25. Paul in Philippi: From the Purveyor of Purple to the Purveyor of Pain Acts 16:11-40

Introduction

An earthquake is an awesome experience, or at least it should be. I can well remember the first major earthquake that I really experienced. I was teaching school in the state of Washington. It was a lovely school, nestled among the fir trees, not far from the Narrows Bridge. The first sign of a quake was a frightened student, who jumped to her feet. I was not impressed, and I responded, “Sit down, sit down.” She did.

For the next few seconds, we all witnessed the wonder of an earthquake. If you have never been through one, you will find my description difficult to believe. The ground began to move in waves, just as though it was water. The tall fir trees swayed in the air as the ground beneath rolled about. One side of my classroom was glass, which also flexed unbelievably. The cement tossed about, like the waves of the sea. The concrete block wall moved in vertical, rather than horizontal, waves. And the steel rods which were tightly suspended between the walls were “twanging,” from loose to tight. It was an incredible sight. As all of these things were taking place, we all watched in wonder, pointing to the different effects of the earthquake.

It stopped after a few seconds and the kids in my class quietly talked about what they saw, still in their seats, as they had been through the whole episode. I decided to take a look across the hall, to see how things were going in the building. I stepped out of my room and across the hall to the fifth grade classroom of a colleague, whose name was Dick. I was not ready for what I was about to see. Dick’s classroom was not in the same mood as mine. My class thoroughly enjoyed the earthquake. I was a kind of performance, which we all watched. This class, along with its teacher, did not see anything. They were all huddled under their desks. I was told that Dick was the first one down, and that he instructed his class, from under his desk, to get under their desks.

Now the truth of the matter is that Dick was much wiser than I. I, in my naively, did not sense the very real danger that an earthquake posed. If windows had shattered or the roof had collapsed, his class would have been much safer under their desks, than mine, sitting in their seats. My point in all this is that this earthquake brought Dick to his knees, and rightly so. Dick had the presence of mind to be frightened by the earthquake, while I was foolishly fascinated by it.

But the Philippian jailer went much farther than Dick. The earthquake did not just bring this man to his knees, it caused him to fall prostrate at the feet of two of his prisoners, Paul and Silas, men who had just been beaten as law-breakers, and whom he had placed in maximum security, with their feet secured in stocks. It was more than just a few of what had happened that brought the jailer to the ground. But what was it? What was it about Paul and Silas, that was different from any of the other prisoners, and which commanded such a gesture of reverence and respect from the jailer? We shall seek to answer this question as we study the evangelization of Philippi, as Luke has described it in our text.

An Overview of the Text

Luke’s description of the conversions of these two households—that of Lydia, and that of the jailer—are but a sampling of the evangelism which took place at Philippi. We know that while Lydia was saved during what seemed to be the first time Paul preached at the place of prayer, they returned there daily (16:16-18). We also are told that when Paul and Silas were released from the Philippian prison, they went first to the house of Lydia, where they saw and encouraged “the brethren” (16:40). It would therefore appear that there were a number of other converts, whose conversion is not described. Much more happened at Philippi than what we are told. What we are told is selective, and it becomes our task to determine Luke’s purpose and point for including the accounts that he does.

In our text, Luke has woven together three separate, but related incidents. The first is the conversion of Lydia (16:13-15). The second is the encounter with the demon-possessed slave-girl, from whom Paul eventually casts out the demon (16:16ff.359). The third incident is the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his household. The conversion of Lydia’s household and that of the jailer are the first and last conversions in this city, so far as we are told. And so these two conversions take us from start (Lydia) to finish (the jailer). And in between is the story of the slave-girl, who is really the link, as it were, between the Lydia story and the jailer story. The slave-girl first attached herself to this missionary party on their way to the place of prayer, and every day from that point on until her release from the demon who had empowered (and overpowered?) her. Her deliverance from demonic possession was the occasion for the unjust beating and imprisonment of Paul and Silas, but it also provided the needed “introduction” to the jailer, who would be saved, along with his household.

