Do you remember the story of The Sound of Music? Maria had thought all during her youth that she would one day be a nun in the local abbey. But as she finds herself a governess to seven children instead, she makes the comment, "When the Good Lord closes all the doors, somewhere He opens a window." She is implying in that statement that our future is not always in a setting familiar to us. Sometimes we have to look for alternative, unconventional routes to continue forward with our lives.
With that in mind, [you have listened] to Meg tell us about some recent events in the lives of Greta and Vince Payne. You may remember Greta from our ladies class this fall. [You have listened] to the doors that she and her husband tried to open and the window they finally found.
Isn't that a remarkable story? Does it remind you of Paul in this chapter 16? They have been instructed not to go west toward Ephesus and not to go north into Bithynia. Since they didn't feel compelled to turn back, they go northwest into the city of Troas, where Paul receives a vision in the night. A Macedonian man appeals to Paul to come over to Macedonia and help them. Paul had probably felt fairly comfortable traveling throughout the regions of Asia Minor, having been born in Tarsus, located in the southeastern region of Cilicia in Asia Minor. Macedonia, however, was not in Asia Minor. It was considered part of the European continent. The Macedonians had some of that barbaric, Germanic blood in them, but mostly they were of a Greek heritage and influence. Now in modern days the region is a part of the country of Greece. Whereas, the Asia Minor regions had not only Greek influence, but also Syrian, Assyrian and some Persian and Egyptian influence. It would be a different culture to deal with. So different that Paul and his traveling companions would not have thought to go there on their own. That required divine closing of doors and opening of a window.
It must be nice to know for certain that you are going and doing exactly where and what God wants you to do. It is easy to look back in my life and think this must be the route God intended for me to take, but I can't know that for certain. It would be nice to have a vision to lead us, but I'm not sure I'm up to the things that true vision-led men endured. None of these men, directly led by the Holy Spirit, had an easy life. It seems that Satan hunted them out to do battle against them at every step. Still, their love of God is never squelched.
Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Luke, it appears, enter the Roman colony of Philippi and proceed to do the Lord's work. There they encounter Lydia, a Thyatira native and a seller of purple. The Roman senators required purple material for the stripe around the edge of their toga. This indicated to everyone that the man wearing that purple stripe was a Roman senator. If the main business for making this very expensive purple dye was in Thyatira, but some of your main clients were in Rome (but that was too far away to set up your practice), the next best place to set up would be in a Roman colony near a seaport used regularly by the Romans. This would make your product accessible to your clients and yet still allow you to live close to your supplier. Therefore, we find Lydia in Philippi with her purple franchise and her heart receptive to the good news of Jesus.
Through circumstances that we will discuss in class today, Paul and Silas aggravate some men who drag them before the city magistrates for disturbing the peace and for advocating a religion that would be unlawful for Roman citizens to practice. Seeing that the crowd joins in on the attack, true to Roman spirit the elected officials go along with the crowd and have the men beaten with rods, and after many blows, have them thrown into jail. The jailer, having been instructed to keep the men secure, puts them in the inner jail, binding their feet in the stocks.
We would expect to find these men down in the dumps. Here they are in a region they had not intended to go, among foreigners, publicly accused of wrongdoing (when in fact they had only tried to do good), misunderstood, rejected, labeled as troublemakers, beaten intensely, and thrown into the depths of the city jail with their feet bound in stocks, uncomfortable to put it mildly - but more than likely, in sheer physical pain.
What do we find Paul and Silas doing? SINGING. This is a little unusual among jail mates. We usually equate singing with happiness. We don't normally consider jail a happy place. Were they truly joyous? Were they trying to lift their own spirits? Singing will do that if we sing out! God doesn't care about quality of voice - but about quality of the heart. I know Paul and Silas were singing out--not "Praise-God-From-Whom-All-Blessings-Flow," but - PRAISE GOD - with sincerity. The prisoners of the jail were listening to their singing, but not out of lack of anything else to do. From the Greek word that Luke uses for listening, we know it was a very attentive listening--trying to catch every word and grasp the concepts of those words.
Don't you wish we knew the songs they were singing? I wish I did. I have to pick out songs for weddings, funerals, Christmas tree lightings, ladies' lectureships. But I've never had to pick out songs for a prison, certainly never as a prisoner. What would you sing if you were in that jail? Let's suppose you knew a lot of songs out of our green song book (and they had already been written). What would you sing, knowing that the songs you pick would reflect your attitude to this persecution and it would be witnessed by others? "Tempted and Tried" or "There's Within My Heart a Melody"? There's a place for the "Gospel Blues" and "great persecution" kind of song, I suppose.
Perhaps we do know what Paul and Silas were singing. They could have been singing from the book of Psalms--words that were meant to be sung. Songs of praise, exhortation, deliverance, triumph - songs to lift the soul out of despair:
Psalm 59 Deliver me from my enemies, O my God, protect me from those who rise up against me, deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men.
Psalms 34:1-7 I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. Look to Him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved Him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them. (Words of comfort.)
Perhaps they wanted to teach through song and also sang Psalm 97:6-10 The heavens proclaim His righteousness; and all the peoples behold His glory. All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; all gods bow down before Him. Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice, because of thy judgments, O God. For Thou, O Lord, art most high over all the earth; Thou art exalted far above all gods. The Lord loves those who hate evil; He preserves the lives of His saints; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Psalm 116 and 120 are songs of thanksgiving for deliverance and would have been appropriate. Or perhaps Psalm 107, seems very appropriate - selected verses: O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures for ever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble...Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in affliction and in irons. Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress; He brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder. Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wonderful works to the sons of men! For He shatters the doors of bronze, and cuts in two the bars of iron.
Can you image if they had just finished that last line when the earthquake occurred!? It would be like a direct answer to their prayers. For their feet are loosened with the earthquake and the barred doors opened wide! What a sermon in action! To be REJOICING while in physical pain. Praising God - songs of joy and comfort in the midst of imprisonment and then to be delivered by the Object of that Praise! If I were one of the other prisoners, I'd stick around, too, to see what was going to happen next! The astonishment of the fellow prisoners must have been tremendous. We are not told whether any of them responded at any time to the gospel, but a seed was planted by the words of songs Paul and Silas were singing. I'd like to believe that, at the very least, the earthquake watered that seed quite well. Perhaps some of them were added to the church in Philippi later. It appears that Luke remained behind while the others went on to Thessalonica. He would have continued reaching out to the lost, as well as strengthening the young Christians.
A few years from this time, the young church will receive a letter from Paul and find him still rejoicing. They're going to take it to heart when Paul tells them to rejoice in spite of the circumstances they find themselves in - because they know Paul did. They will find it easier to rejoice in spite of people and things, because Paul did. Paul tells them to rejoice thirteen times in his letter to them. They know he is telling them the truth when he tells them he has "learned in whatever state I am, to be content" and "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me."
We rejoice that Paul and Silas were jailed. Because these Roman citizens were wrongly beaten and imprisoned, the Romans are anxious to appease these men afterward and will leave their followers alone for a while, giving the young church time to mature. The young church would have been strengthened by the account of that night and perhaps asked the jailer to give his account of that night to prospective new members.
We benefit from their night in jail, too. The book of Philippians seems especially sweet, full of love and rejoicing, because we know the memories that Paul holds in his mind for this town and church.
Let's close today with the reading of Philippians 4:4-9.
Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy; meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR