Have you ever had an experience where you knew God was calling you to do something, but it didn't come out the way you thought it would? When you answered the call of God, you were excited and energized about the possibility of service. You couldn't wait to get where you were going or do what you needed to do. But it was so unlike what you expected. I have had that happen to me, and I would ask God, "Are you sure this is what I am supposed to be doing?"
Sometimes our heart is willing to serve God, but our circumstances cause us to draw back or limit our service. A similar situation confronted Paul on one of his missionary journeys. I want you to know that when you serve God, when you go where He sends you and do what He tells you, you never know what the results might be.
I. The perspective of service
Prior to the verses we just read, Paul received what is known as the Macedonian call. He had a vision of a man in Macedonia pleading with Paul to come and help them. Paul answered the call and he, along with Silas and Luke, undertook the journey described in today's Scripture passage. What must Paul have thought when he received such a powerful call to mission work, only to arrive in a major city like Philippi and discover there is no synagogue.
The Jewish law required ten males for a synagogue to be formed. There are not ten God-fearing Jews in the whole city. In Paul's vision there was a man calling him to Macedonia. If I were him I would be wondering, "where is that man?"
To further complicate the situation, inscribed on the arches outside the city of Philippi was a prohibition against bringing an unrecognized religion into the city. This may explain why there was a Jewish prayer meeting being held outside the city, on the riverbank.
Having been trained by the Jews to be a leader among Jews, Paul would have been well acquainted with their views of women. The rabbis were known to say, "It is better that the words of the Law be burned that be delivered to a woman."
The fact that Paul was willing to speak to these women indicates he no longer held that view. But the lack of a synagogue, no influence in the city, a prohibition against religion, and a prayer meeting at a riverbank does not seem to be the formula for a powerful revival.
So often we see things only from our perspective. There was an organization in Montana that wanted to thin out the population of wolves, so they offered $5,000 for every wolf captured alive. Two old boys, Sam and Jed, decided they could make good money trapping wolves. They searched the mountains, followed tracks, and set traps. This went on for several days, but with no results.
One night Sam woke up to find they were surrounded by wolves. Their eyes were red in the last flickering light of the campfire, their white teeth bared, glowing in the moonlight, and their back legs poised to pounce. Sam nudged Jed and said, "Wake up Jed! We're gonna be rich!" (More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks, Youth Specialties, Grand Rapids MI, 1995, p. 176.)
What you and I may see as dangerous or hostile may be an opportunity for the kingdom of God. In the words of Esther, "Who knows but that I have come to the kingdom for such a time as this." Here is my problem: I am too quick to allow the circumstances of my life to define my level of service to God. If things get hard, I look for a way out. I look for a way to diminish my dedication to the task. If people don't respond immediately, I look for a new plan or gimmick.
If Paul had done that, he would have bailed on Phillipi. But Paul understood that service for God is always about our faithfulness to God, not the results. The reason I want to bail on bad situations is because I do not see the profitability of it. But that is faulty theology. Such an approach says that God only does what it profitable, like He is a business that only cares about the bottom line. It also means God is limited in power, so He will only use it in prime locations.
We talk about building and growing churches, as if it is something that we can do. That is something only God can do. God wants a relationship with you, and part of that relationship is commitment, dedication, and faithfulness.
You may be in a place like Paul. You look at the things around you and ask, "Am I in the right place, God? Am I doing what you want me to?" The circumstances may be overwhelming. Don't be too quick to throw in the towel. As we are about to find out, just one convert can make all the difference.
II. The pattern of service
The Macedonian call was not about huge numbers. There was only one convert at first, a woman named Lydia. But the Lord used her greatly to aid Paul. We know very little about Lydia. We know she was from Thyatira, a city known for burnished bronze and brass, and purple cloth. Lydia was a business woman who made and sold the expensive purple fabric, but she was also a worshiper of God. Since she was a Gentile, her exposure in a traditional synagogue would have been severely limited, but here at the riverbank she had found a place to belong.
As Paul speaks the Bible says that she listened and opened her heart. The Greek word here for listen indicates a continuing process. In other words Lydia had been listening to those at the riverbank and growing in her devotion to God, but that day Paul led her a little bit further down the road of intellectually understanding who God was and how He had sent Jesus.