Down By the Riverside
(16:11-15)

11 Therefore putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace,360 and on the day following to Neapolis;361 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia,362 a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside,363 where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. 14 And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics,364 a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.365 15 And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay.” And she prevailed upon us.366

Immediately upon receiving the “Macedonian vision,” this missionary band sailed directly to the Island of Samothrace, and then on to Neapolis, the port city of Philippi, some ten miles inland. Finding a place to stay, Paul and the others no doubt looked first for a synagogue, which seems not to have existed. This would suggest that there were either few Jews living in this city, or that they found it unwise to publicly worship the God of Israel. The attitude of the Gentile residents of the city, as revealed shortly in response to the charges brought against Paul and Silas, must have been anti-Jewish, and would explain no mention of a synagogue. The second best option would have been a “place of prayer” located outside of town, beside the river. Such places of prayer were centuries old, as can be seen from this psalm, depicting Israel’s plight while captives in Babylon:

By the rivers of Babylon, There we sat down and wept, When we remembered Zion. 2 Upon the willows in the midst of it We hung our harps. 3 For there our captors demanded of us songs, And our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion” (Psalm 137:1-3).

It would seem from verse 13 (“supposing that there would be a place of prayer there”) that they were not even sure of finding a place of prayer in Philippi.367 They did find such a place, however, where only a few women seem to have gathered, among whom was Lydia, the “seller of purple fabrics,” from Thyatira (verse 14). The Lord opened her heart to receive the gospel as spoken by Paul. She, along with the other members of her household believed and were baptized, probably in that river beside which they had gathered. In addition to receiving the gospel, she received these missionaries into her home. It was at her initiative, in fact at her insistence that they accepted her hospitality. Her profession of faith in baptism and her provision of hospitality were outward evidences of the faith God had given her and which she had exercised.

The Fortuneteller’s Loss,
and Her Owners’ Loss of a Fortune
(16:16-18)

16 And it happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a certain slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortunetelling. 17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God,368 who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” 18 And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed,369 and turned and said to the spirit. “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment.

The soothsaying slave girl was absolutely correct about Paul and his party—they were “bond-servants of the Most High God,” who were “proclaiming the way of salvation.” It was not because she was wrong that she was silenced. It does not even seem that it was because she was demon-possessed. Some seem to think that Paul only gradually realized that she was demon-possessed, and that when he was convinced of her condition, he delivered her from her demonic oppression.370 I think that there was no doubt of her demon-possession. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus never diagnosed a case of demon-possession which was not known as such when the demonized person was brought to Him. He delivered demonized people because those who brought them knew they were demon-possessed. Thus, demon-possession was not something difficult to diagnose.

Paul simply did not feel any compulsion to deliver this young woman. Just because she was possessed did not obligate him to deliver her. And surely we must say that Paul was in no hurry. What was it, then, which prompted Paul to finally act, and to cast the demon from her? Was it some kind of inner guidance? Was it a clear sense of God’s leading? Or was it simply his exasperation and disgust at her incessant speaking, which proved to be annoying and distracting? Frankly, I think it was the latter, and not the former.

To me (and I know this is venturing into the unknown, unrevealed motivation of Paul, to some degree), Paul said something like this to himself, “O for goodness sake; I’ve had enough of this continual interruption. I’m going to take care of this matter once and for all. I’m going straight to the source of this and put a stop to it.” My imagination is not running entirely loose, for the only other time this expression (“greatly annoyed,” verse 18) is found is in Acts chapter 4, of the agitation and consternation of the Jewish religious leaders over the preaching of the apostles, indicting Israel and especially its leaders for killing he Messiah:

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being GREATLY DISTURBED because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:1-2).

Why is it that we are so reluctant to accept Luke’s words on face value? Why do we make every effort to avoid the conclusion that Paul cast the demon out of this slave girl because he was “fed up,” “angry”? The reason is that we want “spiritual ministry” to be the result of very pious-appearing attitudes and actions. We do not like to think that God’s will could be done because someone got mad. And yet we have already seen that the division of Paul and Barnabas resulted from an argument (all right, if you feel better for me saying so, a “strong contention”).

