Summary: Paul and Silas likely did not feel like praising God when they were in jail, but they learned to walk by faith and not by feelings. Paul commands us to do the same thing. He commands us to walk by faith and not by feelings.
Acts 16:25-40 is the story of how God can take the bad circumstances of our lives and use them for good. Paul and Silas had just cast out the demons who were occupying the servant girl, but her owners had them put in jail. The servant girl was a sorcerer who made money for her owners, and when Paul and Silas cast out her demons, her owners lost their source of income. As a result, the owners had Paul and Silas thrown into jail.
Were Paul and Silas mad because of their predicament? No, because they sang hymns of praise to God. They might not have felt like praising, but they had learned to walk by faith and not by feelings. They weren’t angry with God about what happened. Instead, they praised God in the midst of their circumstances, and in return God rewarded them by freeing them from jail.
Paul and Silas did not flee from the jail after the earthquake. If they had fled, the jailer would have been held responsible for their escape and would have been put to death. Paul and Silas saved the jailer’s life both literally and spiritually. Rather than running for their lives, they saw an opportunity to save a lost soul.
In the midst of their suffering, Paul and Silas experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit. It filled their hearts with so much joy and praise that they started singing. In response, the Holy Spirit freed them from their physical captivity just like it frees us from spiritual captivity. The Holy Spirit, working through Paul and Silas, freed the jailer and his family from their spiritual captivity.
Once Paul and Silas were freed and vindicated by the Holy Spirit, they sought freedom and vindication from the authorities. Paul wanted public vindication so that the Philippians would see him for who he really was. If they had seen him as a troublemaker and a lawbreaker, it would have hindered the growth of the church in Philippi. If we want to see people grow in their faith, and if we want to see our churches grow, we have to let people see us for who we really are as Christians. They need to see that we are not a threat to them, just like Paul wanted the Romans to see that Christianity was not a threat to them.
Paul was concerned about his reputation with the Philippians because he did not want a negative reputation to hinder the development of the church in Philippi. He knew that people were watching him to see if his faith was real. People are also watching us to see if our faith is real. The world is always looking for opportunities to discredit Christians. The world looks for people such as false teachers and Christian hypocrites. When we reflect Christ’s love and power in our lives, evangelism will be a fruitful part of our lives. People will see that our Christian deeds and love will back up our Christian words.
This was a powerful experience for the jailer. He saw an opportunity to save his own soul. He became concerned about the state of his spiritual life, especially as he prepared to send himself into eternity by preparing to kill himself when he thought that the prisoners had escaped during the earthquake. He likely knew that he was unfit to stand before the ultimate judge (God) because of his sin. A similar experience happens when people who are dying repent. In both cases, the answer to the question “What must I do to be saved?” is simple-“Believe in Jesus, and be saved.”
The jailer and his family believed, and they were saved. They did not have to do any good works or start going to church first or study the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit frees everyone so that they can use all things to his glory. In other words, we are free to use all of our talents and resources to do God’s work in our world, including singing our own songs.
During World War II, many soldiers “got religion” while in their foxholes under enemy fire. Because many of those ‘foxhole conversions’ were not genuine, some people become skeptical of anyone who professes Christianity under stressful circumstances. Yet there are many, including the Philippian jailer who will testify that some “foxhole conversions” are genuine. We must be sensitive to God when we are under stress. He might be using that very situation to help us get out lives into perspective.
Paul, Silas and the jailer trusted in God in their circumstances because they knew that God would solve their problems. God can solve our problems as well if we put our trust in him. When we allow him to rule our lives, he will set us free from all of our prisons. Christian prisoners witness to their faith just like Paul and Silas witnessed to their faith while they were in jail. Even if we are persecuted for the sake of the Gospel, God can free us from that prison by making us a powerful testimony of God’s love.