Monday, February 26, 2018
The historical record of the founding of the church in Philippi is found in Acts 16. We will soon begin our study of Paul’s letter to this church and discover the principles of joy the Holy Spirit has for us, but there are some important foundational truths to discover in studying the beginning days of this church.
Acts 16:29-34 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Paul and Silas get arrested by the Roman magistrates. The two men who had been using the demon-possessed slave girl for personal profit are very angry that she no longer has the ability to produce income for them. Paul had delivered her, as we read yesterday. They bring Paul and Silas before the Roman magistrates for justice.
It is heartbreaking to think that people can become so self-centered in their pursuit of wealth and fame that they refuse to consider the oppression of others. Why weren’t these men rejoicing? A young woman has just been given the chance to experience life to its fullest as it was intended to be lived, and these men could only see the detrimental effect the deliverance was having on their status quo.
When the magistrates heard that these Jews were causing an uproar in their city, they had a choice – take action according to Roman law or take action that would please the people. They chose to please the people, and had Paul and Silas beaten with rods. These civil leaders showed a severe lack of leadership when they caved in to the demands of an outraged group of people who were threatened by the message of Jesus Christ. They responded in much the same way as the Roman magistrate named Pilate did when the angry mob asked for Jesus to be crucified. It seems not much has changed today in society’s response to Christ.
I am convinced in my heart that Paul saw the connection between what was happening to him and what had happened to his Savior. I am also convinced that he considered it a privilege to enter into that suffering knowing that in the end God would accomplish a glorious purpose.
After the beating, Paul and Silas are thrown in prison and the jailer is commanded to watch them carefully. They are placed in maximum security and bound in chains behind locked doors. But their joy in the Lord is not affected by their circumstances, and they begin singing and praising God in the middle of the night. As a result, God brings an earthquake that shakes the foundations of the prison and opens the locked doors. In addition, all the chains that were keeping the prisoners in place were unshackled. In the darkness of the night, the guard can only see that the doors are open and he assumes that the prisoners have escaped. He knows that he will be punished by death under Roman law and draws his sword to commit suicide. Paul shouts that they are all still there, and the jailer asks the most important question any of us could ever ask – “What must I do to be saved?”
There are two points we need to understand today from this story:
- Circumstances don’t determine freedom. Paul was free while in chains: the jailer was in chains while free. Don’t let the events and status of your life dictate your happiness. The joy of knowing Jesus overcomes any human suffering. Do you see what the jailer did after he got saved? He put himself at risk to care of Paul and Silas. The fear of death that would have been imposed upon him for allowing the prisoners to escape was no longer a fear. The grace of God so captured his heart and overwhelmed him with joy that he escorted the prisoners out of the jail. The belief in God that results in salvation is more satisfying than any possible suffering from earthly circumstances.
- Circumstances don’t dictate decisions. When the prison doors opened and the chains fell off, Paul and Silas could have walked out to freedom, but they didn’t. Most of us would jump at every opportunity to escape physical and emotional pain, but Paul was being guided by a more fulfilling principle than personal safety and security. He surrendered his personal goals to those of God, and waited for God to accomplish His purpose.
When we get into our study of Philippians we will discover how important this last point is. If the jailer had not seen the willingness of Christ’s disciples to suffer for the sake of the Gospel, then the church at Philippi would have never grown to be commended for their joy in serving others while in the midst of severe trials.
Maybe the reason Christians around us today don’t endure suffering for the cause of Christ is because they have not seen in us a good role model. Maybe today we need to start praying correctly. Rather than asking God to deliver us, we need to simply praise Him and stay in the circumstance until God’s work is done.