Planting the Church at Philippi
We talk about planting churches. Really, that is not quite right. We plant churches in that we evaluate gifting, desire, engage process, plan and execute. But in reality, Jesus said he would build his church.
So, whatever we do in church planting is really our realizing what Jesus is doing as we seek to obey him. As we make disciples through going, baptizing, and teaching Jesus is building his church. We are simply releasing on earth what Jesus has released in heaven. (This does not defy good processes and plans. This truth is what makes good processes and plans succeed.)
One realization had this week in studying our passage, and it’s one I fear that has not been made as much of as it should have been, is that God is leading the advance of the gospel in every way.
Our text will bear this out.
I would like to lead into our study this morning with a lengthy quote from one of my favorite books of all time called, “Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions.”
In response to Albert Einstein’s skeptical approach to the church and preachers, Charles Misner, commented that Einstein had witness the amazingness of the universe and its grandeur and the one’s claiming to speak on behalf of this God seemingly lacked any real passion, fear, awe for that God.
Piper, in the chapter titled “The Supremacy of God in Missions Through Worship” responds by talking about how we distract from the grandeur and majesty of God when we get caught up in trying to serve him rather than marvel at him. Losing awe by getting caught up serving God rather than worshiping him is a deadly trap. We obey and join him in his work. We don’t add to that work something he can’t bring. We are not co-equal work partners. That’s what I mean when I say “get caught up in serving God rather than worshiping God.”
Listen to Piper’s remedy:
“Scientists know that light travels at the speed of 5.87 trillion miles a year. They also know that the galaxy of which our solar system is a part is about 100,00 light years in diameter – about 587,000 trillion miles. It is one of about a million such galaxies in the optical range of our most powerful telescopes. It has been estimated that in our galaxy there are more than 200 billion stars. The sun is one of them, a modest star burning at about 6,000 degrees centigrade on the surface and traveling in orbit at 135 miles per second, which means it will take about 250 million years to complete a revolution around the galaxy. Scientist know these things and are awed by them. And they say, “If there is a personal God, as the Christians say, who spoke this universe into being, then there is a certain respect and reverence and wonder and dread that would have to come through when we talk about him and when we worship him.”
We who believe the Bible know this even better than the scientists because we have heard something even more amazing: Isaiah 40:25-26 (ESV) “To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One. 26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power not one is missing.”
Every one of the billions of stars in the universe is there by God’s specific appointment. He knows their number. And most astonishing of all, he knows them by name. They do his bidding as his personal agents. When we feel the weight of this grandeur in the heavens, we have only touched the hem of his garment. “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him!” (Job 26:14). That is why we cry, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!” (Ps. 57:5). God is the absolute reality that everyone in the universe must come to terms with. Everything depends utterly on his will. All other realities compare to him like a rain drop compares to the ocean or like an anthill compares to Mount Everest. To ignore him or belittle him is unintelligible and suicidal folly. How shall one ever be the emissary of this great God who has not trembled before him with joyful wonder?”
What I hope we take away from this text today is not another strategy but a wonder and awe at the God who knows stars by name, calls them to do his bidding and loves us and directs our steps in triumphal procession for his glory and our joy.
Let’s take a look, with that in mind, at Acts 16:11-40.
What do we see? What does it mean?
Jesus, King of all, leads the work 16:11-12
The one who created the universe and knows each star by name, is leading his ambassadors!
- This same trip in chapter 20:6 is going to take them 5 days. Here they make the trip is 2 days. Why? “We made a direct voyage” is a nautical term that means they sailed straight. Why? They had the winds at their back.
God had clearly opened their door for them to go to Europe to the region of Macedonia, and he even provided a friendly wind to get them there.
What do we do with this?
- When God opens doors, he makes ways and means. You don’t have to push. You just have to obey. Therefore, look for divine ways and means.
- Be in awe at how he leads us. Be absolutely taken by how Master and King Jesus leads.
- Stop to worship and give thanks in public.
Jesus takes the gospel of the kingdom to a new continent: Philippi 16:11-12
The gospel breaks into a completely new territory that will set the stage for the next 2,000 years of history that will shape western civilization. That’s kind of big.
- Jesus sent them to the region, Macedonia, which would lead to the kingdom invading Europe.
- Paul and his team, once led to the region Jesus wanted them in, chose Philippi perhaps because of its strategic purpose as a city.
“Philippi was a Roman colony, which meant that it was a “Rome away from Rome.” The emperor organized “colonies” by ordering Roman citizens, especially retired military people, to live in selected places so there would be strong pro-Roman cities in these strategic areas. Though living on foreign soil, the citizens were expected to be loyal to Rome, to obey the laws of Rome, and to give honor to the Roman emperor. In return, they were given certain political privileges, not the least of which was exemption from taxes. This was their reward for leaving their homes in Italy and relocating elsewhere.”
- Divinely opened doors preceded strategy.
What do we do with this?
- Look for opened doors of service before devising strategic ways to open doors yourself.
Jesus’ strategy is better than the one we can devise.
Be patient. Pray for direction.
- Once Jesus opens doors, by all means, think on how to maximize your work.
Strategy is not first, but strategy is important and we can and should work at making ourselves and the work more effective.
