Joy on the Frontlines of Ministry, part 2 (Acts 16:16-40)

Last week we began focusing on Paul’s first interactions with the people who would be the core group of his church plant in Philippi.  We saw that Paul’s first convert there was Lydia.

Not long after the conversion of Lydia, Paul’s team was again meeting at the place of prayer.  Notice that although Lydia had opened her home as a meeting place, they were still taking the gospel to the marketplace, to places they would find unbelievers.  It had likely become known as a place where people were eager and open to hearing the gospel.

Here Paul encounters another obstacle—a demon-possessed girl who could tell fortunes.  So we read in Acts 16:16-18

16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”  And it came out that very hour.

You realize that whenever God’s church begins to advance against the gates of hades, Satan is moved to attack.

This girl “had a spirit of divination” (in Greek, a “python spirit”), a demon, and that made her useful to her owners.  She started following Paul and his team around, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you that way of salvation.”

Although there was nothing incorrect about what she was saying, she was throwing the attention upon the men rather than the message they were preaching.

It is obvious here that Satan can use the truth, bend the truth, in ways that suit his purposes.

Paul became “greatly annoyed,” possibly more out of concern for the welfare of the slave girl than because it was causing problems for them.

Notice that he didn’t speak the gospel to her like he had spoken to Lydia, but rather he commanded the spirit to come out of her, and it did.  This had to occur before she could hear and respond to the gospel.

This passage shows that the early gospel ministry involved speaking the power of the gospel to people so that they can repent and believe, but it also involved speaking against the powers of darkness, to free people from their enslavement to Satan.

Now, we could spend a lot of time discussing the mechanics of casting out demons.  Suffice it to say here that Paul does not address the spirit by name, but merely says, “In the name of Jesus come out of her” and it did.

Whether this is a formula to emulate we’re not sure, but this incident at least helps us realize that spiritual warfare is real, spirits can and do inhabit unbelievers, and the key part of casting them out involves speaking to the spirit “in the name of Jesus” (for that is our only real authority) and then telling it to “come out.”

This act of liberating a spiritual prisoner, however, only caused Paul more problems.

By the way, we can probably assume that Paul now had another convert to his fledgling core group for the Philippian church—another woman, but this time one with significant spiritual baggage and no money.  Luke, who is careful to point out the significant contribution of women in his own gospel, is careful to point out that the first two converts of the Philippian church were indeed women.

From purely human standards, at this time in history, this was not, however, a promising start.

Then notice what happened next.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.

Unfairly charged, Paul and Silas were “inflicted with many blows” (which the NIV and NLT translate “severely flogged” and “severely beaten”) and then thrown into prison.  You have likely seen Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and you know that flogging is much more severe than any whipping your father ever gave you!

If you’d been flogged, you had a really bad day!

The Greek text doesn’t emphasize the severity as much as the amount of blows—“many.”

It would be hard to smile through the tears that welled up in your eyes.  It would be hard to sing while stifling cries of searing pain.  It really would make joy a real spiritual discipline, at that moment.

This was not the first physical abuse Paul had experienced.  He had been stoned earlier in Lystra.  But to be “severely flogged” would have caused significant physical damage to his body.  This wasn’t headaches or back problems or a common cold that was getting him down.

But, this was the first time Paul would be thrown into prison.  Certainly not his last.

His first thoughts might have been, “God, how could you do this to me?  Did I misread Your will?  Now how can we plant a church here in Philippi?”

But it is here we see a defiant joy beginning to take root and bear fruit in Paul’s life, for there in the dark, dank cell, swollen and bleeding, hurting with very breath taken, they “were praying and singing hymns to God” (16:25).  The first Christian concert in Europe was taking place.

Starting around midnight, the Greek text indicates that they kept on singing and praying.

Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that “the joy of the Lord is our strength” and these men were strengthening themselves in God by verbally rejoicing in God in the midst of very difficult times.

With every stinging, pain-filled breath they offered “the sacrifice of praise” to God.

When do you think our praise means more to God—when we offer it out of a life filled with God’s blessings and opportunities, or when we sing through gritted teeth and sob-filled voices, lifting arms that have been torn and smashed?

I think we know, don’t we?

Harry Ironside, in his Lectures on Philippians, reminds us…

“The world is watching Christians, and when they see Christians shaken by circumstances as they themselves, they conclude that after all there is very little to Christianity; but when they find Christians rising above circumstances and glorying in the Lord even in deepest trial, then even the unsaved realize the Christian has something in knowing Christ to which they are strangers.”

Since we have just recently celebrated Thanksgiving, it might be helpful to understand what the Bible teaches about thanksgiving.  Obviously, we are to avoid grumbling and complaining like Israel did.  Paul will even remind the Philippians about this issue in when he says in 2:14, “do all things without grumbling or questioning…”

But are we to be thankful for all things?  Even the bad things?

Scripture requires us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). But there’s a but: Paul says to be grateful “in” all circumstances, not “for” all circumstances. Perhaps we are not required to be grateful for hard times, just to find a way to be grateful in them.

Apparently not.

In Ephesians 5 we find this command: “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20 NCV). Not “in” but “for.” “Always” (pantote) for “everything” (panton).

Taken together this means that whatever we are going through, we can and should give thanks for everything that happens to us, knowing that it is God’s will for us.

Peter told us that suffering for doing good can be God’s will.  In 1 Peter 3:17 he says…

17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

Paul knew that this was part of God’s calling in his life, this suffering and pain.

