Thursday, 12 June 2008

Greece Trip (9): Philippi: Not Really A Homogeneous Ekklesia - Part 5

After Paul and Silas were released from prison, they went to Lydia's house, "where they met with the believers and encouraged them." (Acts 17:40) After this, Paul and his companions left Philippi and travelled to Thessalonica.

The mosaic flooring testifies to the first assembly hall, most likely established after the Edict of Milan in 313 CE, and dedicated to the memory of St Paul: Bishop Porphyrios made the embroidery of Paul's basilica in Christ

By the time Paul left Philippi, a rather vibrant ekklesia had been established and met in Lydia's house. Who were the "believers" (Acts 17:40) in this ekkelsia? We know that according to the narrative in Acts, they include Lydia and her household (Acts 16:15) and the jailer and his household (Acts 16:34). We can only conjecture that the other women who gathered with Lydia by the river (Acts 16:13) and the slave girl delivered from the spirit of Python (Acts 16:16-18) would most likely join this group of believers as well. By the time Paul left Philippi, the first ekklesia established in Macedonia would number approximately 15-20.

If we take a look at the composition of the believers in Philippi, this fledgling church is anything but homogeneous. People from various social status and standing form this church, and it cuts across the social structure of the day. From the rich (e.g., Lydia) to the poor (e.g., the slave girl), they worship the Lord together.

Basilica B - built in the 6th century CE.

One distintive character of the church in Philippi stands out. While Lydia most likely provides hospitality and financial support for the church and Paul, the church at large is generally poor. Yet despite their material poverty, this church gives generously for Paul's missionary work and the Jerusalem church.

Several times the Philippian church provides for Paul and his missionary activities. The church regularly contributes financially to Paul when he was in Thessalonica (Phil 4:16). When Paul was in the Roman imprisonment (traditionally believed, although this has been disputed), the church once again provides for Paul's material needs (Phil 4:10, 14, 17-18). After receiving these gifts from the church, Paul immediately writes a letter of thanksgiving to them for their partnership in the gospel. It is because of the generous giving that the Philippian church sends through Epaphroditus to Paul that we now have in our possession the Letter to the Philippians.


The Philippian church also partners with Paul for his collection project for the church in Jerusalem, as recorded in 2 Corinthians 8:1-4:

"And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches (the Philippian church included). Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints."

This is a church that looks beyond its four walls. Predominantly a Gentile church (see my previous post on why there is no synagogue in Philippi), this church contributes to the Jerusalem church, a predominantly Jewish community, to demonstrate her solidarity with those in need, regardless of ethnic, social, and cultural boundaries.

Listen to the words of Paul once again:

"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; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; 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. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:15-19

The Philippian church serves as a model for the Corinthian church (cf. 2 Corinthians 8-9). It is a church that gives generously out of its poverty, a church that knows the meaning of "partnership (κοινωνία) in the gospel from the first day until now" (Phil 1:5), and a church that is willing to help another assembly in need.

There is much that the Church today can learn from the Philippians. Many of our Malaysian churches, particularly those in the Klang Valley, are middle class. Are we willing to give generously, out of our wealth, as our partnership in the gospel, to those who serve the Master full time and and to other churches in need?


Alex Tang said...

This is what I like about the church in Philippi- this little Gentile church, made of mixed strata of society can contribute so much to the other early churches. Again it reminds me that it is not size that matters but the willingness to give.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Alex,

Yes - it is not the size that matters but the willingness to give! I really like this. I think we have much to learn...

Alex Tang said...

...and much praxis needed.

pearlie said...

I notice that the picture of Epaphroditus looks a little like Quan Yin! The way the fingers are held - and he has such a frowned and worried look. Quite disturbing.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Pearlie,
That's not a picture - it's mosaic on the wall!

I notice that most icons/paintings/mosaic of people often have some form of fingers making certain signs. Wonder there is any meaning behind this particular one.