Songs in the Night... continuing in Philippians
To read part 1 click here-
We have said that the motto of Philippians is found in Philippians 1:121- "For me, to live is Christ," and the golden text of Philippians is found in Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say Rejoice."
I find much that applies to my own life as a Christian in the story of how the church of Philippi was founded.
Paul was called in an extraordinary manner to preach the gospel there. Paul and Silas had been traveling on a missionary journey and here we take up their story in Acts 16: 6-12, "Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia,having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.' After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district[a] of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days."
Paul and his companions are seeking God's leading and they respond to it.
I am impressed by Paul's obedience to God. He obeyed, and he obeyed promptly. "As soon as Paul had seen this vision he made every effort to get on to Macedonia." I can't help contrasting this with the response of the prophet Jonah when God spoke and told him to go preach to the people of Ninevah. Jonah bought a ticket on a ship headed in the opposite direction and God had to deal with Jonah's deliberate disobedience.
Paul is an example here of promt obedience. Does my heavenly father find me to be an obedient or a rebellious, procrastinating child? Usually we think of rebellion against God as being spiritual, but we can rebel on the physical level, the mental level, or the spiritual level.
As a I read here about Paul, I am reminded to directly seek God's will for every area of my life, and as he reveals it, may I immediately make every effort to promptly carry it out. God is leading and guiding every day, seeking and alert to the responsive.
We pick up our reading of Acts 16 at verse 13, "On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. 'If you consider me a believer in the Lord,' she said, 'come and stay at my house.' And she persuaded us."
Paul and his companions had been in Phillipi for some time, and up to now not much attention had been paid to them, but at this point the townspeople began to take notice of them.
Verses16-19 say, "Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, 'These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.' She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, 'In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!' At that moment the spirit left her. When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities."
This young lady was "actuated by an evil spirit." Commentators seem to agree that here Paul was meeting Satatnic opposition. Probably there were many such fortune tellers in the region, but this one was more popular and in demand than others, for where they brought some gain to their masters, she brought much gain.
Her witness concerning them was true and she continued in it for many days. At first Paul paid no attention to her, but undoubtedly it troubled him to see her used by Satan through her fortune telling to deceive people. It must have concerned him to hear good words coming from an evil mouth- the flattery of an unclean spirit, probably spoken in mockery. And at last he turned on her - by this he will show that they are servants of the living God - her silence will demonstrate it more than her speaking could do. "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out immediately.
An action had taken place - what would be the reaction? (vs 19-24)
"When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, 'These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.'
The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks."
So here we find Paul and Silas - God gave them a vision, revealed His will, gave His guidance. They obeyed immediately and totally. God had led the way, yet had they evangelized the city or won many to the Lord? No, they had made only one or two converts and ended up being beaten and thrown into prison!
At this point the human reaction would have been one of doubt. God, did you really mean for us to come to Phillipi? If so, why have you deserted us? We were trying our best to live within your will- surely we don't deserve this! Have you ever lived such an experience?
Paul and Silas' response to trials was far different, and it offers us a clear cut example of how to experience joy and victory as Christians whatever the circumstances. (vs. 25) "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them."
Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises. All the other prisoners observed their reaction. You may say - how was that possible? That wasn't a reasonable response to what had happened to them. I really don't understand this. I don't believe I can respond to the really difficult circumstances of my life with songs and praise.
Songs in the night are God's gift to the Christian who really knows the Lord and has some understanding of what he has promised to do in and through their life.
What is God's over-all plan for each of us?
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28
Just last week a friend said to me, "I can accept the verse that says 'In everything give thanks' better than I can live with the idea that all things work together for good."
I answered - Romans 8:29 tells us of the good that all things work together for. Do you know Romans 8:29? In the King James Version it reads, "The good that all things work together for is to make us like Christ." The more you get to know him personally, the more you glimpse what a grand design God has for you.
I believe the key to victorious Christian living, the key that makes it possible for God to work all things together for good in our lives, is the key of PRAISE.
Accept the gift of songs He sends in the night, as the one in Psalm 42:8: "By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life."
Back to Paul and Silas - they were human, they had a free will, they had a choice as to how they would react. Action had taken place - what would be their reaction? They had a choice and they chose to accept to sings songs in the night - songs of prayer and praise.
Praise for what we might ask? Praise that their backs were raw and bleeding? Praise that they were in prison and all the city authorities were against them? Praise that their feet were in stocks and they couldn't even move around their cell? Thanking God for that? From any human point of view, it makes no sense. It's foolishness, maybe even hypocrisy. Foolishness, that is, so long as we are looking at the human circumstances and not at God and their relationship with Him.
Paul admits to us that everything about Christ's cross or about the crosses you and I bear in His name is "foolishness" to the world. But he had learned that God allows us to have disappointments, frustrations, or even worse because He wants us to see that our joy is not in money or popularity or health or success; our joy is in the fact that we have a relationship with Him.
The scriptural basis for giving praise in all things is overwhelming.
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
this Paul and Silas chose to do, and God ordered the circumstances finally to their good and to His honor and glory! (You can read the rest of the amazing story in Acts 16:26-40.)
In this way, the church at Phillipi was grounded. The beginnings of this church were small; Lydia, the jailer and his family, and perhaps a few more. As far as we know, it was the purest and most faithful of all the New Testament churches.
This fall we will continue to study this letter of love that Paul wrote from a Roman prison ten years after the founding of this church. For Paul, Christ was the center, the heart of home!