Women of Philippi
(Back story alert. We’ll get to the women in due time, but not yet)
If we’re going to talk about the church in Philippi, we really have to start in Luke’s chronicle about the early years of Christianity. Eventually, believers in antiquity entitled this work “The Acts of the Apostles,” and it was the continuing epic saga of Jesus’ life and work.
So there Paul was, in the rough and tumble pioneering days of evangelizing the known world. He went on a total of six separate missions trips to various destinations around the Mediterranean Sea, reaching as far west as Spain, some say; as far south as Arabia; easternmost was probably Antioch in Syria; and northernmost was—you guessed it—Philippi, situated on the Aegean Sea (if you look at a map, the Aegean almost looks like an inland bay of the Mediterranean). He did all that in about 35 years, so he had to have been pretty young when he started—most theologians think he was 30 years old when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, and totally turned his life upside down.
A funny thing happened on the way to Philippi, that first time. Probably about 49 AD, so Paul was 46, in his prime, raring to evangelize every inch of the globe, so he was pressing ever eastward, wanting to bring the gospel into that region. But the Lord was preventing him at every turn.
Whut?! Yes, that’s exactly what I said. On paper, it looked like a really good deed. Paul would bring the good news of salvation to the people living in what is now Iraq and Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and all those places through there. But the Lord wanted Paul to go exactly in the opposite direction. It’s not that God didn’t want the gospel going east. It’s that He had some other people in mind to bring it (my thought, Peter and Mark, because those are the people Peter sent his letter to, years later).
So, think about the twists and turns, here. Starting in Acts 11, the church was growing, and people were hungry for good teaching. In fact, they were growing so rapidly, and the Spirit was so on fire there, news got all the way back to Jerusalem. The apostles decided to send Barnabas to check out what was going on. When Barnabas came, he was deeply impressed. Barnabas was basically like a Mentor Plus, and he saw right away the Antioch church needed some good teachers. And, he knew just who to go get—Saul of Tarsus, now called Paul.
I really love this about Barnabas. He knew
God expresses His kindness in having prepared work for every believer to do.
He knew Paul’s work was to teach, and it was time to draw Paul into the hearts of the brethren once again.
Paul, you might remember, had been sent back to Tarsus because he had become far too controversial a figure in Jerusalem. Since Paul also needed to spend some years under Jesus’ personal tutelage, this ended up being to Paul’s great advantage; and it was during this time Paul went down to Arabia to evangelize.
So, anyway, Tarsus was just a boat ride across the bay from Antioch, so Barnabas got Paul, brought him back, and for a year Paul taught at the Antioch church. At some point during that year, a famine broke out, so Paul and Barnabas brought a rescue fund from Antioch for the believers suffering up in Judea, and when they arrived in Jerusalem, my bet is, they stayed at Mark’s spacious home. For one thing, Mark and Barnabas were family, and Mark’s place had long since become a safe house for the Christians.
If you look at the end of Acts 12, you can see Barnabas and Paul came back to Antioch with Mark in tow. Time passed, everyone got settled back into their routine, but now Mark was being mentored by two really amazing leaders and teachers in the church. So, during one of their regular prayer meetings, the Holy Spirit made it clear it was time to send this threesome on a missions trips.
44 AD. First official journey. Three men, and a boat. They sailed from Antioch to Cyprus, a very well-traveled route, and had some adventures. Really, for a young guy like Mark, it had to have been an adrenalin high, the risk of faith and the rush of spiritual power. But then, when they went to their very next destination, Perga, Mark was out. Completely done. He went back to Jerusalem, by himself, which is a pretty huge deal, actually, when you look on a map and figure out how far away that was.
So what happened? Nobody really knows, but there are some hints. In the Greek, Acts 13:13 puts it this way,
Now having been led back up [upon the sea] away from Paphos, they – around Paul – came into Perga of Pamphylia. Yet John, withdrawing from them and departing, returned unto Jerusalem. (Acts 13:13 JM-NT) – emphasis mine
Hmmmmm. Whatever happened on Cyprus—spiritual warfare, Paul’s audacious and abrasive confrontation, God’s powerful and shocking intervention—whatever it was, Mark was no longer arranging himself “around Paul.” He was done.
Instead, he headed back to Jerusalem where, evidently, he arranged himself around Peter. When Barnabas came, about five years later, to take Mark on another missions trip, I think Mark’s and Peter’s relationship had really grown. I think, after getting the mentoring Barnabas had always hoped to give him, in evangelism, Mark then began to accompany Peter on his missions trips, wrote his letters for him, and wrote Peter’s eye witness account of his years with Jesus.
That brings us all the way around Robin’s barn—God intended for Mark to evangelize the east with Peter, and therefore, Paul was going to be led westward by the Spirit of Christ, where he would meet someone who would become incredibly dear to Paul.
I think what I get out of this part of the story is that all of our life stories fit into a magnificent metanarrative, God’s Big Plan, the story God is writing that includes, and even guides, all the stories ever written. Everything, every single thing, that happens is part of the metanarrative. So, even this vote of no confidence by a young and disillusioned, maybe even angry and frightened, Mark, was a part of God’s story, that He was writing, with—believe it or not—love, grace, and the saving of many lives.
I know your story includes some suffering somewhere along the line. How do you suppose God is writing that into the metanarrative?
All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.