Two Potential Options: Acts 16:35-40
“35) Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, “Release those men.” 36) And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37) But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out.” 38) The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans, 39) and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city. 40) They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.” Acts‬ ‭16‬:‭35‬-‭40‬ ‭
I confess, I always chuckle a bit when reading this part of the story. The magistrates sent their policemen to the jailer to release Paul and Silas assuming they would shamefully retreat from Philippi.
There was only one problem, they had publicly humiliated and beaten two Roman citizens without trial and thrown them into jail. Paul stressed this point and then demanded that the magistrates themselves come and bring them out.
When the magistrates learned they were Roman citizens, they were afraid. They were the ones who had broken the law and stood condemned. The public spectacle of them entreating Paul and Silas to depart the city spread like a wild fire. They were now begging them to depart peacefully.
Keep in mind, Philippi was a retirement community for Roman soldiers. Suddenly the stupidity of the magistrates was on open display. The whole city stood condemned. They were now deeply indebted to Paul and Silas.
One must ask, “Why the sudden change of heart by the magistrates?” Don’t forget the earthquake! This was most likely viewed as a judgement from God against the magistrates. The story of the jailhouse revival was also spreading quickly. The whole city was buzzing.
This is where the story takes an unexpected twist. Instead of seeking vengeance, Paul and Silas went into the house of Lydia, saw the brethren and encouraged them with some kind of message and then departed.
The reader is left hanging in suspense. We want beating for beating, blow for blow. Instead, they extended love, forgiveness and kindness. The way they departed the city in respect and dignity not only validated the gospel, it also set a banquet table up for the new church in the presence of the critics and adversaries.
Who do you suppose attended the farewell service preached by Paul and Silas? Well, Lydia and her household were present. The other women from the prayer meeting were also present. The jail keeper and his household were most likely present. Some of the cell mates of Paul and Silas may have also been present. The slave girl who had been set free from demonic oppression may have been present. The magistrates and their policemen were most likely listening from a distance as were the masters of the slave girl who instigated the riot. Actually, the eyes and ears of everyone in Philippi were tuned into this farewell message.
Why did their departure and final message carry so much weight? Well, Paul could have given two very different speeches. He had two options.
First, he could have appealed to Rome for vindication and justice. Second, he could have appealed to heaven for love, grace, forgiveness and peace. Guess which speech he gave?
Which speech do you give when you’ve been wronged? Do you appeal to civil justice or do you turn to heavenly grace and forgiveness?
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global