You have heard it said that there is strength in numbers. A brief history of the church at Philippi challenges this old axiom.
Philippi was Paul and Silas’s first stop on the European continent. Paul’s usual practice when coming to a new place was to locate the synagogue and begin preaching Jesus as the Christ from the Old Testament (Acts 13:5, 14; 17:17; 18:4). But it doesn’t appear that Philippi had a synagogue, for on the Sabbath Paul went outside the city gate to the riverside where he found several women who had come together for prayer. As a rule, the Jews wouldn’t establish a synagogue until there were at least ten Jewish men in a city. But the proselytes Paul discovered in Philippi were all female. There was no synagogue. Just a small group of women worshiping by the riverside.
One of the ladies who was worshiping that day was a merchant who sold purple dye named Lydia. When she heard the word of God, she obeyed. In fact, her whole family was baptized too (Acts 16:14-15).
Soon afterwards, Paul and Silas ran into a little trouble and were thrown into prison. That night, as they were praying and singing hymns to God, there was a great earthquake. The jailer, supposing that all his prisoners had escaped, started to take his own life, but Paul stopped him, assuring him that none of the prisoners had escaped. With sudden conviction, the jailer asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Then he and his family obeyed the gospel (Acts 16:33).
Because of all the commotion they had stirred up, the city magistrates begged Paul and Silas to leave town. When they left, the church they had established was pretty small. It probably contained little more than Lydia’s and Cornelius’s families, and it appears that Lydia’s home could accommodate their worship services (Acts 16:40).
Some ten years after he had established the small church at Philippi, Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians from prison in Rome. By this point, the church had grown large enough to be led by “overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). It is the warmest of his thirteen letters. Commentator G.B. Caird said that it is clear this church “was the one which gave [Paul] the most satisfaction and the least trouble.”
Some say there are strength in numbers, but in the beginning, Philippi’s strength was not in big numbers but great faith. Churches cannot thrive and flourish on numbers alone. The secret of any strong, healthy church is its love for God and obedience to the truth.
Let’s be a faithful church. Then we will become a strong church.