“The Power of Praise”
Elder Jim Shedd
Acts 16 covers a part of Paul’s second missionary journey (with Luke, Timothy, and Silas) when they are directed by the Holy Spirit to leave Asia and go into Macedonia.
Acts 16:6-10 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Note: Paul is directed by a completely united “Trinity”. So….
Acts 16:11-15 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
Note: In Macedonia they entered Philippi, a Roman colony (settled by retired military veterans) and looked for a place to pray and witness. There was likely no synagogue in Philippi because of a very small Jewish population (a synagogue required ten Jewish men), so the missionaries visit a Jewish “place of prayer” beside the river. Their first encounter is with a saleswoman, Lydia, who accepts the message; she and her household are then baptized. Lydia was probably well off and successful dealing in purple cloth – very expensive given the value of purple dye from the murex shellfish – and Paul’s party now has a good place to stay. God provides!! The Lord opened her heart to respond. It is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit, not the persuasiveness of the argument, that provokes a response of faith. God must enable us – He does the heavy lifting. Then…
Acts 16:16-24 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her. When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Note: Their next encounter is with a slave girl who, indwelt by an evil spirit which empowers her to tell the future (and make money for her owners). Paul was so troubled (annoyed) that he cast out the demon as it irritated and disrupted their ministry. Further, he does not need this kind of witness; it might be seen as associated with the God’s Holy spirit rather than as the evil spirit it was.
Paul’s purging of the evil spirit, however, resulted in her owners losing their source of revenue, so they falsely charged Paul and Silas, causing a riot against them. The authorities then have Paul and Silas severely beaten and thrown into prison. Consider their situation. In obedience the Holy Spirit they went to Philippi, but only managed to evangelize a saleswoman and her family, and release a slave girl from domination by an evil spirit. Then they are falsely accused, cruelly beaten and thrown into prison. Why, after following the Holy Spirit’s direction has there been so little success in evangelizing, and instead an unjust and public beating and prison. By any measure, this seems a rather dismal and discouraging missionary effort so far. What is going on? Are they on a fool’s errand? Paul and Silas might seem justified to complain against and question God, maybe even outright reject His plan until they have some relief and more success. But note what they do; pray and sing Hymns (Praise)!!! No whining, complaining, questioning, and rejection, rather their faith is rock solid. In the midst of their trials they Praise God. So what now??
Acts 16:25-34 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God — he and his whole family.
Note: In prison Paul and Silas have a captive audience to their testimony, and they were listening. God’s power is alive and well, but plays out differently than they might expect. The earthquake frees all the prisoners (everybody’s chains came loose), but apparently none chose to take off as Paul says “we are all here”. Their steadfast and faithful witness has a profound effect not only on all the prisoners, but on the jailer who brings Paul and Silas out himself. The jailer and his family then accept their testimony and are baptized. God has not forgotten Paul and Silas; their missionary effort is on-track, and they are freed, treated, fed, and share in the unspeakable joy of the Gospel’s saving power – what a blessing – the Power of Praise….but there is more.
Acts 16:35-40 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.” 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. 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.
The magistrates evidently deem that a severe beating and night in jail are sufficient punishment for a minor disturbance of the peace….but it was contrary to Roman law to beat Roman citizens without trial, so the magistrates are justifiably alarmed. Paul and Silas could have insisted upon their rights and pursued punishment for the magistrates by higher Roman authority. Paul and Silas chose, however, to only push for a public apology and honorable recognition of the injustice they had endured. This might seem a little arrogant, but in a first-century culture of honor and shame, public vindication was essential to legitimize Paul and the church he established. The church was founded not by shady, foreign Jewish itinerants who slunk out of town, but by esteemed and legitimate Roman citizens. Luke takes pains throughout Acts to show that Christianity is legally innocent and conforms within the prevailing laws.
Bottom Line: Though Paul and Silas are severely beaten and jailed for exorcising a demon from a fortune-telling slave girl, this setback turns to success when the jailer believes the gospel and he and his family are saved and baptized. Further, Paul and Silas are given a public apology and an honorable escort, but they do not leave immediately; they will not be rushed and driven out of town. Rather they meet with Lydia, her family, Timothy and Luke, and perhaps some others and encourage them – the fledgling church in Philippi is strengthened. After all that Paul and Silas have been through, they are the encouragers – The Power of Praise!!
God is not asleep, but is fully engaged. [Is 55:8-9]
Augustine (354-430) Aurelius Augustinus, born in North Africa. A towering intellect and Christian apologist, many consider him as the greatest of the early church fathers. He wrote in his “Confessions”; “To praise you (God) is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”.
1 Thess 5:16-21 “Be joyful always – pray continually – give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus…test everything, hold onto the good”. Like a 3-legged stool, these are only effective when taken and applied together.
Further, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, written about 10 years after this imprisonment, further demonstrates the power of praise in the midst of seeming failure. This letter testifies to the spiritual health and vitality of the Philippian church. While it thanks them for their gift while Paul was in a Roman prison, it also (1) encourages the Philippians to stand firm in the face of persecution and rejoice regardless of circumstances, (2) exhorts them to humility and unity, (3) commends Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippian church, and (4) warns them against the Judaizers (legalists) and libertines among them. Testimony to a healthy church — The Power of Praise ! !