An Indictment Without a Conviction
and a Conviction Without An Indictment
(16:19-34)

19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone,371 they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities, 20 and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews,372 21 and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans.” 22 And the crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them, and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; 24 and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 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. 27 And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep and had seen the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. 33 And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. 34 And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.

It was this act of frustration and aggravation which proved to be a significant turning point in the ministry of Paul and Silas at Philippi. The demon was exorcised from the slave-girl, and it wasn’t long afterward that her owners realized that they had suffered the loss of significant potential income. These owners cared little about the girl, and the fact that she was in bondage to a demon. Her “powers” meant money in the pocket for them. She was a business venture, a source of income, so long as she possessed these powers, or better, so long as some “power” possessed her.

When these owners learned that her income-producing ability to tell the future was gone, they were livid. They had lost much money because of Paul’s actions, and they intended to make him “pay” for it, one way or another. They must have quickly learned that it would have been futile to “sue” this preacher, who had no money, and so they determined to make him suffer in another way. They dragged Paul and Silas off to the authorities, the chief magistrates of the city. The charges which they pressed were vague and unsubstantiated: they accused Paul and Silas of teaching and promoting religious practices which were illegal for Roman citizens. Without a trial, and without any semblance of “due process” of law, these two men were beaten, thrown into prison, and placed in maximum security, which meant placement in the inner portion of the prison (solitary confinement, the “hole”?), and their feet placed in stocks.

How could these owners get away with such fabricated charges, managing to move almost to the punishment stage without so much as a “kangaroo court” trial? I think that the reason is clear in the text. Paul and Silas were Jews, and the people of Philippi were Gentiles. The charges, which were not true of these two preachers, were assumed to be true of virtually any Jew. The charges were believable, and thus there was no need for a trial. The Jews, therefore, were generally believed to be trouble-makers, and those who advocated practices which were illegal.

There is no question in my mind but that these Philippians were racially bigoted, and all to ready to believe bad reports about any Jew. But there may well have been some historical or factual basis for their fears. Throughout their history, the Jews did not take well to foreign dominion, and they frequently sought to overthrow foreign authority. I believe this is at least part of the reason why Claudius commanded the Jews to leave Rome (Acts 18:2), and why Gallio was not impressed with the accusations of the Jews against Paul, driving them from his “courtroom” (Acts 18:12-17). It is also why the Romans finally sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

An example of the animosity toward the Jews can be found in our own civilized, educated culture. A few years ago, American sentiment toward the Iranians became very negative after the American embassy was stormed and those within it and its protection were taken hostage. It was a great evil, a violation of international law and all decency. But it was also the act of one segment of the Iranian population. Hatred of Iranians immediately was intensified. But even worse, there was an outpouring of animosity toward any “Arab” or olive-skinned immigrant. I saw a very ugly scene at a service station, where an American was abusive to a dark-skinned attendant. No doubt he lumped this young man into a large category of people, whom he viewed as fully in support of the Iranian takeover. Some things never change.

At least a segment of Jewish trouble-makers and a predisposition on the part of the Philippians to believe the worst about any Jew led to an instant “guilty” verdict on the part of the magistrates, a severe beating, and a prison cell for Paul and Silas. Who could have known that the deliverance of a slave-girl from her demon domination would have produced such a backlash? And who would have known that in the sovereign counsels of God, this incident would lead to evangelism in the most unlikely place—in the jail of Philippi, resulting in the conversion of the jailer and his whole household?

We do not know if any of the prisoners trusted in Christ because of the incarceration of Paul and Barnabas; we only know that they listened with great interest. We are told only that the jailer and his whole household believed. Actually, this is, in my way of thinking, the greater miracle. I have spoken in a number of prisons, and I have seen prisoners listen to fellow-prisoners. But it is quite another thing for a guard to be saved through the witness of an inmate. That is a miracle. But what was it that made such an impact on this jailer? What brought him first to his knees, and then to faith, and finally to baptismal waters, all in one day?

