The Philippian Jailer

By Joshua Reaves 

I was speaking with a close friend and brother the other day and we were talking about different things that can cause spiritual problems in our lives. He was telling me that no matter what the problem seemed to be in his spiritual life, much of the problem came down to the question of humility. His point seemed very appropriate with the title of my article. Am I being humble enough to face God’s will and not turn the other way, or do I have too much pride to give up my own will and repent? No wonder Peter says in 1 Peter 5:5, “. . . God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” It seems that pride has always been one of man’s most powerful oppositions. It took a certain amount of pride for Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3:1-6). It also caused Ahab to take a vineyard that was not rightfully his (1 Kings 21:2), and caused Peter to stand in the way of Christ carrying out the Father’s will (Matt 16:22, 23). Though Peter had the best intentions in mind, he was not yet willing to yield “self” and submit completely to the Father’s will. 

The Lord desires hearts that are willing to put away the pride of the old man and finally say, “Lord, thy will be done.” The Philippian jailer had the type of humble attitude that the Lord is pleased with. Acts 16:22 says that the magistrates commanded Paul and Silas to be “beaten with rods.” It goes on to say in v. 23, “And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely.” This man, who was about to be transformed into one of God’s chosen vessels, may have actually beaten and ridiculed Paul and Silas. In any case, the Philippian jailer was commanded to make certain that Paul and Silas would not escape by placing them in the innermost prison and fastening their feet into stocks. Paul and Silas, refusing to let the circumstances keep them from rejoicing, began to sing songs of praise and continue in fervent prayer to the Lord. Paul was learning by experience the lesson which he afterward taught the disciples in the very same city, saying: “In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6, 7).

The prisoners must have heard the message of rejoicing and realized that God was behind it because as soon as a great earthquake opened the doors of the prison and loosened their chains, they froze in their places, so to speak, and did not try to escape (Acts 16:28). However, the jailer was not aware that none of the prisoners had escaped and drew his sword to take his own life. The jailer was convinced that taking his own life would be a much better fate than falling into the hands of the ruthless Roman government. If they had found the next morning that the prisoners had escaped, the death he would undergo would be dreadful at best. What was worse than that, the Philippian jailer was floating on the brink of eternal damnation. There seemed to be no hope left in the life of the Philippian jailer. That is, until the words of Paul came echoing forth from every prison wall, “Do yourself no harm for we are all here.” The Philippian jailer “ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas” (v. 29).

After he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” He was not asking what he should do to save himself from the anger of heathen gods, for his appeal would not have been to Paul and Silas, for they did not worship these gods. Neither did he ask what he should do to be saved from the wrath of his superiors; he had nothing to fear from them, since the prisoners were all safe inside the prison. The answer that Paul gave implies the meaning of his question; he was asking what he must do to be saved from his sins. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” they replied, “and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). 

Then the Philippian jailer took Paul and Silas to his house and they spoke the word of the Lord to him and all his household. The jailer took them the very same hour of the night and tended to their stripes, then immediately he and his family were baptized. Paul must have felt the irony of delivering this message of salvation to a man who was much like he had once been, a man who possessed a great status in the Roman government and was privy to the persecution of Christians. Surely this event had been on the mind of Paul as he wrote to Lydia and the rest of the saints in Philippi saying, “. . . in nothing shall I be ashamed, but with all boldness as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20, 21). The Philippian jailer humbled himself and obeyed the word that Paul and Silas had presented to him. Then, in an act of Christ-like kindness, he took them to his own home and set a meal before them.

The Lord has promised us in Matthew 7:8 that “everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

We can learn much from the Philippian jailer. There is much to be said about his willingness to become a child of God in spite of his ever-growing status as a Roman citizen. So much can be learned from the way he treated Paul and Silas, showing a true transformation in spirit. But most of all, the Philippian jailer is a wonderful example of a seeker. He sought with desire, fear, and with a humble spirit that was truly pleasing to the Lord.