Tuesday, 9 May 2023
But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Acts 16:28
In the previous verse, the jailor was prepared to kill himself, having drawn his sword for that purpose. With that obviously seen by Paul, Luke next records, “But Paul called with a loud voice.”
One might question why Paul could see the jailor, but the jailor didn’t notice Paul. The answer is that the jailor has come into the cell area from the outside. There would have been no lights as there are today. There would have been no reason to provide lamps at night. And so, the cells would have been pitch black.
Based on what is said in verse 29, even if he had his own torch, it wasn’t sufficient to light the area. Rather, it was only light enough so that he could notice that the cells were open. He surely assumed everyone had skedaddled while he slept. It would have been an obvious inference on any other occasion. The poor lighting would not have been able to pierce into the darker recesses of the cell where the prisoners were.
With his eyes straining to look into the pitch dark, his soul would have become even darker, losing hope of life itself. In that state, the sword would have been drawn and readied for its final plunge. But before that could happen, Paul called out with a loud voice, “saying, ‘Do yourself no harm.’”
Paul’s voice was certainly intentionally loud to arrest the suicidal thoughts of the man. The abruptness and loudness of his voice would have shocked the jailor enough to halt any action with the sword. With that happily effected, he continued his words, saying, “for we are all here.”
Nothing is said of how many were in the prison. The word “all” generally implies more than two people. That makes at least three. But verse 25 had said “the prisoners were listening to them.” The plural indicates at least two others. Therefore, at a minimum, there were four prisoners but there could have been even more.
But the point is made, there were at least four people whose chains had been loosed and whose doors were opened. And yet, they remained in the prison. The obvious question is, “Why would the other prisoners also have remained.” Though the narrative doesn’t say, the answer Luke intends to convey is obvious.
Luke purposefully noted that Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. Unless there is a specific reason that he penned this fact, it is an otherwise irrelevant bit of information. Yes, it makes for great sermon material and allows later writers to make grand statements about the happiness one can experience even in terrible times. But that can be deduced in many other ways.
Luke included those words to introduce the next clause, “and the prisoners were listening to them.” This would be an even more irrelevant statement than the previous one except for the continued narrative. Paul and Silas had such a profound effect on the other prisoners that when they were freed from their bonds, they had chosen to remain in the cell rather than escape.
It can be deduced that even if they wanted to escape, Paul and Silas had convinced them that the life of the jailor would be in jeopardy and to not leave. It can be further surmised that these prisoners may have even been converted in the previous hours as they lay chained in the darkness. Whether this is the case or not, Paul and Silas at least had enough sway to convince them of their need to stay. And they did.
Life application: The general tenor of the words in Acts 16 has been played out time and again since it was recorded. Christians have patiently waited on the Lord through trials, troubles, tribulations, and testing. They have praised him through storms while those around them have seen and desired a faith like theirs.
An example of this is seen in the life of John Wesley. The familiar story is cited from the Methodist.org.uk website –
John and Charles Wesley set out for America in 1735, enthused at the idea of preaching the Gospel to Native American people. During the voyage the ship was struck by a terrifying storm. John was afraid. He prayed with the English passengers, one of whom brought him a baby to baptise in case they were all about to die.
Shortly afterwards he was at another service with a group of German Moravians when a huge wave engulfed the ship and water poured down into the cabins. While the English passengers screamed in terror, the Moravians continued singing - men, women and children seemingly untroubled.
Later he asked one of the Moravians if they hadn't been afraid. He replied that not even the women and children had been afraid. None of them were afraid to die. John knew that they had something he didn't, an absolute trust in God. They were prepared to lose their lives because they knew that God was never going to let them go. John was deeply impressed.
His time in America was unsuccessful in many ways, and he and Charles returned home after two years. All the time John was nagged by the thought that he did not have full faith in God. But this was about to change.
Just as the faithful patience and singing of Paul and Silas brought a change in the prisoners with them, the faithful endurance and singing of the Moravians were able to pull at the soul of John Wesley.
Let us consider this as we face terrible times. Our faithful composure and even elation at our salvation may be all that is needed to convict lost sinners who see. From there, the gospel can be proclaimed to the saving of their souls.
Glorious heavenly Father, we have the absolute assurance of eternal life in Your presence because of the finished, final, full, and forever work of Jesus Christ. Help us to act with that assurance when times are tough. May we be as lights in the darkness to those who need to find their way back to You. Amen.