By Melinda Eye Cooper, Crosswalk.com
I follow a friend on social media who recently traveled to Greece. She and her husband went to many of the places Paul traveled. They visited the remains of the prison where Paul and Silas were imprisoned (Acts 16:22) and her posts intrigued me.
As I read her thoughts about traveling in Greece, her insights about Paul and Silas in prison resonated.
They were in prison and could have escaped but did not take advantage of the opportunity when it arose. They stayed where they were, and that decision ended up saving a man’s life. Not only did it save his physical life, but he was saved spiritually along with his entire family.
What Is the Context of Paul and Silas in Prison?
Paul and Silas ended up in prison because they were being followed by a female slave possessed by a spirit. She earned money for her owners by fortune-telling. Even though she was stating truth regarding Paul and Silas, and others with them, Paul was put out with her and cast the spirit from her in the name of Jesus Christ.
Her owners were angry because they lost their ability to make money using the female slave to predict the future.
They seized Paul and Silas and brought them before the authorities claiming they were Jews and advocating customs unlawful for Romans. Even though Paul and Silas were both Roman citizens, they didn’t argue and try to use a ‘get out of jail free’ card.
They were stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison.
4 Lessons We Can Learn from Paul and Silas in Prison
1. They praised God while in prison. Even though they’d been beaten and thrown in prison with their feet shackled, they sang hymns and prayed. Their praise in such a bad situation caused those around them to take notice and listen to them.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25
2. Their praise not only helped them but also those who listened. An earthquake shook the prison, and the doors flew open. Everyone’s chains came loose.
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. Acts 16:26
3. What they didn’t do was important. Roman law required jailers to take personal responsibility for prisoners.
If Paul and Silas (and other prisoners) had bolted when their chains came loose, the jailer would have possibly been put to death. This is why he placed them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in stocks. By not escaping, they saved the life of the jailer.
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!” Acts 16:27-28
4. Their example changed lives eternally. Paul and Silas chose to stay in the difficult circumstance they were in (prison) when they could have easily escaped suffering. That example drew the jailer to realize there was something different about them and he wanted whatever they had.
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?” Acts 16:29
In an incredible act of discernment, Paul knew they must not run when the chains came loose, and the prison doors swung open. He knew God was working and using the bad situation for something good.
The jailer was saved along with his family.
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 16:31-34
How to Apply These Lessons to Our Lives
There are many lessons to learn from Paul and Silas in prison and they’re applicable to our Christian lives today.
1. It’s all good.
When we’re suffering in a bad situation, our instinct is to escape. We don’t want to experience pain if we can get out of it.
But our praise to God in times of trouble is genuine. Because we’re doing it knowing He’s allowing the suffering for our good. Or the good of others.
It’s easiest to praise God when we get the promotion, proposal, or a long-awaited fulfilled promise. It’s much harder when we’re suffering. Maybe we’re in a situation where we don’t see a good ending. We’ve lost someone we love. Or we’re letting go of something we want to keep.
Raise the praise when trouble comes into our lives because it’s all good.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
2. Authentic worship is powerful.
Like a supernatural earthquake at just the right time, God moves powerfully in our lives when our worship is authentic. (No truer can it be than when we’re in pain.) We trust Him with every part of our lives. The good and the bad.
When we surrender our suffering to Him – knowing it’s part of His plan – we will find rest in His work.
God sets us free from our own prisons. He loosens our feet from shackles even when we’re unaware we’re bound. He heals what can only be healed by Him.
I trusted in the LORD when I said, “I am greatly afflicted.” Psalm 116:10
3. What we don’t do can be important.
Our flesh may desperately want to act, but when we stay still, we may impact someone else’s life.
Christians are judged by the world. They look to see how we will act and what we’ll do when we’re in a bad situation. Will we bust out the door and head for the hills when times get tough? Or will we seek God and search for His purpose in the circumstances we find ourselves in?
What we don’t do can be important to a lost person keeping tabs on Christian behavior. We all make mistakes and sin, but we need to remember we’re called to a higher standard than the world and what we don’t do is important.
4. A good example may change lives.
Paul and Silas set an incredible example of Christianity by staying in prison when they could have easily escaped their suffering.
Their behavior in prison affected other prisoners and the jailer.
Consider the example set by Paul and Silas in prison and remember our behavior may also affect other people. What another sees in us in times of trouble can have a deep impact. They may see how we handle a situation and use us as their example to follow.
My friend mentioned this quote from Joseph Campbell: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
Paul didn’t plan to go to prison yet he was willing to submit to God, continuing to praise Him even in shackles. His willingness to suffer and yet find joy in the moment is something we all can apply to our lives.
More information about the Roman Jailer can be found here: https://apologeticspress.org/roman-jailers-attempted-suicide/
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/allanswart
Melinda Eye Cooper grew up in the Missouri Ozarks but lives near Nashville, Tennessee. She and her husband have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and three beautiful granddaughters – and a spunky dog named Lincoln!
Melinda writes articles and devotions. She also writes fiction and is currently working on a middle-grade fantasy novel. She grew up in a large family, and many of her devotions and stories are inspired from her childhood.