In the most peculiar manner I landed up doing Prison Ministry for a while. Someone who attended our Church for a few months was arrested for the murder of his wife. Although we had not seen him for over a year as he was a Church Hopper, he gave our Church as his Church and me as His pastor. This gave me entrance into Prison Ministry. I took Bible Studies and Church Services with huge numbers attending.
To be honest, over a year or more I never saw a genuine conversion. My feeling was that the prisoners only came to the services because they were allowed out of their cells. It was an outing for them. I am not saying that there are no conversions in prison, I am saying during my ministry to prisoners in Gauteng and the Free State (there I ministered to men and women), I never saw a real conversion. Again, criminals can be saved though I never had the privilege of seeing it.
After Paul and his missionary team’s experience with the demon possessed slave girl coming to faith, they were hauled before the authorities and eventually dumped into prison. Once again you need to see the hand of God at work … this time in the life of the “Philippian Jailer and his family”. They are the third salvation story in Acts 16 and like the other two, prayer preceded divine appointments. Before we get there, there is a link between the second and third salvation account.
1) Suffering for the Gospel.
Ac 16:22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 Upon receiving such orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Having Doctor Luke as the human author of this Bible Book is helpful. The missionaries were stripped of their clothing and beaten … but note what Luke says under inspiration … they had been severely flogged. This means their backs were lacerated … a bloody mess, extremely painful followed by being thrown into prison. Their jailer was “commanded” to secure them so that they could not escape. You need to see the picture … bloody painful backs, feet locked in stocks in the middle cell of the prison. This was the most secure way to hold prisoners but with lacerated backs and feet in stocks, the prisoner could only sit up which would be painful or lie on his back which was equally painful. Remember this was because of preaching the Gospel. These men were prepared to suffer for the Gospel irrespective what level suffering was. We live in a day where we seldom suffer for the Gospel in our country and most of the countries that are considered to have a large Christian population. But in countries that are closed to the Gospel, when a person is caught sharing the Gospel and promoting Christianity they are either deported or imprisoned or even executed. Then many believers suffer various shapes of emotional abuse because they belong to Jesus. Their families, friends, colleague, neighbors might mock them and verbally abuse them because of their love for Jesus and their refusal to live below the Gospel moral code. Expect this to happen.
2) Enjoying the Gospel. Have you ever thought through what it means to enjoy the Gospel? That might sound peculiar but many people might say they are happy they are forgiven and going to heaven but they don’t show it. Look what these missionaries did in their condition
Ac 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.
In pain and agony, imprisoned and in stocks they made the best of their situation because they were believers. They loved the Lord Jesus and enjoyed their salvation and ministry because they knew they were serving Almighty God. That is the reason for them praying and singing the praises of God. Even in their suffering they could pray … we will see the fruits of their prayer later in the chapter … and they could praise God in song. Praying through their physical suffering and imprisonment showed their dependence upon God who sent them on this mission (see verses 6-10). Their singing was for at least two reasons … (a) Happiness in their salvation, and (b) Happiness in their service of King Jesus. These two aspects of joy and happiness ought to be alive and active in every believer. Depending on God through prayer, with joyful expectation He will answer … and singing the praises of God because you enjoy your salvation and look forward in expectation of heaven.
3) Using the Gospel. One does not know what types of prisoners were with these missionaries. No one knows why they were there … but in the kindness of God, they heard the Gospel in prayer and praise. The joy flowing through the missionaries in prayer and praise exposed both happiness in Jesus and the message of Jesus. What a captive audience! There are two lessons that arise here for us who love Jesus.
(a) Public praying needs to be focused on the Lord Jesus and His Cause. Too often praying in a group can focus on self or trivial matters. The example the missionaries show would have displayed the Gospel by trusting the God of the Gospel. This method of prayer could help us cultivate and shape our prayers to be more God focused and educational for those who hear. Once others, especially non-Christians have listen to your prayers, what message do you think was conveyed?
(b) Although I personally like up tempo music, we cannot use modern music with lyrics that sound catchy but have no Bible … no theology … no doctrine. When you sing do you listen to the words and the theology? Do the words convey a Biblical message or some song writer’s emotional bent? May I suggest that we try to listen carefully to the songs we sing in Church and where these are not true to the Gospel, to point this out to the pastor, council or musicians? A weak presentation in prayer or song could ruin a Gospel opportunity!
O Lord, our Glorious God, help us to handle suffering for the Gospel with thanksgiving because You see us worthy of suffering for the Cause. Fill us with joyful prayers and songs. Amen.