In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were on the Second Missionary Journey when they received a vision of a man saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9). They set course immediately, concluding “that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” While in Philippi, they taught and baptized Lydia and her household. This initial success was quickly countered by an altercation with the local authorities. Though Paul and Silas were put in jail, they were not set free from their responsibility to preach the gospel.
Jesus said to “let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Everyone has a light, one that is not meant for hiding but for shining. Never is this more clearly seen than through Paul and Silas’ behavior in their dark prison cell.
What can we learn from their example?
You will face many temptations to switch off. Paul and Silas had every right to be discouraged. Their robes torn off of them, they were beaten with “many blows,” thrown into the most secure cell, and had their feet fastened in stocks (Acts 16:22-24). This was a device used to spread the legs as far apart as possible, to ensure cramps and discomfort. What was their reaction in all of this? Did they grumble and complain? Did they threaten to quit or surrender? “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God” (Acts 16:25). Their candles were literally burning the midnight oil.
The darkest times are when you must shine all the brighter. Your attitude reveals a great deal about your character. Christians ought to be people who respond differently to tragedy and calamity. We see the bigger picture. We know God is still in control. We believe He has the power to work everything together for good. When disaster strikes, don’t look for the “off” switch. Press “on.”
You never know who is watching from the shadows. The Lord was not the only one hearing Paul and Silas’ prayers and songs. “The prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). The sounds in their cell were as important as the words of their sermons on the streets. Remember, Paul and Silas received a vision to go to Macedonia and preach the gospel there. They were not about to quit preaching. Even in jail, they saw an opportunity to turn those prisoners into bond-servants of Jesus Christ.
People are watching you, too: in your neighborhood, in your classes, on your team, at your work. They notice that you are different. They don’t hear the same words coming out of your mouth that they hear from other people. They don’t see you going the same places and participating in the same activities as those in the world. Or do they…?
While our words are for listening, our deeds are for seeing. Give those around you something good to watch. Let them see Him who is the source of all light.
You can’t be a light without sending the light. Souls were saved the night Paul and Silas shone. After the earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison, the jailer awoke to find all the doors opened. When he learned that none of the prisoners had escaped, he fell down at the feet of Paul and Silas and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30)? The jailer went to these men with a question he knew they could answer. He could see that they were living the kind of life they were preaching and singing about.
You have souls to rescue, souls to save. Make sure that people know where to find you. If they can make no distinction between you and the rest of the world enslaved to sin, what reason would they have to ask you about salvation (cf. 1 Peter 3:15)? And make certain you’re prepared for the opportunity. Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him” that night (Acts 16:32). How much would their flame had been extinguished had they not been able to answer his question of eternal life?
There are some people whom you alone can reach. Don’t leave them in the dark. The same jailer who had fastened the feet of Paul and Silas in the stocks was baptized and set free from the bondage of sin. Think about him the next time you are tempted to hide your light under a bushel.