barnabas’ nephew John Mark, but when they arrived in Pamphylia, he decided to return home.

It was the first step in a broader outreach to this part of the Roman world. Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, and spent some time there before deciding that it was time for a second mission trip to revisit these same cities to equip and encourage the Christians there.

God often has disregard for our plans. Indeed, the Bible says

      The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9


 You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail. Proverbs 19:21 NLT

 God does want us to make plans. He gives us wisdom, and He allows us access to His mind through our prayers. He speaks directly to us through His Word and audible voice.

But I have often found that my plans fall very short of God’s vision for the moment. His plans for my life have always been bigger that my own. It has taken me years, but I have discovered when my plans fall to the ground, usually God has something much better in mind.

The disciples at Antioch were about to learn this very valuable principle of ministry.

36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 41 Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there. Acts 15:36-41

Paul makes a plan for him and Barnabas to go on the second mission trip, to revisit the new believers in each of the places they went before. Barnabas wants to again invite his nephew Mark to be part of the team, but Paul “disagrees strongly”. The result was a split in the team, and Paul chose a recent arrival from Jerusalem (Acts 15:27-34), a prophet named Silas, to be his ministry partner.

Now there are two teams on the road, something neither Paul nor Barnabas considered before. In addition, the spiritual giftings of Silas, as well as his Roman citizenship, will come in very handy down the road.

Flowers, Mt Arbel

Paul went first Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. Timothy was well thought of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium, so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek. Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day. Acts 16:1-5

Does it seem unusual that after the Council in Jerusalem where Gentiles were told that they didn’t have to be circumcised, that Paul arranged for Timothy to undergo that painful procedure? Paul’s focus was on ministry, especially to his own Jewish people. He wanted nothing to negatively affect that. Paul also knew that having a young disciple along would be an excellent opportunity to train another missionary. Timothy was now entering into his life calling. He would experientially learn how to be effective in cross cultural ministry and develop the disciplines that would make him effective in being a minister of the Gospel. Paul reminded Timothy of this principle in his second letter:

You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. 2 Timothy 2:2

Principle: Always be on the lookout for that young person whom God will bring into your life who will benefit from your life and ministry experiences and be equipped for their own.

 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there. Acts 16:6-10

 At Troas Paul had a dream of a man requesting that they come over to Europe and begin a work there. Perhaps Paul never considered that he would be the one to bring the Gospel to the continent where Christianity took root and became the strongest missionary-sending culture in history. We also notice the pronoun “we”. Luke is now part of the Paul/Silas/Timothy mission team. What follows is an eyewitness account of the incredible launch of ministry in Europe.

 Principle: Often God’s plans are much bigger than our own.

 11 We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. 12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.


Neapolis is now called Kabala, and it is a picturesque fishing town with a beautiful harbor. We had lunch at a café at the harbor with our study tour group, and Lisa got so excited when she saw the big fish in the cooler.

Laura, Rachel & Randy enjoying lunch at Kabala Harbor.

Lisa and the waiter get excited!

The waiter was very excited to have such an opportunity, and meticulously served this fish to Lisa, Jeff, Tony and Denise. We were all surprised when they calculated the bill. That meal cost $134!

Neopolis is where the Via Ignatia begins. It is a Roman road that goes all the way to Rome. You can still walk on the paving stones. The Romans built their road ‘to last forever’.

The Via Ignatia

 There is a prayer that many Jewish men, especially the Pharisees, began their day. It went something like this:

“Lord, thank you for not making me a woman, a slave, nor a gentile.”  Saul the Pharisee probable uttered those words often in is Christian persecution days. This prayer would come to life for Saul/Paul in what came next.

 13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.                                              Acts 16:11-16


The Lydia Stream at Philippi- Dottie Smith photo

We had some moments for meditation

It was a custom among Jews that if there were not enough men for a synagogue (10 was usually the minimum), then any Jews living in a community would meet for prayer at the nearest steam, lake, or river. The mission team joined a group of ladies and began to share. God ‘opened’ the heart of Lydia, and she understood her need for a savior, saw the beauty of God’s plan for her salvation, the compassion of God for her life, received Jesus as her Lord.

Lydia was from Thyatira, a city on modern Turkey famous for red and purple dyes.

Thyatira, from the air, taken by the drone of our guide Tanner in 2021.


The ancient city of Thyatria is surrounded by a modern downtown 

Her business in purple cloth, used by the wealthy, obviously was very profitable. Her acceptance of Jesus as her Lord was genuine, and she placed her resources at the disposal of her King by providing the team with hospitality.

 Principle: It is a good practice that as we begin our day of ministry at the Rio Coco Café or anywhere, we ask God to open the hearts of those we encounter. He is the only one who has that ability.

 Lydia insisted that the Mission Team stay with her and enjoy her hospitality. This is a sign of genuine faith that we should look for in any who profess Jesus as their Lord- they become givers rather than just consumers. Now the team has their base in Philippi and continue the ministry. All is apparently going well until one day something unexpected happens.


Philippi - Dottie Smith photo

The Philippian Forum

The Philippian Amphitheater

16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.

19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. 21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”

 The Team is being harassed by a slave fortune teller. She is in bondage to the controlling spirit, as well as her master. In modern terms, perhaps think “drug addicted human trafficked prostitute”. Paul is either irritated by the manner that the spirit controlling the girl speaking through her, or he had compassion on the trafficked girl and her situation, or both. He commands the spirit to leave her and it does!  She has had a dramatic encounter with the power of God. Now she is free from that oppression and is useless to her masters. Perhaps now even her economic situation changed. In any case her masters are enraged and move against Paul and Silas.

