Who are the Philippians?
Who are these people that Paul is writing to?
And how does Paul know them?
First, the city.
Paul & Silas came to Philippi, a roman colony that had a rich military heritage. The city was the cite of a very significant roman battle decades before, and roman soldiers were given land in the area as a reward for the military services. So this city was drenched in the propaganda that Caesar was the bringer of peace. That peace came through the sword of war, and the threat of execution by crucifixion to all those who didn’t bow to Caesar.
Second, the church.
It all starts with a dealer. Lydia. A dealer of purple dye. She was a women of influence living in a world that was dominated by men.
Paul & Silas met Lydia, who gathered with other women outside the city gates. Lydia was a God-fearing woman, but had not heard about the grace of Jesus.
Paul shared the story of Jesus, Lydia listened and believed. She said yes to the grace of God. She and her household were baptized. Baptism was and is a public testimony to the grace of God’s work in someone’s life. In that day, it was dangerous to be baptized, because it communicated to the city in which you lived, that you were a follower of Jesus. This put you at odds with the Caesar who claimed to be the son of the gods and demanded worship and complete allegiance. When Lydia said yes, she was saying YES for the whole world to hear. That took guts. Deciding to follow Jesus was a decision not to follow Caesar.
This wealthy businesswoman became the first believer in Europe. Her house became the first gathering place for the church in Philippi. All of this was happening under the watchful eye of those loyal to Caesar. There was tension.
As the gospel is moving through the city, this tension gets thicker. There is a clash coming between those loyal to Jesus and those in allegiance to Caesar.
And as Paul writes this letter, he is writing to the church that first met in Lydia’s home – a church that was facing persecution. He is writing from prison because he himself was refusing to bow down to Caesar.
And finally, us.
We read about the boldness of the early church in the face of persecution and we have a hard time relating. We read the stories of people dying for their faith around the world, but not here in the USA.
So what does this mean for us?
Maybe the question we need to wrestle with is this… who do we give our allegiance to? And who else is trying to get our loyalty?
Money, Success, Achievement, Possessions… are these the Caesar’s in our world?
What or who is demanding your allegiance?