Lessons From the Philippian Jailer

By David Glenn Price

In Acts 16, Paul and his companion Silas were confined to a dreary Philippian jail, made prisoners for preaching the gospel of freedom and for liberating a slave-girl from a “spirit of divination” (vv. 16-24). As we look in on them at midnight, we do not find them complaining and grumbling, nor do we find that they have forsaken God in despair over their situation. No, we find instead that these two great men of God were praying and singing his wonderful praise.

Suddenly, a mighty earthquake shook the very foundations of the prison house, freeing the prisoners from their chains and flinging open the doors to freedom. The jailer, fearing that his prisoners had seized the chance to escape, was ready to thrust his sword into his belly when a loud cry was heard: “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!” It was Paul. This jailer’s life would never be the same.

As the jailer fell upon his knees before the two evangelists, only one thought was upon his heart. He asked the question with trembling lips: “What must I do to be saved?” Isn’t it incredible? This pagan soldier, who only moments earlier had been asleep and totally unaware of his soul’s great need, now yearned to know how he could make his life right with his Creator? Here is a man who has just faced death and eternity beyond.

Friend, do you realize that you and I are in the very same situation? Do you realize that we live perched on the edge of forever every day? James tells us that our lives are like vapors, here for just a little while, and then gone (Jas. 4:14). Realizing this, do you continue to live as though you are certain that you will still be alive tomorrow? You may not be (Heb. 9:27). Do you continue to conduct your life as though you will never have to stand before your God and answer for your deeds? You will (2 Cor. 5:10). Do you continue in rebellion to Almighty God as though he will overlook it? He won’t (Rev. 21:8).

How does Paul answer this most important of all questions, “What must I do to be saved?” Were he a student of many modern psychiatrists and psychologists, Paul would have told this jailer to “quit feeling guilty about himself and accept himself for what he was (after all, there really isn’t any such thing as “sin,” is there? Rom. 3:9-18).” Were he a student of many modern religionists, Paul would have told this jailer that it really didn’t matter what he did, because God’s grace would cover him (after all, a truly loving God couldn’t send anyone to hell, could he? Matt. 5:22; 23:33; Lk. 16:23).

But fortunately for the jailer (and for us!) Paul wasn’t a disciple of any of these quacks, but of Jesus Christ; he didn’t spout off a bunch of psychological or theological nonsense, but “spoke the word of the Lord to him” (v. 32). God’s word is able to take away guilt and remove the barrier of sin that separates between you and your God (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 1:16). No matter how enlightened man may get (in his own eyes) or how advanced may be our theories and thoughts, God still today makes foolish the wisdom of the world through the preaching of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18-21). The words of Jeremiah, the prophet of God, still ring true: “I know, O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself, nor is it in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). Whatever your problems, your weakness, your sin, God’s way works – take his Book and see how God can turn your life around!

What did the “word of the Lord” tell this jailer to do to be saved? In verse 31, Paul commands him to believe; without such belief, we can never please God (Heb. 11:6). But is that all? Does God require simple mental assent – mere belief in him – for our salvation? If so, prepare to spend eternity in heaven with a lot of demons, because James says that even they believe in God (Jas. 2:19-20)! Do not be deceived! “A man is justified by works and not byJaith alone” (Jas. 2:24, emph. mine DGP). If we read just two verses further in our Acts 16 text, we see that this man’s faith was not a dead, inactive faith, but a living, obeying, saving faith. He was baptized for the remission of his sins (v. 33; Acts 2:38), removing the burden of his guilt and receiving God’s gift of salvation (Eph. 2:8) – and that gift is available to you today!

But don’t wait! If your life is not right with your Lord, don’t hesitate to make it right! Whether you are already God’s child, and the allurements of the world have drawn you away from him; or if you have never put on Christ in baptism – follow the example of the jailer and restore your broken relationship with God this very hour! Verse 33: “He took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized” (emph. mine, DGP). What are you waiting for? Most of us, as brother J.R. Bronger says, would be good procrastinators . . . if we didn’t put it off so much! It’s one thing to put off taking out the trash at home, but don’t put off removing the trash from your life, because it starts to pile up – and pretty soon you just get used to the smell. Won’t you make your life right with God who loves you so (Jn. 3:16)?

Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 16, p. 486
August 16, 1990