Acts 16:35-40: The secret of J.O.Y.
“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.”NIV
The letter to the church in Philippi has been called ‘the epistle of joy’. Its key words gather around the themes of joy and rejoicing. This is the case even though it was written from prison. It’s been said that joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is really ‘happenness’ because it’s determined by what happens to you, whereas joy remains a constant in all things. It is rooted in a person’s relationship with God, who does not change even if everything else does. It’s also been pointed out that the secret of J.O.Y is ‘JESUS first, OTHERS second, and YOURSELF last.’ Today’s reading reveals just how much Paul and Silas put others before themselves. After all that had happened to them, you could understand it if these preachers had got out of town as fast as possible, now they had the opportunity (39); shake off the dust and run. But their thoughts were very much with the fledgling church they were going to leave behind (40).
This probably explains why Paul and Silas didn’t stand on their citizen’s rights in (23), but did so in (37) The previous day they didn’t try to avoid suffering for Christ. They weren’t cowards. But, probably, by demanding an open apology from the magistrates the next day, they were hoping that there would be greater respect for Christ’s gospel and His messengers, and therefore for the new Christian congregation in town. (According to Roman law it was illegal to beat a Roman citizen. So the magistrates came to realise that they had made a huge mistake. They were afraid of being severely punished themselves). It seems to me that Paul and Silas played their hand wisely, and are a good example here of the principle stated by Jesus: ‘’…be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’’ (Matthew 10:16).
We know, by the way, from the letter to the Philippians, that the church in Philippi thrived, and became a strong missionary supporting church (Philippians 4:10, 14-16), giving help to Paul in his work.
PRAYER: Lord, help me to be someone who always puts others before myself. The truth is, I’m hit and miss at this. You know it Lord, and so do I, so it’s no use pretending otherwise. Particularly when I feel hurt, I want to curl into a self-protective little ball. It’s a weakness dear Lord, and I’m asking for your help ‘to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds…’ I can’t succeed without you. I’m shamed by Paul and Silas’ concern for the good of the church, and I need for you to grow my heart. I’m crying out, ‘Help!’