Persecution and hardship are real. Paul faced them in his life as follower of Christ and many others have throughout out the history of the church. As I write, there are many men, women, and children around the globe being persecuted for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and for their faith in him. It was not just a reality for the early Christians; it is a reality today.
Imprisoned Without Condemnation
Paul and Silas were dragged into the “marketplace before the rulers” (16:19) in Philippi. There they were accused of “advocat[ing] customs that are not lawful for…Romans to accept or practice” (16:21), judged, sentenced, beaten, and imprisoned.
Why did they receive such a harsh sentence? It was because they had previously met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination that was not from God. And, they cast the demon out; even though, she proclaimed the truth about Paul and Silas, for they were “servants of the Most High God, who proclaim[ed] to [the people] the way of salvation” (16:17). She followed them for many days continually proclaiming this truth.
It may at first appear that this girl was doing a good thing for Paul and Silas. She was a young girl of Macedonia who not only knew their identity and purpose, but was willing to join them in their endeavor. But, was that what was really happening? No. She was a “fortune-teller” who was illumined by a demonic spirit, not the Holy Spirit. As such, she was a distraction for the message and work of Paul and Silas. Instead of lending credence to their ministry she brought ridicule. In addition, God had forbidden fortune-telling to his people in the Old Testament. Thus, allowing her to walk around with them and to be a part of the ministry was sinful.
So, Paul commanded the spirit to come out of her in the name of jesus Christ. It did. This made her owners unhappy. They had lost their cash cow, so to speak. They made money off of her “ability,” and now her ability was gone. She could no longer tell fortunes. There was only one thing to do — create a riot and have Paul and Silas arrested, jailed, and exiled from the city.
Rejoicing in Hardship Brings People to Jesus
While in prison, Paul and Silas join together in singing hymns to God as the other prisoners listened in. Suddenly, the Lord brought an earthquake that caused all the doors of the prison cells to be opened and the prisoners shackles loosed. But, all the prisoners remained inside their cells by the grace of God and at the urging of Paul and Silas. The jailer rushed in and found the surprise of his life — all the prisoners still there. He knew something great had happened, and he knew that Paul and Silas were at the center of it.
At once he asked them, “What must I do to be saved?” Their answer was, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (16:30-31). He responded in faith, was baptized along with his household, and became a servant of the Most High God.
Paul and Silas were unjustly condemned and sentenced to prison. They were unfairly treated. They were given undue hardship by the hand of the Macedonians. But in God’s sovereign providence, they were placed in the midst of hardship for his glory, their benefit (though its hard to see at the moment), and the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his family. This a beautiful thing.
The way we endure hardships, the way we walk faithfully in the midst of strife, the way we rejoice when our circumstances are anything but pleasant is often the greatest testimony to the glory of God in Christ that our lives can bear. And, it is staggering to see the number of conversions to faith in Christ that God has wrought in people’s lives through the testimony of believers who rejoice and continue to praise God in the midst of hardship and persecution.
Follow Suit and Pray for the Oppressed and Persecuted
You will face trouble. You will face hardship. You may be enduring in one way or other today. Are you rejoicing in it? Can others see that your faith is set in the sovereign and providential God of all glory? Does your endurance of hardship bear witness to your faith in Christ? Be like Paul and Silas: break out into a hymn sing. Let your faith in the supreme God carry your through. And, take a moment to pray for those who are oppressed, persecuted, and carrying huge burdens today.