- The Forum, Philippi, Macedonia
If, like me, you are wondering why we are reading from the Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Philippians on Christmas eve, explore with me the history of the epistle and the background story in Acts 16.
Paul is writing during his first imprisonment in Rome, unsure of his future but secure in his faith in Christ Jesus. It is a letter of thanks to the Philippian church who, after hearing of Paul’s imprisonment, sent Epaphroditus to Rome bearing necessary supplies to sustain the apostle during his imprisonment.
Who were these Philippian Christians and why were they so special to Paul? To find the answer we must look at Acts16. Here we find Paul in Philippi, the capital city of Macedonia, after having been called there in a dream. Here we meet three founding members of the Philippian church:
Lydia, a wealthy, skilled, and godly Asian woman whom Paull met outside the city gate, sitting with a prayer group of women and who, after accepting Jesus and being baptized, opened her house as a meeting place for the early Christians
A demonically controlled slave girl, who persisted in following Paul and Silas proclaiming loudly for several days “These men are servants of the Most High God which show us the way of salvation.” Irritated, by her constant proclamations, Paul delivers her from possession and greatly aggravates the girl’s masters who take the matter to the Magistrates. Paul and Silas are beaten with rods and cast into the innermost part of the jail, where they keep other prisoners awake singing songs at midnight and praising God until an earthquake occurs which wrecks the prison, opening its doors and unshackling the prisoners. who Paul dissuades from escaping.
Next, we meet the jailer. We are not given his name, but he was probably a retired Roman veteran. He knew well what his fate would if his prisoners escaped or came to harm. He was about to commit suicide when Paul intervened and called to him “Do thyself no harm. We are all here.” Terrified, he utters the words, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul’s answer “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. He takes Paul and Silas into his house, tends to their wounds and feeds them whilst listening to the “good news”. Paul and Silas are set free the next morning and after comforting warning and consoling the new church members they depart.
Thus, began the Church in Philippi. (See further historical notes about Philippi as a Roman Colony after the musical selection)
Now we must return Philippians 2: 5-11. Here we find the appropriateness of the reading on Christmas eve, for in the passage Paul encapsulates the whole gospel message telling how God so loved the world that laid aside his glory and became in fashion of a man, died on the cross, was raised to life again and highly exalted by God so that, at the Name of Jesus, every knee should bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father.
- Barb Edgcombe Green
Roman Colonies (adapted from Google)
Philippi attained the status of a Roman Colony. These Roman Colonies had begun by having a military significance. It was the custom of Rome to send out parties of veteran soldiers, who had served their time, and who had been granted citizenship, and to settle them in strategic road centers. The colonies were the focal points of the great Roman road systems They were founded to keep the peace, and to command the strategic centers in Rome’s far-flung Empire. Their original significance had been military, but in the later days the title of colony was given by the Roman government to any city which they wished to honor and to repay for faithful service.
The colonies had one great characteristic: their pride in their Roman citizenship. The Roman language was spoken; Roman dress was worn, and Roman customs were observed. Wherever they were located these colonies were stubbornly and unalterably Roman. They were miniature cities of Rome, and they never forgot it. We can hear the Roman pride breathing through the charge against Paul and Silas in Acts 16:20,21: These men are Jews, and they are trying to teach and to introduce laws and customs which it is not right for us to observe for we are Romans. Nowhere were men prouder of being Roman citizens than in these colonies. And such was Philippi.
"You are a colony of heaven." Paul wrote to the Philippian Church (3:20). Just as the Roman colonist never forgot in any environment that he was a Roman, so they must never forget in any society that they are Christians.