Those shocked by love (Fifth of a Series)
And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household. (Acts 16:23-34)
[Editor’s note: The previous installment in this series considered those “shocked” by a falling judgment—such as the “sinful woman” (John 8:3-12). Missionary Koenig continues….]
With examples from Holy Scripture we are trying to learn ways and attitudes which will better enable us to witness to our Lord. These examples, drawn from the four Gospels and from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, are by no means exhaustive.
As with the basketball strategy of one-on-one, we are looking at examples of one Christian witnessing to another individual. We are not considering what was said to individuals already in the faith, though that is also applicable. We are not considering what was said to groups, though that also is applicable as a witnessing technique. We will be considering various situations where it was one-on-one, and the one being witnessed to was living in unbelief….
The ultimate goal in all witnessing is to be like John the baptizer and point to Christ as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. While we want to try earnestly to develop our skills in this area, we don’t want to forget John’s motto, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
No matter what spiritual gifts we have and how we develop them, we are not looking for glory for ourselves. We are looking to have another soul join us in glorifying our Savior-God.
And then there is the person who is shocked by a demonstration of love not in connection with a falling judgment. One could say that the Philippian jailer escaped the judgment that would have fallen on him over escaped prisoners. The main point we consider though is that the apostle Paul and Silas stayed in the cell—an unheard of action by those incarcerated.
In other words, it was not the case that Paul didn’t escape because his wounds kept him incapacitated. It was certainly not uppermost in Paul’s mind that he would stay so that on the morrow the city authorities might exonerate not just him but the cause of Christ from any shame and disgrace. Yet uppermost in Paul’s mind had to be his concern for the jailer who undoubtedly would face execution for losing the prisoners.
“And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” (vv. 27-28). Although the jailer had treated Paul with no compassion at all, Paul had a great concern for the jailer.
Paul returns good for evil. “Bless those who persecute you…Repay no one evil for evil…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14-21.) This we find in the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount also (Matthew 5:10-12).
Peter likewise reminds us, “…not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). This is gospel pure and simple. It is love which the unbelieving of this world cannot understand. When this love is demonstrated to an individual, he may well be “trembling with fear,” shocked into a sense of his own wickedness and unworthiness.
The jailer inquired, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul then spoke the gospel invitation, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved….” That night the gospel which had been demonstrated in the act of love was verbalized as Paul and Silas went to the jailer’s house, even then baptizing the whole family.
This is one of those encounters we yearn for. But notice that the shock that woke up the jailer from his sleep of spiritual death was the act of love. It just cannot be otherwise. And it just cannot be underestimated that words so often are not enough. Our words also can be easily contradicted by our actions.
The love of our Savior from the cross—forgiving His very executioners and forgiving a criminal, none of whom deserved it—must permeate our soul as we seek to announce His forgiveness.