Last month, Pastor Higa did a sermon series on the early church, as described in the book of Acts. One of his messages was on the passage describing that time when Paul and Silas were thrown in jail.
[T]hey grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”
A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.
Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”
The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized.
(Acts 16:19-33, NLT)
As I finished reading this passage, God said to me, “If Paul and Silas were like today’s Canadian and American Christians, how would this story have been different?”
I let my imagination ramble.
We North Americans love our civil liberties and our human rights. If Paul and Silas had been like Canadians, they would likely have declared their citizenship the first time they were brought before the magistrate.
“You can't do this!” Paul might have said. “I'm a Roman citizen. I have rights!”
And the magistrates would probably have let them go, or at least detained them in a cushy, private lodging rather than a common prison.
If Paul and Silas had clung to their human rights, the other prisoners would never have heard about Jesus. The jailer and his family would not have had the opportunity to become Christians.
This hints at an important reality that we Westerners often miss. It’s not only bad things—like sin—that can stand in the way of the Gospel. Good things can be impediments too.
We love our human rights—and we should. Many soldiers have died to win and protect them. Without them, oppression and injustice run rampant.
But we should love the spread of the good news of Jesus more—the Son of God also died, to give us something even better than human rights. He died to give us the right to be called children of God. We are heirs to the kingdom of God. That outshines human rights any day.
So the question becomes: what good things am I holding onto too tightly today? What good things am I allowing to stop the spread of the good news of Jesus?
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…” (Philippians 2:5-7a, NASB)
“A servant is not greater than his master.” (John 15:20a, NIV)