This morning I read the story of Paul’s first experience in Philippi in Acts 16. We have very little specific indication of how Paul and his companions went about establishing the church in Philippi other than the realization that they began by seeking a place of prayer by the river instead of starting in a synagogue as they had in other locations. Lydia, the “seller of purple,” was saved, and the group was invited to establish their headquarters in her home.
What we do know is that Paul stirred up trouble in town. Surprising, I know. A mob formed, and Paul and Silas ended up before the magistrate who ordered that they be flogged and imprisoned. The jailer not only imprisoned them; he put them in the inner prison and in stocks. I admit that I am no expert on Roman imprisonment policies, but that seems to me to be more on the lines of torture than straight-up imprisonment. It makes me wonder if such instructions came down from higher up in the system or if the jailer himself had a bit of personal beef with Paul. Just speculation, of course.
This, though, is where I find the story quite fascinating. In a few chapters (Acts 22, to be exact), we see Paul declaring his Roman citizenship and consequently avoiding being flogged. But he does not do that here. Instead, he and Silas, also a Roman, allow themselves to be flogged and then put in stocks in prison. Just for the record, it was illegal to treat a Roman that way without a trial. Yet Paul said nothing…yet. When it came time for him to be released, he finally informed the authorities of the fact that he and Silas were Roman citizens. Mortified, the authorities release him and beg him to leave the city.
So, why did Paul not offer that information from the beginning? He could have avoided the beating, sparing Silas as well. He might still have been put in the prison to await trial, but his treatment would have been much better. Why did he wait, allowing himself and Silas to endure much pain and torment in the process? I think sensitivity to the leadership of the Holy Spirit is the only explanation.
You see, something happened between the flogging and release. Paul and Silas sang at midnight, and their praises welcomed an earthquake that freed all of the prisoners. In desperation, the jailer intended to commit suicide, knowing that a prison escape would cost him his life anyway. Seeing that the prisoners were all present, he immediately asked the right question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)
As a side note, I have to wonder how the jailer knew to ask that question in these circumstances. He had to have heard about Paul and Silas before now (which is what tends to feed my speculations about a personal beef between him and the men). Their lives led him to immediately know what he needed. I love that! But, several other thoughts also hit me here.
Service to Christ is not about following a system. It is about following the Holy Spirit. He works uniquely, but if we are invested in a program or method, we cannot change it to fit His leadership in our current situation.
Service to Christ is solely about God’s purposes, His will, and His plan. It is about the souls He intends to bring into His kingdom. We can be a part of that glorious event only if we put aside self-preservation and a claim upon what we consider to be our rights. Suffering might be involved. In fact, Scripture guarantees it will be involved on occasion. The key here is knowing when we must suffer for Christ’s sake and when we can avoid it. Paul probably did not know what God intended to do in the prison that night. But he sensed the leadership of the Lord enough to know that he and Silas could not call upon their citizenship this time. They needed to suffer. And I believe they considered it very worthwhile when they had the privilege of baptizing the jailer and his whole household into the family of God!
Obedience, sensitive service to Christ reveals the elaborate love of God in amazing ways. God allowed his beloved children Paul and Silas to endure suffering because He knew what needed to happen to usher the jailer and his family into the kingdom of God. He was not withholding love from Paul and Silas in order to bestow it upon someone else. Instead, He was welcoming them into His plan, showing them that their suffering was worthwhile. Such a lavish love! Such a powerful love!
I want to be a part of service to Christ that reveals such lavish, elaborate, powerful, and amazing love. I want to be that obedient. I want to be that sensitive. I want to know when to avoid suffering and when to allow it. I want to be a completely submissive bond-servant, even when I cannot see a reason for God’s actions and leadership right now. No established program or method can provide that. Only a constant sensitivity to the Holy Spirit allows such service. That, my friends, is right where I hunger to be.