The Life of Silas (Part 3)

Silas’ Missionary Journey with Paul

Leaving Syria and Cilicia behind, Silas accompanied Paul to the province of Lycaonia, to the cities of Derbe and Lystra, where Paul had previously gone from being called a Greek God to being beaten almost to death with stones within a very short amount of time.*[1]  It is there that Silas meets a young man named Timothy, with whom his name would be connected more than once.*[2]  Silas, Timothy, and Paul traveled through Lystra, Derbe, and then through other parts of Asia Minor,*[3] strengthening the churches with the letter from the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, and then finally arriving at Troas.

Troas was located on the western edge of Asia Minor, and though Luke doesn’t record Silas and Paul engaging in any evangelistic activity, they must have done something for the Lord in that city.  It is while they are in Troas that the company of Silas, Paul, and Timothy is joined by a fourth companion: Luke.  Whether Luke was converted at this time and joined with them, or whether he had already heard the gospel from others and just jumped at the opportunity to work more for the Lord, the fact remains that Luke discovered somehow that Christian preachers were in the city and joined himself to them.*[4]

It was in Troas that Paul received a vision of a man in Macedonia begging him to “Come over into Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).  Silas, being a prophet, agreed that this vision was quite clear and that they needed to go to Macedonia to preach the gospel.  So they boarded a ship bound for Europe, and departed west to Philippi, one of the major cities of that Roman province.

In Philippi, Silas and the others went to a river outside of the city, sat down, and started teaching some women who were gathered there on the Sabbath to pray.  Lydia, who believed the preaching and was baptized, asked Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke to stay in her house while they were in the city.*[5]

While in that city, perhaps the most memorable event of Silas’ life (at least to Christians today) took place.  He, along with Paul and the others, had been preaching for “many days,” and a girl had been following them around.  This girl was possessed by a demon,*[6] and was proclaiming “These men are the servants of the most high God, which show to us the way of salvation!”  This girl was also owned by some men who used her “skills” to make money.  So when Paul cast the demon out of her, these men were very upset.  They grabbed Silas and Paul, drug them before the rulers of the city, had them severely beaten, and then threw them into prison.*[7]

That evening, Silas, beaten and bloodied, sore from the abuse and with his feet tightly locked down, began to pray and sing.  Paul, in the same condition, was doing the same thing.  Neither one of them hid their praises to God, for “the prisoners heard them.”  What an amazing attitude Silas and Paul had!  At midnight, as they were praying and singing, a violent earthquake shocked the inmates as the prison doors all opened, and all the prisoners’ chains were loosed.*[8]  The jailor woke up and ran to the prison—then his heart sank when he saw the open doors.  So certain that the prisoners had all escaped, he took out his sword, preparing to kill himself.*[9]

Silas listened as Paul yelled, “Don’t hurt yourself; we’re all here!”  And he watched as the jailor, who just hours before had confidently chained their feet tightly in the stocks, came trembling in fear, falling down to the ground in front of Silas and Paul.  The jailor eventually stood up again and brought them out of the prison, and the first thing on his mind was “What must I do to be saved.”  He had heard what Silas and Paul had been preaching, and he had heard about the salvation offered.*[10]  The results of the earthquake were enough to convince him that Silas and Paul were speaking the truth, and that they served the true God—just as the demon-possessed girl had been saying.

After telling the jailor to believe in Jesus Christ so he could be saved, Silas and Paul preached the word of the Lord to him and his family.*[11]  The jailor was so moved that he washed their wounds and wasted no time in making sure he and he family were baptized.  Silas rejoiced, as did Paul, that more souls were added to the book of life.

The next day, Silas and Paul were asked to leave quietly, but Paul wouldn’t have anything to do with it.  He invoked Silas’ (and his own) Roman citizenship, and demanded what was, in effect, a public apology from the magistrates of the city.*[12]  After the city leaders personally released Silas and Paul from prison, the two men went back to Lydia’s house and met with the brethren before collecting Timothy and departing towards Thessalonica.*[13]

-Bradley Cobb

[1] *The text of Acts 14:8-20 does not reveal any passage of days between the attempted deification of Barnabas and Paul and the Jews’ vicious stoning of Paul.  It reads as though it all took place the same day, especially when you read verse 20.  There may have been a time lapse between verses 18-19, but it is also possible that there wasn’t.

[2] *See Acts 17:14-15, 18:5; 2 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1.

[3] *Luke, the detailed historian, records that they traveled through Phrygia, Galatia, and Mysia on their way to Troas. Paul wanted also to preach in Bythinia and Asia, but the Holy Spirit had other plans (Acts 16:1-10, see notes on that passage in the author’s “The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts”).

[4] *If Luke was converted in Troas at this time, his use of the words “we” and “us” to describe his involvement in the interpretation of a vision, the decision to go to Macedonia, and the preaching of the gospel point to a somewhat longer stay in the city than we generally suppose.   A brand-new convert would not have instantly risen to the level of standing that Luke had attained in Acts 16:9-10.

[5] *Lydia was apparently in Philippi on business, as a seller of purple, since Luke says that she was from “Thyatira,” which is a city in Asia Minor.

[6] *Literally, this is a “python spirit.”  See comments on Acts 16:16-18 in “The Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts” by this author.

[7] *Apparently Luke and Timothy were able to escape, or else the men were only concerned with the two who were viewed as the leaders of the group.  We know Luke was present, for he says the girl “followed Paul and us” (Acts 16:16).

[8] *The effects of the earthquake prove that it was miraculous.  No natural earthquake could unlock chains around the feet of prisoners and open all the doors.  Such a violent earthquake, one would assume, would also cause some serious damage to the structure, causing parts of it to crash into at least some of the prisoners, causing serious injury or even death.  But there were no such incidents.  It was an earthquake orchestrated and directed by God Himself, with only the effects that He wanted it to have.

[9] *The penalty for allowing the prisoners to escape would have been death.  In most instances, it probably wouldn’t have been a quick and painless death.  The magistrates of the city would have wanted to make an example out of him, and there would have been great shame brought on his family in the process.  Thus, the jailor figured suicide was the best course of action.

[10] *It is quite possible that the first time the jailor heard anything about the salvation offered was at the marketplace where Silas and Paul were accused and then beaten.  Someone certainly would have given testimony to what the demon-possessed girl was saying about how they were servants of God who were showing the way of salvation (Acts 16:16-17).

[11] *This man was told to believe, but he had not yet even heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So, Silas and Paul had to preach it to him.  The preaching of the gospel includes preaching baptism (see Acts 8:35-36).  After hearing the word of the Lord, the jailor and his family were baptized.  Those who seek to use this passage of Scripture (especially verse 30-31) to teach a faith-only salvation do not read the whole passage.

[12] *The magistrates had the right to beat people and throw them in prison, but for them to go to the prison and bring prisoners out was an admission of guilt on their part, and a declaration of the innocence of the ones they were releasing.  This action, and the announcement of their Roman citizenship, would have made the magistrates wary of saying anything against them, should they ever return; and it probably helped the Christians in Philippi in any future run-ins with the city leaders.

[13] *Luke leaves the missionary group at this juncture.  While their arrival in Philippi was described with the words “we” and “us,” he continues the narrative with the word “they” (Acts 17:1), showing that he is no longer with them.

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