Kingdom of God Decisions

Shelterglen University
School of Theology

The Background


       The story of Paul’s tour of Macedonia and specifically his first trip into Philippi can be some of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted passages of scripture in the entire Bible. Yet they encompass one of the biggest and most important decisions that the Apostle Paul made outside of his choice to accept and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

       There are two basic reasons for this misunderstanding of these passages. The first is that western theologians have often seen the value and meaning of these texts from the viewpoint point of their own culture and language. They are often hesitant to research the Greek language of that day, and in some cases they will totally ignore the historical or cultural setting in which it was originally written. Knowing the story and the cultural setting around the event of its origination can unlock its depth and meaning and make it more applicable to us as we live in God’s Kingdom today.

       In this case, it is virtually impossible to receive any substantial value from this very special visit to Philippi unless you first connect this event to the historical chronology of the book of Acts, specifically chapters 16 and 17. Paul didn’t sit down one day and simply say, “Well, I guess I better write a letter or two to those young converts back in Philippi - to see how they are doing.” There were events, circumstances and emotions wrapped around the initiation of the entire process. When you know what those things are, you realize a much more personal depth to these letters Paul wrote after he visited that city. The historical and cultural settings are vital to grasping an understanding of the truth that Paul was trying to convey to this infant church.

       The second reason why Paul’s experience in Philippi can appear to be so mysterious is that we often think that the people of Philippi had the same theological and doctrinal background as we do. The Philippians, with the exception of the Jewish community residing in that city, had a totally different concept of deity and worship than we do. They were not monotheistic and had a very limited view of an afterlife, if any at all. Most of the gentiles of that day were raised in the arena of a Greco-Roman god system that yielded many options by which they could live what we as Christians we call a “sinful life”. They could do this quite easily without offending their own  conscience. This was because their morality was not connected to their religious belief systems. Those religious belief systems did not dictate any moral conscience. Instead, their religious philosophy simply dictated a series of mandatory realize that would hopefully appease the gods. The same religious systems did not make any demands on the individual to believe certain doctrines about the gods. The entire focus of these religious systems was on the traditional rituals and dutiful sacrifices needed to support the system.   

       If they wanted to live a lifestyle of immorality that continuously allowed them to have illicit sexual activity in their life, they would worship at the temple of Diana, which was nothing more than a glorified house of prostitution for men and women. If they desired homosexuality, they would worship at the temple of Adonis. If they lusted after power and control they would journey to Rome frequently to sacrifice before the image of Zeus. The Greco-Roman polytheistic system catered to the here and now and the desires of the flesh. It did not address any spiritual issues other than the demonic manipulation of its constituents or the fulfillment of the desires of the flesh through  various activities we would consider to be by nature - sinful.

          When Paul would bring the message of Jesus Christ to these gentiles, he had to do it from an entirely different perspective from the way he would if he were addressing a Jewish audience. He had to approach them (the gentiles) from their polytheistic views and the cultural implications that were wrapped around all of that. He would simply unwrap their sociological and cultural packaging and present Jesus Christ in a simple way that they could grasp.

       Paul knew just how to do that. Paul was born and raised in the Roman city of Tarsus. He would have experienced both a Jewish upbringing and education and also the cultural experiences associated with living outside of the homeland of Palestine. At some point in his early life he went to Jerusalem and studied diligently to become a well respected Pharisee and obtain rabbinical privilege. All this time God was preparing him to become the apostle to the gentiles that Paul later called himself. At the time Paul didn’t know it. In fact, we read in the earlier chapters of Acts that Paul (then called Saul) was a violent persecutor of the early Christian community in and around Jerusalem. After Paul’s conversion to faith in Jesus Christ, he never laid down any of his credentials. Instead he opted to use every tool he had obtained to help promote the gospel and plant new churches.

      Paul was able to intellectually and emotionally approach the gentile community at the point of their spiritual needs and show them the finished work of Jesus Christ as the answer. This was because God had been forming and shaping him from the cradle to be such an evangelist.             


The Timing of the Adventure


       The reason Paul was traveling through Asia Minor and into Macedonia where he experienced the city of Philippi, is a very clear and well defined part of the New Testament. It is believed that Paul traveled there around 50 AD. It was probably just a few months after the first apostolic council convened in Jerusalem under the leadership of the Apostle James, sometimes referred to as James the Great, James the Just or the Brother of the Lord. 

