How far would you travel on a flash of vision? St Paul was already on the road with Silas and the missionary plan was evolving before them. Then one night in Troas, on the north-western shore of modern Turkey, Paul had a vision of a Macedonian man begging him “Come over here and help us.” (Acts 16)
Soon they were in Philippi, a city whose fortunes had recently revived by being designated a Roman Colony. They began on the Sabbath, looking for a Jewish place of prayer. The “Macedonian Man” of Paul’s vision initially turned out to be a woman as one of the first to respond to their preaching was Lydia, a wealthy textiles dealer. She insisted they stay in her house, and there began the Macedonian church. Paul had already written “there is neither male nor female in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3) but surely his experience of Lydia in Philippi confirmed for him the high status of women in the gospel community.
The generosity of Lydia’s church remained a gift of love far beyond the simple value of their money. As a rule, Paul made a point of working to maintain himself. He says, writing to Greek Christians in Corinth, that he wanted his preaching to be absolutely “free of charge”. (2 Corinthians 11) Yet Lydia and the Philippians not only insisted on hosting him at home, but sent aid repeatedly when he was journeying away further into Macedonia. (Philippians 4)
Pioneering church work can be incredibly lonely and Paul was immensely grateful for these supporters and their proactive, insistent generosity. Later he would write to the Corinthians, “See that you also excel in this grace of giving.” (2 Corinthians The city of Philippi no longer stands, but Paul’s experience there is embedded in his teaching.
This article first appeared in Sunday Link, Redemptorist Publications