What is it that God and the world hears from you and me? In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in jail after casting a demon from a fortune-teller. They are placed into the inner prison and put in stocks, but the prisoners hear them singing praises to God and praying. The prisoners were listening to these individuals in similar bonds yet still glorifying God.
Songs and Prayers in a Prison
Who Heard Them? The individuals listening to Paul and Silas are prisoners. These are not upstanding citizens. They are not even the common crowds that Jesus would have addressed. Furthermore, these prisoners are in the innermost parts of the prison. These are the political prisoners, the insurrectionists, the murders. These are most likely hardened criminals listening to these disciples. It is unlikely they were receptive of Paul and Silas at the outset.
To Whom Were They Listening? What do these prisoners think of those they are hearing? Paul and Silas are among men who had been preaching in this region for many days. Much of this time, the spirit-possessed woman had been proclaiming their inspiration of God. It is probable that the prisoners had heard of these individuals. What attitude might they have? Would they have been looking down on the “self-righteous Christians?” Would they scoff? Paul and Silas had been beaten. They had been whipped. They had been locked up in stocks. How easy it would have been for the other prisoners to take pleasure in these disciples’ troubles.
What Did They Hear? We read that the prisoners hear praise and prayer. They do not hear Paul and Silas shouting at the authorities. They do not hear the disciples bewailing their state, feeling sorry for themselves. They do not hear Paul and Silas protesting their innocence. They do not hear these two blaming God for their situation. Instead of words of vengeance or protest, the prisoners hear prayers of trust and praise. They hear an attitude in submission and reverence to God. They hear Paul and Silas praise God in song despite their imprisonment. Do we have godly songs in our hearts and on our lips as these disciples did?
Will We Hear Their Lesson?
In a similar situation, you or I would probably have been scared to death. We might not have felt like singing, and our prayers would have been silent and desperate. This is not the first or last time, Paul faced this kind of trial, and we do not see him saying, “Enough is enough.” Instead, he turns to God time and again. Matthew 10:16 records Jesus telling His apostles they will be as sheep in the midst of wolves when they go to preach the gospel. He tells them they will be punished and betrayed, but He will be with them. In II Timothy 3:12, Paul writes that those who live godly will suffer persecution.
In these difficult circumstances, we see an example of two individuals who can still praise God. Their focus is on their Maker more than on self. Even when beaten and imprisoned, God and Christ are on their minds. Where we might think, “I just can’t do it,” they set an example. I Corinthians 2:5 and Romans 1:16 remind us that our trust should not be in ourselves but in God’s power. They sing and pray – even though it might be easier to stay quiet. Matthew 10:32 encourages us to confess the name of Jesus even when it is easier to say nothing.
In Acts 16, the results of Paul and Silas’ actions are profound. Once an earthquake opened the prison, what kept the prisoners inside? There were no earthly motivations to keep those prisoners from escaping. It had to have been the influence and example of Paul and Silas. The other result is the obedience to Christ of the jailer himself. Mark 12:37 records that people would listen to Christ gladly, and, while the prisoners may not have been listening gladly at first, the example of the disciples soften their hearts. Finally, I Peter 3:15 tells us to be ready to give an example for the hope that is within us, and, if our lives reflect Christian qualities, if those around us see and hear a good example, we will meet more receptive ears.
What does God hear from us? What does the world hear from us and see in us? We can be like Paul and Silas, influencing others to godliness because God and Christ are in our hearts and at the center of our lives.
lesson by Tim Smelser