A Nonsensical Calling
From the outsider's view it seemed like a wasted trip. The evangelist had passed by all of the major cities that had been close by, where he had really wanted to go, for this has-been depleted city with a population of less than 15,000 people. He did is because God told him to go. But why would God call him there?
Paul began as he always did, in search for the men at the synagogue to tell them the good news about Jesus. But at the edge of town, where the Jewish meeting centers were often found, he found neither a synagogue nor men. So he spoke to those who were there and managed to lead a foreign merchant woman from Asia Minor to faith in Christ. How ironic that the one household he baptized came from a woman who was from the very area that he had tried to preach before the Lord had changed his path.
Even after he finally found a place of prayer, Paul could not go there in peace. On his way there he was met by a young demoniac slave girl who followed him around for days with ceaseless shouts and torments. Finally, out of sheer annoyance, he cast the demon out. That only brought more trouble.
As annoying as the slave girls spiritual oppression had been for Paul, in her possessed state she had told fortunes and made her masters a great deal of money. In their anger at lost profits, the former demoniac's owners dragged Paul and his friend Silas into the marketplace to accuse them. Afterwards they were stripped, severely beaten in a way that would tear their flesh, and then placed in chains in a dungeon, open wounds and all. The jailor was encouraged to watch them closely, but not to help them.
As a response, they did the wisest and bravest thing they could have done. They sang out songs of praise to God late into the night. At about midnight a violent earthquake came and that shook the building's foundation, causing their chains to break off. Though they had the physical freedom to go, they chose not to run, and they somehow convinced the other prisoners to stay put as well. Had they all escaped, the jailor could have lost his life over the matter. Instead he gave his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and he began to take better care of his new friends Paul and Silas.
So in a nutshell, Paul's trip past the bigger cities to the relatively small Philippi was filled with disappointment, harassment, public humiliation to the point of dehumanization, torture, injustice, and an enormous natural disaster. Yet the book of Acts only mentions two conversions and one miracle done there, with that miracle coming more out of annoyance than anything else. What a waste, right? Then again...
That female convert, Lydia, was a powerful merchant who moved between Asia and Europe along one of the most prominent trade routes of the Roman Empire, the Egnatian Way. Because of her the church was established in Philippi and shared the news in her travels to other lands. So the Gospel spread to new and different populations.
The deliverance of that demoniac slave girls would have caused quite a stir. The very complaint that was meant to shut Paul down actually got them attention as people saw the power of God at work. Word got out among the merchants, slave owners and slaves, and the Gospel spread to new and different populations.
The other slaves in the dungeon took notice of how of the men who had been badly beaten, falsely accuse and placed in chains chose to praise the Lord and claim joy even in the midst of their unfair suffering. It so effected them that when given the chance to escape, they choose to stay with them. This in turn effected the jailor to the point of saving his life, and compelling him to give it all to God. Through the witness of the other prisoners and the jailor, word got out among the outlaws and the politician, and the Gospel was spread to new and different populations.
As a bonus, Paul's generosity of spirit inspired an unparalleled openness to giving among the Philippians. In addition to encouragement, supplies and people to help, they freely gave Paul money to aid his mission even when no one else did.
Sometimes we cannot see what God is doing in our lives. Sometimes it simply makes no sense. But God's ways are so much higher than ours. If we can just press past the confusion and lean into God's promises, our obedient faith will be rewarded in ways that we could not possibly imagine on this side of earth. It may also mean the difference between death and life for others.
Acts 16; Philippians 4