In today’s passage, God acts in an amazing way on behalf of Paul and Silas as the door to their prison cell is miraculously opened and their chains fall away. This in turn leads to the salvation of the jailer and his household, and ultimately Paul and Silas being released (with an apology, even!)
There is so much rich content in this passage: Paul and Silas focus on God (singing hymns!) rather than their unfortunate circumstances (beaten and thrown in jail). The power of prayer and praise. The essence of salvation defined. A household baptized (reflecting Luke’s concern to show that God’s kingdom is for everyone). The encouragement telling their story brings to others. All great stuff!
But here is what really catches my eye. Paul and Silas are free. They can walk right out of the prison, but they don’t. They know if they do, the jailer looses his life.
They refuse to exercise their freedom out of love and concern for another. They refuse to do what they could do, what seems to best serve their self interest, because of what that would cost another.
Personally, I think that concept is at the very heart of Christianity. It is at the very heart of the ministry of Jesus Christ. Christianity is a call to serve.
But it’s not a call to serve ourselves. It’s a call to humbly serve God through serving one another, and potentially at great cost to oneself. It is a call to lay down our rights and privileges for Love’s sake, not to claim those same rights and privileges to enhance our position, possessions, or pleasure in life.
And I think an awful lot of the church—and not just the Episcopal Church, either—has that very, very wrong. But even as I write that—with numerous examples running through my head—I know my focus is misplaced. What I need to concentrate on is not how the church is getting it wrong, but how I am getting it wrong.
What I need to concentrate on is my own willingness (or lack thereof) to sacrifice my rights to my time, my rights to do certain things, my rights to have certain things, and so on, so that I can serve others like Christ has served me. Like Paul and Silas served the jailer. That, I think, is one of the prime measures of my faithfulness to Jesus.
And you know what? For me, at least, it is always an area that could stand improvement.