What seems to have captured the other prisoners’ attention was the way in which Paul and Silas responded to their cruel treatment. There in that prison, at midnight, sounds were resounding from the innermost prison, the “hole,” to the rest of the prison. This was nothing new. These men had heard many sounds from that inner portion of the prison, but they were sounds which they tried not to hear or to think about. There were undoubtedly the cries of men in pain and agony. There may have been cries for help, as men in there were beaten by guards or abused by other inmates. There may have been, at best, the bawdy sounds of heathen songs. But on this night there were the sounds of joyful singing. One might expect such “spirituals” as “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen,” but hardly a “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” Joy in the midst of suffering and sorrow will always get the attention of those around you. And so it was late that night.

But we have no assurance or clear statement to the fact that the jailer heard these songs of joy. He could have, of course, especially if the jailer’s house were a part of the jail building, as was so often the case in those days. Such, for example, was the prison of Joseph—merely the basement of Potiphar’s mansion (cf. Genesis 40:3, 7). I have a friend whose father was a sheriff in Texas, and who lived in the same building as the jail. And so this jailer may have heard the “joyful sounds” resounding from the innermost part of the jail, but we are not told that he did.

The Standard Scenario

When we come to the jail scene in Acts 16, we come with a “mental movie” already in our heads, which we merely replay as we read these verses. It goes something like this. The jailer hears the gospel because Paul and Silas shared their faith with him sometime during their incarceration, or he overhead the gospel somehow during this time. When the earthquake came, the jailer looked down the long corridor of the jail and saw no one, concluding that all had escaped. He began to take the steps necessary to take his own life. Paul somehow saw what he was about to do and called out to stop him, assuring him that all were still in the prison. The jailer, shaken by all of this, rushed in, fell at the feet of these two, and asked what he must do to be saved. This is only partly true, at best.

An Alternate Account

From the details which Luke has supplied in his account, we may arrive at another scenario, somewhat different from our normal impressions. It was late at night, midnight to be exact. All of the (candle or oil) lights were out, as usual. It was therefore pitch black inside the prison, especially in the innermost part, where Paul and Silas were kept, in maximum security. In that darkness, the other prisoners would find it difficult to do anything but sleep, if they could. But out of the pitch blackness there came the sounds of Paul and Silas’ praises to God. The prisoners did listen. It was, to them, a sweet sound, the sound of hope.

Suddenly, the sounds of the singing were shattered with other sounds—the sounds of an earthquake, not a very comforting event when one is in a prison, with walls of stone. And this was no small tremor, but a “great earthquake” (verse 26). But instead of being buried under tons of stone and rubble, these prisoners were released from their shackles. The earthquake undid their chains and the doors were set ajar. One could easily have simply walked out the door. Escape would never have been easier than at this time.

But God’s purpose was not escape, either for the prisoners, or for Paul and Silas. It may be that the prisoners stayed behind to hear more of what Paul and Silas had to say. But it may also be that in the darkness of that place no one saw that all the doors were opened. It was, I believe, pitch black inside that place. The earthquake must have shaken the jailer out of bed. If he lived in the same building, upstairs, he must have known that the quake was severe, and that the possibility of injuries or of escape was great.

And so he must have rushed to the main gate of the prison, wondering what he might find. He found an open door, and he saw no one around. He could not see inside the prison, because he had not yet gone inside. And he could not go inside because it was dark, and he had no light.373 He had jumped to the conclusion that the prisoners were gone. He could not see them, nor hear them. They must be gone. What else would a prisoner have done in such a case, but to escape as fast and as far as possible?

I do not think that Paul was able to see the jailer from where he was. It is possible, of course, but if the jailer had to call for lights to see what was going on inside the prison, why would Paul have seen what the jailer was doing outside the gate? And remember too that Paul and Silas were placed in the innermost part of the jail. Now we are told that their chains were loosed, and the cell doors were opened, and so Paul was no longer confined in the stocks or in his cell. Nevertheless, I am inclined to think that Paul knew that the man was about to kill himself by divine revelation. Can you imagine the jailer, standing outside the prison, thinking it was empty, seeing absolutely no one, and hearing a loud voice call out, telling him not to harm himself? This would surely have made a great impression on the jailer. And something did make such an impression, for the jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell at the feet of Paul and Silas.