       We find the account of this apostolic council recorded in the Bible in Acts 15:4-22. It was from the decisions rendered at this council that Paul, Barnabas and Silas were sent to the churches in northern Palestine, Asia Minor and eventually on into Macedonia. They were sent with a letter to the new believers so as to inform them of the Apostolic Council’s position of adherence to the law of Moses in relationship to the newly established Christian communities.

        The early church was not thought of as a new religion. Christianity was not established as a new revolutionary religion or faith system. It was actually considered to be a sect of Judaism. The main arguments between the early Christian apostles and the hierarchy of the Jewish religious system were not always over the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. They were many times rooted in whether or not a new believer must come through the religious laws, circumcism rites, and dietary requirement of the Jewish system to accept Jesus Christ.

       Many of the authorities in Judaism could not have cared less if you believed Jesus Christ was the Messiah prophesied of by the Old Testament prophets. They had seen many so called “Jewish Messiahs” come and go over the last few centuries. None of them had ever lasted very long. This attitude is clearly evidenced when one of the leaders of the Jewish council passed sentence on Peter and some of the other disciples.

       Acts 5:34-39 But a certain Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. "For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody; and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. And he was slain; and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing." After this man Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away {some} people after him, he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. "And so in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God." (NAS)

       The main issue for the Jewish religious leaders was to keep the general constituency under the legalistic arm of the Jewish system. This meant that traditional Jewish festivals, feasts and rituals must be adhered to. That is how these leaders made their living. So if a Jewish-Christian continued to live in the religious practices required by the Temple authorities, the Jewish religious leaders would be able to maintain the normal cash flow necessary to perpetuate the Jewish religious system (salaries included).

        Therefore, it was under this cloud of Jewish legalism that the first Christian apostolic council met and made the radical decision recorded in Acts 15. This decision not only affected the necessity of the Jewish believers need to continue to live adhered to the Jewish traditions, but also would positionally allow Gentiles to come into the Christian community of faith without first or simultaneously becoming a practicing Jew.

        This is the dialogue that is recorded from the first and only Apostolic Council that met in Jerusalem around 49 AD that confirmed that monumental decision. Acts 15:8-20"And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. "Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? "But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are." And all the multitude kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. And after they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, "Brethren, listen to me. "Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. "And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, 'After these things I will return, and I will rebuild the tabernacle of David which has fallen, and I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, In order that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,'  Says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old. "Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. (NAS)

       It was from that decisive apostolic gathering that Paul and his ministerial companions were commissioned primarily to take this decree out to the newly founded Christian fellowships of Palestine and Asia Minor. Paul saw this commission as yet another opportunity to spread the gospel and plant new churches, thus building the Kingdom of God here on earth. 


Spreading the Gospel


       To get a better understanding of God’s word, it is helpful to know who God is addressing specifically. In the case of Paul’s experiences in Philippi, God was desiring to communicate the gospel through the Apostle Paul to a specific group of people who lived in Philippi. Philippi was a city that was considered to be a Roman colony and thus had the same privileges as cities situated on the Italian mainland. There was probably not a colony of Jews living in Philippi. This might have very well been why he met people praying outside of the city. Because of their lack of numerical strength, the Jews had very little social or cultural influence on the city or its government. The people of Philippi had many cultural customs that are foreign to us as in the western world.

       There were many problems and issues that Paul and Silas would be confronted with upon coming to Philippi. These problems and mindsets were derived from their culture. Their culture basically consisted of the moral, religious and artistic values that framed their society. These problems and mindsets were also derived from their actual society. Their society was defined by the disciplines and development of their community. It is the disciplines and development of a particular society that distinguish them from any other society. Some groups of people are more developed technologically or structurally than are others. Some societies have or exercise greater disciplines in government and legal matters than do others.      

