Acts 16:16-34 tells the story of Paul’s second missionary journey. Paul planned to revisit all the places he had previously started churches at. God sent him a supernatural vision that told him to go to Macedonia instead. Paul obeyed the vision, changed his plans, and ended up in Philippi, which was a key city in Macedonia. There he met a business woman named Lydia, who became a Christian because of Paul’s ministry. Paul stayed in Lydia’s home and shared Christ with anyone in town who would listen. A closer look at each verse reveals some powerful truths.
Verse 16 - Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit of prediction and made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling.
Paul and Silas were on their way to pray when they encountered a demon possessed slave girl. This slave girl could tell the future through the demon that possessed her. The owners of this slave girl made a lot of money from her fortune telling. When people play with the occult, they open themselves up to demonic attack. Though the occult may at first seem to give a person special power, in reality it makes a person a slave to demonic power. Demons do not care about the people they possess. They only care about power and control.
Verse 17 - As she followed us she cried out, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.”
This demon knew Paul was a man of God. It is fascinating that demons know the truth! Even though demons know the truth intellectually, they have refused to accept the impact of the truth. We must remember what the Apostle James said in James 2:19 - You believe that God is one; you do well. The demons also believe—and they shudder.
Verse 18 - And she did this for many days. But Paul was greatly aggravated, and turning to the spirit, said, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out right away.
The demon possessed slave girl followed Paul and his group around for days telling everyone who Paul was. The Bible says that Paul became aggravated about this and cast the demon out of the girl. The Greek word for “aggravated” is diaponetheis. The word can also mean “burdened.” Paul was not as much aggravated at the girl herself as he was burdened about her situation. She was after all demon possessed! When we minister to people whose lives are messed up by sin, we must be careful not to get aggravated at the person. Instead, we should be burdened for how the sins that bind them are slowly destroying their lives. We should be praying for God to deliver them from the chains that bind them. Paul decided to do something to help this young lady. Using the power of Christ, he commanded that the demon leave the girl. Notice he did not use his own power, but the power of Christ. The demon had to obey because Jesus Christ is on the throne and Satan is just a pretender. Satan only has power if we let him have it. Jesus’s power triumphed over Satan on the Cross! But we often let Satan convince us otherwise.
Verse 19 - When her owners saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.
The slave owners did not care if the girl was freed from the spiritual chains that bound her. All they cared about was money. When they realized they would not be able to exploit the girl any longer, they got very upset. What we get upset about reveals a lot!
Verses 20-21 - They said, "These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews, and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.”
The slave owners distorted the truth. They said Paul was disturbing the city when all he had done was help a desperate little girl. People should have been rejoicing at this good deed, instead they called good, evil, and attacked the good doers. Notice they used a racial slur, “They are Jews.” Racism has been used to justify many sins throughout the ages. Notice they appealed to their customs and their laws. Their customs and laws allowed little girls to be enslaved for the profit of others. Whenever our customs and laws create situations where one person can be wrongfully exploited by another, it is time to chance those customs and laws!
Verse 23 - After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to keep them securely guarded.
Paul and Silas were arrested, beaten up and thrown in jail. The jailer was specifically told to guard them “securely,” which meant to put them in the maximum security section of jail. The world’s reaction to the things of God sometime seems severe. But remember, Satan was fueling this response because he had lost a major battle in the spiritual war. Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of evil.
Verse 25 - About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
Paul and Silas had been unjustly beaten by a mob and then chained to the floor in the maximum security section of the jail. Their response to their situation was praying and singing praise to God! How do we respond when we are treated unjustly?
Notice that the other prisoners were listening! Other people notice how Christians respond to unjust difficulties. We must resist the urge to be complainers and instead learn to use the power of prayer and praise in challenging situations.
Verse 26 - Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's chains came loose.
