Summary: Jesus wants us to be free from the shackles that may be binding us.
Each person in this scripture from Acts is imprisoned in one way or another.
The slave girl is imprisoned in her insanity and by her owners. Even though she says something good, she is enslaved to it. Paul and Silas go to pray and she begins following them. She says something positive and true, but she does it in an irritating and insane way. She says over and over again, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation." When Paul finally becomes weary of it, he says to the annoying spirit, "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." With those words, she is freed--of her insanity and her enslavement by her owners. The pagans believed someone who was mentally ill had their mind invaded by the gods and revealed divine oracles. The owners’ means of making money is ruined. The story doesn’t tell us what her life is like afterward...if she is grateful or leads a productive life, but we can’t help but believe her life is better. She now has mental and spiritual health and she is no longer exploited by her owners.
Paul and his friends are imprisoned as well. They are imprisoned by this slave girl’s insanity for many days, not being able to get rid of her, and she doesn’t stop her insane ways. They are literally imprisoned by the community leaders and magistrates who place them in jail because of the disturbance concerning the slave girl that the owners raise because they have lost their means of making profit. However, the beautiful thing we see about Paul and Silas is that even though they have been beaten severely and they are in prison, they are praying and singing hymns. It states the other prisoners are listening to them, no doubt are inspired by them. They are bound by shackles, but their spirits soar and are free.
The owners are imprisoned by their own greed. They do not care about the girl’s well-being, that they are making profit off her insanity and oddity. They don’t want her to be whole and well. They care only for their profit. They are imprisoned by their prejudice against Paul and Silas because they are Jews. They appeal to the prejudice against the Jews that the leaders might have. The story never tells us if they are freed from their self-imposed prison.
The magistrates are imprisoned by their tradition, pride and prejudice. The owners of the slave girl win their appeal by encouraging their prejudice against Jews. "They are Jews," they say. They appeal to their sense of tradition and custom. "They are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe," they say. No doubt the magistrates see a possible mob on their hands. It says that the crowd joined in attacking Paul and Silas. They don’t want to lose their pride or reputation, so they flex their muscles and have them beaten and thrown in prison. The magistrates do in the end apologize to Paul and Silas, when they learn they are Roman citizens.Once again they are worried about the crowd and ask them to leave the city. They are never truly freed from the things that cause them to be in bondage.
Other characters in the story who are imprisoned are, of course, the other prisoners there at the time Paul and Silas are in jail. We never really know what happens to them. Some of them, no doubt, are enslaved to wrongdoing or sin. At least, they do begin to open their hearts to Paul and Silas’ ministry by listening to their praying and singing.
The last person in this story who is imprisoned is the jailer. He is imprisoned by fear and insecurity. He knows that whatever sentence any of the prisoners has will be his sentence if any of them escapes. He evidently doesn’t want to suffer that punishment, because he nearly commits suicide. Not only that, I can’t helpb but think that this man has insecurity that is already there, that he is so quick to want to take his life under this circumstance. Here is where we see the greatest freeing, in this man’s life. This jailer may have been one of the ones who beat Paul and Silas and perhaps other prisoners. He, no doubt, has heard about Paul and Silas’ preaching and the healing of the slave girl. He, no doubt, has heard them singing and praying and has probably marvelled at their calm. He, no doubt, is literally and emotionally shaken by the earthquake. He, no doubt, is touched by Paul and Silas’ concern about his well-being. After Paul cries out to him, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here," he falls down before Paul and Silas, takes them outside and asks, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Now, whether he is talking about eternal salvation or his life being spared, it’s not clear. But we do know that Paul uses it as an opportunity to speak to him about his faith. The time is ripe for the man. He doesn’t want to be in bondage any more, he wants to be made free and whole. He is baptized along with his household. One reason we know he has truly been made free is through his actions. He washes Paul and Silas’ wounds. He brings them into his house. He sets food before them. He is a changed man. He is freed from his fear, insecurity and guilt.