Life Sketches Series – Joy from Suffering

The entrance of the gospel for the first time into Europe occurred when the apostles Paul and Silas entered into a ship at Troas to go to Philippi. This was accompanied by great suffering. It was in regard of his own experience that the apostle Paul wrote about the purpose of suffering.

“It happened, as we (Paul and Silas) went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, ‘These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.’ And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities” (Acts 16:16–19).

The girl’s masters had been using her to earn money and feared that if people accepted the preaching of the apostles their source of income would cease; so they made many false charges against them: “They brought them to the magistrates, and said, ‘These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.’ Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks” (verses 20–24).

One of the most dangerous situations that any human being can get into is to be the victim of mob action. For Paul and Silas there had been no trial, no justice, no opportunity to have council or to defend themselves in a court. Their clothes were stripped off them, they were beaten until bruised and bloody before being taken into prison where their feet were put in the stocks. There they were chained to prevent them from escaping.

By night, with their feet in stocks unable to move and in great pain and with no refreshment, the Bible says, “At midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here’  ” (verses 25–28). Through the influence of the apostle Paul, when all the chains were loosed and the doors were opened, the prisoners did not flee. “Then he (the jailer) called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And He brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved’ ” (verses 29, 30)?

This jailor had been impressed by the conduct of his new prisoners. They acted differently from any prisoners he had ever held before. He realized that God had delivered them from prison, but they had not run away having regard for the jailer’s life. He realized that he owed his life to Paul and Silas and a desire rose in his heart to know their God. He had heard something about what they were teaching, about the gospel, and now he wanted to know about the God that they served. Who was this God they prayed and sang to? He wanted to know what he must do to be saved. The most important question that any human being can ask is that same question, “What must I do to be saved?”

Immediately the answer came. “So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household’ ” (verse 31). It was not complicated, just believe!

The Greek word translated believe means much more than just a mental assent of believing that something is true in your mind. It means to believe something enough that you make a commitment to that belief. John 2:24 says, “Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.”

That word commit is the same word that is translated believe, or to have faith. To believe means to make a commitment. To whom was the jailer to commit? He was to make a commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Such a phrase was very significant, for people in those days knew exactly what a lord was. Today, we who live in free countries are ignorant of the position of a lord because we are all free. But in the Roman Empire where approximately 2/3 of the people were slaves and only about 1/3 were free, they knew exactly what a lord was. A lord was somebody who had total authority or sovereignty over your life. If you want to be saved you must believe in Jesus as your Lord. “Believe in the Lord.” If He is the Lord of your life you will follow Him and you will do what He says.

Believe on the Lord Jesus, the most wonderful name in the English language that comes from the Hebrew word which means Saviour, Deliverer. Believe on Him as your Saviour, as the Lord of your life and if you do, you will be saved. It is not complicated. Anyone, at any time of their life, can choose to make that decision. But friends, it is not by just giving a mental assent that the gospel is true, or that Christianity is true, not at all. It is by making a commitment to follow Jesus in holy living. Sadly, that is what keeps people from following Christ.

John says, “He who says he abides in Him must walk as He walked” (1 John 2:6, literal translation). The Philippian jailor accepted the call. He believed in Him as his Lord and Saviour from sin. He had seen evidence of what the gospel could do in the lives of Paul and Silas. He wanted the same thing, he wanted the same Lord and Master. Acts chapter 16:32–34 says, “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.”

God brought beauty out of ashes; a wonderful thing happened because of the way Paul and Silas reacted to their suffering. One of the reasons that God allows suffering among His children is so that other people can see what the religion of Christ does in a person’s life. It changes the way they react, even to bad situations. The apostle Paul and Silas sang songs in the prison after they had been beaten and tortured, with their feet in the stocks, chained and in agony. As a result of their reaction to their suffering, others saw that they were different from the other criminals in the prison. Though they were looked upon as criminals, they did not manifest criminal behavior. Their demeanor as they sang and prayed had such an effect on the jailor that his whole household became Christians.

God may allow His children to suffer, that through their suffering others may find salvation, creating friendships that will last throughout eternity.

With all that had happened overnight, the magistrates had second thoughts about the night’s events. They had found out what had happened to the girl who had been possessed of an evil spirit and been freed, and wondered if they had done the right thing. They decided that they should let Paul and Silas go free. The Bible says, “The magistrates sent the officers, saying, ‘Let those men go.’ So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, ‘The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.’ But Paul said to them, ‘They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly’ ” (verses 35–37)?

Paul and Silas did not want to be looked at as criminals by slinking away. While they insisted on their innocence and that they had been treated illegally, being Roman citizens, the magistrates were afraid they would be relieved of their jobs if an appeal were made to the Roman emperor.

“ … the magistrates … were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city” (verses 38, 39). Before they left the city, the Bible says, “They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed” (verse 40).

After they left the city the whole story spread throughout that region. As a result, a large number of people became Christians and the church in Philippi was organized. Later, when Paul was in prison again, he wrote to the church. You can read his letter to the Philippian church in the New Testament.

Paul understood that many would suffer persecution for Christ’s sake. He said, “To you it has been given on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in His name, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me” (Philippians 1:29, 30, literal translation).

There is a reason that we go through suffering in this world. Peter described it this way: “This is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:19–24).

Later, the apostle Peter, who was told by Jesus Himself, that at the end of his life he would be crucified (John 21), wrote to the Christians: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? … Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:12–17, 19).

Some people have wondered how they could endure the suffering that they find themselves in. The Bible is full of many wonderful and precious promises to those who suffer for righteousness’ sake. Here are two. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:12, 13).

Paul tells of the thorn in his flesh, referring to the bodily trouble he suffered that he wanted to be relieved of. He wrote, “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10).

These Bible promises are not just for the apostle Paul; they are promises for every person who is suffering.

(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at:, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.