'I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST'
SERIES: PAUL, AN INSTRUMENT OF THE RISEN CHRIST
by Ron Ritchie
In December of 1985, we held a seminar in this church entitled "A Christian
Response to the AIDS Crisis." We sought ways to minister to sufferers
of this terrible disease; to take them to their hospital appointments, prepare
food for them, clean their homes, etc. We were aware that the gay community
in San Francisco were closed to much of the help being offered by the churches.
They feared that Christians were merely seeking an opportunity to condemn
their behavior and preach to them. That was not our motive, but that was
the feeling of many homosexuals in San Francisco. Thus, we have been trying
to be more creative in our approaches.
One day last year while I was on a flight to Dallas, I noticed the Mayor
of San Francisco sitting a few rows in front of me. She stood up and began
moving back through the first couple of rows of seats, talking to her delegation
who were accompanying her, as I later learned, on a trip to South America.
I immediately thought to myself, "What a wonderful opportunity to talk
to her of our vision to minister to the homosexual community in San Francisco!"
As she moved towards my seat, I became extremely nervous, however. I said
to myself, "Come on, Ritchie! What's wrong with you?" I prayed,
"Lord, give me the courage to talk to her." The next thing I knew
I found myself walking towards her and introducing myself as a pastor from
Palo Alto. I told her about the seminar which we had held and of our desire
to minister in the city among AIDS sufferers. She replied, "Just call
the mayor's office, ask for my secretary, and tell her we talked. She will
give you a list of names of people you need to talk to." It was all
so easy I wondered why I was so nervous to begin with. I was overjoyed at
how well our conversation had gone. Later, I thought of the word which Paul
wrote to the Philippians, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens
I want to apply the truth of that verse to our lives this morning as we
look at the further adventures of the apostle Paul. Together with Silas,
Paul has embarked upon his second missionary journey, picking up Timothy
in Lystra. They have arrived at Troas, and it is here that Paul has a vision
of a man from Macedonia who says to him, "Come over to Macedonia and
help us." The apostle responds by immediately seeking to go into Macedonia,
"concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them"
(Acts 16:10b). Thus, Paul prepares to enter Europe with the gospel of the
grace of Jesus Christ. As we look at this story today, we will see that
the risen Lord, who provides wisdom, power, courage and boldness to Paul
and his companions, regardless of the circumstances, will provide the same
resources in our lives if we will but turn to him. That was the secret of
Paul's life, as he shared later in his Philippian letter. In chapter 1 of
that letter, the apostle declared that Jesus was his life ("for to
me to live is Christ"); in chapter 2, he said that Jesus Christ was
his example (as Jesus took on the "form of a bond-servant"); in
chapter 3, he wrote that Jesus was his confidence ("I lay hold of Christ");
and in chapter 4, Paul said that Jesus Christ was his strength ("I
can do all things through Christ who strengthens me").
Thus we take up the apostle's story again as he sets out from Troas, responding
to the call to bring the gospel to Europe. In the city of Philippi, in Macedonia,
he will share the gospel, cast out demons, endure affliction, and confront
authority. He will be a living demonstration of the truth of his own words,
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
I. Share the Gospel
Therefore putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course
to Samothrace, and on the following day 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.
The city of Philippi was named for Philip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander
the Great. In 42 B.C., Augustus, who would later become Caesar Augustus,
was aided in battle by the people of the city, and in gratitude he made
the city a Roman colony, with all the privileges that that entailed, including
citizenship. Thus, Philippi was one of the leading cities of Greece. The
great Roman highway, the Egnatian Way, traversed through the city; the
same road which Paul would later use to travel to Thessalonica, Berea and
So Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke entered Philippi and immediately set about
finding a synagogue which they would use as a beachhead to establish the
gospel. The rabbis taught that any city in which ten or more Jewish males
resided was suitable for the setting up of a synagogue. If ten were not
available, the worshipers should meet by any body of water--lake, ocean,
pond, etc.--so that water would be available for ceremonial rites. Failing
to find a synagogue in the city therefore, Paul and his companions went
down by the Gangites River, a mile west of the city, where they found that
a number of women had assembled. The team sat down and began to teach from
the Old Testament that Jesus Christ was God's Messiah.
