Week 3: June 19-25, 2016
Read: Acts 16:16-34 (Mission while in Prison in Philippi)
When prison sets you free. Garth Brooks sang a song called I’ve Got Friends in Low Place. Prison is one of those low places which is a collection of people from all different ethnic, economic and age groups. People are sent to prison either for what they have done or what they have been charged with doing. Historically, not all of these laws have been just. Paul and Silas were flogged and sent to jail for freeing a woman from a spirit of divining or fortunetelling. Her slave owner knew he lost a source of income from his slave so he pressed charges against Paul and Silas. While these two men were singing and worshiping God in jail, the jailor was converted and set free from his sin!
Looking in the Mirror
One of the major reasons that I have been a runner my whole life is that it has been a good source for me to let my stress go free. Sometimes I have not felt like running at all because I have too much to do or feel too stressed out. These are the times that I have really found the benefit to running. Stress becomes for me like a tight muscle coat that I am wearing which after a mile or two of running I begin to shed. The weight of this stress coat starts to lighten and in the pattern of consistent breathing as I run, I relax.
Yoga, palates, weight lifting, power walking or biking accomplishes the same release from the pressures of work and life. For me, somewhere around a mile and a half into my run, my body warms and the endorphins kick in and everything that weighted so heavy on me gradually melts away. Exercise is a very healthy way to unlock the prison doors of stress, responsibility and whatever else becomes internally unmanageable. As a church, worries about worship attendance, the aging of the congregation, the diminishing number of children in Sunday School or the finances can demand so much attention that we lose our joy and our faith in God is swallowed up by another business to run. Sound management is important but Christ is always the head of the church. When stress or problems begin to dominate the life of a congregation and its leaders, we can either become jaded or emotionally and spiritually step back and practice spiritual disciplines or exercises like meditation on Scripture, prayer, going on a spiritual retreat, etc.
Personal or organizational stress happens but when it is sustained for periods of time, like an acid, it eats away at our health. Recognition of the impact of stress is a good first step. Taking action to alleviate or relieve stress is the nextstep. Finding a helpful and consistent way to prevent the build-up of stress goes a long way to maintaining your own health. For a church, this includes creating, providing or participating in soulful spiritual disciplines individually and as a congregation.
Spotlight on Silas
First, we begin with a brief summary of the Jesus story and the formation of the early Christian Church. Jesus grew up in the village of Nazareth in the northern region of Palestine called The Galilee. In the gospels of Mathew, Mark and Luke, when Jesus began his ministry as a Jewish apocalyptic preacher, he called followers to himself, like other itinerant Rabbis. The majority of his teaching and miracles occurred in and around a large lake called the Sea of Galilee. The center of the Jewish faith revolved around the temple located in the city of Jerusalem in Judea located south of the Galilee region. Jewish festivals like Passover, Tabernacles and Pentecost were celebrated in Jerusalem. Jesus and his followers made the trip to Jerusalem to keep these festivals with their kinfolk. It was during Passover that Jesus initiated the meal of remembrance of his body and blood called the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. He died on a cross accused as a criminal of blasphemy that he was the son of God. Jesus rose from the dead three days later on Easter Sunday. Forty days later he ascended to heaven and instructed his followers to remain in Jerusalem until they had received the Holy Spirit. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit filled each believe on the Jewish festival called Pentecost. The Galilean-based ministry of Jesus now found itself planted and centered in Jerusalem. This Jewish movement that believed the long awaited Messiah was Jesus went to the temple for prayer and returned to their homes to remember Jesus and celebrate the meal he had given them. They retold Jesus stories among themselves and went about Judea sharing the story of Jesus with other Jews.
Peter, James and John, together with James the brother of Jesus became leaders of the Jesus movement. In time a rift began to occur between the Jews and the Jewish followers of Jesus. The Roman government became involved and persecution of the church followed. Followers of Jesus were imprisoned, beaten and killed for their unwillingness to denounce their faith in Jesus. One of the early persecutors of the Christian faith was a Jew named Saul or Paul. He was authorized to travel to Damascus, Syria to arrest and bring to trial Jesus’ followers who had fled to Damascus and other cities because of the persecution in Jerusalem.
Saul saw a vision of Jesus and heard his voice questioning why he was persecuting him? Blinded by the light, Saul was led to the home of Judas of Damascus who was a Christian where he fasted and prayed for three days. Another Christian was directed by Jesus to lay hands on Saul so he could regain his sight. Following his conversion, Saul was baptized and sent by Jesus to be his ambassador to the gentiles (see Appendix 3). Paul and Barnabas were set apart by the house church in Antioch by the direction of the Holy Spirit. They were sent as evangelists together with John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, to tell the good news of Jesus and plant the church. They traveled to the island of Cyprus and the eastern and central portions of Asia Minor. John Mark left mid-mission and when they had completed their mission, they returned to Antioch. Paul and Barnabas had a very fruitful first mission trip and many gentiles became followers of Jesus.
A council was held in Jerusalem by the apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem to entertain the question of how to handle gentile believers. A political and theological dispute ensued with Judaizers insisting on the circumcision of all gentiles (becoming Jews before they became Christians) and the Greek-speaking Jews who wanted all gentiles to be accepted without circumcision as followers of Jesus.