God said of Paul, “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). There could be no greater privilege for a Christian. But this privilege would come at a high price: “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (v. 16).

If there had been a better way for Paul to reach the Philippian jailer, God would have planned it that way.

Joy is a settled state of mind that causes us to rejoice because we are confident in God’s promises and purposes.

Though suffering, Paul was confident he was doing what God had called him to do and that God’s promises had not failed him.  Therefore, he could rejoice.

Rejoicing is the action and joy is the attitude.  Sometimes, maybe often, we have to act ourselves into an attitude.

Well, as a result of their faith-filled, joy-filled praise, there was suddenly a violent earthquake (16:26) and “immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.”

The jailer suddenly awoke and immediately assumed the worst—that everyone had escaped and his goose was cooked!

Paul assured him that they were all still present and the jailor immediately came to him and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Now, he might have simply meant, “how do I get out of this jam,” but it’s also possible that he recognized this as a divine moment with more significance than mere physical survival.

At least, that is how Paul took it.  He took it as an invitation to share the Gospel—again, very simply and straightforward, saying, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

That is all that God requires of us—simply believing in Jesus Christ.

Of course, that goes against our fiercely independent nature and our pride.  We want to have something to do with our salvation.  We feel like we have to “earn it.”

But salvation is not based upon our obedience, but rather Christ’s obedience.  He lived a perfect life of obedience and then died in our place so that God’s wrath would consume Him and not us.  He asks us simply to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross for us.

What does it mean to believe?

Well, back in the late 1800s a man named Charles Blondin stretched a tight rope across Niagara Falls—1,100 feet across and 600 feet above the water.  He then proceeded to cross from one side to the other—sometimes blindfolded, sometimes balancing on one leg of a chair and eating his breakfast.  One time he came across to the Canadian side having carried something across in a wheel barrow.

He then asked if they believed he could carry a person safely across.  Having seen him do numerous feats they all said that he could.  He then asked, “Who wants to be the first one in the wheel barrow?”

You see, faith is not just knowing that it is possible to be saved, but fully resting in Jesus’ ability to save you.  He cannot remain a Savior; He must be “my Savior.”

Like Lydia, his heart was opened up to be able to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

Golden-tongued Chrysostom, in his Homilies declared…

“… ‘the prisoners’ chains were loosed, and worse chains were loosed from himself; he called for a light, but the true heat was lighted in his own heart’ (Chrys[ostom]., Hom [ilies]., xxxvi).

Now, some make a point that Paul calls upon this man to believe in “the Lord Jesus Christ” and that salvation only comes to those who not only believe that Jesus died for their sins but submit themselves to His Lordship.

Paul is not calling for some act of obedience on the part of the jailer to be saved, but merely calling him to acknowledge who this Jesus really was…that He is “the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Having offered salvation to this man and his household, Paul then goes to the jailor’s house and “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.”

So Paul is not baptizing infants before they have an opportunity to believe, but preaches the gospel to them and then baptizes those who believed.

Notice the order of vv. 32-33

32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.

What amazes me is not the preaching of the gospel prior to baptism—that is normal—but rather than Paul preached the gospel to the jailer’s household and then he got treated for his wounds.

Not only is this an evidence of the hospitality of the jailer (as with Lydia earlier in the chapter), but it shows how Paul put the spiritual welfare of others ahead of his own physical needs.

And notice the specific reference to joy in the response of the jailer, “he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.”

Joy is the supernatural outflow of a life that has been touched by the grace of God.

To the Thessalonian church Paul wrote (1:6), “you welcomed the message with joy given by the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus said something similar in his parables when he says in Matthew 13:44

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.  Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

A truly converted man or woman joyfully sacrifices anything and everything to gain the glorious gospel, to embrace the truth of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Later Paul revealed a trump card that he had not played to get out of painful torture—that he really was a full Roman citizen.  As a result, the city officials asked them to (please) leave, and they did after meeting with the brothers and encouraging them (16:40).

So the Philippian church was born and Paul had the stretch marks to show that it had been (at least for him) a painful delivery.

In some respects it was not promising—two women and a jailer—along with households.  Paul wasn’t able to stay very long to ground them in discipleship.  But because it was God’s will for the gospel to invade Europe, God was sovereignly bringing key people to Him and establishing a solid core group that would allow a church to be born and grow there in Philippi.

So what can we learn from Paul in this church planting venture in Philippi?

When one team falls apart, but together another one.  If God has called you, He will bring people together for your venture.  Be ready to share your cause and if it is compelling and God-centered, others will join.

Don’t get frustrated by foiled plans and fumbled beginnings.  Again, if God has called you, trust Him to complete the work He has started.  Paul expresses this confidence in Philippians 1:6.

Be open to changes in your plans.  Be flexible enough to receive and adopt new guidance from God and make changes to the plan.  When circumstances seem to be closed against you, remember to seek God more earnestly.

See beyond the pain to the purpose.  It’s easy for us to see that, in Paul’s case, God was working toward the jailor’s conversion through Paul’s flogging and imprisonment, but it was probably not so obvious to Paul at the time.  Nevertheless, Paul had grown enough in his confidence of God to know that—although he could not see it—God did have a purpose and plan behind the pain and therefore he could praise God through the pain.

I hope we can learn and adopt these responses in our own lives.


Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s