        When Paul arrived in Philippi with Silas, he started his methodical evangelizing processes. By the time he was politely forced from the city the new believers had just come into their faith in Jesus Christ  a few days before. These early Christian disciples did not have the advantage of printed materials, Christian radio, television or the internet. They did not have a copy of the New Testament, or even the Gospel of John to use as a point of reference. The New Testament had not even become a concept at this time. Their faith in Jesus Christ was young and needing to be nurtured for growth. Because many of the first believers in Jesus Christ were gentiles, they did not have the advantage of knowing the potential of redemption from the Old Testament scriptures as did their Jewish counterparts. 

        God was also speaking to a people of a specific geography. Philippi was located in the region of Macedonia which, would have been in the northern area of Greece. A major Roman road ran right through the center of the city called the Egnatian highway. This road was considered to be the connecting highway between Europe and Asia. If the community of Philippi would be foundationally evangelized, there would be a great potential of reaching many people from all over the Roman Empire and Asia with the salvation message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.     

        God spoke at a specific time in history. Even though God himself is timeless, He has the complete ability to comprehend time on earth. He speaks and works in very specific times throughout our history, even though in His infinite existence it is neither past, present or future. The flip side of this is that because of God’s timeless nature, what He says then He also says now. This means  that  God’s  word  that Paul proclaimed to those first believers in Philippi is just as credible for us today as it was for them in 50 AD.    

        God spoke specifically through the Apostle Paul. He used Paul for a specific reason. He had been grooming him for his entire life for the mission he (Paul) was now experiencing. Paul’s testimony played strongly into why God spoke through Paul to the Philippians and in his letter to them. Paul had planted this new church by evangelizing those first few converts outside the parameters of the city. These early Philippian Christians knew Paul and his love and concern for them. He was their spiritual father and they loved him and appreciated the genuineness of his faith.

       Another reason why God chose Paul to carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ was his personality. Because Paul was a very driven person, he was never content until the job was completed. He

had only been able to spend a few days in Philippi, and was not able to bring these young believers into a mature walk in faith during that amount of time. So he was very concerned about them. He wanted to give them much more spiritual nutrition than he had been able to so far. And Paul was also concerned about their well being not only spiritually, but physically as well.

       Paul knew the mindset and perspective of the gentile citizen. Because of his upbringing in Tarsus and his interactive relationship to his native community, he knew how to interact and blend with the systems and values of the Roman Empire. Paul was legally a Roman citizen and he would later use that fact as a tool to perpetuate the gospel in the highest of the Roman Empire’s courts. Paul was also highly educated. He had educationally earned what today would be the equivalent of a Ph.D. He knew how to handle the various languages and philosophies of the Roman Empire to the best advantage in his evangelistic efforts.   

           All of this brings us to the fact that God set the stage for Paul’s experience in Philippi. God set the Philippians up with their  problems ,  and  He  set  Paul   up  with  his  pressures  and desires. As we study the backdrop for this event, we will see just exactly how precise Paul’s very important decision affected who he was and what he would grow to become in God’s  kingdom.                 

           God’s word is always universal. This means that it can apply to every reader in every aspect and stage of life. Yet, God’s word is also very specific. We will see this unfold very uniquely as we study the word of God in this particular circumstance. In a sense, as we study what God allowed Paul to be confronted with, we will be actually overhearing a communication that is intended for us just as much as it was for Paul and those first Christians of Philippi nearly twenty centuries ago. Because this communication is the living word of God, it comes to us (just like it did for them) for our edification and encouragement. It instructs us in ways of righteousness and the order of God’s will. And, it also encourages us to press on and to grow in our faith to a new level of maturity. 


Behind the Scenes


       The adventure Paul experienced in Philippi is an intense series of circumstances that framed the occasion of this very important kingdom decision. It is a real story . There’s a real plot. It is not only exciting, but also very tense with details. The account is given to us in Acts 16:1-34.

       And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees, which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe. So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily. And they passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they had come to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Therefore putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis; and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. And it happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a certain slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortunetelling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, and when they

had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews, and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans." And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks.  But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains were unfastened. And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep and had seen the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!" And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that {very} hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household. (NAS)

       The main actors in this drama are obviously Paul, Silas (some translations call him Silvanus), The Philippian jailer, Timothy and Luke. Luke does not refer to himself by name, but includes himself in the obvious pronouns of “us” and “we”. 

