THE PHILIPPIAN JAILOR
T. Pierce Brown
Often I have used the story of the Philippian Jailer in Acts 16:22-34 to teach a person about the plan of salvation. It is very valuable for that. However, there are other lessons that apply to Christians that need our attention also. Let us look at the story with both in mind.
First, we may notice the attitude and actions of Paul and Silas in difficult circumstances. We count it a high mark of Christian character not to murmur or complain. The Stoics went that far. Paul and Silas went far beyond that. They were engaged in joyous praise! The effect on the other prisoners and any guards who may have heard them was no doubt startling. They were accustomed to curses, not blessings. They were more familiar with shrieks of agony and pain than they were songs of joy. It is probable that they heard more oaths than prayers. It would have been no surprise to them to hear wailing and gnashing of teeth, but hymns of holy gladness were unusual. If we had the kind of faith and persistence of Paul and Silas, it is probable that we would have the same kinds of results. It is doubtful if the world about us sees much difference in our usual actions and responses in any situation than the rest of the religious world, or even the irreligious world. If they note any difference at all, it is that most others are far ahead of us.
It was reported that some religious schools gave tests to incoming freshmen and found that those who claimed membership in the Lord’s church ranked 3rd or 4th in Bible knowledge. When we compare our giving to other religious groups, we are probably no higher than that. It is almost certain that we are behind at least three denominational groups. Compared to the commitment and devotion to what we claim to believe in, any number of religious groups are far ahead of us. I do not approve of comparing ourselves with any other group to shame us into doing better. Our standard is not what another group does, but what the Bible says. My point here is that the world makes these comparisons, and we have little that appeals to them. Our only strong point apparently is that we teach what is doctrinally sound. But what we do often speaks so loudly that most other persons cannot hear what we say.
Is there anything about the lives or actions of most members of the Lord’s church that would cause a person to ask him the question, “What must I do to be saved?” If one did happen to ask the question, it is probable that most members, if they answered anything at all, would say something like, “You have to be baptized.” Of course it was not merely the actions of Paul and Silas that caused the question to be asked, but the earthquake. If you were in prison and an earthquake came, is there anything that would cause a prisoner to ask that question of you instead of someone else?
There is a whole sermon in simply examining the question with emphasis on each word. “What” emphasizes that there is something to do, not merely accept Calvinistic predestination. “Must” shows the necessity, not just the possibility. “I” suggests the personal responsibility. What mother, father, preacher or friend may do does not count. “Do” indicates some action the person does, not just an attitude, or “Do nothing, but depend on God’s grace.” “To be” indicates that although you do something to accept that grace, the salvation is from Christ, not yourself. “Saved” suggests that one is lost. A baby, who is safe, does not need to be saved.
Many theologians try to make the point that he was not asking about salvation from sin, but merely from the earthquake, or being beaten or killed because the prisoners might escape. We can prove logically that is not so, but it does not matter, for the answer is the thing of value to us. The answer deals with matters of the soul, despite what the prisoners had in mind.
The answer is probably the simplest and the most misrepresented of any verse in the Bible. The first thing we need to know about the answer as recorded is that it was only the beginning of the answer. When he said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” he did not stop there. A doctor, when asked, “What shall I do about my disease” may reply, “Just trust in me and I will take care of you.” All understand that to be the beginning of an answer that involves putting yourself into the doctor’s care, following his directions, and taking his prescriptions. There is no instance in or out of the Bible of anyone ever being blessed by faith, cured by faith or saved by faith until that faith led them to obey. Even denominational theologians admit that belief that offers salvation always involves a trusting reliance on him, not merely intellectual assent. The problem is, they do not seem to know what “trusting reliance” involves.
It is easy to see here that the response was one that was always true in every case of conversion. They heard the gospel (v. 32). They responded to that story in penitent faith (v. 33). They were baptized immediately. Can one imagine a person who thinks baptism is not important being baptized at that hour of the night under those circumstances? When verse 34 indicates that they “rejoiced, having believed” it again shows that this belief was not simply intellectual assent, but trusting reliance on and submission to the commands of Jesus.
This is an old, familiar lesson to many, but it is our conviction that many preachers of today who claim membership in the Lord’s church no longer preach it that way. There are those who “extend an invitation” by saying, after 20 minutes of indecisive, innocuous language, “If you would like to accept Jesus as Lord or Savior, indicate it by coming forward.” There is no substitute for preaching Christ with the same intensity and emphasis that was done by the Apostles. This story still needs to be studied and emphasized, not only for alien sinners, but also for Christians.