The Power of God When We Are Brought Low
by Mark Fulmer
As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour.
But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, "These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice." The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
But Paul cried with a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Let's imagine for a moment that you are the composer, and it's time to pre-screen the film for which you've written the score. The hardest scene to craft was the "jail scene." The imagery is remarkable and chilling and raw. The prisoners are chained to one another and to iron rings in the stone floor of the near-dark dungeon. The director has asked the actor playing the jailer to cover his face with a cloth, to communicate the stench of the place. One of the prisoners pictured as the camera pans the cell is a rotting corpse. Now, cue music! And then your score swells with strains of, "Bless the Lord, Oh my soul, Oh my soul, worship His Holy Name!"
The producer wheels on you fiercely. He screams at you, "Are you crazy? This is a dungeon scene, in ancient Philippi! Did you even read the script!? There's an earthquake and a jail break and a near-suicide, you fool! What is praise music doing in this scene?!"
"Well sir," you answer, "the praise music is actually what the scene is about! Did YOU read the source document for the script?"
Then you get fired and he gets a Bible. Not a bad outcome to imagine.
Paul and Silas are singing praises in the middle of the night in the middle of the dungeon after a very long day that included interrogations and beatings. Singing-how can that possibly true?
Paul and Silas did not know they were about to be rescued from the dungeon of Philippi, but they did know they had already been rescued from the dungeon of hell. They were God's men on God's mission, and they sang the songs they had been singing all along: songs like the Psalms, praises like the songs of Moses and Mary. Or maybe they remembered and sang the lyrics of King David in that dark hole in Philippi.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
These men knew the Lord and praised the Lord because that was their habit. For Paul, and for us, our circumstances are not the primary source of the joy in our hearts. It's the Lord dwelling richly in our hearts who teaches how to understand and manage our circumstances.
They also sang because they counted suffering for Christ's sake to be an honor, and evidence of their union with Jesus. They could have run away from that jail, or encouraged the jailer to kill himself by saying, "Go ahead! Your life's over anyway!" But instead, they proclaimed the truth that had saved them. And they baptized the jailer in the name of The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. They went into the dungeon as prisoners of the guard and came out as brothers of the guard! That's something worth singing about.
Later, Paul would write a letter to the church there in Philippi. The jailer may have heard it read aloud. He would have thought back about that night when the prisoners didn't run, and I bet he would have praised the Lord for that memory!
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.