We started our biblical journey with Paul on his second missionary trip seven weeks ago. Although we’ve covered some ground with him, we still have further to go. We read last week that Paul and Silas had found themselves in an incredibly difficult situation. They had been arrested, bound and shackled, and placed in a cell reserved for the worst criminals. In that dark, dank, oppressive place, they turned and looked upward for their strength as they sang hymns and prayed to God. A violent earthquake shook the prison during their worship and they were loosed from their chains. The jailer arrived in a panic to discover to his utter amazement that none of his prisoners had escaped. Rescued from ending his life, the jailer pleaded to know how to be saved. Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and then they baptized the jailer and his entire household welcoming them into the community of faith.
“When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”” Acts 16:35,36
The magistrates had ordered Paul and Silas released. They had found no reason to continue to hold them. The jailer was probably thrilled to be able to share the news with his new Christian brothers that they were being freed. However, Paul threw a big monkey wrench into the magistrates’ plans for their quiet departure. Can you imagine the jailer’s face and how far his jaw must have dropped in surprise when he heard the news that his new friends were Roman citizens? He had broken bread with these men, bathed their wounds, and received the message of grace from them. But Paul and Silas never mentioned that they were citizens of Rome.
“But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.” Acts 16:37-39
To beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial was a criminal offense. Paul and Silas had now placed the jailer, the officers, and the magistrates into the unenviable position of being answerable to Rome for their own offenses. These officials had made false assumptions about Paul and Silas without properly investigating their arrest. Paul and Silas had been publicly beaten and imprisoned for their non-Roman practices and yet are Romans. They had been forcibly placed in prison and now refuse to leave unless escorted. They were humiliated before others and have now placed the officials in the position to be humiliated. As a Roman citizen, Paul would have carried proof in the form of a wooden diptych with a waxed surface containing evidence of his birth and citizenship called a testatio. What might have been Paul’s reasoning behind his delay in mentioning his citizenship status? Perhaps, he and Silas had protested but no one listened or they were not given the opportunity to defend themselves because the events of imprisonment happened so quickly. Paul might have also approached his citizenship in one of two ways. Either he placed little value on his identity as a Roman citizen, seeing himself first as a Jewish Christian and then a Roman, or he waited to strategically use the knowledge of his citizenship in a way that would further his Christian purposes.
“After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them. Then they left.” Acts 16:40
Once released, Paul and Silas returned to Lydia’s home. They would have wanted to say goodbye to their hostess, gather their belongings, and reunite with the others of their company before their departure. Luke also informs us that they went to Lydia’s with the purpose of meeting with the Philippi community and encouraging them in the faith. This young church had witnessed firsthand the cost of following Christ and had seen the example of steadfastness of faith in the lives of Paul and Silas. How Paul and Silas endured the difficulties and trials of being faithful was as important an example to this young church as how they handled the practical aspects of faith in times of ease.
Questions to Consider
- Why did Paul not claim Roman citizenship before being wrongfully flogged and imprisoned?
- Compare and contrast the three people of Philippi: Lydia, the slave girl, and the jailer.
- Why did the magistrates ask Paul and Silas to leave Philippi and not remain if they were absolved of their crimes?
- Am I quick to make judgments about others? If so, what can I learn from this story about the dangers of making assumptions about others?
- How do I display my faith in times of trial? How do I display my faith in times of ease?