One Living Hope

The Life-Changing Power of the Gospel of Grace – Part 2 – Acts 16:19-40



A long time ago, when I was in undergrad at Wheaton College, I had the chance to go to the South Side of Chicago to do some street witnessing. We walked the streets in pairs and tried to strike up conversations and/or pray with people. I am not much of a strike-up-a-random-conversation-kinda-guy, but I like to show others that I am.


We actually got to talk to lots of people. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. But I remember one guy walking toward us. He was African-American, about 6’2” with multiple chains, goatee and baggy pants. One of the struggles with street witnessing is that you size people up and assume who is more likely to want to hear about Christ. So my first thought was, to be honest, “This guy looks angry and does not want to be bothered.” So my partner and I pretended not to look at him and waited for him to pass.


Amazingly, he stopped and started talking to us. I was taken aback and not ready at all. But this guy started sharing his life story. He has multiple kids and does not know how he’s going to provide for them all. He’s a drug dealer and started waving his bag of weed around. I don’t think he was trying to sell it to us, but he was so broken and caught in his addiction and didn’t know where to turn to. He saw us talking to people and he felt like something was telling him to talk to us. We got to pray with him, share the Gospel with him and point him to the local church that we were working with.


Later I had to repent for judging him and sizing him up as if I can decide who is willing to hear the Gospel. The Lord later was like, “Don’t size people up. Size me up. The bigger I am to you, the smaller people are and the smaller their issues are.” Have you ever done that? Have you decided due to a person’s race, personality or background NOT to share your faith with them? The Gospel is for everyone. It is for every class, gender, race and background! The wonderful promise is, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that WHOSOEVER believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Whosoever! And the more we realize we are saved purely by grace, the more humble we get (there was nothing in me that caused God to save me thus nothing to keep God from saving others) and the more confidence we get (there is nothing that can separate me from His love) to share our faith.


Today we are going to backtrack in Acts and cover a passage that we weren’t able to cover last time we were together. I originally had planned to cover Acts 16:11-40, but then I realized I bit off a little too much to chew. So, today we will go back and look at Acts 16:19-40 at the “Transforming Power of the Gospel of Grace.” Let’s review:


First we saw God save:


I. Lydia: A Gospel for the Religious (vv.11-15)


We saw God save Lydia, the religious person in Philippi. She was an upper class woman who was well off, selling beautiful, expensive purple material to wealthy people. She was originally a Gentile, searching for truth in Judaism. As a morally upright woman, Paul meets her and through Bible Study (basically), she comes to faith and wants to turn her home into a ministry center. The Gospel was more beautiful for this expert in beauty than anything she’s ever seen or experienced. So remember that: Upper class, wealthy, spiritually open, religious woman. The Gospel reaches her.


Then we saw God save:


II. Slave Girl: The Gospel for the Irreligious (vv.16-18)


We saw a demon possessed slave girl, a completely irreligious person, though she can spout some theology with the rest of them. She is a kid, probably 10-12 years old. Her parents have rejected her and she is a slave to some businessmen who make money off of her because she can tell the future. The funny thing is it doesn’t seem like Paul was particularly targeting her, but because she was annoying to him and to get her stop shrieking, Paul casts the demon out and she gets saved. The Gospel saved Lydia, an upper class wealthy, religious woman and the Gospel saves this slave girl, a lower class, demonically hostile poor child. Jesus is beautiful enough for Lydia and powerful enough for the slave girl. The Gospel is for everyone. Maybe you might be thinking, well what about those who are not really religious and those who not really irreligious?


One more group of people God saves:


III. The Jailer: The Gospel for the In between (vv.19-40)


Before we meet the jailer, let’s look at how this whole thing unfolded. This slave girl was doubly exploited. She was exploited by this demon and she was exploited by her owners. Their business just went down the drain. Gaining Christ automatically means losing something else. Take note of these things the Gospel means for everybody:


a) The Gospel affects everything (v.19)


There is always a cost in following Christ and the Gospel touches your heart, it will also touch your wallet and everything else in your life. You get new lenses not to look at, but to look through. The Gospel always fills your heart and opens your hands. Notice the difference between a Lydia who says, “Here’s my house. Take it for the Lord” and these owners who are like, “How dare you take something from us!”  Believers are never owners of anything, just managers. And you are not just handing over everything you have, you are handing over everything you are. He did that for us and we cannot but help to do the same for Him.