Illustration: TRC was originally going to be planted in Cartersville at an area called “Hamilton Crossing”. It’s where Jeff and Lindsey Williams live. However, the Lord shut all doors for Cartersville. The Lord opened up doors for Rome. Once he did that it was then our task to be wise and strategic about how to go forward where the Lord made a way.
Jesus even leads the evangelism and makes it effective: Lydia 16:13-15
- The team targets an area where those religiously motivated would gather. v. 13
- The team “spoke” to those who were gathered. v. 13
- The Lord opens Lydia’s heart to pay attention. (Active voice because it’s an action attributed to the Lord not Lydia) v. 14
Open – to make open; to cause to see what was not seen.
Heart – in the bible, the seat of emotions, will, desire…
Pay attention – literally “to” “have”. To pay attention. Nautically, to hold a ship in a direction.
- The opening of the heart and paying attention is Lydia’s salvation. v. 14
- Lydia’s whole cohort is saved. v. 15
A great portion of salvations in the bible are communal not individual. Even the individual ones are affirmed in and even are processed in community not alone.
- Lydia and her group is baptized, therefore, going public with their faith in Jesus. v. 15
- Lydia begins Christian fellowship in community immediately upon salvation. v. 15
Lydia is the one hosting this church plant.
What do we do with this?
- Be constantly on mission as led of the Spirit, looking for those who have religious leanings who need to know the gospel and be offered an opportunity to repent and believe.
- Be constantly the Lord’s instrument every moment (Hudson Taylor’s spiritual secret).
Enter every scenario with the intent to hear and obey the Lord right then and there.
- Trust Holy Spirit to regenerate. You can’t make anyone believe.
- You have to learn to recognize when the Lord opens someone’s heart to understand.
They will usually ask sincere questions.
They will usually have a sense of “life” that emanates from them. The “lights come on.”
They will actually ask “what do I need to do?”
- Help people go public with their faith in Jesus immediately. Discipleship begins instantly. Disciples begin telling their story immediately.
- Be in community and be ready to fold new disciples into community. Community was one of the first acts Lydia did as a follower of Jesus.
- Women, some of you would make good church planters! Lydia is a business woman with obvious organizational gifts and influence. Some of you are likewise gifted.
Jesus delivers those held captive by the enemy as the kingdom takes new territory 16:16-18
- Demonizing is real and the team encounters a demon oppressed girl that is being taken advantage of for financial gain. v. 16
- Even the demon can’t help but be overwhelmed by the kingdom as it proclaims the truth through this girl. v. 17
- This constant “truth telling” by the demon is also annoying. v. 18
- Paul takes authority over this demon and commands it to leave, and it has to obey. v. 18
Matthew 10:1; 28:18
What do we do with this?
- Believe spiritual warfare is real and expect spiritual confrontation.
- Learn to recognize spiritual warfare in context.
John 8:44 – Satan is the father of lies. It’s his native language. Is the atmosphere charged by lies explicit or implicit?
2 Corinthians 11:14 – Satan disguises as an angel of light (context of false teachers). Are the thoughts and ideas being believed and taught biblical or cultural? (Colossians 2:8)
2 Corinthians 2:11 – Satan seeks to outwit us (context of forgiving a repentant person and not contributing to excessive grief).
- Lean on those who have the gift of discerning spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10). This comes inside of community as we live in the kingdom together at deeper levels other than RL groups but is the result of community forged through RL groups.
- Take authority over the demonic.
When persecution happens, know that Jesus is still leading 16:19-24
- Satan does not go quietly. His human minions who have been taking advantage of a girl’s demonization have lost their income and all hell breaks loose. v. 19
- These slave owners make false accusations and incite the beating of and false imprisonment of Roman citizens. v. 20-21
What do we do with this?
- Expect the enemy to hit back with unjust circumstances and false accusations.
- Take Job to heart! God can allow bad things through evil people and still make those bad things done by evil people work for your good and his glory.
“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace. Behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.” – William Cowper
“He is not poor nor much enticed who loses everything but Christ. It won’t be long before the rod becomes the tender kiss of God.” – John Piper
“Pain insists on being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Jesus uses prison to grow the church and set the record straight 16:25-40
- Paul and Silas respond to the injustice and false imprisonment with a prayer meeting and hymn sing. v. 25
- God is able to deliver his people from the circumstances they find themselves in. v. 26
Notice Paul and Silas don’t take the loosened bonds as an opportunity to escape the legal process. Rather, they remain and trust the Lord to use their integrity to do what he would see fit.
- God is able to save our captors/persecutors/enemies and make them our family in the faith. v. 27-34
- God sets the record straight using the laws of the Roman Empire to defend his ambassadors. v. 35-39
- Paul and Silas get one last meeting with the church. v. 40
What do we do with this?
- Don’t dismiss out of hand difficult circumstances as worship/ministry opportunities.
- We don’t have to break laws or escape to the shadows to have effective ministry. In fact, working “in the light” rather than “under cover” puts the gospel in the public square where it belongs.
- Expect God to save the hardest of the hard.
- Trust God to work out our situations as we submit to authority, pray, worship, and serve.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
 John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 37-38.
 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 467.
 C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2001), 83.