The jailer, one way or another, recognized that these men had authority. When they spoke, men listened. When they praised God, things happened. The prisoners were still in their cells mainly because of the authority which these men had. The jailer ceased to commit suicide, not because he knew that all was well, but because Paul said that all was well. He would only know that all was well after his inspection, a little later on, when lights were brought to him.

Here was an act of reverence, an acknowledgment that these men were greater than he. Why would a jailer bow down at the feet of a prisoner? Because he knew that these men possessed power. He knew that they had come to proclaim the way of salvation. Had he heard this from the lips of the slave-girl? Perhaps. Had he heard it from Paul and Silas, or from one of the prisoners, or even from Lydia or one of the church members? Perhaps. It was not until after the jailer led these two outside the prison that he asked them what he must do to be saved. They told him and his family, and all believed, were saved, and were baptized.

The changes in that jailer, a crusty and cruel man no doubt, began immediately. The one who had at least played a part in the beating of these men now cleansed and dressed their wounds, his cruelty converted to compassion. The man who thrust these men in the darkest hole of that prison now took them into his own house. The one who may have set “prison slop” before them, to eat, now put them at his own table and fed them the best of what he had. The man who would have none of their religion now possessed and professed it. He was baptized, along with his whole house.374

No Escape for the Magistrates:
Paul Refuses to Leave Jail
(16:35-40)

35 Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Now therefore come out and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans,375 and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” 38 And the policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. And they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39 and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. 40 And they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

After the wounds of these two men were dressed, they were fed, and perhaps a time of fellowship, prayer and praise, these men seem to have gone back to their cells. This certainly seems to be where they were found the next morning when the orders were sent to the jailer to release them. It would have been an entirely different thing if they had been sitting on the jailer’s couch, eating a leisurely breakfast, reading the morning paper, when the officers arrived. And how could Paul refuse to leave when he was not in the prison? No, the kindness of the jailer was accepted, but Paul did not accept an unofficial release, even if the jailer had offered it.

We do not know why the magistrates decided to order the release of Paul and Silas. Was it their intention to do this all along, only to scare these men into leaving town? Or was it due to pressure brought to bear on the officials by the church and/or people of influence like Lydia? Or was it because the earthquake shook some sense into these men and convinced them they may have been wrong? For whatever reasons, the decision was made, and officers were sent to inform the jailer to release these two men.

Paul’s response was not at all what they expected. They found themselves to be in much greater trouble than these two preachers. They expected Paul to gratefully accept his release by hightailing it out of town, never again to look back or return. Instead, they found Paul refusing to leave his cell, until those responsible for his illegal treatment acknowledged their wrong and made a somewhat public apology.

Why was Paul so insistent about this? Why was he so indignant? Was this a submissive act? Justice had not been done, and the laws of Rome, which Paul had wrongly been accused of breaking, were the very laws which the magistrates had violated. The Christian who looks forward to the coming of Messiah and for the establishment of justice on the earth (cf. Matthew 6:10), is one who also desires to see justice done now. Paul’s submission to the law was such that he expected others to live under it as well. Paul’s continued freedom to preach the gospel was somewhat on the line, as was the freedom of the church in Philippi to conduct its worship and ministry. What Paul did, he did for the cause of justice, and for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

With great chagrin, the magistrates complied with Paul’s demands, and pled with he and Silas to go quietly. They did leave Philippi, but without any promise that they would be gone for good. They first went to the home of Lydia, where the church was summoned, and encouraged. There were a number of others gathered there, too, who Luke calls “brethren,” and so we know that the evangelization of this city included more than the two households of Lydia and the jailer. Then and then only did they depart.376 Philippi would never be the same.

Conclusion

There are those who would view the Book of Acts as one endless stream of miracles. In one sense, they are right, for every time an unbeliever is saved, or a believer grows toward the likeness of Christ, that is a miracle, brought about by the power of God through His Holy Spirit.

