Paul summarized his treatment at Philippi like this: “We … were shamefully entreated … at Philippi” (1Thes 2:2). The anger of the slave-girl’s masters resulted in Paul and Silas being beaten with “many stripes” and imprisoned (Acts 16:22-23). Pressure to keep them secure saw them assigned to the inner prison with their feet fastened in stocks. Paul’s shame and pain at Philippi did not prompt a furlough; with boldness from God he pressed on to Thessalonica, a lesson for us all.
Elihu indicated that God “giveth songs in the night” (Job 35:10). Never was that more true than in the gloom of Philippi’s dungeon. A duet from the darkness echoed throughout heaven, for these were “praises unto God.” A surrounding audience of startled prisoners “were listening to them,” not just hearing them as in the AV (Acts 16:25, RV). Their attitude in the face of such shocking treatment honored God, but it was also a powerful witness to the other inmates.
They “prayed, and sang praises.” We can understand prayers being wrung from men with bruised bodies and humbled spirits, but to sing praises in such distressing circumstances was noble beyond words. Their resilience and enthusiasm gave Paul the moral right to say to the Philippian believers, “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice” (Phil 4:4). Jehoshaphat had the same attitude. When going out against insurmountable odds, “they began to sing and to praise” and that was before there was even a hint of victory! (2Chron 20:20-22). Too often we are morose, and experience an emotional meltdown when we have much less to trouble us than did Paul and Silas.
Peter did not sing in jail, but it is to his credit that he slept when threatened with execution (Acts 12). He slept so soundly that the unnatural light that illuminated his cell failed to arouse him, so that an angel “smote” him. He slept because the church prayed, and he slept resting on the Lord’s promise that he would live to be old (John 21:18). What peace there is in taking God at His word!
Midnight was crisis time (Acts 16:25). An earthquake interrupted the singing and that, in turn, resulted in the jailor’s conversion. The man who was saved at midday (Acts 26:13) was responsible for pointing another to Christ at midnight. Others had their first encounter with Christ at the tenth hour or at the sixth hour (John 1:39; 4:6). The fact is that God is in the saving business 24 hours a day.
There are three midnight scenes in the Acts. Here, Paul was evangelizing at midnight. At Troas he was teaching at midnight (Acts 20:7); “in season, out of season” (2Tim 4:2). “In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand” (Eccl 11:6). On the high seas he was in danger of being dashed on the rocks at midnight (Acts 27:27). Day and night he was imperiled (Acts 9:23-25). For him, serving God was a high-risk business. We are inclined to avoid anything that involves sacrifice or danger.
God specializes in security breaches. A stone and seal could never exclude His angel from a den of lions (Dan 6). Stone, seal, and soldiers could never imprison His Son in a tomb. As noted, Peter had already experienced angelic intervention to release him from prison (Acts 5:19; 12:7). But God’s activities are not stereotyped. He used an earthquake at Philippi rather than an angel. Foundations were shaken, doors were opened, shackles were snapped, and the jailor was stirred. His initial thought was suicide to avoid the shame of a public execution in the morning. Godless societies are unreasonable and brutal.
Halted by the voice from the darkness, he called for “lights” (most translations). These were necessary to dispel the gloom of the dungeon. As noted formerly in these articles, in his epistle to the Philippians, Paul frequently draws lessons from phases of the Philippi story. Thus he calls upon them to be “lights in the world” (Phil 2:15), their moral behavior such that they are as conspicuous as stars against the dark night sky. We can dispel some of the dense moral and spiritual darkness that surrounds us – let us all be spiritual luminaries.
Having exited the dungeon, the jailor asked the question that changed the destiny of his soul: “What must I do to be saved?” (v30). The demon-possessed girl had suggested that the preachers had been propagating “a way of salvation” (v17, YLT), inferring it was one of many. In reply to the jailor, Paul and Silas gave as crisp and unambiguous a statement of the only way of salvation as will be found anywhere in Scripture: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (v31). There was no doubt in the preachers’ minds that this was something that he could do. A fuller explanation of the gospel was given to his whole household (v32), and it is evident that there was a response on the part of all (v34).
Early in the New Testament, wise men had an encounter with Christ and departed “another way” (Matt 2:12). Their experience created a precedent. Anyone who genuinely comes to know Him will never be the same again, and that included the rough jailor at Philippi. The man who had treated them harshly now doctored their injuries and provided a meal. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2Cor 5:17). As soon as he was saved the evidence was there. When salvation came to Zacchaeus, the dishonest taxman became a philanthropist (Luke 19:1-10). The fact is that a “conversion” that does not change the life is no conversion at all.
It has already been noted that he was immediately baptized despite the hour of the night. With the Ethiopian, there was no thought of waiting until he arrived home. There would have been a more congenial environment for the event, with the likelihood of a congregation of relatives and some from the royal court. Baptism was more urgent than that (Acts 8:36). Let unbaptized readers take note.
Paul’s response to the news of his release seems out of character (vv35-39), but he seems eager for public vindication. His departure was imminent, but believers were being left behind, and he had no desire to leave them with the stigma of having been associated with an alleged criminal. There are occasions when the normal attitude of submission and non-retaliation has to be exchanged for a more robust stance if honor is to be preserved.