At the Ministers’ weekly prayer gathering (via zoom) on Thursday morning we discussed together some of the applications of the wonderful account of the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his whole family in Acts 16. There are a number of remarkable aspects in this story – let me refer to just two:
1 – Prison Praise In spite of being severely flogged (v23), with their feet fastened (no doubt painfully) in the stocks (v24), Paul and Silas “about midnight …. were praying and singing hymns to God” (v25). How could they do this? Surely, like Peter and the other apostles earlier in Acts 5v41, they rejoiced “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name”. Jesus had, of course, previously declared: “Blessed are you when people …. persecute you” (Matthew 5v11). James then builds on this, stating at the very beginning of his letter: “Consider it pure joy …. whenever you face trials of many kinds” (1v2). His reasoning is that through trials we grow in spiritual maturity. The current Covid-19 crisis is clearly not a specific persecution of Christians (nor do I believe are the Government’s public health restrictions imposed on churches, along with the rest of society). We are not, therefore, in the same type of ‘prison’ as Paul and Silas. Nevertheless, we are called to rejoice always (Philippians 4v5), to give thanks in (i.e. not necessarily for) all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5v18), taking account of James’ instruction. May we encourage each other in all our prisons – pandemic, persecution or personal – to praise God. We can be ‘free of chains’, even in any ‘prison’.
2 – Freedom Foregone? I’d never really noticed that none of the prisoners escaped, although “all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose” (v26). Paul and Silas saw and seized the opportunity to witness for Jesus and clearly they had had a profound effect on all the other inmates who also ‘stayed put’. We are all longing to be free from this current crisis, but let us beware merely longing for a return to ‘normal’ so that we can ‘begin being Christians again’. Even – indeed perhaps more so – during lockdown let us seek to be witnesses, workers and worshippers of / for the Lord.
As we seek to meditate on this story let’s sing with Charles Wesley: “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee”.
Peace and Grace