A letter to Paul from the Philippians

Acts 16:1-15
Philippians 1:1-11, 2:1-18, 4:2-9

My dear friend Paul,
Here’s a letter from your old lady-friend Lydia, one of the bishops of the church in Philippi. We do miss you. We are, after all, the first church you founded west of the Hellespont.

But we heard that you’d been arrested in Jerusalem, and were all worried about you; but we didn’t know how to contact you. Next we heard you were in Caesarea-on-Sea, and a couple of years later that you’d been shipwrecked on the way to Rome. I’m surprised at dear Doctor Luke allowing you to travel; was he with you? Poor thing, he always hated the sea. And still we heard nothing from you, not even a short letter.

My business takes me all over the Eastern part of the Empire, selling purple-dyed cloth, but never up to Rome. A few firms have got a monopoly on the purple trade there, and tried to keep me away. Please tell me which prison you’re in. Are you in the Mamertine Prison? Then I’ll leave my overseers and servants to run the business, and the church, and come to Rome at my own expense. I’ve worked hard for my money since my dear husband died, and what’s the point of being a wealthy woman if you can’t spend it on visiting your friends when they’re in need?

The church in my house is growing all the time. We used to worship in the atrium, but last year we moved into the stock-room of the shop, because it’s bigger, but there’s such a demand for purple cloth here that it’s full of bales of the stuff. Emperor Nero tried to limit the wearing of purple to members of the Emperor’s household. But you can’t regulate that sort of thing outside Rome. Most Philippians are children or grandchildren of the soldiers to whom Augustus gave their citizenship after the Battle of Philippi, so they claim the right to wear the purple too. Which is all good business for me. But I think maybe I shall build another room soon, just for worship.

All your old friends are still worshipping with us: Clement, and Epaphroditus — and dear old Apollonius, the jailer, and all his family whom you baptized in prison after the earthquake. He never stops talking about how you and Silas were singing hymns in prison! He keeps trying to sing the one you sang then, and forgets the words. Could you send them to us when you write, beginning ‘Let this mind be in you . . .’?

There still aren’t enough Jewish men in Philippi to form a synagogue, and those who haven’t joined the church still worship down by the river where you baptized me. But you remember Sybil, the slave girl who used to be a fortune-teller? Her owners threw her out after you healed her. She’s had a relapse – keeps going into a trance and seeing visions. Some Jews passing through persuaded her that Gentiles cannot be in the People of God unless we keep every letter of the law. So that’s what she prophesies these days. Surely the food laws aren’t as important as knowing God? Just think how my business would suffer, if I told my Greek staff never to work on the Sabbath?

And Euodia and Syntyche are still with us. I wish they weren’t. They never agree about anything, always needling one another. When any newcomer joins our worship meetings, the first thing they hear is one of these ladies saying something bitchy about the other. Nobody wants to join a spiteful fellowship like that, and they never come again. When I think of all the work you and I put into building up this congregation in love, it breaks my heart. Your ‘yoke-fellow’, you used to call me, as though we were a cow and a bull pulling together on the same yoke! And now these two seem to be pulling apart everything we’d built up.

Please write, giving me authority to rebuke them, or expel them from the congregation. Farewell, Paul, or Rejoice, as we Greeks say. Epaphroditus will bring you some money from me and some of my friends who have interests in the gold mines on Mount Pangeion. We can easily afford it. Could you buy yourself out of prison and rent a house till your trial comes up?

Your sincere friend, and the old cow who shared the same yoke with you,


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