Harding University in Greece
The history of King Philip and the Macedonian rule and the conquering of the area by the Romans is full of war strategy. We hear the background of the region and how it laps over the Biblical history. There was an overwhelming Roman military presence in the town of Philippi. Thus, every mention of a soldier or of citizenship is purposeful and full of deep meaning. As the colors that an artist uses represent meaning, so do Paul’s words in this specific letter to these specific people in this specific time. Occasionally, we need a tour guide, an interpreter, a historian, or a scholarly article to gather some meaning that we simply don’t know. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about that or throw aside these helpful tools for interpretation of ancient texts because of our own feelings when what we really desire is to understand God more fully through Paul’s writings. We should ask for and be thankful for assistance. We tend to separate history from Bible, but we really should teach those simultaneously. It would help us see why Paul wrote what he did to these people and how we could use his words in our own hearts and lives and dealings with other people in this world.
Reading from Acts 16:12, the scene is set for today’s tour of the ground of ancient Philippi. Women of the day were allowed to be household leaders under certain circumstances. The Lydians and the Philippians were specialists in dying items purple from extracting a certain mucus from seashells and letting it sit in the sun for a certain time. Evidence suggests that the female called Lydia (perhaps a geographical reference if she was a former slave) in Acts 16 was truly here, outside of ancient Philippi.
We also discuss the brutality of Roman beatings, which we read about in Acts 16:22-23; again the use of the word “severe” is on purpose. We hear details of what a Roman beating entails and its results on one’s body. Artwork doesn’t show us the blood, the urination, the holes in one’s body showing the entrails, and the infections that arise after one sits or lies in the dirt of a prison cell on an injured body part. The Romans believed in swift justice and short-term prison punishment. Paul and Silas sung hymns and prayed after their beatings. The other prisoners were listening intently. How in the world did they use their awful circumstance to influence others for God’s glory? My brain can hardly wrap around the brutality they faced. Still, they turned to God—likely out of desperation and also because they were on a mission, and they knew it. They’re inspirational to me. Then the issue of Paul and Silas being Roman citizens is brought up, and we ponder on the influence they had because they didn’t play their citizenship card. These are incredible men.
At the ancient agora, we stand at the bema where Paul and Silas were likely beaten. There is graffiti in the concrete which was an ancient game that had to do with beating the loser in a game. This game was played by Roman children to incorporate and desensitize violent attitudes so that they could be efficient and emotionless soldiers.
Thumbnail sized individual mosaics make up a church building floor from the 5th century A.D. So far, this is the oldest found church building in Europe. A Roman Bath is next door which was turned into a baptistery centuries later when the church was strong here. They used what they had, just as we do.
Nearby Church of Saint Lydia has the best acoustics we’ll enjoy all semester. As we enter, I prepare myself to hold my emotions in check. It would be a nice event to exit this particular church without tears, as I haven’t had success thus far. Things simply don’t go as I plan today. If you’re a past HUGer reading this, don’t be offended, but this last group whom we are hosting has a great number of singers who know their parts so well and sing with confidence. It’s a great chorus for us to cherish in our hearts as we leave this land and its people. We sing some of my favorites—It is Well with My Soul (my daughter’s middle name, Hayes, is in honor of a man who took my parents under his wing when they moved to their new town of Grenada when I was little; he and his wife were an extra set of grandparents for me, and this was his favorite song), Magnificat, Ten Thousand Reasons, and There’s a Stirring. I saw bended knees, hands reaching to the sky, tears on cheeks, eyes closed, and eyes open taking it all in, body and soul. Some tourists enter and pause, standing at the door to allow the music to speak to them. Music transports us and connects our hearts, no matter the language. I simply can’t imagine the pleasure that God must receive from praise to Him in song. And we are blessed to receive joy from music, too. We soared with the angels today. I’m storing up these treasures in my heart since I know that it’s not likely that I’ll return to this special setting. And even if I do, it won’t be at this particular point in my life with these particular people with this particular sound. Oh, how I thank Him for this moment in time.