The Gospel changes the way you see people, the way you drive, the way you watch tv, the way you talk, the way you parent, marriage, the way you handle discouragement, etc. Everything! Never be content with your grasp of the gospel. As CJ Mahaney says, “The gospel is life-permeating, world-altering, universe-changing truth. It has more facets than any diamond. Its depths man will never exhaust.”[1]


b) The Gospel puts suffering in perspective (vv.20-24)


But this cost was too much for these owners. Remember that Luke and Timothy are with them. Luke is Gentile and Timothy is half- Gentile, but Paul and Silas are Jews and the leaders. Apparently there in Philippi, you have the marketplace where you can bring criminals to be tried. These magistrates were those who tried civil cases and were generally responsible for maintaining law and order.[2]


Notice the crime: “These men are Jews.” There is anti-Semitism here as well as racial pride: “us Romans.” And they were propagating a religion not sanctioned by Rome. The crowds join in and influence the authorities who without even a trial, order Paul and Silas to be beaten with rods by the policemen. Five or six years later Paul says he was beaten three times with rods (2 Cor. 11:25). This is one of those times.


They are bloody with probably lots of cracked ribs and wrongfully thrown into prison. The inner cell was typically reserved for those who committed serious crimes and for those of low social status. The magistrates intended to demoralize and humiliate the two men.[3] Notice their legs are in the stocks. These stocks had more than two holes for the legs, which could thus be forced apart in such a way as to cause the utmost discomfort and cramping pain.[4] This was not just for security purposes, but for torture.


Wait, how did they get here? Some annoying demon-possessed girl was following them around and Paul being ticked off, cast the demon out. I would have easily thought, “This is what I get for trying to help someone. I didn’t even want to help this girl in the first place! Why was I so irritated? I should have walked away from her when I first saw her. Was it worth all of this!?” The question for Paul was not, “Was it worth it?” It was “Is He worthy?” If He is worthy of all of my allegiance and my affection and everything, then I know everything He allows for His own purposes.


The Gospel says Jesus Christ came and became subject to suffering and death himself—dying on the Cross to take the punishment our sins deserved—so that some day he can return to earth to end all suffering without ending us. So though we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, or why it is so random, but now at least we know what the reason isn’t—what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. As Keller says, “He is so committed to our ultimate happiness that he was willing to plunge into the greatest depths of suffering himself.”


In Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts, she shares her journey to understand the senseless death of her sister, crushed by a truck at the age of two. In the end, she concludes that the primary issue is whether we trust God’s character. Is He really loving? Is he really just? Her conclusion:


“[God] gave us Jesus… If God didn’t withhold from us His very own Son, will God withhold anything we need? If trust must be earned, hasn’t God unequivocally earned our trust with the bark on the raw wounds, the thorns pressed into the brow, your name on the cracked lips? How will he not also graciously give us all things He deems best and right? He’s already given the incomprehensible.”[5]


c) The Gospel must be shown, not just told (vv.25-31)


And in the middle of this, we meet our third person, the Philippian jailer.  What do we know about him? Well, most likely, he was ex-military, so a retired soldier. When you retired, your pension was to get this kind of civil service job. As a soldier, he would have been a very good jailer. He knew about weapons, defense and keeping people prisoner. He was a blue collar guy. He was also uncompassionate. He doesn’t bandage up their wounds, and it doesn’t seem like he had the orders to put them in stocks, but it was something he did unnecessarily, at least in our eyes.


How does this guy come to Christ? He doesn’t seem to be seeking initially like Lydia or demonically hostile like the slave girl and seems indifferent—“I’m just doin’ my job” (hence, the point: The Gospel for the In-between). Paul doesn’t talk to him either right away. For this guy, Paul and Silas shows him the Gospel.


