The jailer pushed us into a dark, dirty, musty, and ill-smelling room. The air reeked with urine and feces smells. It had not been cleaned in a long time, if ever. There were no windows and no ventilation. The air we breathed was stale, foul, and breathtaking. Then he bound our feet in stocks and left us there.
Today had started as a great day. As usual, we prayed with other believers, then preached the gospel wherever possible in this city of Philippi. For several days now, a demon-possessed slavegirl was following us, bringing her masters much gain by soothsaying. As she followed us, she repeatedly said, “These men are the servants of the most high God, which show unto us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). Even though she was speaking the truth, I did not want advertising from the devil, so I said, “I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour” (Acts 16:18).
The slavegirl’s masters saw that their source of profit was gone. They dragged me (Paul) and Silas before the magistrates and accused us of troubling the city and teaching unlawful customs. The Philippian citizens then rose against us. The magistrates tore their clothes and ordered a public beating. The soldiers laid many stripes on us with a whip whose leather straps contained slivers of sharp bones and small metal balls. When they finished, our backs were a mass of open wounds.
They brought us to the jail to put us under the custody of the jailer. He was a big, burly, hard-case man who looked like he could whip any man in a fight – and would be glad to start the battle. He cared nothing for us. Seeing that the soldiers had already beaten us severely, he figured us to be pretty bad guys. He took us to the worst part of the jail.
But God had prepared us for this. We had been driven out of Antioch of Pisidia by the Jews for preaching the gospel. Later we had a great ministry with many saved in Iconium but were driven out again by the Jews. Moving on to Derbe and Lystra, we started to have results, but the Jews followed us there, stirred up the people, and stoned me. Nevertheless, as the disciples gathered around me, God raised me up. Barnabas and I then revisited the previously evangelized cities, confirming and encouraging the new believers. We then returned from our first missionary journey and reported to the church at Antioch.
On this second missionary journey with Silas as my partner, Philippi was our first new city to visit. We had just been there a few days, and God blessed our ministry.
But now we were in jail. And the situation looked grim.
From the first missionary journey, I remember every bad thing that happened to us. God had used those bad things to expand the outreach of the gospel and bring glory to Himself. And it had also worked out well for me too. These events illustrated what I would write about a few years later in Romans 8:28. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Surely that would be the result here too.
So, I said to Silas, “Let’s sing! This stay in jail is a great opportunity to praise the Lord and to minister to all the other prisoners.” And sing we did! The other prisoners heard and probably wondered if we were crazy. Little did we know what was about to happen.
Suddenly the ground under us and the walls around us shook. All the dormant dust of past years stirred up and made it hard to breathe. The prison doors popped loose. The stocks binding our feet fell loose. Other prisoners were shouting as they realized they were set free.
It woke the keeper of the prison. He was not as much scared about the earthquake as he was about the prisoners escaping. If they fled, the authorities would execute him. He immediately drew his sword, intending to kill himself.
Silas and I saw him, and I shouted, “Don’t harm yourself. We are all here.” He called for a light and came down to us. He was shaking from fear as he fell down before us.
He remembered what he had heard about us and our message before he ever met and locked us up. The jailer also heard us singing and wondered how we could sing in those circumstances. “Was there something about their Jesus that made them sing and rejoice in this awful time?” He had never felt that way, even when things were going well. They had something that he urgently needed.
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he asked. We replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:30-31). Paul and Silas then explained the Word of the Lord to him and his household. That night he and his family were saved and baptized. And the same jailer who had not been concerned about their wounds a few hours before now washed their stripes and invited them to sit down with him and his family for a meal.
Paul and Silas, who had enough faith to praise and sing to the Lord in their awful plight, now saw the fruit of their ministry with this family saved, and a new church started in Philippi.
Years later, he would write to the church at Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, I say, Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)
Christian friend, you may be going through a stressful trial right now. Praise the Lord anyway! Ask for the Lord’s help, and then watch God work in your life for His glory and your good.