But when you read the Book of Acts through with a mind which does not require or demand constant interventions, signs and wonders, you discover that much of the will of God is revealed or brought about by what seem to be rather “natural” causes. There are those supernatural interventions of God in Acts—the spectacular miracles—but these are relatively few and far between. In Acts the will of God is represented as that sure and certain purpose which will be realized through the miraculous and the mundane, through those things which are clearly the intervening hand of God, and those things which appear to be the normal kinds of activity characteristic of men.

Consider, for instance, the ways in which the will of God was revealed and accomplished in getting this missionary team to Macedonia. It all began with an argument within the church, settled by the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35). It then the argument between Paul and Barnabas led to the division of their team into two teams (Acts 15:36-41). Paul seems to have set his course at the beginning, first to Derbe and Lystra, and then through the Phrygian and Galatian region. But God’s will was also revealed through the prohibition of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia (16:6), followed by the refusal of the Spirit of Jesus to allow them to enter Bithynia (16:7). The Macedonian vision at Troas was clearly a divine, miraculous intervention of God, directing this party to Macedonia (16:9-10). The choice of going to the city of Philippi seems to be, once again, the human decision made by Paul. God obviously blessed this decision and the faithfulness of those who went along and who proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of all who would believe in Him and in His atoning death in the sinner’s place.

The decision to go the this place of prayer, outside the city of Philippi, was apparently one made by Paul and perhaps those with him as well. This was becoming a custom with Paul, as a means of reaching the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles with the Gospel. The casting out of the demon from the slave-girl was entirely consistent with Scripture, but Paul seems to have been acting out of frustration and aggravation. Without knowing it, Paul set in motion a sequence of events which would lead to the salvation of a Gentile family, the household of the Philippian jailer. Thus, the will of God was revealed over a period of time, and through a variety of means, some of which were more evidently miraculous than others, but all of which were the outworking of God’s plan and purpose.

Are there miracles in the Book of Acts? There certainly are! But everything God does is not spectacular. God is not limited to only a few means of achieving His will. Because He is a sovereign God, He is free and able to accomplish His will (1) through His own people, as they obey; (2) through His people as they disobey; (3) through His enemies, who not only disobey, but who actively seek to undermine the cause of Christ. The sovereignty of God is a wonderfully comforting truth, and one that can radically transform our thinking and conduct. It means that God cannot be thwarted by men, or even by Satan and his fallen hosts. What God purposes, God produces, through various means, and in such a way as to reveal His power and to enhance His glory.

Why is it, then, that so many Christians insist on seeing some kind of spectacular intervention, some dazzling miracle, to be assured of God’s presence and guidance? Why can we not see God as working today just as He has throughout history, in a variety of ways. And why are we unwilling to recognize that the spectacular miracles are the exception, the unusual means of God’s working, and not the norm. Is God able to intervene in an unusual way at any time? Of course, but He need not do so because His power is so great that He can just as easily use the normal, the natural, and even the evil to achieve His purposes. Let us not limit God, then, to those kinds of activity which we would prefer, and which, in reality betray our own lack of faith and grasp of His sovereign control of history.

One more thing about the miraculous interventions of God. When God does intervene in the affairs of this world in some unusual way, it is almost never in a way that we would have expected or asked for. God does this so that it is always clear that He is God and we are finite men, that His ways are vastly beyond our own. And thus Paul writes,

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him {be} the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).

If some are inclined to equate the presence and power of God with the spectacular and the miraculous, there are those also who would try to equate the gospel with success. How many of those who are asked to give their testimonies are the “successful” people, the athletic heroes and the prosperous business people. The reality of the gospel is that it is linked as much or more with suffering and weakness than with success and human power.

It was not Paul’s success which gained him a hearing from the other prisoners; it was the joy of Paul and Silas in the midst of injustice, cruelty, and suffering which caused them to “listen up.” Suffering was the means by which our Lord accomplished our salvation on the cross of Calvary. Suffering is not only the norm, that which those who follow Christ should expect, it is the means which God often uses in order to win others to himself. Suffering is not a very popular subject today, but then many would prefer a self-centered, self-indulgent lifestyle to that of a disciple. In Acts, however, suffering and salvation are virtually inseparable realities.

