April 2, 2009

Paul in Philippi - part 2

What does successful Christian ministry look like? What does successful Christian living look like? More specifically, what is the typical American evangelical viewpoint of these? I will venture a guess that, for many, it runs along the lines of a megachurch combined with a relatively trouble-free life that is not punctuated by serious setbacks or suffering until the typical illnesses that befall the elderly. Since there are large numbers of evangelicals who can't attend a megachurch, their success goal is tempered downward in terms of the size of the building, the numbers in attendance, and the peripheral ministries surrounding the core ministry of the church. The spiritually-minded evangelical would throw in the occasional convert and witnessing opportunities. The "more reasonable" secular-minded evangelical would instead focus on the happiness-level of their day-to-day life.

Paul and Silas have suffered nagging harassment from a slave girl possessed by a spirit, attacks of the crowd in Philippi, false charges, being stripped and beaten repeatedly with rods, and are now sitting within the inner prison, their feet held in stocks. How would our modern-day evangelical self-evaluate at this point? (Inner dialogue: I thought God had called me to Philippi. I must have been mistaken. In fact, where is He? How could He let me get stuck in a situation as bad as this? Maybe He doesn't love me anymore. I'm such a complete failure in ministry. After all, what kind of Christian ends up in circumstances like these? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) Paul's situation is so totally foreign to the success-based, happiness-based mindset of so many evangelicals, I fear we would fail and fall in droves were we placed in similar circumstances.

Grab your Bible and read Acts 16:1-24 now before continuing in this post. You can find it online at
Bible gateway if you don't have your hardcopy handy.


Back now? Ok. What would you do? How would the account read if it was your back and your feet, your skin on the line? I'm serious. I can't answer for you.

What do Paul and Silas do?

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25, ESV)

Talk about getting hit in the head with a 2x4. I don't know about you, but I stand convicted. They were singing hymns of praise to God! In the midst of the battle, Paul and Silas didn't lose heart and they didn't merely whisper blessings to each other. They prayed and sang the praises of their God with great courage and gusto. The other prisoners were listening to them. God is their shield and portion, in the midst of this present trouble. And let's be clear about it. This is trouble. It hurts. The beatings, stocks, the filth of the prison, the immediate unknown future which could pour even more brutality over them. Where do they turn? To sing the praises of their Savior.

I must confess that I have never, in my life as a U.S. citizen, feared anything remotely resembling the kind of physical suffering that Paul and Silas endured. Have you? I thank God for the U.S.A. and the freedom from religious persecution we have been blessed with. After seeing what Paul and Silas are put through, I am amazed. The hammer of the state falls heavily on heaven's clay jars but does not shatter them. Instead, they ring with praise as the blows fall.

We will see the glory of the Lord shine even more brightly in part 3.

to be continued...
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