Summary: Christians are not immune to pain and disappointment and attempting to look on the bright side of life is not going to make the pain go away.
Olympic bronze medalists are happier then Olympic silver medalists….so says Dr. Vicki Medvec from the Kellogg School of Management, at Northwestern University.
Medvec studied Olympic medalists and she discovered that bronze medalists were indeed happier than silver medalists. Here's what she found: Medvec found that Silver medalists tended to focus on how close they came to winning gold, so they weren't satisfied with silver. On the other hand, bronze medalists tended to focus on how close they came to not winning a medal at all, so they were just happy to be on the medal stand at all.
It appears to be about perspective. I can feel like I’m a loser because I came so close to winning - or - if I simply look at things I a different way, I can feel like a winner, because I came so close to losing.
Here in our passage this morning we have Paul and Silas locked up in prison, and it is bad news for them. If you were with us last week you will remember that Paul and Silas had removed a spirit from a slave girl who was following them around and pestering them - and the problem was that the spirit inhabiting the girl was a spirit of Apollo. It was an oracle spirit.
The slave girl was able to give an oracle like the priestess at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi through the spirit that inhabited her. In short the slave girls acted like a fortune teller, people of the city could ask the slave girl for advice and when the slave girl spoke, what she said was believed to be from the god Apollo. The people of the city of Philippi loved the God Apollo and so they are furious with Paul and Silas for removing this spirit.
Paul and Silas are brought before the city officials who have them severely beaten with rods by twelve professional football player size men, and then thrown in jail.
Then we get to our passage today, and this is the really odd thing: Paul and Silas, who are literally half dead from the beating they received, I mean these men are in a lot of pain….yet they sing in the middle of the night, loud enough for everyone to hear. Are Paul and Silas acting like the Olympic Bronze medalists and focusing on the fact that they are lucky to be alive?
Ever notice that when you don’t like a particular political candidate, it is easy to find what’s wrong with them, but if you like a political candidate, it is difficult to find something wrong about them. That seems to be human nature, doesn’t it?
Certainly, we can always find something to focus on that is positive even in the worst of circumstances, certainly there is always a silver lining in every difficult circumstance…..hold on, stop right there, you got to be kidding with that line of reasoning.
This passage is not about the power of positive thinking, or the upside of a sunny disposition, sappy pop psychological motivational, or simply being relieved because things could be worse. Come on, let’s get real. These two guys have been falsely accused, humiliated, publicly beaten, dragged off to jail and locked up in the inner cell, without food or water...and I shouldn’t have to remind you that they did not have indoor plumbing in that jail cell, nor do they have Ibuprofen.
When you read this passage, if you are even on the verge of considering that the lesson we can learn from these two men is that we should have a positive outlook on life - stop right there. Now it may be true that Olympic Silver Medalists should buck up and reconsider their amazing achievement, and a positive attitude in difficult circumstances might give you a bit of an edge in dealing with the certain situations, but what is happening to Paul and Silas is much deeper, and much more profound than a sunny disposition.
Christians are not immune to pain and disappointment; Christians are not immune to tragedy and failure; Bad things, horrible things, unspeakable things have fallen upon Christians and attempting to look on the bright side of life is not going to make the pain go away.
Now, I realize there are Christians who appear to take on this kind of a persona: No matter what happens, they are going to smile and be happy about it. But, being happy and bright about life does not reflect your spiritual disposition, does it? In fact many times it hides the truth - a lack of spiritual maturity.
Here in this passage, it is not that Paul and Silas have the correct arguments, or the best philosophy of life, or even a positive attitude that makes them sing praise to God. If any of those things I mentioned are true, having the correct argument, the best philosophy of life or a positive attitude, if any of those things are true in this situation about Paul and Silas, then what in the world do we need Jesus Christ for?