I’m delighted to share this encouraging post with you, written by my husband, Nathan Jelf.
Paul and Silas must have wondered what they’d done to deserve the inner prison of the jail in Philippi. Their crime: to set free a woman who had been used by her owners, to make a profit through fortune telling. This surely didn’t warrant a lengthy time in the deepest darkest dungeon, unless God was very much at the heart of this lock-down?
Acts 16 verse 25-40 tells of how Paul and Silas were thrown into jail along with many dangerous criminals who awaited punishment for their crimes.
But about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.Acts 16:25
Despite the disciples’ physical state, their eternal perspective was about to change everything. Paul was familiar with difficult times as he later writes to the church in Corinth:
We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed.2 Corinthians 4:8
Picture them, beaten with rods, their feet fastened in stocks and locked in the ‘tullainium,’ the notorious inner dungeon, where people were placed to die. There would have been no windows, no breeze and no light (we know this as the jailor calls for light in verse 29). Chained to the floor, nothing to see, nowhere to go, no way to move – pretty uncomfortable I’d say!? To compound this, blood would have been oozing from their wounds, and the onset of bruising would have made their bodies tender to touch.
There would have been no relief from these afflictions, which had come from the hands of the Roman soldiers and jailors that now guarded them.
Verse 33 later confirms this, as it shows the Jailor’s first action, was to wash the disciples’ wounds.
Mistreated as they were, we can confidently say that Paul and Silas were worse off than all the other prisoners, yet their songs of praise soared high above their circumstances.
The fellow prisoners must have initially questioned the Christians’ state of mind…’Are they crazy? Do they have concussion?’ But as the songs of joy and hope continued, so the Holy Spirit began to do a work in the hearts of those who were chained up along-side the believers.
Paul and Silas along with the other prisoners must have had a desire to be free from the walls that contained them and the chains that prevented their movement. However, the men of God had a freedom that was not dependent on them being outside the prison. Paul was later to write to the church in Galatia:
It was for freedom that Christ has set us free, stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.Galatians 5:1
Despite being chained to the cold prison floor, Paul and Silas stood firm in the liberty they’d found in the gospel that saved them. I believe this lock-down presents us with an opportunity to rediscover the freedom that the disciples knew, even in their chains and isolation. Were Paul and Silas any different than us? Same gospel – same freedom!
And suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. The jailor woke up and when he saw the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself supposing that the prisoners had escaped.Acts 16:26-27
What if this Hollywood style prison-break came about because of the believers’ audacious faith in God? What if we were to express faith like Paul and Silas? What if we were to get our minds off the crisis and focus on who Christ is?!
Faced with this sudden opportunity for freedom, the prisoners stayed put, seemingly more captivated by the two men who had a freedom they did not know. The jailor’s first instinct upon waking up, was to take his own life – he had in effect failed in his job of incarcerating the prisoners, which would have lead to certain death. But Paul cried out with a loud voice saying:
“do not harm yourself, we are all here!”Acts 16:28
As the world wakes up to the realities around them, the brevity of life, the instability of finance, our heart’s desire is that they see the hope within us.
He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge. The fear of the Lord is the key to this treasureIsaiah 33:6
As Christians, it’s a time to cry out: “We are still here!” Our hope has not changed. In light of our current circumstances it’s natural for the world to be filled with fear and dread. Statistics of loss of life, caused by this silent assassin, seem to be rising on a daily basis, with no end in sight. Our mandate as believers is to tread on the neck of fear, take faith with both hands, standing firm on the unshakeable promises of God.
You can hear the proverbial penny dropping as the jailor, seeing that they had not fled, witnessed the un-harnessed faith of the disciples. His response was..
What must I do to be saved?Acts 16:30
Paul and Silas knew what it was to worship God in Spirit and Truth. On this occasion where their faith came under immense scrutiny, filled with the Holy Spirit, they were able to make the choice to bring a sacrifice of praise! Faith under duress, when expressed in the form of worship, is a very powerful weapon – you simply don’t know what prison doors it will blow off, or what chains it will break in the lives of those around you!
How much does your faith in God, through these times, catch the attention of the un-believing neighbour? Can your steadfast trust in God through these confusing times speak a better word to those who do not have hope?
I believe in these times, when we are unable to meet with the gathered church, that God is causing a deep stir within the individual believer to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2: 12) The result will be, at the time when we meet again,
that being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.Ephesians 4:16
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, for ever and ever Amen!Ephesians 3:20