Paul and Silas sat inside the jail, where they had been locked up so that later they could be convicted. Their clothes had been torn from their bodies, their backs had been flayed bloody, and their feet were in shackles. Did these thoughts not come to them: “Maybe we should not have started on the road to Europe? Maybe it was a false call that Paul had received from the man in Macedonia? And where was that man in Macedonia who asked for help?” When Paul and his coworkers came to Philippi, the capital of Macedonia, they saw no man welcoming them with open arms. Instead, they came in contact with a gathering of women. Even though a fabric seller named Lydia came to believe when she heard what Paul spoke, things were probably not as they had expected.
No, we do not read of doubts arising in the hearts of these two men that this path to Europe was not God’s way. In contrast, they prayed and joyfully praised their God. During this night, they were unable to kneel to pray as they were used to (Ephesians 3:14) but their hearts were bowed in humble adoration before God, and their voices proclaimed that they were joyful and confident. They praised God, and no lament came from their lips.
Their Lord and Master had foretold: “for they will deliver you to up to councils and scourge you” (Matthew 10:17). What happened was according to the Scripture. It was therefore not unusual that they suffered for their Lord. Maybe they even thanked their Lord that they were considered worthy to suffer for Him, as the early apostles had (Acts 5:40-41).
Paul and Silas proved there in jail that their joy in the Lord was not dependent on their circumstances. That is what the Apostle Paul said many times during his time in jail in Rome. If we think of all the occurrences in Philippians (chapters 1:4; 4:4) where Paul wrote about his joy in the Lord, even though he was in jail, we again have proof that our joy in the Lord is not dependent on our circumstances. The enemies of Jesus Christ may kill the body, but they are unable to kill the soul. The faithful martyrs, for Jesus’ sake, will always have the hope of eternal salvation. This blessed hope fills our soul with joy.
The two missionaries joyfully praising God had listeners. According to Acts 16:25, the other prisoners heard their midnight praises to God. We do not know whether these two men praised God so loudly that they woke up the others or that they maybe had not yet been asleep. We can probably assume that those prisoners must have listened with curiosity and maybe asked themselves from where these two men had this joy.
The angels in heaven were also listening. God’s Word names them as: “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). These angels are deeply involved in the spreading of the gospel and are joyful for each new sinner who repents (Luke 15:10).
God most definitely heard their singing that rose to Him, and He answered with an earthquake in the city. The jail was shaken down to its foundations. All the doors opened, and the chains holding the captives fell off and they were freed. This earthquake awoke the jailer, who had been sleeping until then. When he saw that all the doors of the jail were open, he wanted to fall on his sword because he assumed that all the prisoners had fled. Their escape would have cost him his life. By calling to the jailer not to harm himself, Paul saved him from committing suicide, because all the prisoners were still present. How wonderfully God had intervened! The apostles had no reason to doubt that their capture was under the leading of God.
Continuing to follow the story of the jailer, we find more evidence that God’s hand was at work here. The jailer asked for a light to convince himself of what the prisoner Paul had said. Then the more important question arose about his spiritual condition: “What must I do to be saved?” How good it was that Paul and Silas were present to show him the way. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). Most certainly, the apostles explained more fully the way of salvation to the jailer and his family, which they all accepted. All became convinced of this truth, believed, and were baptized. The jailer, who was responsible for their punishment by flailing their backs until bloody, was willing that same night to wash off their blood. The apostles also experienced the jailer’s hospitality in his home with his family. This family was joyful about their new life in Christ and the opportunity to have fellowship with other believers.
We, too, have reason to praise God joyfully. Just think of Paul and Silas who, in spite of their pain, suffered in the jail in Philippi and became an example and blessing for us! What a shame it would have been if both apostles had succumbed to temptation! What a shame if you would be one of those who succumbs to temptation. So remind yourself that if Paul and Silas were joyful in their situation and praised God, then so can we! May the Lord help us in everything!