       The text also leaves us asking a few questions which may or may not be related to the storyline. Why did Paul see a genuine need to circumcise Timothy? Why would the Holy Spirit forbid Paul to preach the gospel in Asia? What happened to the slave girl after she was delivered from the evil spirits?    


Very Purpose Driven


       They have three primary purposes overshadowing this particular missionary journey. The first purpose was to distribute the decree or letter from the apostolic council to existing Christian fellowships throughout the region. There is just a brief mention of this administrative activity in verse 4.

       The second purpose of the journey was to do what is often called “cold-call evangelism.” This prototype format of evangelism was used and further developed by Paul during these journeys. He would often go into a gentile region or city under the prodding and inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6-9). He would then locate the arenas that were popular gathering spots for the locals and begin to converse with them and build relationships. After Paul had convinced them of their need for a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and they did indeed accept the gift of God’s salvation, he (Paul) would start to establish the gathering of these new believers together in what would become the church.

       When this second purpose of “cold-call evangelism” was fully accomplished, it fulfilled the third major purpose of church planting otherwise known as the establishing of new congregations of Christians.            

       Occasionally when Paul would enter a city where there was a large community of Jews, he would head straight for the local synagogue. Because he held rabbinical rites in the Jewish Religious system, out of respect he would always be given the opportunity to address the Jewish worshippers. Paul would use their previous knowledge of the scriptures to show them a clear image of the Messiah reflected in the fulfilled life of Jesus Christ.

       Many times this technique also helped him begin to reach the gentile population. This was because it was quite “trendy” for the wives and mistresses of the high ranking Roman officials to attend activities of the local synagogue. In some cities there were even some very conservative gentile businessmen attending the synagogues for one of two reasons. They either hoped to enhance their commerce by making connections with the close knit Jewish community, or they actually saw the potential of a relationship with this “God of the Hebrews”. Those gentiles who came to the synagogue and attempted to keep Jewish feasts and traditions were often called “God-fearers” by the local Jews. Paul “took advantage” of these proselytes and used them as tentacles to reach into the gentile community. They often aided him in establishing relationships through their introductions. Thus, it was theoretically possible that Paul and his ministry team could reach an entire community with the gospel through the local synagogue, if the cultural circumstances were correctly functioning.                

       A few days or weeks into this journey Paul became a little frustrated. He apparently had wanted to go into Asia and preach the gospel but was not allowed to do so by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 16:6) He then desired to go to Bythinia (modern day Istanbul) and was not permitted to go there either. This was apparently communicated to Paul directly by Jesus Christ himself. (Acts 16:7). (Note: Some theologians do not distinguish between the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus, assuming that these two mentions are one in the same.) Paul had a plan of travel that he thought would work in the spreading of the gospel. God however, had a more precise plan, and knew what ultimately needed to be accomplished for the well being of this new church at Philippi, which at this point had not even been established. At this point in history there wasn't even one believer in Philippi.

       If the Holy Spirit had not restrained Paul from going into Asia to preach the gospel, and the Spirit of Jesus had not kept him from going into Bythinia, the letters to the church at Philippi and Thessalonica may never have been written. The edification and encouragement that has been received by believers from reading these epistles down through the centuries would have been non-existent had Paul not been obedient to the course for the journey that God had him on.        

        It wasn’t until the frustrated Paul and his companions windup in the Luke’s hometown of Troas  that Paul has a vision of a certain man from Macedonia requesting that Paul come to Macedonia (a region of cities in Northern Greece) to render some form of help. The scripture states that they had finally realized that God was sending them to Macedonia. Acts 16:10 And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.(NAS)

       It was probably at this point that that Luke joined the ministry team and started to do the investigative beginnings of what would later become the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. 


The Pivotal Decision


       Paul and his missionary team then took the first boat over to the Macedonian region. When they disembarked, they wasted no time in the first two villages of Samothrace and Neapolis. They are headed straight for Philippi. Their mentality could have been that they actually looking for the man in the vision that Paul received in Troas just a few days earlier. When this man was not found in the first two villages they encountered, they traveled on to Philippi, a much larger and more populated city located on a main Roman highway.