Though we might be tempted to think that the earthquake was caused by the terrible singing of Paul and Silas, it was actually caused by the POWER of their prayers and praise! Never underestimate the power of prayer and praise! When God’s people start praying and praising, the foundations of Satan’s deepest cells are shaken. When God’s people start praying and praising, closed doors of every kind are opened! When God’s people start praying and praising, the chains of every sin that binds us come loose! We need to be praying and praising God more, especially when we are treated unjustly.
Verse 27 - When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped.
In those days, if a prisoner escaped, the jailer would be executed publicly. When the jailer saw the doors of the prison opened, he assumed all the prisoners had escaped and he decided to kill himself and get it over with.
Verse 28 - But Paul called out in a loud voice, "Don't harm yourself, because all of us are here!”
Paul saw that the jailer was about to kill himself and called out to stop him. Paul had been beaten by a mob, arrested unjustly, chained to the floor of cold stone cell and yet he still cared about the jailer, whom most would have considered his enemy. How we treat our enemies says a lot about the kind of people we are.
Verse 30 - Then he escorted them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Notice the change in the jailer’s behavior. He had chained them to the floor but now he was “escorting” them out of the jail. When God gets a hold of our lives, we often begin to change our behaviors without anyone having to tell us to do it. But an outward change of behavior is not enough. We must not just have a temporary change of outward behavior. We must experience an inward change of spiritual condition. We must be born again. The jailer asked the most important question that anyone can ask, “What must I do to be saved?” We are all sinners and because of our sin we all deserve to spend eternity in hell apart from God, family, friends and all that we hold dear.
Many people ask why a loving God sends people to hell. The answer is that God does NOT send people to hell. People send themselves to hell as a result of their own wrong choices. No one forces us to sin; we do that quite well all on our own.
Verse 31 - So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
Paul answers the jailer’s question by telling him to believe on the Lord Jesus. If we want to be saved from a dark eternity separated from God and all that we hold dear, then we must believe in Jesus. Believing in Jesus means believing that Jesus is who He said He was and trusting Him to guide us in our lives. Notice that Paul calls Jesus, “LORD Jesus.” A “lord” is a ruler that tells others what to do. But Jesus is not a cruel ruler who tells others to sacrifice while He sits in a castle living well. Jesus is the kind of ruler that gave Himself for those who follow Him. Jesus is the kind of ruler we WANT to follow. Believing in Jesus is more than just an intellectual acceptance of the historical Jesus. Believing in Jesus is allowing Jesus to become the Lord, or ruler, of our lives. If we want to be saved from a dark eternity in hell, we must believe Jesus is who He said He was AND we must allow Jesus to become the ruler of our lives. If we have not yet been saved, we should consider turning from our sin and placing our faith in Christ. We might express that through a prayer something like this:
Dear Lord, I know I am a sinner and I deserve to be separated for all of eternity from You and from all that I hold dear. But right now I turn from my sin and place all of my hope in You. I want You to be the Lord of my life and help me know how to live. With Your help, I will do my best to follow You and serve You for the rest of my life. Thank you Lord, Amen.
Verse 33 - He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized.
As soon as the jailer made this personal commitment to Christ, his life was changed. The jailer took Paul and Silas home and washed their wounds. What kind of jailer does this for his prisoners? The jailer and his entire family were baptized as an outward of expression of their new faith. Baptism is IMPORTANT! Far too many people have treated baptism as if it was just a sweet ritual that we should go through to make our grandmother happy. Baptism is a public declaration of our inner faith and a shout of praise goes up from the angels of heaven every time a person is baptized in the name of Jesus. If we have not yet been baptized, it’s time.
1. We are in a spiritual war against the forces of evil and should not be surprised when demonic forces oppose us and distort the truth.
2. There is power in prayer and praise that will overcome evil and give us strength to endure difficulties in life.
3. Outward behavioral change will only last if it comes from an inner spiritual transformation that begins with believing and following Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
4. Once we have had that inner transformation, we should be publicly baptized to proclaim that faith to the world.
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, a proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He writes extensively and you can find all of his books at: