Submission and the worship of God in the midst of Adversity
Read: Acts 16:22-40
“Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God”
It is one thing to worship and sings songs of praise in the sanctuary of an ornate church, it is quite another to worship in the dark, putrid confines of a rat-infested jail after being severely beaten. The events that unfold in Acts 16 are both surprising in the results and perplexing in the circumstances. In verse 22 we find that a large crowd, stirred by false accusations of angry slave owners, rose up against Paul and Silas demanding the authorities to arrest and punish Paul and Silas. As a result, the authorities ordered Paul and Silas to be severely beaten and cast into prison. However, Paul was a Roman citizen it was against Roman law for him to be beaten without a trial (a point he would make the next day). For the authorities to unjustly beat Paul was a violation of Roman law and risked the wrath of Rome.
While most of us, myself included, would have been complaining both to the jailers and to God about our mistreatment, Paul and Silas responded differently. Instead of the circumstances being an occasion for self-pity, they turned it into an occasion for a worship service. While they were singing the praises of God, there was a sudden earthquake and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened. In the throes of their imprisonment, God had supernaturally brought deliverance. But this was not new to the disciples. Peter had faced a similar experience and also was supernaturally set free, an event that Paul would no doubt have been familiar with. But rather than flee their imprisonment, Paul and Silas remained. So astounding was their response that the jailer, who recognized the events as supernaturally caused, immediately lead his family in the repentance of sin and the acceptance of the salvation offered.
This is what brings up several perplexing questions. Why did Paul remain silent about his citizenship until after he was beaten? What enabled them to sing songs of praise and to worship God in the worst circumstances imaginable? Why did Paul and Silas remain in the jail when God appears to have supernaturally offered a means of escape? While the answer is not specifically stated, the passage clearly points us to it. From the outset, Paul and Silas completely trusted and submitted to the will of God, recognizing that there was more afoot than just an angry mob. For them, God was the orchestrator of circumstances and because they trusted in God’s control and were submitting to his leadership, they were willing to wait and see what God was doing. Because we have the insight of hindsight, we know the purpose of these events. God had ordained a supernatural event to bring salvation to a forgotten jailer and his family. Rather than focus upon their circumstances, they trusted that God was working to achieve his purpose, and if that purpose involved beating and imprisonment, they were willing to endure it.
Worship is not just revealed in our obedience to God’s commands, it is also expressed in our willingness to submit to God’s guidance and control of life’s circumstances, both good and ill. To worship God by submitting to him is to recognize that there is nothing arbitrary with God’s governance of our life. God has an eternal purpose. We can trust him in the midst of difficult circumstances to achieve his purpose even when we do not fully comprehend what it is. Because of this, we can sing the praises of God even in the pit of a jail. It is easy, in the midst of long-lasting struggles, to lose sight of God’s overarching purpose governing our life. This is why worship is so important. It reminds us that God is in control. When you start to feel the pressure of the day, remember God has a plan.