Staying in Jail to Set People Free

St. Paul in Prison by Rembrandt

The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. – Acts 16:22-‬34

Today’s passage is a somewhat odd story of Paul and Silas in prison. They are there in part because of the impetuousness of Paul. He had the audacity to drive out a demon from a slave woman that was a cash cow for her owners.

Apparently this woman’s demon allowed her to tell fortunes. The preceding chapters describe this woman following Paul and Silas bearing witness to the fact that that they are followers of the Living God. Paul gets annoyed and drives out the demon and the woman’s owners, and the town leaders, have him and Silas flogged and put in prison. I am wondering if this is another leader lesson for Paul and Silas.

Certainly the consequences of Paul’s driving out of the demon are initially pretty bad, beating and imprisonment. There is no mention of Paul having compassion for the woman as a reason for driving out the demon. Perhaps he did this “healing” in Jesus’ name without seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. It is not clear. Paul’s posture and perspective do seem somewhat self-focused.

Whatever the reason for Paul’ action regarding the slave woman and the demon God and the Holy Spirit have a plan to use it to reach the prison guard and his whole family. In the middle of the night “Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.” The prisoners were freed but interestingly they did not flee. This event happened in response to Paul and Silas praying and singing hymns to God. I think part of the point here is that these men should have been praying about the demon-possessed woman before they acted. The outcomes could not be more different.

The guard, thinking that all the prisoners have escaped, is ready to kill himself when Paul still in his cell intervenes by shouting “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” I think this time Paul is listening and allowing his actions to be guided by the Holy Spirit. Had Paul and Silas fled when they were able this man and his whole family would have remained lost. Apparently sometimes one has to stay in jail to set people free.

The guard takes the men to his house and washes their wounds. They share the Gospel with his entire household and they are all baptized as new believers. The guard “was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household”. The ending of the story is one of hope and redemption. The path to get their for Paul and Silas was probably more painful and difficult than they anticipated or planned.

One of the interesting aspects of this story that jumps out at me is that Paul and Silas had to remain in jail in order to save the guard. This must have been hard. I think if it were me I would want to run the second my bonds were broken and I was free. But God needed them to remain in jail for a time so that the guard and his family could be saved.

This is similar to when someone is delivered from a life without out God. There is a tendency to run from that previous life as soon as freedom is in sight. That is a good thing and ultimately God wants us to be on the journey toward Him,but I wonder if sometimes God needs us to choose to return or remain “in jail” so that we can lead people from their “old life” to find Him. This might stretching the meaning of this story beyond what is wise, but it is an interesting thing to think about. When should we choose to stay “in prison” so that others can be saved? Ultimately, I think only God can answer this question for each of us through prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: God help us to discern when and how we can best reach the lost so that they can find You.

This entry was posted in Acts, baptism, Born again, Christian Leadership, Christianity, Following God, Forgiveness, God's Love for Us, Holy Spirit, Love for the Lost, Paul, Sharing the Gospel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Staying in Jail to Set People Free

  1. Pingback: Humility and Tears | Walking on Water

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