A Living Mystery
Preaching is a special kind of gift that some people have in abundance, while others feel frightened and uncomfortable about it. Nevertheless, Christians have been called to preach, to share, to demonstrate and explain their faith to others. For those who find the idea of preaching or public speaking daunting or intimidating, could there possibly be other ways to clearly and effectively make the gospel known?
Today I want to share a story with you where someone used singing to share the gospel - even though they were not necessarily a trained or professional singer.
In Acts 16:16-40 we find an arresting portrait of Christian witness that seems almost impossible to emulate. After Paul and Silas exorcise a fortune-telling slave girl’s demon, her furious owners have them arrested, severely flogged, and thrown in prison. As they sit in the dark, filthy prison surrounded by the smell of excrement and unwashed skin, legs and arms quickly becoming stiff clamped in shackles, their backs shredded and sticky with blood, they begin to do something the other prisoners have never seen before: they begin to sing. At midnight, Luke tells us, they were “praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25 NIV), when a massive earthquake shakes the prison, breaks open the doors, and looses all of the prisoners’ chains. The sleeping jailer wakes up, sees the damage, and is ready to commit suicide rather than be tortured and executed for letting the prisoners escape when Paul stops him: not one of the prisoners has escaped.
Overcome by relief, astonishment, and awe at the power of Paul and Silas’s god, who has destroyed the Roman prison in seconds, the jailer falls to his knees and asks what he must do to be saved. Paul and Silas preach the gospel to them, he takes them back to their home and tends to their wounds, and “then immediately he and all his household were baptized” (16:33 NIV).
The sequence of events here is crucial: Paul and Silas face trials, they maintain their integrity and joy as they praise God, and in response to their actions the jailer asks how he can have the salvation that has clearly transformed their lives. The reality of the gospel has filled them with an incredible, celebratory joy that causes them to truly “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV).
This is their witness – both their vocal praise for God, and their quiet integrity after the earthquake as they don’t try to escape. As Cardinal Emmanuel Subard writes, “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”1
Related texts or passages to consider: 1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 5:16; Psalms 40:9-10; Isaiah 55:12
Quote to Consider:
“Maybe I was praying for him then, in my own way. Does God have a set way of prayer, a way that He expects each of us to follow? I doubt it. I believe some people – lots of people – pray through the witness of their lives, through the work they do, the friendship they have, the love they offer people and receive from people. Since when are words the only acceptable form of prayer?” –Dorothy Day
Read Acts 16:16-21. Why does Paul become irritated with what the girl is saying? Why would her words be unhelpful to his cause?
Why do you think it was significant that Paul and Silas were singing while imprisoned? What about this made the other prisoners pay attention?
Does Christian witness necessitate an outward expression of belief or faith? How can one be a Christian witness in a position or situation where outright religious statements are not allowed or encouraged (such as the classroom or government office)?
How can we be mindful of our Christian witness without letting how others perceive us define our faith or self-image?
Is it really possible to pray without ceasing and always give thanks?
In Acts 16:27-28, Paul and Silas are set free from prison by an angel. However, they do not take the opportunity to escape. Why do you think they stayed there? How did they know that this was what they were supposed to do? Is there any connection between their actions and the teachings of Jesus?
Related to the last question, in Acts 16:35-40, Paul resists being set free from jail since he feels that his rights as a Roman citizen have been violated by the government. He essentially refuses to go free before the magistrate (local authority figure) apologizes. What does this say about