      When they arrive at Philippi, Paul took to the streets with the gospel. At one point he went outside the city and down to the riverbank. There he met a woman who would become one of the first converts to the faith. Her name was Lydia. She is a wealthy businesswoman from Thyatira, a city in Asia minor, known for its industrial productivity. She was involved in the manufacturing and the selling of the robes and clothing of the high ranking Roman governing officials. The scripture also tells us that she was a “worshipper of God”. She was one of the “God-fearer” gentiles described in an earlier segment. After hearing the gospel, she accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior and invited Paul and his team to lodge at her house while they were in Philippi. 

        Paul then went to what the Bible calls the local place of prayer, which might have been a small synagogue. Before long Paul is starting to gather a regular crowd. One day a demon possessed girl started to follow Paul around. This young girl was actually a “spiritual slave”. She was literally owned by several local business men in Philippi. They would actually "pimp" her out to small groups of people or local parties as a fortune teller. She apparently was a genuine "psychic", controlled by demonic powers. Her owners were making a nice income off of the events they booked for her. We can make a fairly accurate assumption that she was not discontent with her wages on the premise that she was not following after Paul and Silas, begging them to deliver her from her oppressive owners.

            Instead, this young girl showed up everywhere Paul and Silas were sharing the gospel, proclaiming things like "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation." On the initial examination, this doesn't sound like bad press. It sounded like she knew what she is talking about. But, Paul discerned that this was exactly what she said about her own abilities. She advertised herself the same way - as one who served the "Supreme Being or Beings", as the Greco-Roman polytheistic god system would dictate. So in effect she was telling everyone, "These men are on the same team as I am", or "We're all in the same business" or "I do what they do." In her own way she was actually trying to equate herself to Paul’s ministry or associate with it indirectly. If she would have had any success in associating herself directly with Paul’s preaching of the gospel it would have created a very thick cloud of spiritual confusion in the city and Paul was keen enough to discern that. 

      After a while Paul became irritated with her continuous insinuations that she was serving the same God as he was. He knew he had to publicly set the record straight. So Paul stops everything right there in the public arena of Philippi and literally, on the spot, demands that she shut-up and casts the demonic inhabitants that controlled her out of her through the authority of the name of Jesus Christ. She was immediately set free of the demonic enslavement and followed Christ.

       Unfortunately this whole scene didn't make her owners happy at all. Because Paul had cast the demon(s) out of her, he had angered the local businessmen. They were going to loose financial income over this. She could no longer perform her psychic wonders under the influence of demonic spirits.

      These owners went out into the streets incited a riot against Paul and Silas. They physically drug them in front of the magistrates of the city and accused Paul and Silas of teaching a religion that was contrary to the Greco-Roman polytheistic religious concepts. When someone incited such charges against another person, it

immediately involved the Roman government. This is because every city that was ruled by the Roman Empire had certain religious dedications to the Roman gods for perpetuation and for protection. So, if you taught something that was not complimentary or compatible to the Greco-Roman god system, you were actually speaking against the Roman Empire itself. Because this was a political charge against Paul and his ministry team, it forced the governing officials to have them beaten and thrown in jail.

         The act of beating someone in those days was one of the most inhumane things that could happen to someone. It would often result in death for the weaker ones who experienced it. The Roman contingency would shackle the person to be beaten in an upright position to a pair of parallel posts located in the center of a city, so as to accommodate the crowds that would gather to watch it happen. The general public would gather for such an event strictly for the entertainment value. Remember, they didn't have any TV or radio back then, so attending a beating in the center of town was very similar to attending a sporting event. It also provided an excuse  for another time to gather socially.

           Two Roman soldiers would then stand on either side of the victim and exchange blows on the exposed back and buttocks with a whip often referred to as a "cat of nine tails". This was a torturous weapon made of a wooden handle that had several leather straps attached to it. Attached to these  leather strips were  jagged pieces of rock, metal and glass. These whips were designed and crafted by tradesmen who knew how to make them not only durable for continued use, but also designed to inflict the deepest and most painful wounds with the littlest effort from the Roman soldier.

           If the guard beating someone was having a bad day and used more force to inflict the wound of the beating, it would not be uncommon for a beating to automatically transform into an execution.

      If a person survived the first stage of the beating with the whips, they would take wooden rods that ranged anywhere from four to six feet long and they would beat the victim on the same ripped open raw flesh. Many times the victim would suffer form broken ribs or even internal bleeding from ruptured vital organs.  

