Acts 16:16-40 Control in Chaos

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She 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.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed 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.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 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. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 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 household.

35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

37 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.”

38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house,where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.

Control in Chaos

The scenes in today’s passage may have seemed like chaos.  There was a mob arrest, an unjust flogging, and an earthquake.  While most of us would have curled up in a fetal position and sobbed our hearts out, Paul and Silas are singing praise to God.  How do they remain so much in control of themselves when all around them is in meltdown?  They have a strength that comes from an eternal perspective.  They see that people around them are only acting as God allows them to.  Paul himself wrote to the Romans that all things work for good of those who love him and work according to his purpose.

In the middle of this chaos, a jailer and his whole family come to Jesus.  The town sees that justice is done to Paul and Silas – they leave with dignity.

God allows chaos in our lives so that good may result.  For many of us good = good feelings.  However, there are times when good does not feel good.  Good is that which is in line with God’s will.  Ultimately God’s will is our good.  If we live for him and we are sacrificed for his good it may not feel good.  However, how we love God and others in the midst of being sacrificed will speak very loudly in ways that don’t happen on Easy Street.

Paul and Silas may have thought it was good to break out of jail when the jail shook to pieces.  However, their submission to the law brought about a greater work than if they had run away.

I know that I often want the pressure that I endure to go away. I sometimes wish that my life had an assured income with few responsibilities.  However, this sin-corrupted world puts us all in the crucible.  The question is whether we are walking with our eyes fixed on the God who is in control or on the chaos.

Prayer

Father, I am prone to fear and doubt.  I am weak and want an easy life.  Show me the path that you want me to walk.  As you use me for your glory, grow me in your strength.

Questions

  1. How does a riot develop in Philippi?
  2. How does God use chaos in Philippi for his glory?
  3. How is Silas and Paul’s conduct different from many of us?
  4. What hardship are you enduring?
  5. How might that hardship work for good?
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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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