Some eleven years later, writing to these same people from a prison cell
in Rome, Paul reminded the Philippians of the Person and work of the Savior
in these words,
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with
God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,
and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as
a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even
death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on
Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every
knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the
earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to
the glory of God the Father. (Phil.2:5-11)
As Paul and his co-workers were sharing the gospel by the river, "a
certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple
fabrics, a worshiper of God," was listening intently. The result was
that "the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by
Paul." When opportunity arises, Christians are called to simply and
clearly share the Word of God. We do not have the power to open the hearts
of our hearers; that is not our responsibility. Neither do we have to manipulate
or force the message on anyone. And we do not have to lay awake at night
wondering if the seed of the Word of God will germinate. As believers, our
duty is to plant the seed, then to rest and allow the ground to produce
the harvest--how, we do not know.
That is what happened here with Lydia. God was the One who opened her heart
to grasp the fact that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Others listening at
the same time, including members of Lydia's household, also opened their
hearts to Jesus as their Savior,. The next step was to baptize those who
had come to faith. Thus, they became identified with Christ by means of
baptism, being symbolically placed into him and having their sins forgiven.
Surely this is the occasion Paul was referring to when he later wrote to
I thank my God in all remembrance of you, always offering prayer
with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in
the gospel from the first day until now. (Phil.1:3-5).
Whenever I read of this conversion experience, I think of Kathy, a young
woman who visited our home for a few weeks some years ago. While she was
with us she met a number of Christians from this church. I noticed that
she listened carefully to what they had to say about their faith. One day
I found her lying on a couch in my livingroom, looking very depressed. When
I asked her if she was sick, she replied that she felt spiritually sick.
She had never been around Christians before and she felt very empty inside,
she told me. I sat down with her and shared the reason for her emptiness,
but before I had said very much she had opened her heart to the Savior.
The following week she was baptized. Now she is back on the East Coast,
attending medical school and working in Campus Crusade for Christ. It was
obvious that the Lord had opened her heart to receive the gospel that day.
Thus a beachhead was established for the gospel in the household of Lydia,
another woman whose heart was opened by the Lord to receive the gospel.
The enemy, however, was not asleep. Satan now enters the picture. But Paul
is given the strength and courage to cast out demons.
II. Cast Out Demons
And it happened that as were 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.
This event may have occurred a week or so later as the four missionaries
were headed back to the river for a time of prayer. The slave-girl, who
had a spirit of foretelling the future, approached the disciples and began
crying out. There were more than sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire--men,
women and children who were denied all their civil rights. This slave-girl's
masters were getting rich at her expense through her fortune-telling. People
like her were highly thought of in the ancient world because they were believed
to have their wits taken away from them by the gods who put their own minds
The message which the girl cried out day by day as Paul and his team quietly
sought to minister in the city was absolutely true. "These men are
bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of
salvation," she announced. The demon who possessed her knew what was
going on. But having this message shouted at them every day was nothing
but harassment. It was the enemy's ploy. Paul's response was the same as
the response which Jesus made to the possessed man in the synagogue at
Capernaum. This man had said to the Lord, "I know who you are, the
Holy One of God...." As was the case with Jesus, the apostle did not
want this kind of message coming from a demon-possessed person lest the
people think that his own proclamation of the gospel was associated with
Satan. The enemy at times seeks to align himself with us as an angel of
light, using the same terms we do. Paul was greatly annoyed at this harassment.
At last he addressed the spirit, not the woman, and said, "I command
you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" We must remember
that Satan is the enemy, not the people he manipulates. People who attack
Christianity are not the enemy but the victims of the enemy. Paul did not
attempt to use any power of his own, but rather he used the power of the
resurrected Lord to cast the demon out of the girl. The result was that
she, the captive, was set free from her spiritual enemy. She was still a
slave of Rome, but no longer a demon-possessed slave.
