…Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…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. 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. But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’ Acts 16:25-28 (NIVUK)
Jailors in the first century BCE had a widespread reputation for cruelty, as Philo observed: ‘Everyone knows well how jailors are filled with inhumanity and savagery. For by nature they are unmerciful, and by practice they are trained daily toward fierceness, as to become wild beasts. They see, say, and do nothing good, not even by chance, but instead the most violent and the most cruel things.’ 1
There is no reason to doubt the jailor in Philippi was any different. Paul and Silas had been beaten with rods and severely flogged to within an inch of their lives
(Acts 16:22-23). Their bodies would have been lacerated with blood oozing everywhere, and what did the jailor do? He didn’t wash their wounds but put Paul and Silas in the inner cell, away from the light and fresh air, and he fastened their feet in the stocks, which was a form of torture. Their legs would have been splayed way past where they should be, causing incredibly painful leg and muscle cramps. On top of being beaten, this was unnecessarily cruel. The jailor showed no concern for them and was callous
How did Paul and Silas respond? Well, they did two amazing things that totally changed this jailor’s life. The first was that amid their suffering they were praying and singing praises to God
(Acts 16:25) – no anger, bitterness, or recriminations, only joy – incredible. Second, when they had a chance to escape following the violent earthquake, they didn’t flee but stayed and prevented the jailor from taking his own life because of the dishonour of allowing prisoners to escape
The actions of Paul and Silas had a profound effect on this callous jailor ‘filled with inhumanity and savagery’. He asked them what he needed to do to be saved, allowing Paul and Silas to share the gospel by pointing him to Jesus (Acts 16:31). The jailor then showed them compassion by washing their wounds and taking them to his home for a meal
What a transformation, brought about by Paul and Silas’ example of Godly love. And who knows which similarly hardened people can have their hearts broken and be transformed through our example, as we display the joy and the love of Jesus in our lives.
Loving Father, thank you for this picture of how a Christlike example can change the cruellest of people. May we participate with Jesus in shining his joy and love on others, for their transformation, and to your glory. In Jesus’s name, we pray,
Have a good week setting a good example,
- Philo De Josepho 81, trans. Skinner 2003, 82.