Women of Philippi

(Back story alert, one last time. We’ll get to the women in the next post)

So, here’s the funny thing that happened on the way to Philippi. Jesus gave Paul a vision. A dream, actually, that night, as he slept. Team Four—Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke, M.D.—had all gotten together and were taking a needed break to figure out the next leg of the journey.

Paul had, by this time, visited all the believers who had been converted during his first trip. He had been wanting to forge new territory for a while, now, and the Lord had kept preventing him. Paul had to have been at least a little frustrated, puzzled, and somewhat at loose ends. Maybe even a bit unnerved that he was trying to serve the Lord with all he had, and the Lord kept opposing him. So, they bunked down for the night, in the bustling sea town of Troas, hoping to get some fresh ideas, and a well needed rest.

I picture Paul tossing and turning on his cot, in some upstairs inn, the rhythmic sound of the ocean as a backdrop, sea air, moist and cool, coming in through the window. Finally, REM sleep settled in, and Paul was in that otherworld of dreams.

There before him was a man, from Macedonia. Maybe he was wearing distinctive Macedonian clothes, or his cut of hair, or accent, gave him away. And he was begging Paul about something. In his dream, Paul may have been lying in his bed, eyes wide, as this man stood over him, wringing his hands, with worried eyebrows and a taut mouth. “Please, you have to come. You have to help,” the man pleaded, in Paul’s vision. “Macedonia. You’ve got to come to Macedonia and help us.”

Suddenly the sun is shining through the window, the call of seagulls and fishmongers’ cries waft in, and I see Paul waking, with a start, adrenalin coursing through his body. Luke said, that day they got ready “at once!” Paul had gotten his marching orders, and he was going to wait for no man. God was sending them to Macedonia, and they were going to get there right now, today, no time to waste.

They traveled, it seems, pretty much nonstop. That very day they set out to sea and sailed straight to Samothrace. They must have hit the ground running, because the next day they got to Neapolis. From there, they went to Philippi.

Now, why Philippi? I dunno. Here was a man with a mission, he hardly looked left or right. I want to believe they evangelized all along the way. I want to believe they noticed the people around them, and were ready at every opportunity to spread the good news where they were, loving people, and caring for people. But the pace of Luke’s narrative does not slow down until they got to Philippi.

And then, finally, Team Four got to catch a breath. In fact, Luke said, they actually stayed there for several days. Luke described Philippi as a Roman colony, and the leading city of that district in Macedonia (Acts 16:12). Maybe that’s why they stopped there? It was a wealthy town, located in the foothills of Mt. Orbelos in Greece, a “Rome away from Rome.” Settled by mostly retired military and their families, its citizens were rewarded with not having to pay taxes so long as they remained loyal to Rome, obeyed all the laws of Rome, and kept a basically Roman presence in this conquered area of the Empire.

Just as Timothy’s Jewish mother had married a Greek Gentile, so also here in Philippi, there were evidently a number of Jewish women who had married Roman soldiers, as well as Greek women who had also married Roman men. Paul must have scrutinized every guy he met, looking for the man in his dream. I wonder if the men in Philippi found Paul somewhat intense, and maybe even a little weird.

Come the Sabbath day, Paul and his crew began to look around for the synagogue. Now, that doesn’t mean they were necessarily looking for a building, per se. They were looking for a gathering of faithful Jews who would be worshiping God and reading from the scriptures. And, in order to do that, they needed to find a source of “living,” or running water.

In Judaism, ritual washing is a central part of worship. One form is “netilat yadayim,” pouring water over the hands to cleanse them for eating, or for other holy use. Most of the time, this means pouring water from a pitcher over the hands as the person turns them, and catching the water in a bowl.

The other form is called “tevilah,” a full body immersion in a “mikveh,” which has “living,” or flowing, water going through it, necessary for cleansing and purifying. Among the several reasons for mikvoth, was conversion to Judaism. Then one would fully immerse themselves in living water, which would wash away their old life, leaving them fresh and pure to begin their new life as a Jew. Sounds familiar, right?

Mikvoth were so important, they were constructed before even the synagogue building was erected. In fact, all throughout Israel there are archaeological excavations of mikvoth found in homes, and by synagogues. To this day, homeowners who might want to dig out a new foundation for their house, let's say, or expand their basement, may find the ancient ruins of a mikveh.

Unfortunately, Jews were often barred from using rivers in their cities for bathing. Romans preferred bath houses. Perhaps this was the case in Philippi. So, it makes perfect sense that when Paul and his companions did not find anything like what could be a mikveh, and saw the Gangites River was nearby, they would follow it outside the city gates, expecting to find a place where the faithful would be gathered in prayer. Hoo boy! Were they ever in for a surprise.

I guess this part of the story shows me how easy it is, even with a vision from God, to not exactly know what’s going to come next. I may think I have every detail of the plan nailed down; but, with the Lord, that is rarely going to be the case. Where would faith fit in, in a scheme like that?

Walking by faith happens one step at a time, as God leads

Typically, God is going to give us enough to go on, and at each step—if we’re willing to take those steps of faith—God will give us more. (Check out James, chapter 1, on this.)

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.