31 May 2011

Acts 16:22-34

"Then he brought them outside and said, 'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'" (v. 30)


It is claimed that Saint Francis of Assisi once said, "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary." It is a powerful and thought provoking statement, and in some ways it summarises the events in today's reading.

Paul and Silas are in prison, and yet their hope and their confidence in God remain strong. They join together in the singing of hymns despite the difficulties of their immediate situation - so challenging us to trust in God when our own lives are far from straightforward.

The earthquake, and the fact that Paul and Silas do not use that event as a means of escape, leads the jailer beyond his initial thoughts of suicide to a place where the question of eternal salvation is raised. By the time we come to the end of the passage the jailer and his family have heard more about the message of Jesus (v. 32), have become believers and been baptised (v. 33) and have offered Christian hospitality to Paul and Silas (v. 34).

It is a powerful record of a powerful event - but it is interesting to note that the jailer's question, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (v. 30) comes before and not after the verbal explanation of the gospel (good news). It is the behaviour of Paul and Silas that makes such an impact on the jailer that results in him asking such a significant spiritual question.

This leads us back to the words of Saint Francis and to a reflection on the challenge of commending Christ today. We are perhaps aware that we live in an image-rich society where, for instance, we often need to wait until the end of a television advertisement in order to discover what the product is that is actually being advertised. The focus on image over information can clearly be overdone.

However, it is equally clear that commending Christ in words without our words building on an appropriately Christ-like lifestyle will be less than fully effective. Paul and Silas do know the words to say when the time is right - but this is not where they begin. Indeed, 'actions do speak louder than words'. 

To Ponder

How might your actions silently proclaim God's love today?

"What must I do to be saved?" How would you answer this question?

Bible notes author

The Revd Chris Blake

Chris Blake is a Methodist minister and principal of Cliff College in Derbyshire. His background is as a biochemist, and he has previously served in Barking and Dagenham as an industrial chaplain, in Dorset in the Wimborne Circuit and as chair of the Cornwall Methodist District.