 22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.


Philippian Jail  - Dottie Smith photo

Paul and Silas are beaten and bloody and suffer further by having their feet clamped in uncomfortable bindings. These men are Roman citizens, and what just happen is a not allowed under Roman law! They cannot be punished without due process. Yet instead of complaining they do the opposite.

 25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”

 The jailer is probably a retired Roman centurion. These government jobs were given to retired legionaries. He is an honorable man, who knows that Roman law has placed the responsibility of these prisoners in his hands, and if any escape, he will pay for it with his life. Rather than await a long public judicial trial and execution, he decided to that his own life and spare his family the humiliation. With this earthquake and the open doors, he is sure that some of the prisoners have escaped. Imagine his surprise when Paul cries out “Don’t kill yourself. We are all here.”

Perhaps these are the jailer’s thoughts: “Why would these prisoners whom we have beaten and tortured not want to escape, but instead have decided to save my life by remaining in the jail? Who are these men?”

Something that Paul and Silas did caused the jailer to have a sudden change of heart.

 29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God. Acts 16:16-34

 Paul and Silas were praying and singing worship songs to the Lord when a massive earthquake occurred. It makes you wonder what these two were praying for. Perhaps Silas the prophet had received a word from the Lord that there would be a massive earthquake, and that they would be freed. Perhaps he proclaimed this word out loud, so that all the prisoners and the jailer could hear. The crucial moment for the jailer was when discovering the prison doors were open, that not one prisoner had attempted to escape. Paul and Silas seem to be responsible for that. The hardened combat veteran who had undoubtedly taken many lives in his career in the Legions suddenly was awestruck by the concern that these strangers had for his life. After Paul and Silas explained to ‘his household’ what it means to be a follower of Jesus, they were all baptized.

 The ministry in Philippi really took off as a result of an experience wasn’t on the Mission Teams’s schedule. I was in the ancient city of Philippi a few years ago, standing in the ruins of a Fifth Century church. I marveled at how this prison experience resulted in a church that lasted at least 500 years and spread throughout the rest of Europe, eventually to North America, then to Hawaii, and finally to me.



35 The next morning the city officials sent the police to tell the jailer, “Let those men go!” 36 So the jailer told Paul, “The city officials have said you and Silas are free to leave. Go in peace.”

37 But Paul replied, “They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison—and we are Roman citizens. So now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!”

38 When the police reported this, the city officials were alarmed to learn that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came to the jail and apologized to them. Then they brought them out and begged them to leave the city. 40 When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town. Acts 16:35-40

 There were huge advantages to having Roman citizenship. The city officials had to apologize to Silas and Paul, and escort them out of the prison. It was decided that the former prisoners would proceed on the journey, while Timothy and Luke stayed behind with Lydia, the jailer and his family, and the rest of the new believers.  Now there were two teams, one evangelizing, and the other helping the Philippians learn what it means to follow Christ.

Imagine sitting in the home of Lydia in a gathering to worship the Lord Jesus. Sitting on one side is a slave girl and on the other a Roman jailer and his family. Lydia is a wealthy merchant, selling only expensive fabric to the elite of society. The former Roman legionnaire is now working with criminals in a filthy prison. The slave girl does chores for her master, who can order her to do anything he wants. From the top of Roman society to the bottom, from impoverished to the wealthy, men and women, all are meeting together! This was unheard of in Roman and Greek society.

 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.     Galatians 3:28                                         

 Although the Christian Church has been accused of being an exclusive club, the reality is it has been the most inclusive organization in all human history. We are not tied to any particular geographical area or culture. Buddhists are mostly centered in Asia, as are Hindus and Confucionists. Muslims are centered in the Middle East. Christians started in the Middle East, spread to the entire Mediterranean, then to Northern Europe, then North and South America, and now Africa and Australia. There are currently more Christians in Africa and Latin America than in Europe and North America.

 Principle: The Body of Christ has been the most inclusive movement in world history. People at all levels of society, regardless of race or ethnicity, have been welcomed.

 Let’s understand the varying methods that the Holy spirit reached these three different individuals.

  • Lydia was convinced by hearing the Word.
  • The slave girl experienced a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit.
  • The jailer was stirred not by words, or an encounter with God, but by what the disciples did.

The Holy Spirit knows what is needed for the people in each situation that we find ourselves in. We must be flexible in our own methods of presenting the Gospel. Sometimes we will meet Lydias, whom God has opened their hearts to hear and understand God’s heart toward them. They will respond to our words to them. Others who are in deep bondage will often ignore words but will respond to an encounter with God’s presence and power through our prayers for them at that moment. Still others are insensitive to God’s Word, or even his Presence, but are watching what we disciples do. Are we servants of those around us? Do we think of others before our own needs. Paul and Silas had the need to get out of that jail, but saw the jailer had a greater need- his life. They chose to serve him, rather than themselves. Service to others is often the open door for the Gospel in the lives of many.

 The Paul/Silas/Timothy/Luke Mission Team had an unexpected adventure in Philippi.

 Adventure: a risky undertaking; a remarkable experience.

 This adventure has resulted in the salvation of all of us. Yes risky, but remarkable. Let’s live out our own adventure that God has designed for us.

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