The other night, Jack, my 3-year old son, was playing with some Legos on the living room floor. Well his tower came apart and crashed all around him. He first started trying to put the pieces together, but they were not fitting for him. Then in frustration he threw them across the room. I said, "Hey, hey, hey! We do not throw our toys. Now pick it up and bring it here. Let's see if Daddy cannot put it back together." And of course Lego blocks are not as difficult for me as they are for him.
Isn't that a picture of our relationship with our Heavenly Father? We get frustrated when things do not immediately work or go together. Then there is the Father, who is more than able and waiting on us to let Him put the pieces together. Some people come to know Christ as their savior all at once. Others need time to listen, ponder, and come back for more. But it is God putting all the pieces in their places.
Paul is in the right place, at Phillipi on a riverbank with a group of women, and Lydia is in the right place listening to Paul. But in that in that moment she believes the word she has heard. That is what it means when it says "she opened her heart to pay attention". She was taking the next step in her spiritual journey, and that step was trusting Christ as her savior. How exciting that Lydia is the first European convert to Christianity!
But Lydia didn't just open her heart, she opened her home. Given her business and the high price purple cloth could fetch, her home was probably one of the nicer ones in Thyatira. But she willingly shared what she had and demonstrated the spiritual gift of hospitality. For Paul, Silas, and Luke to refuse her offer of hospitality would mean that they did not believe she had accepted Christ as her Savior.
I am a peculiar man. I like order and certain things, certain ways. I can't sleep at night if the covers are not just right. I like things in piles that move from right to left on my desk. I like my food a certain way, my house a certain way, and my clothes a certain way. I am not a man who has a natural trait of hospitality. To bring someone in your home is to upset your order and ways. And for every person you are hospitable to the disorder increases. Lydia has the ability to be hospitable, because of the size of her home. She has the desire, for she urges them so strongly. But she also has the gifting.
Look at verse 40 of the same chapter. The missionaries end up at her house again. I really think the ministry they received in verse fifteen by staying at Lydia's house was a surprise blessing. The ministry in verse 40 is an essential necessity. After Paul and the crowd leave Lydia, they cast out a demon, and are arrested for doing so, God sends an earthquake that releases them from prison, they are used of the Lord to convert a jailer and his family, and they re-appear before the government to exercise their rights as Roman citizens. It was a busy couple of days for these men.
As they left Phillipi, They may have talked about how rough it had been, how they hurt physically, emotionally, mentally, and maybe even spiritually. Then Silas might have said, "You know what we need is a place to rest and recharge." Luke could have chimed in, "I know the perfect place. Remember how nice it was at Lydia's, how hospitable she was? Let's go there."
The word hospitality is a kin of hospital. Now we rarely put those two words together in our culture because the mental images they generate are so different. But a hospital is place away from your home that is designed to bring healing and wholeness. Hospitality is not about a vacation, but about allowing your home and your presence to bring emotional, mental, and spiritual healing to others.
I have often heard the old adage that a man's home is his castle. Unfortunately, that is how we have begun to live, in fortresses of gated communities, unlisted numbers, hoarding our privacy, and secluding ourselves away. With a 3-year-old boy, superheroes rule at our house. But these rugged individuals live in caves, labs, and places secluded from the world. We too often live like Superman, in our own fortress of solitude.
God did not design us like that. We were made for community. Don't think so? Look at who Paul and Silas encourage - the brothers. Just 25 verses ago there were no men. Where did the brothers come from? They had to come from Lydia and her evangelistic efforts. Her home was a statement of her wealth and success, and then it became a mission outpost for some traveling missionaries. Now it is a church.
The missionaries encourage the brothers at the church, but how encouraged are they because of the partnership that has occurred? Lydia is using her gifts and possessions to start the church at Phillipi. Paul is using his gifts and ability to exhort, encourage, and build the church spiritually. They are community, they are working together, each with their gifts and abilities. That is a great picture of the church.
So how are you doing at being church? Is your home a secluded fortress or a haven for hurting souls? Are you using your gifts and abilities to do what you can, where you are? Are you listening in such a way that you are taking the next steps in your own spiritual journey? Are you letting circumstances determine your devotion, or are you nurturing a heavenly perspective? Are you willing to open your heart and all that you have to be a servant for God? Lydia did. Will you?