The Men Singing Praises In Jail

August 8, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Acts 16:25-34

Paul And Silas Jailed

1. "Around midnight, when Paul and Silas were singing songs of praise and praying to God, the other prisoners were listening to it," (verse twenty-five). Even for the entire book of The Acts Of The Apostles, the figure of the two singing praises in jail and praying is especially impressive. But, why were they in jail? Since this was while on Paul's second missionary journey, it is easy to suppose that he was experiencing persecution for the faith, but it actually did not go that way.

2. The origin of the whole affair is written in verses sixteen and following as follows. "While en route to the place of prayer, we met a slave woman who was possessed by a spirit of divination. She brought great profit to her masters by doing divination. She followed behind Paul and us shouting, 'These men are servants of the most high god, they are proclaiming to all the way of salvation.' As she repeated herself like this this several times, Paul could not bear it anymore and swung around [to face her], and told that spirit. 'I command [you] in the name of Jesus Christ. Come out of this woman.' Whereupon, immediately, the spirit came out of her," (verses sixteen through eighteen).

3. A person was set free from an evil spirit. However, the matter wasn't over with that. This slave woman could no longer give divinations. Her owners were cut off from [their] money-making path. They became angry, then they seized Paul and Silas, marched them off to the town square, handed them over to the officials, and made their case against them. Since it was an issue of interests, if things were normal, they should have begun a formal investigation in accordance with the legal complaint against them. However, something abnormal takes place here. The scripture says, "Even the crowd was with [the owners] and accused [Paul and Silas]," (verse twenty-two). What's more, since it had turned into quite a commotion, in order to appease the crowd, the officials stripped the robes off the two men and ordered them "beaten with rods." Then after Paul and Silas were severely beaten with rods they were thrown into a cell.

4. Was the reason that Paul and Silas had gone through such a bad time because they had been proclaiming Jesus Christ? No, those people could have cared less whether or not [Paul and Silas] were Christians. We can see it from the words of the men who sued them. They said, "These persons are Jews and they are causing a disturbance of the peace in our town," (verse twenty). In short, it wasn't because Paul and Silas were Christians but because they were Jews that they had been given a hard time.

5. We can also see it from the words in verse twenty-one. "They are proclaiming customs that we have never accepted as citizens of the Roman empire and we have not been permitted to practice." Thus, what was intolerable for them was not just that their trade had been disrupted but that, Jews, of all people, had disrupted their trade. This feeling of discrimination in them simply spread to their emotions. In the blink of an eye, the entire town flared up over this. Even the crowd that had nothing at all to do with the commerce side of things had accused Paul and Silas. Even the officials in public office did not do an investigation, but just had the two whipped, and did not give them a chance for explanation or apology, but just threw them into a jail cell.

6. These sufferings that Paul had experienced were not related at all to the Jesus Christ whom he was used to risking his life to preach, [but] were abuses that stemmed from discrimination against Jews and [included] imprisonment. Suffering for bringing something precious into fruition, suffering to preserve something precious is bearable if the suffering is closely connected to [some kind of] value and meaning. It [can] even give pride and joy to a person instead. On the other hand, suffering that makes no sense to us is truly unbearable. -- Suffering that has no connection to something worthwhile. Suffering that only seems unfair. These are absolutely unbearable. Yet, the overwhelming majority of the suffering that we experience during our lives has no close connection to meaning or value, does it? Paul and Silas in this chapter are also put into this type of pain and suffering.

Paul And Silas In Praise And Prayer

7. I'm sure they went through a sleepless night. [Their] rod-beaten injuries must have throbbed ferociously. "The wooden shackles" to which they had been bound is said to have been the kind of torture that fixed one's legs to stay spread. But about midnight in this condition, they were singing songs of praise and praying to God.

8. What do people do while in suffering like this that makes no sense and has no worth, and that truly seems unfair and undeserved? If a person can not discover meaning looking ahead, one might just look behind [to the past]. Was something wrong? Was someone guilty? [We can] probably spend a sleepless night, the whole time searching to the best of [our] ability for the one who did the wrong, to make somebody the bad guy, or even to make ourselves the bad guy, to curse somebody, or even to curse ourselves. But if you think just by finding out who the bad guy is, what the source is, then the suffering will disappear, you're sadly mistaken. It's just not reality, instead, to the suffering you already have, you will add the suffering of making somebody the bad guy and accusing [him or her] for it. But then if you claim that it is the only option, it is not true. Another option is still possible in that [point in time]. The figures of Paul and Silas demonstrate this truth.

