Acts: Paul and Silas in Prison

Read: Acts 16:16-40

Luke recalls the story of Paul and Silas being beaten and imprisoned while they were ministering to the people of Philippi, a Roman colony. They encountered a fortuneteller that began following them around shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved” (Acts 16:17). While this was accurate, Paul became annoyed by her presence and rebuked the spirit that allowed her to see the future. This didn’t go well with her owners, to say the least. Of the team,  Paul and Silas are identified as the leaders and were stripped, beaten, and put in prison for taking the fortuneteller’s means of income where something marvelous happened: the jailer and his entire household are baptized!

Place of Prayer

A subtle piece of this story slipped by me the first few times I read it. When we back up to verse 11 we read that the team is looking for a place of prayer. The passage this morning begins with the team heading to the place of prayer. Apparently, they found a place that was suited for prayer, a place to worship, as they began their day.

I don’t know about you, my prayer list continues to grow. I’m convinced that prayer is vital to our continued growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). Richard Foster’s book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, does a great job of covering the subject. The subtitle emphasizes his point that our hearts are home when we pray.

Find your place of prayer and pray together often, as a team. Don’t do ministry alone. Don’t just pray alone. The battle we fight is unseen by most. I can’t wait to get our team together to pray!

Paul Rebukes a Spirit

As the team is preaching and teaching in the city, a woman who is possessed by a spirit that allows her to tell the future met the team. This spirit is translated as a demon in some cases. Suffice it to say, it was not from the Spirit of God. Spiritual warfare is very real and very difficult to explain to those who do not know Christ. Well, it’s pretty hard to explain for those who are Christ followers, but we simply can’t deny its existence.

The woman follows the team shouting that these are men of God. My guess is her method of announcing the reality of their mission was distracting, to say the least. Paul looks like Peter at this moment:

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. Acts 16:18

As Ben Eaves alluded to yesterday, we see the humanity of Paul here as well. He’s annoyed at this person. We don’t blame him, but I have to believe Luke used that particular word for a reason. She was becoming the center of attention through her actions. Something had to be done!

With the demon gone, her ability to tell the future left as well. No more income through this source! The owners are beyond unhappy. Their source of wealth just ran dry. They invented charges and had Paul and Silas brought before the magistrates with the complaint that they were “advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice” (Acts 16:21). We don’t read a lot of details here, but the magistrates and owners must have some relationship because they wasted no time in having them thrown in jail.

After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. Acts 16:23-24

For some reason, Paul and Silas don’t mention that “us Romans” included themselves until a bit later in the story. Perhaps they weren’t allowed to speak. Whatever the case, being stripped and severely flogged is not a minor response. This had to be demoralizing and discouraging, to say the least.

Praying and Singing

Thrown in the worst part of an ancient prison, what would you do? Pray and sing, of course! The song and the Spirit were compelling. Paul and Silas led the chorus. An earthquake shook the prison, broke the doors and loosed everyone’s chains, but Paul took charge and kept everyone calm. The jailer was fully aware that Paul and Silas were men of God. The earthquake confirmed any doubts.

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Acts 16:29-31

Wasting no time, the jailer and his entire household profess their belief in Jesus and are baptized. The jailer washes their wounds and invites them to eat a meal prepared in their honor. What a wonderful scene!

Public Apology

Paul’s insightful leadership is shown in his reaction to the Magistrates’ change of heart. They want to simply dismiss the charges and have Paul and Silas released quietly:

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.” Acts 16:37

While this might seem arrogant, Paul is setting a precedent for other missionaries traveling throughout the Roman empire. You can’t beat people for no reason. Even Magistrates are accountable to someone.

Paul’s argument is irrefutable, especially when they learned he was truly a Roman citizen. They came and escorted them out of prison–an otherwise humiliating process. While this was significant, the conversion of the jailer and his entire household was more important.

Wounds heal with time. Bruises and scars for the sake of the gospel are not the centers of attention. We see little emphasis on the pain. The joy of winning souls for Christ far outweighs the suffering that led to hearts being changed.

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. Acts 16:40

Reunited with their team, everyone celebrates the victory for Christ. The unity found is the brief statement above is significant. Brothers and sisters encouraged them. United for a purpose, committed to the cause, the gospel is preached and eternity is changed for many.

Thoughts about serving others

This link includes a list of posts about Serving the Least, the Lost, and the Lonely.

My prayer is for you to join me on this journey. Subscribe to this blog below to get an email when a new post is available.

Let the Word evoke words. May your life encourage lives.

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