      During the beating, if a victim would pass out from the beating, the soldiers would throw buckets of cold water on them to revive them so they could experience the pain of the continued beating. If the victim fainted,  they could not fall to the ground on their face, so there was virtually no way of finding even a slight bit of comfort even from passing out.  

      After Paul and Silas were beaten, they were thrown into the "inner prison" (Acts 16:24). The inner prison was a place of ultimate incarceration. This was a place where human rights did not play into the equation at all. It was literally a dark unlighted cellar in the center of the prison. It was basically a sewage pit where the excrement of the other prisoners would drain into.

           Even the Roman soldiers despised the task of placing someone into this part of the prisons. Only the very worst convicted felons were placed in the inner prison. The stalks in the inner prison were configured so that no form of comfort could not be achieved in any position. Many times the inner prison was used as a “death row” holding area for those they could not crucify in a reasonable period of time. Very often these weak, beaten, internally bleeding prisoners would die in just a few short hours from the stench and unsanitary conditions of this part of the prison facility. There might also be the rotting corpses of unclaimed prisoners immersed in the excrement that filled this portion of the prison. These dead bodies were those who had previously died in this vile and unhealthy environment.

       There in that inner prison Paul and Silas were positioned to die. They were twisted into a terrifyingly uncomfortable position. Their backs were ripped wide open to expose the bruised and torn muscles and ligaments. They were inches away from rotting corpses and probably knee deep in the excrement of the other prisoners in the rest of the prison. They were breathing in the worst possible odors imaginable.

        As Paul and Silas started to partially recover from their public beating, Paul made a monumental choice. He could have very easily said “This isn’t worth it – look where preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ has gotten me.” It would have been just as easy for him to “check out” and allow himself to sink into this vile pool of mortal death and end it all right there. But he didn’t. Instead he made a monumental decision of “kingdom” proportions that would forever change his life, his ministry and even we who read about it today. 

         It was through that powerful decision that Paul and Silas began singing praises to the Lord Jesus Christ. They were truly learning the depth of the words of the famous Old Testament governor of Jerusalem, Nehemiah, who said in chapter 8:10Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength."(NAS).

          The joy of the Lord was indeed becoming their strength as their voices rang out with songs of praise to Jesus. They were acknowledging that they could see through their current circumstances and focus on the big picture of God’s Kingdom and His plans for them. They praised God for who He was and refused to let their personal situations drag them down spiritually, mentally or even physically. They also knew that God had called them to the Macedonian region, and this was not to be their demise. They had not yet reached the entire region with the message of the Gospel. Paul had received a vision from the Lord and knew the value and power of His kingdom being proclaimed in the region of Macedonia. Paul knew this set of horrible circumstances was not going to be triumphant over the empowering force of the Holy Spirit to evangelize Macedonia and the rest of the known world.

          If Paul and Silas had not began to praise the Lord and sing unto Him, they probably would have mortally died that night, there in those deplorable conditions. If that had happened, we would have never had most of the epistles Paul wrote in the latter part of his life, while continuing to evangelize and plant new churches. Paul even wrote some of the most productive epistles while in Roman captivity just prior to his execution in 65 AD.    

       As they praised God, the earth resounded in an earthquake that shook Philippi and specifically the prison Paul and Silas were in. God was probably applauding their great Kingdom decision! It not only loosed their stalks but it also loosed all of the other prisoners.

          Prison wardens were some of the best paid employees of the Roman Empire. There was one catch that earned them such good pay. If any one of the prisoners escaped, the warden would be put to death publicly and his entire family would be humiliated and either eventually executed themselves or exiled. That is why the Bible says that when the jailer awoke and saw the doors to the prison were open he drew his sword and opted for private suicide rather than the potentially painful and humiliating public execution. By killing himself he was assuming all of the responsibility for the prison break in hopes that the Roman officials would exonerate his family of any association of the event.

