Years ago a Christian friend and mentor shared this wise counsel: “Witness always, and when necessary use words.” In the book of Acts Paul and Silas unwittingly use this strategy to save a Philippian jailer during an outreach in Macedonia.
The drama unfolds as the evangelists deliver a girl from a spirit of divination in Acts 16:18. This provokes a near riot as angry merchants – seeing their fortune-telling business silenced – drag Paul and Silas to the authorities. The men are accused of troubling the city, beaten with rods and thrown into prison. But this does not discourage the men of God. With their feet fastened to stocks they begin praying and singing to the Lord at midnight. This is not an expression of public evangelism; they are simply ministering unto the heart of God. In other words, minding their own business. But look what happens in verse 25 – the prisoners are listening.
God responds next by shaking the prison with an earthquake. The doors swing open and everyone’s chains are loosed. Fearing a prisoner escape, the panicked jailer takes a sword and prepares to kill himself. But Paul calls to him in a loud voice, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” The jailer grabs a light, runs to the cell and falls down trembling before Paul and Silas. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he asks. The apostles share the gospel and the man and his household receive Yeshua (Jesus) as Lord and Savior. What causes the jailer to have such a dramatic change of heart? Could it be that he, too, was moved by the praying and singing of Paul and Silas in the darkness of the prison compound? How did these strangers find such joy and peace in their hour of suffering?
The passage is silent about the fate of the other prisoners, but the fact they didn’t flee suggests they also were impacted by Paul and Silas. Christians today would do well if they approached evangelism as these men did in Macedonia – witness always, and when necessary use words. You never know who might be watching or listening.