Over the years, I have seen a number of humorous “resumes” written for the Apostle Paul, as if he were a pastoral candidate for a local church staff position. Imagine a resume that said:
“I have many qualifications. I’ve been a preacher with much success, and also had some success as a writer. Some say I’m a good organizer. I’ve been a leader most places I’ve been. I am over 50 years of age, but I have never preached in one place more than three years. In some places I have had to leave town after my work caused riots and disturbances. I must admit I have been in jail three or four times, but not because of any wrongdoing.
The churches I have preached in have been small, though located in several large cities. I sometimes have trouble getting along with local people and leaders; some have threatened me and even attacked me physically. I am not too good at keeping records. I have been known to forget whom I have baptized. However, if you can use me, I shall do my best for you.”
So, would you hire that guy? As in Iconium and Lystra on the first journey, Paul (and Silas) is going to get tossed out of town. Here’s why …
Paul and Silas encounter a slave girl who has an occult power to predict the future, thus earning money for her owners. This inner spirit (in the original language named “Python”) recognizes the party as connected to the Most High God, and following them around makes such pronouncements. Though this would seem at first glance to be an endorsement, it is not helpful, since the pantheistic Gentiles would not associate this beyond Zeus or something of that sort in their own understanding. You gotta love how Paul is said to become “so annoyed” that he commanded the creepy spirit to exit right out of her!
Along with the spirit’s departure also went the owners’ means of income. Now they were annoyed! Dragging Paul and Silas before the civil authorities with a variety of charges, the Roman crowd is pleased with a public flogging of the pair. Additionally, they are thrown into prison to face further charges from a higher council.
Chained, beaten, with feet in stocks – the pair breaks out into praise, prayer, and songs of worship at midnight. The captive audience for this concert consists of the other prisoners and the jailer. In an area known for earthquakes, a tremor of sufficient magnitude rocks the prison door open, as the chains fall also from the prisoners’ limbs. Suddenly awakened, the jailer wrongly presumes his charges have escaped – for which he will lose his life. But the prisoners have not gone, and his suicide contemplation is averted.
Fully alert now and targeted by God’s grace, he sees these missionaries as genuine emissaries of God, consistent with the songs and prayers he had earlier heard. His question of how to be saved is answered, and he and the members of his household all believe and surely become the initial cornerstone members of the church in Philippi.
The next day as the civil authorities decide to release the missionary pair, Paul and Silas refuse to be so commonly discharged. As Roman citizens, they have endured an illegal beating, in that the authorities acted on the presumption that they were mere Jews making trouble. Now the authorities are annoyed by the situation, fearing the trouble they may have carelessly brought upon themselves. And so they ask Paul and Silas to just get out of town.
Though there are many applicational lessons in today’s reading, the portion of greatest interest for our series is to note the prayer and praise of Paul and Silas while in the midst of suffering and persecution. This, of course, is not normal behavior. Our testimony for Christ is greatest when we display our confidence and comfort as sourced in a world beyond this one – the eternal reality of our relationship with God through Jesus. And this abnormal trust is particularly evident when we pray and worship. The watching world is struck by the reality of a relationship they do not possess – one they often in some way recognize as that God-shaped vacuum of the soul that only Christ can fill. Prayer – connected with worship – is not only a necessary and comforting spiritual exercise of personal and corporate benefit, it serves also as a powerful witness to the world beyond the family of faith.
Paul and Silas in Prison – Acts 16:16-40
16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”
38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.