       Paul stopped the Roman jailer just in time. Paul not only made certain that both he and Silas remained, but had secured the entire census of criminals held in that prison. Paul didn’t do this by his own strength. Just a few hours earlier, he had been severely beaten with whips and rods. He was given no anesthetic. He was not medically treated with pain killers or morphine. The normal prisoner in the inner prison would have died before the earthquake started. Had they survived the earthquake, the last option on the agenda would have been to remain in the confines of this horrible Roman prison. And even less of an option would have been to go around and secure the other prisoners who so desperately wanted their freedom also. Paul had help from on “High”. It was probably an unbelievable miracle to watch this unprecedented security event take place in

that prison at Philippi. As always, Paul took advantage of the moment to make another convert from the gentile community to true faith in Jesus Christ.       

        Paul knew what was probably going to happen if any one of the prisoners escaped. He also knew the powerfully influence that a “Christian” Roman jailer could have on future prisoners and on the Roman guards who would transport them to and from his custody. What a great evangelist and tool for the Kingdom of God this Christian jailer would be with his contacts from all over the entire Roman Empire.

         Paul immediately called out of the dark prison to the jailer and told him not to go through with the suicide. Paul assured him that everybody was accounted for. Immediately the jailer lit some lights and went in to count heads. When he affirmed the truth of Paul’s words, he went to Paul and asked him the absolutely correct question. “What must I do to be saved?” The jailer’s words probably sounded more like “I want what you have!” or “What made you do that?”  

         Paul’s answer was exactly what the prison warden needed to hear. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household”, Paul replied. The results were that the entire family came to a saving faith in Jesus Christ and were baptized. They took Paul and Silas into their personal residence and administered care to their raw whipped and still bleeding backs. They also fed them.

         The journey wasn’t over yet. Paul knew there was a great adventure ahead of them. The next day the city officials came to the prison and begged Paul to leave Philippi. He finally complied only after he returned to Lydia’s house to visit with the other new believers. Then Paul set out on the journey to the next stop which would be Thessalonica.     

        Acts 16:35-40:1Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, "Release those men." And the jailer reported these words to Paul, {saying,} "The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Now therefore, come out and go in peace." But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out." And the policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. And they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. And they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.


The Ultimate Kingdom Decision


               These crucial kingdom decisions can only be made by people who live under the authority of the Kingdom whose King is Jesus Christ. They are the pivotal decisions we make after we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and as our Savior. These decisions determine who we become and how productive and useful we are in the Kingdom of God.

                Paul wasn’t the only recorded New Testament character who made these kingdom decisions. We can only imagine what the early church would have been like if Peter had chose not to speak from his heart to the gathering crowd early that Pentecost morning after the Holy Spirit had just fallen upon him and the others gathered together as it is recorded in Acts 2:1-36. As a result of Peter’s choice to speak, the Bible tells us in Acts 2:41 that nearly 3000 people came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ that day. These people were very obviously not all from Jerusalem.

              In Acts 2:5-11 we read “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were bewildered, because they were each one hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and marveled, saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? "And how is it that we each hear {them} in our own language to which we were born? "Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs-- we hear them in our {own} tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God."(NAS) This passage tells us that these Jews were in Jerusalem from the entire known world to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. What a powerful impact these new converts would have on their hometowns when they returned. It was indeed an important decision that Peter made to speak to the gathering crowd that day on Pentecost.             

             What if Philip would have chose not to obey the angel of the Lord that told him to go south on a desert road towards Gaza? Acts 8:26-27 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, "Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert road.  And he arose and went; and behold, there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship. (NAS)

            The angel did not tell him why he should go, or what he would find, or what he should do. It would have been exceptionally easy for Philip to argue with the angel or demand a reason or purpose for why he should stop preaching the gospel in the Samaritan villages (Acts 8:25). After all, preaching the gospel is a very important part of living in God’s Kingdom. But Philip heard the request and made a powerful kingdom decision that probably affected the very spiritual history of the nation of Ethiopia to this very day. Acts 8:27 says “And he arose and went”. That was the result of a choice Philip was confronted to make.

                 Little did Philip know that he would meet this very influential Ethiopian eunuch that would be reading the Old Testament book of Isaiah. Because Philip chose to be in the right place at the right time according to God’s plan, he was able to lead the Ethiopian court official into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and have the privilege of baptizing him. There is no doubt that this new Ethiopian believer took the gospel message of Jesus Christ back home with him to the palace of Candace the Ethiopian queen. There he proclaimed it with the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit, and as a result, saw lives changed and transformed for the next twenty centuries.       

