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Paul and Silas in Prison September 24, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Acts 16:16-40.

Summary: In this passage, Paul drove an evil spirit out of a female slave in Philippi who had used divination to earn a handsome profit for her masters. Thus, they seized Paul and Silas and hauled them before the magistrates; they then accused them of breaking Roman laws, which spurred a mob to attack Paul and Silas. The magistrates responded to those charges by ordering that Paul and Silas be flogged and imprisoned. Yet God performed a miracle by causing a powerful earthquake that unchained all of the inmates and unlocked the doors to their cells. Paul and Silas refused to escape; instead, they preached the Gospel message to their jailer and brought him and his family to faith in Christ. Later, they left the city – after they forced the magistrates to confront their errors in their conduct towards them; in particular, Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, and so the magistrates had violated their rights under the Roman law.

Thoughts: In verse 25, we see that Paul and Silas praised God during their incarceration. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

Note that we cannot pray as we ought without praising God. The desire to pray may arise from an awareness of our need and troubles, and so it is combined with sorrow and anxiety; but believers must curb their feelings and not complain against God. The right sort of prayer unites our sorrow with the joy of our obedience to God and of the hope that shows us a haven close by even in the midst of shipwreck.

My thought is that God enabled Paul and Silas to maintain their focus on Him even in the midst of their troubles. They could have chosen to focus on their short-term predicament, as they were:

  • in pain from a severe flogging
  • confined to a gloomy dungeon with an indefinite release date.

Yet God enabled them to focus on His long-term vision and strive to honor Him, even though they may have been uncertain as to their role in His plans. We see the fruit that they bore as a result of their obedience to Him; this should spur us, as modern-day believers, to maintain our focus on God’s long-term vision even in the midst of our short-term predicaments (e.g. sickness, unemployment).

We also see that the magistrates in Philippi dealt with Paul and Silas in a ham-handed manner. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 37:

Their defense rested on two grounds: they had treated a Roman citizen cruelly, and they had acted unlawfully. It was strictly decreed by the law of Porcius, the laws of Sempronius, and many others that no individual, but only the people, should have power of life and death over a Roman citizen.

I am curious as to how these magistrates obtained their positions. Were they political appointees? Was Philippi governed by an ochlocracy? What caused these magistrates to decide to release Paul and Silas from prison – especially after they had ordered them to be severely flogged? What were the ramifications of their actions in this passage? Did they persecute the church in Philippi after Paul and Silas left their city?

I anticipate meeting the Philippian jailer and his family in the next life and learning more about them. Was he born and raised in Philippi? How did he attain his position as a jailer? What was his – and his family’s – worldview before the events of this passage? What were his thoughts and emotions as Paul and Silas shared the Gospel message with him? Did his family accept the Gospel message with alacrity, or did they harbor doubts that Paul and Silas eventually resolved? How did they glorify God after the events of this passage?

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