Paul never did things quietly. It’s been said wherever Paul went he either started a riot or a revival and sometimes both. Philippi was no exception.
Paul’s usual first step on arriving in a new town was to preach in the synagogue. Philippi apparently didn’t have a synagogue, but Paul did find a small group of women worshiping by the river on the Sabbath day. One of these women was Lydia, a seller of purple from Thyatira. Acts calls her a “worshiper of God”–a term often used to describe Gentiles who had embraced the God of Israel but who had not formally converted to Judaism. She was wealthy. Purple cloth was expensive to produce, and Lydia’s home was large enough to host Paul and his team during their stay in Philippi. She listened to Paul as he spoke, and Lydia became the first convert in Macedonia.
Paul’s next convert came from the opposite end of the social spectrum. As Paul and his group went to the place of prayer, they met a young slave girl who was possessed by a demon. Because this demon allowed the girl to tell the future, she made a great deal of money for her masters. The girl began to follow along behind Paul, loudly crying out that he and his team were servants of the Most High God. This went on for days until Paul finally turned and cast the demon out of her. The girls’ masters were angry when they saw that their cash flow had dried up, and they dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities. The city officials had Paul and Silas flogged and thrown into jail without a trial. The jailer put them in the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Around midnight that night Paul and Silas were singing and praising God, and all the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake. All the prison doors flew open and the prisoners’ chains fell off. Believing that all the prisoners had escaped, the jailer drew his sword to kill himself. Paul cried out for him to stop. None of the prisoners had fled. The jailer begged Paul to tell him how to be saved, Paul shared the gospel, and the jailer and his family were baptized that very night. The next day the magistrates came to release Paul and became fearful after Paul informed them that he was a Roman citizen. The city leaders apologized and begged Paul to leave the city. Paul made a quick stop at Lydia’s house and did as they had asked.
And so this was the nucleus of the church at Philippi: a wealthy Gentile woman, a formerly demon-possessed slave girl, and a Roman jailer. They had nothing in common except Christ, and yet the church birthed out of these humble beginnings became one the most faithful supporters of Paul’s ministry. Businesswoman. Jailer. Slave. How did Paul address them in his letters? He called them saints:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:1-2)
That phrase the NIV translates as “God’s holy people” is rendered in many other translations as “saints.” It’s the same meaning. Saints. The set-apart ones. Those belonging to God. Those whom God has declared holy; those whom God has claimed as his own by the blood of Jesus. Those fledgling saints at Philippi were not identified by the deeds of their past but by a destiny determined by the God they served in the present. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). They old had passed away and the new had come. They weren’t sinners, they weren’t rejects, they weren’t has-beens. They were saints.
Isn’t it good news that the same is true of us? We are saints. In Christ, our past no longer defines us. We have a divine destiny determined by the great God who claimed us and bought us for his own. We are made new. We share in Christ’s holiness and are set apart for God’s kingdom purposes. And though we may sometimes look at one another and think all we have in common is Jesus, He is enough to unite us. He always has been.
Today, sister, remember who you are. Chosen. Beloved. Made new. Let the labels of the past fall behind you and claim the name Christ has given you: His.
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