Friday, February 23, 2018
Paul’s ministry in Philippi began with a prayer meeting of women beside the river outside of town. Here’s how it happened:
Acts 16:11-15 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.
With the salvation of a woman named Lydia, the first church in Europe was born. God’s grace made it possible for Lydia to understand the Gospel as it was preached by Paul. As a result of her salvation, her whole household was saved and baptized, and Paul was invited to take up residence at her home and use it as his base camp for further ministry. Daily, Paul was going to the place of prayer by the river and by now it had become a well-known meeting place for those interested in spiritual things.
Whenever God’s work is growing, Satan is going to attack. As Paul and the Christian people were on their way to church one day a girl who was possessed by an evil spirit followed them. (You can read the story in Acts 16, starting in verse 16.) She was shouting, under the influence of a demon, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
At first glance this doesn’t appear to be a bad thing. In fact, it seems to be a confirmation of Paul’s ministry. But that is the deceptive nature of Satan’s influence. He wants us to base our opinion of God on other people’s opinion of God. Paul recognized that if the new converts to Christianity used the statements of the girl as the basis for their faith, then Satan could easily sway their faith with false statements later. Satan wants us to look to human authority as our basis for belief rather than to God alone.
Paul handles the problem with the authority of Jesus Christ and expels the demon from the girl. In doing so, Paul made it very clear that it was not his human power that accomplished this, but the Name of Jesus Christ. Jesus is to be the foundation of all our faith and activity.
This truth is vital in this present age, when people’s opinions and experiences are exalted to the place of truth and given equal authority with the Word of God. Our society has become a collection of people who need the support and approval of others to take a stand on what they believe. They are deceived into believing that truth is relative, and they justify their position by seeking out people who support their beliefs. In their hearts they know their position is weak because they seek out the strength of numbers. They dare not take a stand alone for fear that their position will be proven untenable.
To the majority of people, the Word of God no longer stands as the final authority of absolute truth. It has been replaced by human opinion and experience, all motivated by people’s desired personal benefits. The day has come when those who stand for Christ, like Paul, must turn to the people of the world and proclaim the authority of the Name of Jesus.
We who stand on the authority of God’s Word can stand alone if necessary, because we know we are never alone. Our position is secure because our hope is not in the world’s response to our position but in Christ alone. We have no fear of the temporary suffering brought against us by an unbelieving world, because we are filled with the expectation of overwhelming joy in the presence of Jesus Christ. We can stand against all the attacks of a satanically controlled world because we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). We do not fear the appearance of defeat because we know we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:37), and our faith is the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).
There is one more thing to notice about this story. It happened while they were on their way to the place of prayer. The eternal principle is this – without prayer there is no power. The church in Philippi was able to withstand tremendous persecution and remain joyful because they were people of prayer.
That truth has not changed. Prayer is the fertile soil into which the joy of the Lord is planted and brings forth a bountiful harvest. Prayer is the greenhouse in which the fruit of joy is produced regardless of the storms outside. Prayer is absolutely essential to the discernment of evil and the stand for truth.
Make prayer a planned part of your day, and joy will be the product all day.