Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Acts 16:25-40 – What kind of man was the Philippian jailor?

Usually the impression is given that he was a rough and wild man. Nevertheless, such a suggestion is open to question. It is very unlikely that the Roman authorities would have used such an undisciplined person in this important position.

It is clear from the passage that he was used to obeying orders and his treatment of Paul and Silas was according to the instructions he received. In a sense, this man was a government employee, with all the privileges that came with his role. So he would have enjoyed a measure of security.

Whatever may have been these securities, he found himself in a situation where they could not do him any good. In a moment he discovered the fragility of his situation. He knew that he was accountable for the prisoners with his own life, and suicide seemed the only option. All his hopes for the future had been dashed.

In these two factors, the jailor is a picture of many of us. We have reasonably secure positions in society through our work and station in life. Then something happens that shows to us that these things cannot really help us when troubles come.

Sometimes God has to remove things from us before we will listen to him. He does not do this with everyone; for example, he did not bring any problems into the life of Lydia. With the young girl, he removed her from various evils that were afflicting her. It was different with the jailor. God knows what it will take to bring a person to repentance.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Acts 16:25-40 – Witness is appropriate in all circumstances

After they were arrested, Paul and Silas could have concluded that it would be safer to keep quiet, but they did not. They could have assumed that they had made a mistake in offending the owners of the slave girl and issued a public apology, but they did not. They could have prayed for divine judgement to fall on those who had opposed them, but they did not.

Instead they carried on doing what they would have done if they had been in the home of Lydia instead of being in a dungeon. It looks as if they had learned that the next convert could come from anywhere, including a prison. Here they had a captive audience who were listening to them exalt their God and pray to him.

The remarkable thing is that they were full of joy. Years later, when the Philippian jailor and his family read Paul’s comment in his letter to the church in Philippi that they should rejoice always in the Lord they would recall the joy of Paul and Silas.

How is our witness?

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Acts 16:25-40 – How did it happen?

The jailor became involved because Paul and Silas had been arrested at the instigation of the owners of the slave girl. In a sense it was all none of his business, although he soon discovered that he had to make it his business.

It is unlikely that Paul and Silas thought that morning that they would be in prison in the evening, and that they would be the means of the conversion of the jailor and his household. No doubt, Paul and Silas would have prayed to be guided to converts, but such prayers can result in unexpected answers.

The incident also tells us that the Lord will give opportunity for salvation in very unexpected places and to individuals who would not have been expecting to be converted. I am sure it had never entered the jailor’s mind that he could be saved; we don’t even know if he had heard that there were such a group as Christians.

In order to bring about the conversion of the Philippian jailor God sent an earthquake.  It was a surprising earthquake in that it did not kill or injure anyone; instead it set the prisoners free from their chains. It may be that they had been chained to rings on the walls, but the miracle seems to have been more than loosing the rings. There is something about the miracle that stops the prisoners from fleeing. Although they had been released from the grip of Roman authority, they found themselves in the hand of a higher power and seem frightened to move. And this had an effect on the jailor.

Also with regard to the jailor, this was the only occasion he would have to hear Paul and Silas. They would have been released the next day and moved on to their next place. Sometimes providence only gives one opportunity for hearing the gospel.

Providence also ensured that through the experience of Paul and Silas the congregation would receive the authentication of the civil authority. It had been founded by people who had Roman citizenship. The reason why they had been attacked was because the owners assumed that Paul and Silas did not have this privilege, one that was highly valued in the Roman Empire in general and in a city like Philippi in particular because it was a place where most of the citizens had this benefit.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Acts 16:16-24 – The experience of the slave girl

While one cannot be dogmatic, it is possible from the Greek term to suggest that she was young, no more than a teenager. It is obvious that she was in a desperate condition, with a very poor lifestyle. She was demon-possessed, which may not be a common condition with us, but is in many parts of the world and was the case throughout the known world in Paul’s day. She had become this by her involvement in pagan religions. But her religious experience had only brought her into great bondage. In her heart, there was great spiritual darkness.

Further, she was abused by her masters because she was used by them to tell the future of their clients. Luke does not say that she could actually predict what was going to happen. Her involvement with the occult could give her supernatural knowledge of her clients and she could adapt her message to their personal circumstances.  

It is possible that her words indicated a longing in her heart for deliverance by the God whose message of salvation was being proclaimed by Paul and his friends. She knew within herself, in a degree not known by those who are not involved in the occult, the awful chains of sin. What was the response of Paul and the others?

It is certain that they would have prayed for divine power to deal with this opposition, which may explain the delay in Paul rebuking her. As Calvin put it, Paul did not ‘attempt any thing without the motion of the Spirit; neither did he enter the conflict until he was armed with power from heaven.’

Paul also was grieved at what she was doing. The situation of this poor woman brought forth his compassion. He was distressed at what had become of her, a creature made in the image of God. His loving heart longed for her deliverance. In this attitude, he was Christlike. This is another reason for the success of the gospel in Philippi – the messengers were like their Master.

Aware that he possessed the authority to help her, Paul commanded the demon to leave her. In a second she was delivered. Perhaps the deliverance happened as they were on the way to the prayer meeting, and she may have joined them. No doubt she became a member of the church. It’s nice to imagine Lydia, the prosperous businesswoman, hugging this girl as she entered the villa for the meetings. And her testimony told the inhabitants that Jesus could set them free from the spiritual slavery they were under.

She is an example of what Paul would later write in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29: ‘But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.’