Acts 16:12 [W]e traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district.
Philippi did not have a synagogue, so Paul and his companions went to the river, where they found some women who had gathered for prayer. Paul explained the gospel and one of them believed. She was promptly baptized, along with her household; then she invited Paul and his coworkers to stay at her home. This is how the church in Philippi began.
The woman’s name was Lydia, and as Paul explained the gospel, The Lord opened her heart to respond (Acts 16:14). It does not say she opened her own heart, or that Paul opened her heart, but that The Lord opened her heart. Others were present, but we are not told that the Lord opened their hearts—only Lydia’s.
The heart is so perverse that it will not receive the gospel without divine assistance. The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9), wrote Jeremiah. This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them (John 6:65), said Jesus. It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy (Romans 9:16), wrote Paul. God alone receives the credit for opening hearts to the gospel.
Acts 16:16-17 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. . . . She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.
This may seem like good publicity, but Paul became annoyed. [H]e turned around and said to the spirit, In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her! (Acts 16:18). The spirit departed at once, but her owners became upset, because she was no longer able to make money by predicting the future. From this we learn that those who make money predicting the future may be assisted by demons. Only God knows the future perfectly, and demons should not be trusted.
Acts 16:19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.
Paul and Silas were stripped of their clothes, and beaten with rods, with no opportunity to give a defense.
Acts 16:23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.
The jailer put Paul and Silas in the inner cell, and fastened their feet in the stocks. This would make it hard for them to move, and would increase their pain substantially. We might expect Paul and Silas to despair, but surprisingly, they sang hymns to God (Acts 16:25).
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12), said Jesus. Christianity offers so much hope that we can rejoice even in the worst of times.
Acts 16:26 Suddenly 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 punishment for losing prisoners was death, so when the jailer saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword to kill himself. Don’t harm yourself! We are all here! (Acts 16:28), said Paul. Trembling, he fell before Paul and Silas saying, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:30).
We don’t know why he asked this question, but perhaps he heard the woman shouting, These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved. Or he may have heard Paul and Silas singing about sin and salvation. Or he may have simply known that he was not right with God. Regardless, he asked the right question: what must I do to be saved?
Acts 16:31 Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.
What a wonderful answer he received! He did not have to go to church, read the Bible, or pass an exam. The only requirement was to believe in Jesus Christ. The gospel has deep implications for how we live, but we are eternally saved the moment we first believe. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13), wrote John.
Acts 16:34 The 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.
The jailer was ready to kill himself, but then he was filled with joy. He had received the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, eternal life, adoption into God’s family (Romans 8:15), and a wonderful inheritance (Romans 8:17). This is enough to make us happy for the rest of our lives. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Philippians 4:4), wrote Paul.
Reflection and Review
Why must God open our hearts to believe the gospel?
Why did Paul and Silas sing in prison?
Why was the jailer filled with joy?