28 But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because we’re all here! 29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Through the Bible: Acts 15-16
In Acts 16, we see the birth of the church in Philippi, one of the strongest of Paul’s church plants and the recipient of my favorite of Paul’s epistles, Philippians. The church had humble beginnings. It probably would never had been birthed at all if the Holy Spirit hadn’t twice prevented Paul from going somewhere else (see 16:6-7). Its first three converts were a rich businesswoman (16:14), a formerly demon-possessed slave girl (16:6-8), and a jailer (16:25-34).
There’s a lot of similarities between this story of Paul and Silas in prison and the story of Peter in prison in Acts 12:6-11. Both Peter and Paul are in chains (verse 24; compare Acts 12:6). It was at night (verse 25; 12:6). Then, in both stories, God showed up in a big way. In Acts 12, an angel woke Peter up, his chains fell off (12:7), and the iron gate opened (12:10). In Acts 16, Paul’s chains fell off (v 26) and all the prison doors were thrown open (v 27).
The difference between the two stories is in what happened next. Peter walked out of the prison because the angel told Peter to follow him (Acts 12:9). But there was no angel giving instructions in chapter 16, so Paul stayed put. And this staying put-ness had such an impact on the jailer that he and his whole family became believers (16:31-34). Not only did Paul not leave when all the cell doors popped open, he refused to leave the next day, when the magistrates tried to make him go away quietly (16:35-36).
There are some great lessons in these two stories. The first is the role of obedience. Peter obeyed by doing what the angel told him to do. Paul obeyed by not doing what he had not been told to do. Even though the circumstances were nearly identical, obedience would look different because God’s purposes were different. God’s purpose in Acts 12 was to save Peter. His purpose in Acts 16 was to save the jailer.
The challenge is to listen to what God is saying to you in your particular situation, at this particular time, for His particular purpose. While it’s always helpful to hear from other people who have faced similar circumstances, don’t assume that you are supposed to do exactly the same thing. Watch for how God is working in your circumstance, and rejoice at how He is accomplishing His purpose through you.