Suddenly (at midnight) there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”… 34The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. Acts 16:26-28, 34
In this passage, we find Paul and Silas unjustly arrested and thrown into prison. Not only that, they were stripped of their clothing and beaten with rods (V22,23). In this dark and dank space, they praised God and in doing so drew the attention of all the other inmates. Then a violent earthquake provides a supernatural opportunity for escape. Their chains fell off and all they have to do to gain freedom is run out the front entrance. But they don’t. And neither do the other prisoners.
What’s the deal? They had every reason to flee. If not for corrupt and jealous people, they would not have been there in the first place. It was their right to be free; to obtain what they justly deserved. Yet they stayed put. Why? Because there was a jailer and his family that needed the love and grace that only Jesus could give. If they escape that opportunity goes with them. For them, the chance to demonstrate the substance of their faith to someone in need took precedence over their rights.
In these challenging days, much clamoring has been done by Christians and churches in an effort to be granted our rights and be recognized as essential. These are certainly important issues. I’m not sure however, that they are the most important issues. Like Paul and Silas, I wonder if we too should be most concerned about choosing a course of action that will have the biggest impact on people whose foundation for living has been shattered. Are we exhibiting such a profound level of love and respect that those who don’t yet embrace the Gospel go from skeptics to curious? That those once jaded by the church give God a second chance? This kind of love for others causes us to do things that don’t necessarily make sense.
What I know from 1 Corinthians 13 is that we can gain our rights and receive our just recognition in society, but if love and grace are not fueling our behavior then we are nothing more than resounding gongs.
Whatever stance we take as Christ-followers, may our motives and our actions be driven by love for others and respect for those looking on. As a pastor friend of mine reminds us, Jesus always led with grace. May the same be true of us in the days and weeks ahead.
Live this week on purpose,