The television and newspapers this week have much to say about the so-called
"harmonic convergence" which, according to a reading of the Mayan
calendar, is occurring this week-end,. One of the leaders of this loosely
defined group was quoted as saying he hoping for 144,000 people who, he
said, are needed "to create a field of trust, to ground the new vibrational
frequencies coming in at that time." He said that a 5,125-year cycle
will climax in 2012, at which time "earthlings will be in contact with
alien beings." To prepare, he says, a period of cleansing will begin
Sunday and continue at least through 1992. A philosophy professor from the
East Coast, however, says that all of this stuff is "based on a hodgepodge
of astrology, UFO-logy, the Mayan calendar, Aztec gods and a dash of the
so-called New Age philosophy." Followers of this type of thing are
also held captive by the evil one, as was this slave-girl in Philippi. And,
as with her, only Jesus Christ can set such people free. Believers can,
by the power of Jesus Christ, set these people free.
But Satan is still not through with his efforts to keep the gospel from
entering Europe. He changes his tactic of using a demon-possessed girl,
to using her greedy and heartless masters to put a stop to the missionary
effort. Paul can "do all things through Christ" who strengthens
him. He can witness to some women by a river; he can cast out a demon from
a slave-girl; and he can endure affliction whilst in prison.
III. Endure Affliction
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 magistrate,
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.
Far from rejoicing over the slave-girl's healing, her masters are indignant
over this attack on the sacred rights of property. They are not curious
about the power which Paul used to cast out the demon because they are not
open to the gospel. Rather, they are angry because they have lost their
meal-ticket. They seize Paul and Silas, leaving Luke and Timothy alone for
the moment, and drag them before the magistrates. They charge them with
three counts: first, they were "throwing our city into confusion,"
they said; breaking the peace, in other words; second, they were Jews, not
Romans (patriotism in full bloom); third, "these men are proclaiming
customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or observe, being Romans"
(Roman law allowed conquered people to retain their religion but not to
proselytize Roman citizens). The real reason behind these charges, of course,
was that these slave masters had lost their means of livelihood.
The crowd at the trial "rose up together against [the disciples]."
In the heat of the moment, no one remembered to ask Paul and Silas whether
they were Roman citizens. If they were, they had certain civil rights, one
of which was that they could not be beaten. Instead, both men were stripped
and beaten in public, and then thrown into jail and bound in stocks. The
apostle would later write to these Philippians,
For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to
believe in Him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil.1:29)
There's no telling what God will do if you happen to walk down by a river
one day seeking fellowship with his people. You may think you have gone
from Plan A to Plan B, but God sometimes has planned yet another detour,
this time to prison. You should not sign up, of course, if you do not understand
the gospel, because suffering for Christ's sake is very much a part of that
"But about midnight..." When you come to the word "But"
in the Bible, you can stop right there and circle it; a change is about
to happen. It's midnight in the cold, silent prison. Paul and Silas are
lodged in a dungeon within the prison, their hands and feet locked in stocks.
They are bruised and beaten. There is no late night TV show to distract
them. Who could blame them if they were fearful, confused and bitter over
what had happened? Rather than complaining, however, they are praying and
singing hymns to God, while the rest of the prison, a captive audience if
ever there was one, listens. The disciples are not held captive by their
circumstances; they are not praying that God release them from the mess
they had landed in; they are not demanding justice for their mistreatment.
Rather, they are "praying and singing hymns of praise to God."
Then, answering their praying and singing, God responds with an earthquake
"so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately
all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains were unfastened."
The jailer awoke and saw the doors opened and immediately set about killing
himself. He knew that under Roman law he would pay with his life anyway
if his prisoners escaped. "But Paul cried out in a loud voice, saying,
'Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!'" The jailer rushed in,
trembling with fear and superstition and asked the astonishing question,
"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" What was it about Paul and
Silas that made him ask this question? Is the jailer asking for physical
or spiritual deliverance? (The word "saved" here means "to
be saved from danger, from suffering, or from spiritual damnation.")
As he has been prevented from killing himself, it is obvious that the man
is asking, therefore, "How can I be saved from eternal damnation?"
He is asking for a plan, but Paul and Silas instead introduce him to a Person,
Jesus Christ. The disciples respond, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and
you shall be saved, you and your household."
How could the Roman jailer be saved? By placing his faith in Jesus the Savior.