Closely related to the subject of suffering is that of praise. What power and joy there is in the praise of God, as Paul and Silas did in the midst of that prison, and in the midst of their own pain. What is it that enables one to rejoice in suffering, and to be able to praise God in it and even for it? The Bible gives us a number of reasons. Let me mention just a few, which I believe enabled Paul and Silas to praise God, and which will enable us to do so as well, even in the midst of great adversity and pain:

Suffering should come as no surprise, for it is a part of the Christian’s calling (Acts 9:16; Colossians 1:24; 1 Thessalonians 3:4; 1 Peter 2:21).

Suffering for the sake of Christ is a privilege, which results in praise (Acts 5:41; Philippians 1:29; 1 Peter 3:14).

We are instructed to glorify and praise God in our sufferings (1 Peter 4:13, 16).

Suffering is a means of sharing in our Lord’s suffering and glory (Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4, 5; Philippians 3:10; Revelation 1:9).

Our Lord Himself suffered far more than we ever will, and for our benefit and blessing (Hebrews 2:9-10; 13:12).

Suffering for the sake of Christ, according to His Word, pleases God (1 Peter 2:20). Our suffering is never “out of control,” for He is in control, especially when we suffer (John 16:33).

God takes note of our sufferings (Revelation 2:9).

Suffering is a test of our faith, which proves us faithful and God’s promises sure (2 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:12; 3:11).

Suffering is God’s appointed means of growth and maturity (Romans 5:3; Hebrews 2:10; 5:8; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 5:10).

Our suffering is shared by our fellow-saints (1 Corinthians 12:26; 1 Peter 5:9).

Suffering is accompanied by the comfort which God gives us (2 Corinthians 1:5).

Our suffering may bring comfort to others (2 Corinthians 5:6-7), and can be for the benefit of others (Ephesians 3:13).

Suffering for Christ, in a Christ-like way, is a means of manifesting Christ to a lost and dying world (2 Corinthians 4:10).

We are sustained in our sufferings by the power and grace of God (2 Timothy 1:8), and the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 1:6).

Suffering in this life causes us to cling less to this world and its passing pleasures, and to look toward heaven and the joy of being in the presence of God forever (2 Corinthians 4:16–5:10).

Suffering and adversity cannot, in and of itself, separate us from Christ, His love, and His atoning power, but it can draw us nearer to Him (Psalm 73; Romans 8:35).

It is interesting to note that in our text, and in the Bible as a whole, suffering is viewed from the perspective of the sovereignty of God and is experienced joyfully, in fellowship with God and in the context of praise. I do not think that it is possible to praise God in the midst of our suffering and pain until we have come to grips with the goodness and with the sovereignty of God. God’s power and character are that in which we can only find comfort and joy. May God grant us that joy as we experience those sufferings which are an unavoidable and a vital part of our walk with Him.


359 It is difficult to give a termination verse, for the account of the exorcism of the slave girl merges into the account of the charges against Paul and Silas, their unjust beating, and their imprisonment, which leads to the conversion of the jailer and his household.

360 “. . . a mountainous island rising to 5,000 feet . . .” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 309.

361 “The wind was favorable for the voyage across the North Aegean, and they finished it in two days. (The reverse journey from Philippi to Troas, recorded in 20:6, took five days.) Bruce, p. 309.

“Neapolis, the modern Kavalla, was the port of Philippi, which lay some ten miles inland. At Neapolis the great Egnatian Way, a Roman road linking the Adriatic with the Aegean, reached its eastern terminus.” Bruce, p. 309.

The distance from Troas to Neapolis was, according to Marshall, about 125 miles. I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1987), p. 266.

362 “The Greek text is confused, the manuscripts offering several different versions of a phrase that had evidently been garbled at an early stage, but the rendering in GNB and TNT, ‘a city of the first district of Macedonia’, probably represents the intended sense.” Marshall, p. 266.

Marshall previously has written, “Macedonia was unusual as a Roman province in being divided into four subprovinces, of which Philippi belonged to the first, although its capital city was Amphipolis.” Marshall, p. 266.