What do they show him? They show him a couple of things: in the midst of suffering, he sees incredible peace and joy. Notice Paul and Silas singing and turning that prison into praise. Why aren’t they sleeping? Because they can’t, being stuck in stocks, so they sing and pray. When the Gospel fills your heart, you are not a slave to any circumstance, but freest person on the planet. How can you take anything away from someone who has given their life away? As one church father says, “The legs feel nothing in the stocks when the heart is in heaven.”[6]


Remember in that culture, when you were in pain, you let everyone know. People wailed, ripped apart their garments and grieved loudly. I noticed in the West, we generally are more reserved. But in East cultures, at least for Indian culture, I’ve noticed grief and sadness is not contained. I remember when our uncle passed away earlier this year. During his last couple of hours, there were like 50 people—friends and relatives— in the room (I think that was illegal but nobody could stop them) and almost everyone expressed grief and anger openly. So here are these men in incredible pain, but singing. The prisoners were “listening,” which is a word means almost fascinated and paying very close attention.


The jailer may have heard this and fell asleep to it. All of a sudden, there is an earthquake. All the doors fly open, the stocks are loosened from Paul and Silas. The jailer wakes up and decides to kill himself. Why? Because the penalty for losing prisoners was death and he wasn’t going to face that kind of shame in an honor/shame society.

Paul somehow sees this and stops him. He says, “No worries. We’re all here.” He can’t believe it. He calls for the lights and he sees that they were right. They should have walked out. They were treated unfairly. They could have also paid him back for being so cruel to him. Not only did they not leave, they keep all the prisoners there. The Gospel through Paul shows him something else here: kindness in the face of cruelty. He knew he was unnecessarily cruel to them and when they had their opportunity to get him and ruin his life, they did not take it.


He knew that they knew that they had saved his life. In spite of what was done to them, they treated the merciless with mercy; the unkind with kindness. They forgave him. I don’t know what was greater power to him: seeing God in the earthquake or seeing God give these persecuted suffering believers power to forgive him. So he falls down and says, “What must I DO to be saved?” He’s a man of action. If he’s going to get God’s salvation, he’s got to earn it.


But Paul says, “What should you DO? Believe in what He has DONE for you.” The Gospel is for everyone whether you are weak or strong or poor or rich or what you did or didn’t do. Just believe. Paul is not saying the jailers salvation automatically passes on to his household. He is saying, “Anyone can be saved, you and your whole family too if they believe.” Look at v. 32. They preached the gospel to the all who were in his family and they believed. Listen, God is placing us in situations where we will be mistreated, hurt, misunderstood and maybe even rejected by people. That is a wonderful opportunity to show the Gospel that you have been believing. Don’t pay evil with evil. For me, I have a tendency to be passive aggressive when I feel disrespected. I tend to do that with older Indian family members where being full of pride and ego, I hold grudges and become passive aggressive. But the Gospel tells me that when someone has wronged you, though they “owe you,” forgiveness steps in and says, “I will suffer and absorb the cost of the debt yourself and not make you pay for it.” Where is that idea from? The Gospel. Vengeance was his, but instead of making us pay for the debt we could not pay, He hurled the cost of sin onto Jesus, so now we can absorb the cost of people hurting us. Show the Gospel in action to everyone, especially to the people who are indifferent. Lastly:


d) The Gospel always bears fruit (vv.32-34)


We are saved apart from our good or bad works, but being saved always results in good works. Look at the jailer. First fruit marker is compassion. He washes their wounds. This big tough ex-soldier becomes compassionate. Not perfectly, but you see a love for people. Secondly, evangelism.  He has to tell his family. Christianity is a personal religion, but never private. They are baptized, public and outward profession of an inward change. You find a desire to share your faith. Lastly, new joy. What is joy? A supernatural delight in the person of God.


e) The Gospel unifies (vv.35-40)


Jewish men would pray like this every day, “Lord, thank you that you didn’t make me a woman, slave or a Gentile.” I have the better gender, the better social class and the better race. And God has the audacity to build His church on those exact classes of people. Do you see what God has done here? Look down at v.40. All three representatives of these three despised categories are redeemed and united in Christ.[7] I can picture Lydia there, a woman, the slave girl and the jailer all there at Lydia’s house for fellowship worshipping together. They are all there like family. This is the beginning of the Philippian church. How can you explain that? The Gospel.