Jesus demonstrated by his death on the cross that he was the Lamb of God
who would take away the guilt and shame of man. Jesus is the only one who
can save people from the power of sin. The jailer would have to place his
faith in Jesus. By his resurrection from the dead the Lord demonstrated
that he is the only One who can fill the emptiness of people with his wholeness,
peace and joy. By placing his faith in Jesus, the jailer would receive the
gift of the Holy Spirit who would empower him to deal with all of life's
circumstances..."For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten
Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but will have everlasting
life." There is salvation in no one else..."for there is no other
name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
What must we do to be saved? The answer is the same today as it was in that
Philippian prison two thousand years ago. The jailer was imprisoned by Satan,
by the lust of the world and the lust of the flesh. Only by believing in
Jesus could he find the answer to his question, "Sirs, what must I
do to be saved?"
Paul and Silas later explained the Scriptures in more detail to the jailer
and his household, and each one in turn came to faith in Christ. The man
then washed the disciples' wounds which they suffered in the beating they
had received. Then he and all his household were baptized. Following that,
the jailer took them to his home and fed them, and "they all rejoiced
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," says
Paul. The apostle can witness, he can cast out demons, he can endure afflictions,
and he can
IV. Confront Authority
Now 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
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.
"Release those men," is the order sent down from the magistrates
concerning Paul and Silas. "Get them out of our hair," in other
words; "we don't want anything more to do with them." "How
nice of you," says Paul, "but there is a slight problem which
you are overlooking. We have been beaten in public, without trial. Our rights
as Roman citizens have been violated. There has been no investigation and
we have been denied the right to defend ourselves. Furthermore, as citizens
of Rome we are exempted from degrading forms of punishment. We have been
treated like criminals and thrown into prison. Now you are trying to get
rid of us in secret. No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us
out." The magistrates were in real trouble and they knew it. They had
been swayed by the mobs and had failed to even investigate what Paul and
Silas had been charged with. Their positions were on the line. Earlier,
the Emperor Claudius had deprived the city of Rhodes of its freedom for
having crucified some Roman citizens. That is why the magistrates forgave
the disciples and appealed to them to leave the city, because as citizens
of Rome they could not be forced to depart Philippi.
But why did Paul and Silas confront the authorities? It sounds out of character
for these servants of Jesus Christ to demand their rights. They did so because
the first church in Europe had now been established, with Lydia and her
household and the Philippian jailer and his household--all of them Roman
citizens--and they would need protection when they in turn witnessed to
Christ in the future. Paul is not concerned for himself, but is concerned
that all who would later come to Christ in that Roman city be allowed to
live and worship in peace.
A number of the Jews for Jesus people were arrested for handing out literature
in Los Angeles International Airport in 1984. They responded by challenging
their arrest in the federal courts. On June 15th this year, the Supreme
Court ruled 9-0 that Jews for Jesus, and other groups, had protection under
the First Amendment to hand out literature and to talk to people in any
airport in the United States. Thus, our Jewish brothers appealed to the
courts of the United States to protect the rights of Christians to evangelize
and present the gospel of Jesus Christ freely and in peace in airports throughout
our land. (All other groups are similarly protected.) In a sense, Paul is
doing exactly the same things here in Philippi by demanding that the magistrates
who had punished him and Silas themselves come and release them from their
The missionaries then visited once again the home of Lydia and encouraged
the brethren in that church. Luke remained on for a time to shepherd the
body, while Paul, Silas and Timothy headed south on the Egnatian Way, on
to their next adventure with their Lord, in Thessalonica.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," wrote
Paul to the Philippians later. Christ had strengthened him to witness, to
cast out a demon, to endure affliction, and, finally, to confront the civil
authorities in Philippi so that the first church in Europe would henceforth
be allowed to live in peace.
In the age of the Spirit in which we are living, our Lord is "taking
from among the Gentiles a people for His name." And he is doing so
in and through Christians. But he never calls upon us to do anything without
providing the strength necessary to accomplish his perfect will. Therefore
he does not want nor need our power, personality, ability, talent, experience
or money--even our Plan A. He wants us to be like Paul, Silas, Luke and
Timothy--available, and in touch with his purposes on earth in this age
of the Spirit. "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens
me," says Paul. Do we believe that?
Catalog No. 4054
Ron R. Ritchie
August 16, 1987
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