Some history. The city of Philippi was founded approximately 200 years before the common era by the King of Macedon. His name was King Philip II so the name seemed appropriate. Later in 167 BCE the city is conquered by Rome. At the time it wasn’t a particularly large or important city and it remained largely insignificant for another hundred years until 42 BCE when Octavian (who would later change his name to Augutus Caesar) and Mark Antony have a big battle with Brutus and Cassius over their assasination of Julius Caesar. After that victory they released a number of soldier from the 18th legion, the main force that had fought in the battle, to colonize the area. So the city was centuriated, which meant they divided it into square lots and gave it to loyal soldiers. Philippi was officially renamed Colonia Vitrix Philippensium but most people, for obvious reasons, just kept calling it Philippi. Eventually things broke down between Octavian and Antony and so, 12 years later, in 30 BCE, after Octavian finally defeats Mark Antony and takes sole power in Rome, he releases another round of the Praetorian guard and grants them land in Philippi. He again renames the city Colonia Iulia Philippensis but everybody kept calling it Philippi for obvious reasons. This time the boundaries of the city are redrawn. A temple to Mars is built and a small forum is constructed. Philippi adopts the municipal governmental structure of Rome and literally starts to become a miniature Rome. In 27 BCE Octavian changes his name to Augustus Caesar and so he renames the city again, this time, Colonia Augustis Iulia Philippensis but everybody kept calling it Philippi for obvious reasons.
Point being there is a huge history of Rome written into very landscape of the city. Everything about Philippi has been designed to remind the citizens of Rome. Not just city of Rome, but the idea of Rome. The ideology of Rome. The theology of Rome The Pax Romana. Peace through victory. Caesar as the savior of the world
And so here are a group of new Christians, In a city steeped in Roman culture, In a city where not even 10 Jewish men could be found to hold a Synagogue (Acts 16), In a city literally founded and filled with ex-Roman soldiers,
And they’ve just heard that their founding pastor has been arrested and imprisoned in Rome for his belief that Jesus (not Caesar) is Lord.
And Paul writes to this community, from Prison, to say, that the God who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it. He echoes the language of the creation narrative to say these fledgling, scared, tiny, community, that their God, the one they serve, the one that is working in them right now... is the same God that pulled the universe from the spark of his creativity. In other words, Rome is not all that it thinks it is.
And this is a striking piece of the Philippians story. Paul is depending on their support while he awaits trial in Rome, while the Philippians are depending on Paul’s encouragement while they face into the growing fear in Philippi. For Paul, I think this is exactly how he imagines it should be. Faith is not something we do alone. Your relationship with God leans on my relationship with God and vice versa.
One of the challenges we’ve set out for this time in our community is to engage in the practice of hospitality. To invite people into our homes and loves and begin the process that could turn into the kind of relationship we can really lean on when we need it.
If you’re not sure were to start, we have a mechanism at Westside to help get that process rolling. It’s called the Dinner Party Network. You can sign up online to host or attend a dinner. It’s low risk (a few hours for dinner) but the potential upside is incredible. The chance to take the first step toward the kind of relationship that defined the Philippian community.
See you Sunday