Thursday, November 5, 2009

Paul and Silas: Transcending physical captivity with spiritual freedom

The story of Paul and Silas and how they dealt with being cast into prison is very indicative of how Paul had learned to be content in whatever state he was in and how he had a strong conviction of how he was actually free in Christ.

Recall in Acts 16 that after casting out a spirit of divination from a girl, they were accused of troubling the city and teaching unlawful customs, then were beaten with many stripes and cast into prison.

The jailer was also charged to keep them very carefully, which must have made him think that they were the worst of hardened criminals and deserved to lose as much freedom as they could take away. So the jailer put them in the inner prison (maximum security) and had them physically restrained in the stocks. (see Acts 16:24)
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. (Acts 16:25)
The jailer hadn’t thought to gag them or muzzle them. At the time of the greatest darkness, they exercised their freedom of conscience and prayed and praised God. And they did it loud enough that all the other prisoners heard them.

This shows us how Paul and Silas were still free to teach the gospel, even though they were in prison. They exercised freedom by praising God in spite of the pain they must have been experiencing from the stripes on their bodies. I can imagine that not only did they pray for themselves but also the other prisoners as well. I can imagine them singing Messianic psalms about salvation and freedom.
And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. (Acts 16:26)
We can see in this sudden earthquake how Heavenly Father wanted to show that spiritual freedom leads to physical freedom through faith on Christ. What a dramatic object lesson! And not just one or two doors were opened, but ALL the doors were opened, showing that freedom is available not just to a chosen few, but to ALL who were willing to fulfill the conditions.
And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. (Acts 16:27)
It is interesting that it says that the keeper awaked out of his sleep. Yes, it is physical sleep, but could it be that he is stirring from spiritual sleep as well? He is ultra concerned because here he has been given a charge to keep the prisoners confined and now all the doors are open and surely none will stay confined when they can escape. He will be held personally accountable to the government and they will execute him for dereliction of duty and probably kill him. So he might as well beat them to it and kill himself to salvage his personal honor.
But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. (Acts 16:28)
Here Paul is demonstrating the extent of his liberty. Even though the doors are open, and he is physically free to go, he has chosen to stay until he is released by an authorized agent of the government. (He knows that if he leaves on his own, it will not solve anything, but make things worse, since he will be considered an escaped prisoner and a maximum security prisoner at that!
29 Then he [the keeper] called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:29-30)
Here the jailer has awakened spiritually. He recognizes that the earthquake is somehow connected with Paul and Silas as a sign that their power and authority comes from God and supersedes even the governmental authority represented by the confining walls, doors, chains, and stocks of the prison.
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. (Acts 16:31-32)
Figuratively Paul and Silas are opening the prison doors to the jailer and his household. Even though they have been control of the physical prison, they recognize that they have been in a spiritual prison and that Paul and Silas have been given keys to set them free.
And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. (Acts 16:33)
The Jailer and his house have been made free.
And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. (Acts 16:34)
The jailer certainly knows now that there is no danger of Paul and Silas running away and that they are no more deserving of maximum security than any other ordinary citizen at large. (Rather, they deserve to have the highest level of freedom and convenience)
And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go. (Acts 16:35)
This is curious. The magistrates attempt to let Paul and Silas go secretly indicates they knew when they had them jailed that they were innocent, but that they didn’t feel free to administer true justice in public for fear of their townspeople. It indicates that they had the apostles beat and jailed as a show of responsiveness to their constituents, even though they knew that it was not right. Curious.
36 And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace.
37 But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. (Acts 16:36-37)
Paul is not demanding special treatment to rub the administrator’s noses in their mistakes. He is concerned about legality. He is a legal administrator of Christ’s kingdom; he knows that no one can come into the kingdom of God except by the correct way, through Christ, by obedience. Understandably then, he wants his release from physical prison to be just as legal and aboveboard as a true spiritual release. Everyone in the community must know that he has been legally released, otherwise the trouble will begin again.
38 And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans.
39 And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city.
40 And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed. (Acts 16:38-40)
Paul and Silas are still using their spiritual freedom here. Although the magistrates want them to leave, Paul and Silas stay long enough to visit and encourage church members.

I like this story because it seems to draw a sharp contrast between those with spiritual freedom and those without. Spiritual freedom brings hope that transcends and overcomes temporal captivity. Spiritual freedom overcomes fear of man. Spiritual freedom is governed by internal restraints stronger than external restraints. Spiritual freedom opens a person up to be governed by righteous impetuses.

Interestingly enough, before running across this section, I also ran across another series of verses, this time in the Book of Mormon that seemed to teach about spiritual freedom of prophets and church leaders.
23 And also in the reign of Shule there came prophets among the people, who were sent from the Lord, prophesying that the wickedness and idolatry of the people was bringing a curse upon the land, and they should be destroyed if they did not repent.
24 And it came to pass that the people did revile against the prophets, and did mock them. And it came to pass that king Shule did execute judgment against all those who did revile against the prophets.
25 And he did execute a law throughout all the land, which gave power unto the prophets that they should go whithersoever they would; and by this cause the people were brought unto repentance.
26 And because the people did repent of their iniquities and idolatries the Lord did spare them, and they began to prosper again in the land…(Ether 7:23-26)
It seems significant that because the prophets were given the temporal freedom to go wherever they wanted to go to preach, it led to the spiritual freedom of the people, which led to greater temporal freedom for the nation in the form of prosperity.


Rebecca Irvine said...

Thanks again for such insightful comments! I really enjoy your posts.