9. The Bible says, "The other prisoners were listening to it," (verse twenty-five). The other prisoners were thinking it amazing. Looking at Paul and Silas and being overwhelmed by the amazing figures of the two men [praying and praising], not a one person said, "You're making too much noise! Be quiet!" As I mentioned from the start, this scene is an especially impressive passage in The Acts According To The Apostles. -- Probably because we too feel something amazing in it. However, for the Paul and the Silas in question, more than likely this probably was nothing amazing in particular. Were we to ask, "How could they sing praises and pray even though they encountered such a bad way against them and being put in jail [like that]?," [they] would probably be sure to reply as follows. "Just like we worship God outside the jail, we are just worshipping God the same way inside the jail. We've been put in jail, but there is nothing really there to hinder our offering praise, praying, and the worshipping of God. There is nothing to divide us from the Lord, nothing to pull us apart from the Lord."

10. For Paul and Silas, whether or not there was meaning in the suffering they went through probably didn't have all that much importance to them. God should be doing the thinking about meaning. They had something bigger. [They had] the truth that whether on they outside or the inside of a jail, they were in the presence of God either way. [They had] the truth that they were in the presence of God as saved persons whose sins are forgiven by the cross of Jesus Christ and as persons who have been made into the children of God. Therefore, they could just as well worship the Lord even in jail, they could trust in the Lord even though they were unable to see the future, they could turn even their very own lives over to the Lord.

11. As a matter of fact, not just limited to Paul and Silas, the circumstances under which human beings are put are changing moment by moment. And people end up thinking that what is happening now around them is critically important. But, whenever we worship the Lord just the same, whenever we can pray and praise the Lord, what truly matters does not change one bit, and what truly matters [can] not be stolen away, not any of it.

The Jailer Encountered God

12. Well, the story continues with more to it. That night, all of a sudden, a great earthquake took place. To the guard at the jail entrusted with keeping watch, it was nothing but a disaster. When he came to his senses at the earthquake, [he must have thought] oh the doors are wide open! The prisoners must have all escaped. Oh no, that's just great! I won't be able to get out of this one, I'll be held accountable for this. With these thoughts, he was about to commit suicide and he drew his sword. The unexpected earthquake was an event that spelled the end of his life; [it meant his death].

13. However, the event truly big to this guard was not the earthquake itself. The big thing is what happened after it. He heard a voice shouting out loud to him from the darkness. "Do not hurt yourself! We are all here." It was the voice of Paul. But what mattered is not that the prisoners did not escape. What mattered was not that but that the guard had come face to face with God. Through a series of events he had come to a realization, that he himself was standing before the God whom Paul and Silas were praising in the darkness, the God whom they were worshipping in jail, the God whom he was thinking had nothing to do with him, the living God. Therefore, he did not simply rejoice that the prisoners had not escaped. He didn't let it pass with "Oh, that's good." He was shaking violently. As he shook and trembled, he fell down and leading the two men outside he said, "Sirs, what should I do in order to be saved?"

14. When a person begins to be aware of being in the presence of the living God, then at that moment one question becomes decisively significant. It is "Will I be accepted by God, or will I be condemned by God?" Put another way, it is "Will I be forgiven or will I not be forgiven? Will I be saved or will I not be saved?" Therefore, the jailer could no longer avoid the question and said, "What should I do in order to be saved?"

15. He asked, "What should I do?," but Paul did not give an answer about what one should do because salvation cannot be obtained by any kind of deeds done in exchange for it. The main thing is not "What do I do?," but "In whom do I believe?" We are to believe in the one who has come into this world in order to save sinners. Therefore Paul gave the answer, "Believe the Lord Jesus! Then, both you and your family will be saved."

16. Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to the jailer and his family. After they believed on the Lord they were baptized. And, the scripture says, "He rejoiced with his family that they had become believers in God," (verse thirty-four). What became of them after that? We have no way of knowing. We can only imagine that to observe worship with other Christians in the church just born in Philippi it would have brought into their daily lives not a little difficulty and hardship.

17. But it is highly unlikely that what had decisive significance for them was whether or not there were hardships in their lives or whether there was meaning or not in the hardships. That's because they were rejoicing because they "had become believers in God," and not because their suffering had disappeared. The main thing for them, just as it was for Paul and Silas, must have been that they were in the presence of God, and that they were in the presence of God as persons who had been forgiven and accepted by God.