You Hold the Key to Setting Yourself Free: Acts 16:25-34

Paul baptizing his jailer (From a stained glass window in St. Paul’s church in Jericho, Oxford)

God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.

It’s been a minute since we’ve been in the book of Acts so a recap is in order. Paul, Silas, and Timothy were going to a place of prayer in Philippi when this slave girl with a spirit of divination started following them around, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” For a couple of possible reasons, the manner in which she was doing this was disruptive to Paul and his crew’s mission. So, in Jesus’ name, Paul commanded the spirit of divination to come out of her. If you want to learn more, you can check out a previous blog post here: Is the Unseen Real?: Acts 16:16-18.

The thing was though, the owners of the slave girl were exploiting her. They were using her as a sort of fortune teller to make money. So when Christ (through Paul) removed the spirit from the girl, the girl’s owners took a significant financial hit. Naturally, this didn’t go over well so they stirred up the locals against Paul and Silas. The authorities there in Philippi beat them with rods and threw them into prison and fastened their feet in stocks. To learn more about this part of the story read: How They Were Singing in Their Suffering–Acts 16:19-25.

In today’s post we’ll see how God delivered Paul and Silas, and we’ll also see how Paul and Silas respond to the jailer who was responsible for keeping them imprisoned.

Acts 16:25-34

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.

Acts 16:25-34

So in our last blog post from the book of Acts we left Paul and Silas, praying and singing to God while they were locked up in stocks, in the inner prison. According to Keener the inner prison was typically the harshest and worst ventilated. And the other prisoners were listening to them, probably wondering where their spirit of love for God came from, under such brutal circumstances.

Then there was an earthquake, “a great earthquake,” the Bible says. So great an earthquake that the foundation of the prison was damaged and all the doors were opened and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.

This all happened in the wee hours. When the jailer woke up and saw the prison was no longer secure, he assumed every prisoner he was responsible for had fled. So the jailer took out his sword and prepared to take his own life. The Roman punishment for him, would have been his execution in a situation like this. Also in a situation like this, Romans (wrongly, I believe) recognized suicide as a more honorable alternative.

But, Paul cried out to him: Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here.

And the jailer called for lights, he rushed to Paul and Silas and, trembling with fear, he fell down before them.

Then the jailer brought them out and asked them, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they shared Jesus with him and all his household with him at the time.

And the jailer took them and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once and so was his family. And he brought them into his house and fed them and rejoiced with his entire household that he now believed in God.

Paul and Silas’s Spirt Toward Their Jailer

So there’s a three part narrative I’m hearing a lot lately and it goes something like this:

  1. Let me tell you how wrong this person, or group, or organization was toward me.
  2. Let me tell you how angry I was (and still am) about it.
  3. Let me tell you how I exacted retribution upon those wrongdoers.

I see it in social media. I hear it in the mainstream media. I see it in alternative media. And, sad to say, I even hear it among Christians.

You know, it would have been easy for Paul and Silas to go down that same road. Filled with moral outrage Paul and Silas could have let the jailer take his own life. After all, the jailer was the one who unjustly put them in stocks, in the innermost part of the prison. The jailer was the one who turned the key to lock the prison doors on innocent men. Filled with righteous anger Paul and Silas could have run the jailer through with a sword themselves.

But they didn’t.

What we see from Paul and Silas is quite the opposite.

Paul and Silas didn’t even leave, even though they could have.

Paul, with a heart full of forgiveness and compassion stopped the jailer from committing suicide.

Paul, filled with the love of Christ for that jailer, shared Jesus with him and his family.

Forgiveness the Key to Their Success

A few weeks ago I shared that much of what Jesus taught was simply this: Don’t let anything get in the way of loving God and loving others. (If you’re interested you can read more here: Much of What Jesus Taught was Simply This: Don’t Let Anything Get in the Way of Loving Others.)

Unforgiveness is, without question, a massive obstacle to loving like Jesus wants us to. Today in our story we see how the key to Paul and Silas’s success with the jailer was their forgiveness. It’s impossible to communicate the love of Christ with a hard heart and Paul didn’t let that happen to his inner man.

Because of their forgiveness the jailer was saved.

Because of their forgiveness the jailer’s entire household was saved.

Because of their forgiveness the jailer and his family were rejoicing.

Because of their forgiveness the jailer and his family are now spending eternity in the presence of God in heaven.

Your Spirit Toward Your Jailer

What’s funny is, when we don’t forgive someone we’re giving them power over us. We’re allowing them to serve as our own personal jailer. A jailer who imprisons us in our bitterness and resentment.

And here’s the weird thing about this situation: You and I have in our possession the key to our own prison door.

We don’t have to live in that three part narrative.

Jesus doesn’t want us to live that way.

Christ doesn’t want us to have any part of that three part narrative.

Jesus wants us to forgive, the way Paul and Barnabas forgave.

It’s a huge key to loving like Jesus.

Can I give you some of my very best advice.

Become a person who is waaaaaaay more forgiving than you are right now.

Your whole life will change.

You’ll be set free.


Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 2nd Edition, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 2014, pp. 372-373

Image of Paul baptizing his jailer (stained glass) via Lawrence OP – Creative Commons

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One Comment on “You Hold the Key to Setting Yourself Free: Acts 16:25-34

  1. Pingback: Are You Unsuccessful When Setting Boundaries? Here’s Something I’ve Found to Be Remarkably Helpful: Acts 16:35-40 | God Running

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