The outcome of the Jerusalem Council was the compromise for the newly formed churches located outside of Jerusalem to raise financial support for the suffering Jerusalem church which worked hard to respond to the needs of widows and others in poverty. At the same time, the Council lifted the requirement that gentile Christians needed to be circumcised before being baptized. Compassion was shown both directions in this decision that would assist financially suffering Christians in Jerusalem as well as a bold decision to welcome gentiles into the church. Two members of the Jerusalem church were selected to accompany Paul and Barnabas to Antioch to assist in delivering the decision made at the Jerusalem Council. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers (Acts 15:22d). A formal letter was written by the council and read to the gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:23-29).
When it became time for a second missionary journey, Paul decided to forbid John Mark to rejoin the mission. As a result, Barnabas decided to return to Cyprus with John Mark. Paul chose Silas, or Silvanus as he is known in the letters of Paul, to join him in his second missionary journey. Paul and Silas returned to Asia Minor and extended their mission to Macedonia and Greece.
Here is the little bit of information we can gather about Silas, who like Paul was a Jewish Christian and a Roman citizen. He had a spiritual gift as a prophet. It was in Philippi where both Silas and Paul were arrested, beaten and put in prison. With their feet in stocks in the deepest part of the prison, these two men had good reason to be sullen and in anguish. Instead, around midnight they prayed and sang hymns to God. When an earthquake shook the prison so that the prisoners could escape, Paul and Silas told the prisoners to remain. By their behavior and witness in prayer and song, the jailer and his family were converted to the Christian faith and were baptized. Paul, Silas, Timothy and perhaps Luke (the name associated with the writing of Luke and Acts) were all part of this traveling second mission trip. Together they journeyed to Thessalonica and Beroea where the team stayed and ministered while Paul traveled to Athens.
Acts 16:11-18 reads like a journal entry and is referred to as one of the “we” stories in Acts. This section moves from a third person perspective like one day Paul and Silas were going to the place of prayer…to “One day, as we were going” (v.16). Perhaps this section came from a journal entry of Luke the supposed collector and author of the Book of Acts.
The slave-girl in the story literally had the “spirit of python” in the Greek text. In Greek mythology Python was the name of the snake which guarded the oracle of Delphi and which was killed by the god Apollo. Later the word Python was used for ventriloquists who either by chicanery and fraud or by “inspiration” uttered mysterious oracles which were believed to be the voice of Apollo. Luke saw in the Pythoness of Philippi a demon-possessed person, since the gods of the pagans are nothing but demons (cf. 1 Cor. 10:20-21) (Krodel, p. 308). Paul became annoyed by her utterance which was truthful so he cast out the demon and set her free from her spiritual bondage.
Money has power for those who possess it or are possessed by it. If you do not understand this statement, just think about how hard it is for us to consider giving back to God 10% of our income called a tithe. Or, imagine trying to run for political office with the platform of raising taxes to get the state out of debt! I suspect that would be one of the quickest ways to insure that you would not need to move to Springfield. We all would love for Illinois to be debt-free but not with my dollar.
As you think about your reaction to money, you may be able to understand why the slave owner was burning up with anger when Paul set the slave-girl free from the spirit of Python. She lost her power to give words of wisdom, guidance for the future or bits of knowledge to individuals in exchange for money paid to her master. A source of wealth was just eliminated for the slave owner.
When the slave owner goes after Paul and Silas in the marketplace and draws the decision of the magistrate to jail these men, he finds some justice for his lost income. Ironically, Paul and Silas experience the injustice of being condemned to jail without a trial as Roman citizens. In the Roman Empire there were a variety of ways to become a citizen. Like Paul, you could be born in a free city of the empire like Tarsus in Cilicia. You could buy your citizenship for a large amount of money or you could serve a certain length of time in the military and earn your citizenship. Paul and Silas were citizens and were mistreated under the Roman law on a number of occasions as Jesus followers.
In this account, a wrong situation turned into a right outcome. Despite their misery in the dank and dark inner sanctum of the jail, Paul and Silas were bold in their witness as Christians by publically worshiping the Lord. As they sang hymns of praise, the prisoners and jailor listened. When an earthquake shook the jail and Paul asserted himself and told the prisoners to remain and not run free, the jailor was indebted. Shocked and in gratitude, he responded to the message of the hymns and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved (v. 30)? The answer Paul gave was to believe in the Lord Jesus (v. 31). The jailor took Paul and Silas immediately to his house where they shared the story of Jesus with the whole household. Right then and there the whole household was baptized. They threw a feast and celebrated these new Christians in Philippi. Hospitality was an important sign of living Christian. Washing wounds, sharing food and providing a place to rest are all signs of Christian hospitality.
The story does not end here. Paul insists on justice when the magistrates hear of what has happened and want to release them secretly as Roman citizens. Paul refuses because this was about more than being freed from jail. It was about their legal rights that had been ignored. The magistrates came and apologized. Then, Paul and Silas visited Lydia before taking leave.
- Money is not evil. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith (1 Timothy 6:10). Do you understand the anger of the slave owner when his source of wealth was lost? What is it about money we love? What helps you to discover generosity and giving back to God?
- Do you think Paul did the right thing in freeing the slave-girl from the demon spirit? Why or why not?
- What is it about the jail story that grabs your attention? What did you think about Paul and Silas’ behavior while in jail? The jailor and his whole family became Christians. What does this say about the importance of our witness to people around us?
- Why do you think Paul and Silas insisted on justice when they could have just left immediately? How would you respond?