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The Scriptorium

The Gospel and Public Policy

Trust the Spirit. Go where He leads. Acts 16.31-40

The Gospel to Europe (6)

Pray Psalm 146.1, 2, 10.

Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!
While I live I will praise the LORD;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being…
The LORD shall reign forever—
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!

Sing Psalm 146.1, 2, 10.
(Hallelujah! What a Savior!: Man of Sorrows)
Praise the Lord, my soul, give praise! While I live, His Name I’ll raise!
And exalt Him all my days – God forever reigns in Zion!

Read Acts 16.1-40; meditate on verses 31-40.


1. What happened to the Philippian jailer?

2. What happened to Paul and Silas?

The jailer probably lived at the jail, perhaps in an adjoining apartment – one of the perks of the job. He had a family, and Paul’s response to his desperate question indicated that the grace of God would reach through the faith of the jailer to embrace all those within his household (v. 31). We can almost feel the rejoicing all around. Paul’s and Silas’ hymn/prayer had been answered right in front of their eyes, and a family of lost souls found a new and eternal reason to live and love (vv. 32-34). The coming of the Kingdom is the coming of joy (Rom. 14.17, 18).

Paul and Silas spent the rest of the night in jail. Why did they choose to continue to submit to injustice? Probably for the sake of the jailer and his family. They continued to suffer indignity so that their brethren would not suffer death.

The city had quieted down by morning, so the magistrates sent the cops over to tell the jailer to let Paul and Silas go (v. 35). Now the fun begins. It was public policy in Roman cities to act pragmatically at times rather than always follow the letter of the law. Roman magistrates had a good bit of power to ignore law when order was at stake. That was public policy.

Paul rejected Roman pragmatism. He would stand by the written public policy of Roman government, namely, that you don’t beat and jail Roman citizens without first trying, hearing, and formally condemning them. No. He would not go. Let them come and make nice to him (vv. 37, 38). Let them be humbled by their own breach of Roman policy and their own terror of the law they so freely abused, just to maintain order in their town.

Can you see these magistrates, hats in hands, heads bowed, pleading and asking the apostles to move on (vv. 38, 39)? Does the Gospel have power? It certainly emboldened Paul to enter the public policy arena, challenge local practice, and insist on justice. And it humbled those who in their hearts knew he was right and they were wrong. Paul and Silas did not immediately leave the city (v. 40). First, they had to attend to the needs of the brethren. Do you suppose the strength they had shown made an impact on the Philippian believers? Paul and Silas would leave Philippi, but on the timetable of their Kingdom agenda.

Treasures Old and New: Matthew 13.52; Psalm 119.162
We have so much to learn about how to behave. We think there should be “pat answers” to everything we do or say. But there are not. We need the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth (Jn. 16.13).

We might have thought that the “Christian” thing for Paul and Silas to do would have been to skulk away; ever so grateful that their lives had been spared. But as a matter of public policy, and a teachable moment for the Church, he demanded that the Roman law be followed and that due respect and repentance be paid to him, a Roman citizen.

Life, and our behavior in it as Christians, depend on the wisdom of God to help us live correctly. Each situation we find ourselves in bears thinking about and searching out godly wisdom, to manage our way through it.

First and foremost, though, is we must never do anything contrary to God’s Law. But as we see in this situation with Paul and Silas, they could have chosen a multitude of ways to respond; and by the Holy Spirit’s leading, they chose this one.

I had a Bible study teacher who used to say that she loved being a steering wheel in the hands of the Holy Spirit; going however, whenever, and wherever the Lord led her. She would seek His face in each situation, looking for His wisdom and guidance; first, of course, for her own life, and then to help others. It was a learning experience to watch how the Lord, Whom she loved most of all, would lead and guide her. I learned that this way of life is possible. And that is exactly what Paul and Silas were teaching those that were watching them.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9.10).

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach,
and it will be given to him” (Jms. 1.5).

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (Jms. 3.17).

Christians are called to behave righteously. How that plays out in each situation might vary. But righteousness and keeping the Law are paramount.

“In the way of righteousness is life…” (Prov. 12.28).
“He who follows righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness, and honor” (Prov.21.21).
“…those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5.17).
“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 Jn. 2.29)

With God’s wisdom, and a heart set on following His Law (Ps. 119.112), we will have a much better idea of how to respond in each and every situation that comes our way for the Gospel, and public policy.

For reflection

1. What does it mean to “be filled” with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5.18-21)? How can you be filled like this?

2. What does it mean to “walk” in the Spirit (Gal. 5.16 ff.)? How can you walk more consistently in the Spirit?

3. What is the role of Scripture in helping us to discern the Spirit’s leading in any situation?

Paul, though willing to suffer for the cause of Christ, and without any desire to avenge himself, did not choose to depart under the charge of having deserved wrongful punishment, and therefore required to be dismissed in an honorable manner. It was not a mere point of honor that the apostle stood upon, but justice, and not to himself so much as to his cause. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), Commentary on Acts 16.35-40

Pray Psalm 146.3-10.

Call on the Lord to help you today in everything you do. Hope in Him and rejoice in His strength. Let the creation around you bear witness to His power. Be alert to every opportunity to serve someone in need.

Sing Psalm 146.3-10.
(Hallelujah! What a Savior!: Man of Sorrows)
Trust we not in prince or man – no salvation’s in their hand.
Death shall take them, breath and plans – God forever reigns in Zion!

Blessed are they whose hope resides in the Lord, Christ at His side.
By Him heav’n and earth abide –God forever reigns in Zion!

He is faithful evermore; He gives justice to the poor,
feeds the hungry from His store – God forever reigns in Zion!

Jesus sets the pris’ner free, heals blind eyes that they may see,
lifts those burdened painfully – God forever reigns in Zion!

He the righteous loves the best; wand’rers in His grace are blessed;
needy ones in Him find rest – God forever reigns in Zion!

But the wicked who defame His eternal blessèd Name,
them He brings to ruin and shame – God forever reigns in Zion!

T. M. and Susie Moore

You can listen to a summary of last week’s Scriptorium study by going to our website,, and clicking theScriptorium tab for last Sunday. You can download any or all the studies in this series on Acts by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. For sources of all quotations, see the weekly PDF of this study. All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (Williston: Waxed Tablet Publications, 2006), available by clicking here.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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