About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25
Well, what’s so special about that? OK, perhaps the timing – midnight – is a little unusual for a time of worship, but as long as they weren’t annoying the neighbours, why not?
We need to read back a few verses. Does this make any difference…?
Paul and Silas have been “stripped” and “beaten”, they have been “severely flogged” and “thrown into prison”, they are in “the inner cell” (sounds nastily like a dungeon), and their feet are “fastened in the stocks”. Mmm.
Luke, the writer of Acts, doesn’t spell out any more details. But I’m sure he could have mentioned the gloomy darkness, the cold, the damp, the smells (I rather doubt if there were en suite washing facilities and other hygienic provisions), the rats. And just the sheer pain and discomfort. Not nice.
And yet they are singing and praising God. The obvious question arises: Would you – would I – have been doing the same? I can only say, speaking for myself, that I have my doubts.
The message is easy to understand but hard to put into practice: faith in Christ should enable us to be unwaveringly cheerful and positive even in the hardest of circumstances.
I’m sure that Paul and Silas will have consoled themselves with the thought that God’s hand was somehow in this turn of events (God does indeed “move in mysterious ways his wonders to perform”) and that good would ultimately come of it.
And if you read on you find that that was exactly what happened. An earthquake strikes and everyone is in fear of their lives. The jailer, probably a semi-retired Roman centurion, hard-bitten and used to violence, is converted to Christ. An impromptu baptismal service takes place in the early hours of the morning.
Paul and Silas are released (with apologies from the authorities) but, being sensible men, they feel it prudent to move on from Philippi – but they leave behind them an embryonic church. Paul wrote them a letter some time later. Have you recently read the beautiful little Letter to the Philippians? – I like to think of it being read out to the congregation, with the jailer and his family listening and thinking about the night their lives changed for ever.
(I wonder, by the way, how they got on with their fellow church-member, the business woman Lydia? Read about her in verses 13-15.)
I love the detail Luke gives us about the other prisoners. He explicitly tells us that while Paul and Silas were having their prayer and praise session “the other prisoners were listening to them”. They probably couldn’t see them in the murk, but they could hear them all right. Oh yes!
I wonder what they thought? Had such a sound – strange, haunting and beautiful – ever been heard before in that horrible place? Cries of pain, yes. Shouts of rage, fury, frustration, perhaps. Sobs of despair, I suspect. But hymn-singing! Praying! This must have deeply stirred their hearts. Perhaps this helps to explain why, when “the doors flew open”, none of the prisoners attempted to escape – they sensed that something very wonderful was taking place.
The way of Christ is the way of the cross. So as far as Paul and Silas were concerned what happened in Philippi was par for the course.
May God help us too to maintain our faith and positive spirits in all the circumstances that come our way. And may he hear our prayers as we remember that even today there are many of God’s people in similarly horrible situations all around the world.
Dear Father, forgive us when our faith fails us and we allow ourselves to be crushed under the weight of our circumstances. Help us to learn from the example of Paul and Silas. And please show mercy today to all who are suffering in our world for conscience’ sake. Amen.