The city of Philippi sat about ten miles inland from the Gulf of Neapolis in a region of gold production which was annexed by Philip, father of Alexander the Great. Conquered by the Romans 200 years later (168 BC), Philippi, by that time with the gold exhausted, was reduced to a small settlement. Not far from Philippi, in 42 BC, during the civil wars that took place after the assassination of Julius Caesar, Antony and Octavian defeated Brutus and Cassius. Philippi became a Roman colony and Antony settled his veterans there. After the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra by Octavian at the naval battle of Actium, Octavian, who ultimately became Caesar Augustus, settled the dispossessed followers of Antony in Philippi where each veteran received a grant of land. The citizens were Romans with all the rights accompanying this honour. Economic privileges such as exemption from tribute etc., and political privileges such as freedom from interference from the provincial governor, were enjoyed.
Into this city, the chief city of that part of Macedonia (Acts 16.12), steeped in history, proud of its status and confident in its rights and privileges, there entered three men - Paul, Silas, and Timothy - with a message which would cause an uproar and lead to an earthquake. They would be imprisoned, only to be released when Paul struck fear into the hearts of the magistrates by declaring that they had unlawfully beaten a citizen of Rome.
But, despite this turmoil, Lydia and others were saved and it is to the assembly formed that Paul writes his letter, remembering the days when he first came into contact with them and the fellowship that he had enjoyed with them since. A practical expression of this was the gifts that they had, on more than one occasion, forwarded to him.
As he brings these days to remembrance he writes of what had happened on the "first day", from the beginning of his visit. Little wonder that the Adversary strove so diligently to destroy this work of God at the very beginning. Their fellowship in the gospel, in the support that they gave him in spiritual and in practical matters, could not be forgotten. How choice it was that there was no delay between the day they believed and their diligence in working for the Lord, their new Master. Today it is a joy to behold early evidences of new life immediately following profession of faith.
But, states Paul, this fellowship had continued "until now". Not only was there no delay in their public identification with the Lord and His servants, there had been no diminution of their fervour. It is of interest to note that Paul placed the article "the" before "now", declaring, " the first day until the now", perhaps drawing attention to his thankfulness for the fellowship recently received. Herein is a challenge for all believers who can look back months, years, and perhaps decades since that moment when the Lord became their Lord. Has the fervour of early days diminished? It may be that length of years has meant the loss of physical strength, but fervour is expressed in many other ways: fervour in encouraging others, fervour in caring for others, fervour in praying for others and, greatest of all, fervour in seeking to be more like the Lord. Perhaps disappointment at the conduct of others has blunted the dedication that once we had, or the stirring of love for "the present age" (2 Tim 4.10, JND) has distanced us from those who still serve with zeal. If that be so may we turn again to follow with passion Him who called us to serve Him. Of how many can it really be said that they have been faithful in service continually until now?