Acts 16: 25-33 (NRSV)
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly, there was an earthquake so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. At the same hour of the night, he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
Devotion – Getting to the Other Side of Midnight
After having been stripped, beaten, thrown into jail, and put in chains in Philippi for commanding the spirt of divination to leave a slave girl who had been predicting the future, Paul and Silas faced a tenuous situation. Spurred on by the slave’s owners who lost the money they were making off of her fortunetelling, the magistrates seemed intent on imposing even more severe punishment on them. How would they get through the night and the next day? They chose to meet the challenge awaiting them not by protesting their unjust imprisonment to the jailer or by demanding to be released since they were both Roman citizens. Instead, they responded by praising God through prayer and singing, with the other prisoners watching them. Paul and Silas trusted that God was in control of their situation and would not forsake them.
And God did act to save them. An earthquake freed Paul and Silas as well as the other prisoners from their chains and opened the doors of the jail. Then, contrary what we might have expected, they did not seek to escape. Rather, Paul, seeing that the jailer intended to kill himself, stayed in the dark and chaos to minister to the jailer. It was not acceptable for Paul and Silas to be set free at the expense of the innocent jailer. They put their mission to serve the jailer above their own safety. They chose the hard place. Through their exemplar, the other prisoners saw their strong faith in God and the compassion and forgiveness which they showed to the jailer, and they stayed in the jail as well. The other prisoners became a part of the small community that Paul and Silas had created in the jail.
Importantly, it was Paul and Silas’s actions rather than their words that drew the jailer, his family, and the other prisoners into the Christian community that formed in the jail. Paul and Silas did not seek to persuade them by their words. They simply did what Jesus had taught — Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Grant us Lord the wisdom to understand that it is often our actions and not our words that will encourage others to join the Christian community. Help us realize that, while the foundation of our community is built on the words of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, what we do is often the best evidence of our faith. This is particularly so when the challenge we face is overwhelming. Like Paul and Silas, help us put our mission ahead of our personal comfort, safety, and self-interest. Help us recognize opportunities to serve you that the come our way so that we can be an example of your love and grace to others. Amen.