Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Paul and Silas are Imprisoned and Convert the Jailer

Today I read Acts 16 which is a very interesting chapter. In this chapter Paul, Silas and Luke are directed to go to Macedonia by a vision Paul has. When they arrive there they find success and as they teach and baptize a few of the local people. However things start to go wrong when they come across a young woman who has an evil spirit in her. The evil spirit starts testifying of who they are and that they bear the words of salvation. Now this girl was apparently a slave or an indentured servant of some sort to someone who used her and the evil spirit to do fortune telling. Paul when he saw this was grieved for the poor young woman and commanded the spirit to depart, which of course it does.

Now, when the master of this woman saw that his chance for profit had fled at their command, they had Paul and Silas arrested and brought before the city council where they were beaten and tossed into prison. It is here that we get a glimpse into who Paul is and what type of man he is. During the night, Paul and Silas sing hymns to boost up their spirits and an earthquake happens that opens the doors of the prison and causes their shackles to fall off. The earthquake also wakes up the guard and when he sees the prison doors open, assumes that the prisoners have all escaped and prepares to kill himself. Paul sees this and stops him by saying that they have not fled and to not kill himself. Here is compassion on the part of Paul. This man is keeping them in prison, we have no idea how they were treated in the few hours up to this point but when the time comes to escape, the don't and it is because they are worried about the prison guard and his well being and that of his family. Perhaps the Spirit told them we don't know.

When the guard hears Paul's voice he comes in and sees them there and asks them what he must do to receive eternal life. Here we get a glimpse into the type of man the guard is. He is obviously a humble man who is a little shaken up by his experience and the terror he felt when he thought that the prisoners had escaped. However, despite his experience, he is obviously prepared to hear and accept the gospel because he is baptized almost immediately and so are all his family members. They clean Paul and Silas' wounds and give them food to eat. This is obviously a humble family that has been prepared to hear and accept the gospel. I am sure it was no fun being whipped, but I believe Paul and Silas felt it worth it to find this family that was waiting to hear the Gospel.

In the morning the rulers of the city send a message to the jailer telling him to release Paul and Silas and cast them out of the city. He relays this message to Paul and Silas to which Paul replies that they were beaten in public without a conviction of any type of crime and cast into prison, and now they send a quiet message in the morning to let them out in secret, he won't leave but demands that the city council come and release them in full view of the public and mentions that he and Silas are Romans. Now, at first glance this might seem like Paul is being arrogant and wants revenge for the way he was treated, and perhaps a very small part of him is thinking that. But I do not think that was his main reason for reacting this way. I think he responded in this way for 2 reasons.

I think he was concerned that some of the city's leaders might claim that they Paul and Silas had escaped in the night and used it to thwart the efforts of the members of the church in that area in continuing to preach the gospel and possibly made it so they would be persecuted. Paul probably realized that it would soon be well known that the doors of the prison opened in the middle of the night and it would be a simple matter to claim that Paul and Silas escaped. The damage that would do to the church's reputation in the area would be incalculable. So Paul demands that they are released publicly to show that the men made a mistake and that he and Silas had done nothing wrong.

Secondly and kind of related, I think Paul was a little worried about the jailer. If the city leaders were going to claim that Paul and Silas escaped, they would only be able to do so by claiming negligence on the part of the jailer, the very thing the jailer wanted to avoid and was driving him to suicide. Paul also probably thought that with the jailer and his entire family newly baptized they will probably come under fire and be criticized anyway, he was trying to contain the damage. At least that is my thought. So we see that Paul is a very shrewd man. In fact I would describe him the way Mormon described Ammon in the Americas, wise by harmless. Paul was very wise as to the learning of man and he knew that men can be untrustworthy and he wanted to do everything in his power to make sure that the work and the church's reputation was not damaged. I'm sure the Spirit helped him in realizing some of this as well and might even have coached him on what to say. Regardless of why it happened, the city rulers do in fact come down and publicly release them and Paul and Silas leave peacefully having had good success in Macedonia. This story is a good example of how God can use any situation to His advantage if we are adaptable and humble enough. Until tomorrow.

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