363 The river Gangites or the stream, Crenides. Cf. Marshall, p. 267. Compare Psalm 137 for a description of the prayers and worship of the Israelites in Babylon, while captives.

364 “The people of that area were famed for their skill in the manufacture of purple dye, extracted from the juice of the madder root. This was still in use there for the dyeing of carpets at the end of the nineteenth century, before it was superseded by chemical dyes.” Bruce, p. 311.

“. . . Lydia represented some firm engaged in marketing cloth dyed ‘turkey-red’, from the juice of the madder-root. The dye was a cheaper rival for the crimson expensively extracted from the murex shell.” E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company {photolithoprinted}, 1966), p. 126.

365 “Women in Macedonia were noted for their independence; moreover, under Roman law (which governed life in the colony) freeborn women with three children and freedwomen with four children were at this time granted a number of privileges, including the right to undertake legal transactions on their own initiative.” Bruce, p. 311.

On the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men, compare John 1:13; 6:37, 44, 65; 10:26-29; Acts 13:48; Romans 9:14-18; Revelation 17:8. On the responsibility of man to believe for salvation, compare John 1:12; 3:16-18; 10:9; Romans 10:9-15; Revelation 22:17.

366 “The conversion of Lydia was immediately followed by her offer of hospitality to Paul and his party; she was thus quick not merely to follow the early Christian practice of being hospitable (Rom. 12:13; 1 Tim. 3:2; Heb. 13:2; 1 Pet. 4:9; 3 Jn. 5-8), but also to share material goods with those who teach the Word (Gal. 6:6; cf. 1 Cor. 9:14).” I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1987), p. 268.

367 The fact that the acted on information they “supposed” to be so indicates that they had no clear guidance, but were acting out of their best information and judgment.

368 Cf. Mark 5:7 and Acts 7:48.

369 The New Jerusalem Bible renders verses 18 and 19 this way: “She did this every day afterward until Paul lost his temper one day and turned round and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to leave that woman.’ The spirit went out of her then and there” (emphasis mine).

370 For example, Marshall writes: “The girl’s cries may not have seemed dangerous at first; indeed there is no suggestion that she was hostile to the missionaries. But it became clear to Paul that she was in the grip of an evil spirit, and he proceeded to exorcise the spirit by means of the name of Jesus.” Marshall, p. 269.

371 Compare Acts 19:23-27.

372 For a clue as to the Roman attitude toward the Jews, cf. Acts 18:2, 12-17.

373 The text says that he “called for lights” (plural), indicating that the lights were out, and that a number of lights were needed to illuminate the place well enough to survey the damage, and to determine who might have escaped.

374 Some wish to prove from this text that when the head of a family comes to faith, he can be assured that his whole family will follow him in faith. There is no such promise here. If you read these verses carefully you will see that the offer of salvation by faith in Jesus was offered to the jailer, and to his whole household. The message of salvation was proclaimed to the jailer, and his whole household. The message of salvation was believed by the jailer, and his whole household. And as the jailer professed his faith by being baptized, so did the others in his household. The offer was to the jailer and all of his household. The acceptance of this offer was by the jailer and his whole household, but there is no guarantee that this will always be so.

375 “By a series of Valerian and Porcian laws enacted between the beginning of the Roman Republic and the early second century B. C. Roman citizens were exempted from degrading forms of punishment and had certain valued rights established for them in relation to the law. These privileges had been more recently reaffirmed under the empire by a Julian law dealing with public disorder.” Bruce, p. 319.

“In a speech for the prosecution against Verres, the tyrant governor of Sicily, Cicero speaks with horror of a Roman citizen who was scourged while protesting ‘in the midst of his pain and the noise of the blows, ““I am a Roman citizen.”” It was regarded as a most serious offence to make such a claim untruthfully, or to disregard it if truthfully made.” Blaiklock, p. 127.

376 The “we” references of Luke end at Philippi, and do not begin again until Acts 20:5, suggesting that Luke stayed on at Philippi, joining Paul later at Troas.

Taxonomy upgrade extras: 
Passage: 
Ad Category: