By Dick Blackford
What A Challenge By Satan! What A Defeat For Him!
Not all congregations begin with a big splash. The church at Philippi had an humble beginning. It happened in a province where nearly all the inhabitants were Romans (thus pagans) and a Roman garrison was there. This was the first European city visited by an apostle. When Paul and Silas came into this citadel of error, Satan was in charge. From all indications not even Judaism has much strength for no mention is made even of a synagogue, which was Paul’s customary place to begin. A group of Jewish women met on the sabbath outside the city gate to pray by the Ganges River. As a result of their preaching in this obscure place one woman was converted, along with her household. She was a foreigner from Thyatira.
And now the action begins!
Satan’s First Attack And First Defeat
Satan’s interest is stirred when even one person obeys the gospel and he began immediately to stamp out Christianity in this country which he had totally dominated. Paul and Silas couldn’t say “no” to Lydia’s offer of hospitality (“she constrained us,” Acts 16:16). So they used her home as a basis for their operation.
Lydia’s conversion took place in a time of ignorance and idolatry when Satan could lead men captive at his will. While Paul and Silas were traveling to the scene of her conversion in hope of teaching others, a witch drew unwanted attention to them by announcing, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim unto you the way of salvation” (v. 17). They didn’t need her as advertisement, lest those who would receive the apostles’ doctrine would be turned off by her and thus be prejudiced against the gospel of Christ. So Paul treated it as a case of demon possession and cast out the evil spirit. It came out that very hour and Satan’s plan utterly failed (v. 18).
Satan’s Second Attack And Second Defeat
Satan doesn’t give up easily. The masters of this soothsayer were not thankful for the kindness to the maiden but were upset at their loss of income received from her services. So they suddenly became “conscientious” and stirred up the higher powers. Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace to the governors of the city and were misrepresented as being “disturbers of the peace” and stirred up the higher powers. Paul and Silas were dragged into the marketplace to the governors of the city and were misrepresented as being “disturbers of the peace” and “teaching new and unlawful forms of religion,” though it is obvious the maiden’s masters cared nothing for Judaism or the Roman religions.
The two evangelists had their clothes stripped off and were beaten with rods and cast into the Philippian jail. Now here they sit, racked with pain and fastened in the stock. No doubt Satan was thinking, “That’ll teach them!”
For a moment it seemed that Satan had succeeded in shutting them up. What better way is there to stop the gospel than to put its proponents behind bars! But Satan underestimated the power of praying and singing. Before long the prisoners were listening and a man’s life was saved by the main principle of Christianity – love. Upon hearing the gospel, he and his household were baptized into Christ immediately. They rejoiced greatly (Acts 16:25-34). That wasn’t the way Satan planned it at all!
Satan’s Third Attack And Third Defeat
In spite of Satan’s fierce opposition, a church was established in this Roman colony. And when they were released from jail they went back to Lydia’s house and comforted the brethren (16:40). In the intervening years between that event and the writing of the book of Philippians, Paul again finds himself in prison. But every effort of Satan to squelch the gospel only caused it to spread – this time through the praetorian guard, even to Caesar’s household (Phil 1:13; 4:22)! Paul said that the things which had happened to him had resulted in “the furtherance of gospel” (1:12). Satan surely didn’t plan that!
Sure Signs Of Victory!
The church in Philippi (1) grew, (2) was characterized by love, (3) supported gospel-preachers, and (4) was scripturally organized with elders and deacons. Satan must delight in keeping churches from being scripturally organized. In such cases the spiritually immature and unqualified person has as much say so as one who may qualify for the eldership. This usually causes problems, completely immobilizing a congregation or, at best, leaving it without a clear sense of direction while brethren wage war with one another. It has to be a happy moment for Satan when he can thwart God’s design for the organization of the church. But Satan found none of these things in which to glory at Philippi. He is crafty, but not all-wise or all-knowing.
In spite of all of Satan’s efforts the church was such a source of joy to Paul that the words “joy” and “rejoice” seem almost overworked. Philippi – what a challenge for Christianity! What a resounding defeat for Satan! “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice!” (4:4).
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 23, p. 717
December 6, 1984