16One day, as we were going to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling. 17While she followed Paul and us, she would cry out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” 18She kept doing this for many days. But Paul, very much annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. 19But when her owners saw that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. 20When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews 21and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” 22The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. 24Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27When the jailer woke up and saw the prison doors wide open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, since he supposed that the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted in a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31They answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33At the same hour of the night he took them and washed their wounds; then he and his entire family were baptized without delay. 34He brought them up into the house and set food before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God.
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said?
- Why is this happening/being said?
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it?
- What does it mean?
- What does it mean for us?
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
Reflection: Whereas we might read this passage and consider the miracle of Paul and Silas having their chains removed in prison to be the focus, there are actually two others being set free from their spiritual chains who deserve our attention. The slave girl and the jailer are both set free because of the work and witness of Paul and Silas. The slave girl was bound by the chains of her owners, their greed, and a possessing spirit. The jailer was bound by the chains of failure – failure to carry out his responsibility of keeping the prisoners, who were now supernaturally released of their chains, locked up securely. They were both bound by sin and were isolated from God. I am sure Paul and Silas knew the blessing of God’s power in removing them from physical harm. Paul had surely experienced such freedom in other instances during his missionary journeys. But notice that Paul and Silas do not resist helping the slave girl even when it causes trouble for them. Neither do they run away and exploit their freedom when their chains fall off in prison. That is because they knew that God’s blessing was not just for them, but for the ones who would witness God’s power and work in them and through them. How might we receive God’s power and freedom and how might we witness to this reality so that others might also know the freedom of God?
Prayer Focus: Name that with which you struggle. What chains have bound you in the past and what chains bind you now? Naming them in the presence of God is a powerful act. It is simultaneously a confession and an invitation to God to come and heal you, forgive you, and set you free. Naming your sins and struggles also serves to rob them of their authority over you. When we bring that which is in the darkness into the light, the light exposes the darkness for what it truly is and dispels it in the power of Jesus Christ. Receive the light of Christ and feel it fill you in its warmth and brilliance. Move about in God’s world unbound from the chains of iniquity, infirmity, and injustice. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven and free. Glory to God. Amen.
Meditation Focus: What does freedom mean? Does freedom allow us to do whatever we want or does freedom come with responsibilities? How so? Often we confuse license with freedom. Paul advised the Corinthians to carefully make the distinction between the two. Using a quote that they probably had used in correspondence with him to defend their acts of license, Paul writes the following: “’All things are lawful,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” (1 Corinthians 10:23). Ask God to search you and show you those ways in which you take license with God and with others. How do you mistake self-fulfillment, self-motivation, and self-initiative for the freedom of God? License actually leads to further slavery to sin and self (in other words, more chains). The freedom of God leads to clearer paths toward loving God and loving neighbor. Ask God to fill you not with excuses and self-justification for your actions, but with that which is beneficial, that which builds up, and that which is of God and leads to spiritual freedom.
Journaling Focus: When have you encountered injustice? How have your words or actions served to bring freedom to those suffering from injustice? How have they contributed to injustice? Ask God to give you eyes to discern true injustice. After a few days, take some quiet time to examine and ponder what God has shown you. Write your thoughts, recording what injustices you have witnessed, how they affected you and others, and how your words, attitudes, and actions have either contributed to that injustice or witnessed to freedom from that injustice. How does Christ feel about injustice – about poverty, broken relationships, greed, widespread lack of respect for life and dignity, and the exploitation of his children for the gain of others? How might God work through you to bring spiritual healing and wholeness to those suffering in such ways? How might God empower you to become an unlock-er of chains?
Breath Prayer: Father, free me (us) from my (our) chains.