Life in the ecclesia at Philippi

Notes from the bible class of Chris Peel

Bible time

  • Philippi
    Philippi city center.jpg
    Ruins of the centre of the Greek city northwest of the nearby island, Thasos. The forum in the foreground, the market and the Basilica in the background.

    was described by the Greek historian Appian as the gate between Europe and Asia. New mission territory for Paul and Silas. Roman Colony, of course, and this was the most significant influence on the lives of everyone that lived there, including those who became disciples

  • Read of the two occasions Paul visited Philippi: Acts 16:6-40 & 20:5-6
  • Now think about how Philippi being a Roman colony would have effected the people we know, Lydia, the jailor, Paul and Silas and Luke (paper & pens). With the chapter we have read open in front of you consider the following research I’ve done into life in the colony. It is just an exercise.
  • The Romans divided the population into citizens and strangers. An Italian was a citizen; an inhabitant of any other part of the empire was a peregrinus, a stranger. But a colony was Rome transferred to another country. In some instances, existing inhabitants were expelled; in others, settlers were added to the existing population. In some instances a place received the status of colony without receiving any new citizens at all. Often both the existing population and the immigrants had the same privileges, including exemption from taxes, the ability to vote, freedom from arrest, except in extreme cases, exemption from scourging, and the right of appeal from the magistrate to the emperor. But not always and not in Philippi.
  • The colony extended much further than the town, in fact it covered 700 sq miles.
  • In Philippi former soldiers were given allotments of land on discharge from the army and settled permanently in the colony. They had the rights as Romans citizens, but such privileges were not afforded to the indigenous Greek population. In fact, land had been confiscated from Greek people and given to Romans.
  • However, even non-Roman citizens would have benefitted from their town / area being a colony. The income of the local population would have been elevated due to additional money coming into the region with opportunities for trades, expanding markets – which attracted merchants not just from other parts of Greece but all over the world. There were greater facilities, better transport links, drainage and sanitation. And there was always the possibility of obtaining Roman citizenship, a high prize, indeed if you could afford it or, in rare instances have it bestowed.
  • That was possible if you were free person, but the majority of the population were slaves. If you were a slave not only were you at the mercy of the state, but of your master. You had no rights whatsoever, not even of your religious beliefs.
  • Philippi was an administrative centre, so many people who we would refer to as civil servants lived and worked there. According to one web site I looked at a common term then was Caesar’s household – but could not find confirmation of his.
  • gold mine within vicinity and a mint established
  • The reminders of the imperial power were everywhere, though. The actors in the theatre are known to have spoken Latin. The coins had Latin inscriptions. Roman symbols would have emblazoned public buildings, with soldiers patrolling them. Roman Gods and Goddesses were worshiped on the street corners.
  • The town had a garrison of course, there were also temples to Artemis / Diana, thriving market, medical school, public library, a theatre. forum and the mint.
  • What it didn’t have was a building that acted as a synagogue. Possibly specific discrimination against Jews since they were expelled from Rome and so were unwelcome in the colonies too.
  • Lydia from Thyatira in Asia Minor
  • Although Luke is not mentioned by name in these passages it is clear that he joins Paul for the journey from Troas to Philippi.
  • Chapter 6: 8 says “So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas” but v 10 “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia”
  • I wonder if Paul chose to take Luke with him because he knew that part of Greece, Philippi particularly. Perhaps the city’s school of medicine is where Luke learned to be a doctor.
  • By the time we get to the end of the chapter Luke is no longer travelling with the group: v 40 “So they… entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.”
  • Turning to chap 20, we read in v 3 “when the Jews plotted against Paul as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.” and then v 5 ‘These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas.But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread.”
  • So, Paul picks up Luke when he travels through Philippi. Now this is 6 years later, so I imagine the ecclesia at Philippi benefitted from Luke’s knowledge and understanding of the gospel for those important early years.
  • Turning to the letter written to the disciples of this town…
  • Paul wrote his letter to Philippi in Greek, and most names in the letter are Greek Epaphroditus (my fellow soldier), Timothy, Euodia and Syntyche,. How would Philippian Greeks of Paul’s day have felt about the Roman colony? And how would Roman Christians – those with citizenship and the privileges it bestowed – get on with their Greek brothers and sisters? The slaves with the free?
  • Paul is back in prison, and there had been no miraculous release – Chap 1: 12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.
  • Thessalonians 2:1-2: “For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain. But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi” –
  • Philippians 1 ‘For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.’
  • So, life in the early church in Philippi included being spitefully treated, maybe especially if you were a Greek and not a Roman citizen.
  • Was the difference between Roman and Greek citizenship the reason for emphasising in chapter 2 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”
  • read Chapter 3
  • Reason Paul emphasises Jewish roots and status not his Roman citizenship?
  • seek a greater citizenship – that of heaven.
  • wealth used in the service of God:
  • 4:15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; 16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. 17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
  • ‘My God will meet all your needs’. There were some in Philippi who had only their needs met and no more, others who had more besides, and we might feel we have less than we deserve if we compare ourselves to others. let us learn the lesson Paul taught our brothers and sisters:
  • 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.

Chris Peel

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