                Jesus Christ Himself made many kingdom decisions. This is probably not hard to assume. Over 90% of the professing Christians in North America believe in the deity of Jesus, and thus it would not be overly difficult to say that it would be easy for Him to make kingdom decisions with great accuracy. What we can say with a certain confidence is that Jesus did make these kingdom decisions as and example for us and for our benefit.

           It is very interesting to note that many times Jesus did not exercise His divine powers that were obviously available to Him. As completely God and completely man, He was able to do and experience anything available to Him in either spectrum of His existence. We know that Jesus was perfect in His personal lifestyle and His decisiveness, not only from the testimonies of the four canonical gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but also the proclamation made in Hebrews 4:14-15 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.           For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.(NAS)

                There is one particular decision that stands out as extraordinary and very exemplary. It was made from the very human element of Jesus Christ. The gospel writer Luke, who was known to portray Jesus from a very non-Jewish but yet a very human vantage point, is the only one of the four gospel writers to acknowledge this powerful kingdom decision of Christ.

                The other three gospel writers portray Jesus from various other vantage points. Such as Mark, who describes the life of Jesus Christ with much movement, emotion and a constant stream of activity. Mark’s gospel is often called “the working gospel”. Matthew views Jesus from a very Jewish position and regularly shows the couplings of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment in the very life of Jesus. Matthew’s gospel is referred to as the gospel of Messianic proclamation. John changes the gospel movement from that of the other synoptic writers (Matthew, Mark & Luke) into more of a spiritual and theological dissertation. The Lord’s teachings and spirituality is in the forefront, and not so much the chronology of ministerial events. John’s gospel is often referred to as the high and lofty spiritual gospel.                      

               However, there is one common denominator that all four canonical gospels share in common. That is the telling of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in the telling of that passion that Luke steps out alone to share the very first words of Jesus Christ after being placed on the cross to be crucified. In Luke 23:33-34 we read. And when they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing." And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. (NAS)

                This ultimate kingdom decision Jesus made on the cross was that of forgiveness. It was a sincere and genuine plea to His Father to forgive the entire human race for not only their sinful state, but also for the physical pain that He was suffering because of their ignorance. In His statement “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”, He made a choice that would offer endless hope to all who would place their faith in the sinless sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. In that forgiveness He cancelled the debt we owed for our sin. All we must do is receive that tremendous gift of forgiveness.

                Jesus could have chosen not to utter those redeeming words form the cross, and it may not have been any different. Jesus could have responded in human anger as the cross was lifted into place and destroyed anything and everyone within miles of the actual event. He even had the power to stop the clock and step out of the human suffering He was experiencing at that very moment. But instead, He chose to forgive us. He was suffering an agonizing death because of our sin. His kingdom decision to proclaim genuine forgiveness to all mankind, made His suffering legitimate for Him and provided hope and a new life for us.




We may never know the actual importance of some of the decisions we make everyday in our lives. Many times we do not consider the importance or potential of God’s kingdom when we are confronted with various decisions. It is often because our dreams, preferences and goals may be more immediate than the consideration of the advancement of God’s kingdom and His will for our lives. Jesus said in Matthew 6:33 "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. (NAS). This statement was very applicable to Paul in that Philippian prison experience, when he made the decision to rejoice in the love and power of our Lord Jesus Christ. Despite his circumstances and even his emanate physical death, Paul put the Kingdom of God first and saw the positive results of that choice for many more years as he spread the gospel to nearly everyone he came in contact with. Remember with each choice how important each decision you make is for your usefulness and productivity in His Kingdom. If God’s kingdom is truly the driving force, the decisions we are confronted with may have much different outcomes than we would normally expect to see. God’s ways and His plans are much higher than ours. His kingdom is much more glorious and rewarding than any self-centered decision we could ever chose to make. Focus your heart on the advancement of His Kingdom and the perpetuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and everything else will naturally come together according to God’s great plan for your life. Your “Kingdom decisions” are of the utmost importance. God has created you as a free moral agent to make decisions that will honor him and advance His Kingdom. Take advantage of that God given power and use if under the guidance of His Holy Spirit to see and experience great things as you live in His Kingdom in this life and ion the life to come.           


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