They are different as different can be. A woman, a child and a man. Lydia—upper class wealthy woman. Slave girl—owned nothing…not even herself and lower class. The jailor—ex-military middle class. Lydia—religious and open. Slave girl—demonically hostile. Jailor—indifferent. Lydia—an immigrant from Asia Minor. Slave girl—most likely Greek. The jailor—most likely a Roman. The Gospel is for everyone. There is nothing more powerfully unifying than the Gospel. I pray that for Living Hope that people will come and see people with all kinds of different backgrounds, stories, races, denominational backgrounds, personality differences, etc. and ask the question, “Why would all these people be together?” And may the first answer be, “The Gospel.”




I skipped verses 35-39 here. Paul stays in prison and wants the authorities who had him and Silas beaten to come and take them out. Why? The Romans had a law that a Roman citizen could not be given sentence without a fair trial and that was what happened. Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. If the authorities could lose their job for what they allowed. Why does Paul bring this up here and not earlier so he wouldn’t get beaten? We are not exactly sure. Maybe he didn’t get a chance to during the chaos and mob riot. Most scholars think it might be because Paul knew the Philippian Christians were in a vulnerable position. They too could face prejudice, misunderstanding and persecution. Not all of these people would be protected from punishment by Roman citizenship.[8] If Paul took out his “get out of jail free card,” the non-Roman believers might think, “I’m not going to share my faith and build this church. I might get killed.” Paul says, “Our allegiance is first to Christ. The Gospel is worth suffering for.”


Secondly, at the end here, here’s trying to rattle the authorities and protect the church. Don’t be so quick to hurt Christians, authorities. The authorities were scared of losing their jobs if Paul appealed, so they apologized. Paul brilliantly showed allegiance to Christ while at the same time, created space for the church to be established and grow by pushing back at the persecutors.


In sum, Paul willingly lost his freedom for the sake of his people. Paul sings while in chains. Why? Because he was free though in chains. No chains, no amount of suffering can take His joy away. Why? Paul has built his life around the Gospel. His self-worth, His identity, the major foundation of his life is what Christ has done. If for us it’s career, relationships, our reputation, our family, money, etc. When suffering comes, we will be devastated. But if it is in the Gospel, when suffering hits, we see that the worst chains, the worst persecution can never take away what we have in the Gospel. So Paul says, “You can’t take anything away from a guy who has given his life away.”  Paul gave up his freedom and the jailor found true freedom. Where did he get that from? He was walking in the footsteps of His Savior.  The Gospel says Jesus was confined, so we would be liberated. He wasn’t just persecuted, He was executed, so we could be free. Listen to Thomas Watson, an old puritan:


What a privilege to have God as our God!

What a happy condition when nothing can hurt you!

If one loses his name, it is written in the book of life.

If he loses his liberty, his conscience is free.

If he loses his estate, he owns the pearl of great price.

If he meets a storm, he has a harbour;

God is his God, and heaven is his heaven.


If God is our God, our soul is safe.

It is hidden in the promises,

in the wounds of Christ,

and in the decrees of God.

If God is our God,

then all that is in God is ours.

God is an infinite ocean of blessedness, and there

is enough in him to fill us.[9]


May His voice be louder and clearer, His face dearer, His words sweeter, His presence truer and nearer and His light brighter and His love move deeper than everything else you might be facing today. Jesus was beautiful enough for the Lydias, powerful enough for slave girls, and practical enough for jailors and He’s sufficient for what you need too.

[2]Polhill, J. B. (1995). Acts (Vol. 26, p. 352). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3]Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: John,

     Acts. (Vol. 2, p. 376). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4]Bruce, F. F. (1988). The Book of the Acts (p. 315). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B.

Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[6]Bruce, F. F. (317).

[7]Stott, J. R. W. (1994). The Message of Acts: the Spirit, the church & the world (p. 269).

Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[8]Arnold, C. E. (2002). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: John, Acts. (Vol.

2, p. 376). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.


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