Lydia and the Philippian Jailer


Paul, Silas and the Philippian Jailer Acts 16:23-40

Though they lived in the same town they were worlds apart.  One was a well-to-do seller of purple while the other was a rough-neck jailer.  Thefirst was taught the truth “at church” while the other came to realize his need for salvation by witnessing the conduct of two Christians.  It is plausible that the paths of Lydia and the Philippian Jailer would never have crossed in this life except that the bonds of Christ tied them together.  Let’s consider their lives and lessons we can learn from them as we teach others the Gospel of Jesus.

Occupations – Lydia is described by Luke in Acts 16:14 as being a “seller of purple.” This would mean that she sold purple clothing and or cloth.  During this time, purple was the color of royalty and the rich.  Jesus, when his royalty was being mocked by the Roman soldiers (Mark 15:17), was clothed in a purple robe before his crucifixion.   The rich man in Luke 16:19 was said to have been “clothed in purple and fine linen.” Since Lydia’s cliental would have been composed of the rich and powerful, we can surmise that she would have been a well to-do looking lady, cultured in the ways of the rich.  Also, she would have had considerable means of capital to purchase he wares for resell.

In contrast to Lydia is the Philippian Jailer.  We do not know his name, but we know his occupation from Acts 16:27 when it says he was “the keeper of the prison.” The jailer would have had a cliental of thieves, murderers, and other law breakers.  The jailer would have had to have been a thick-skinned, rough-necked, calloused breed of man.  He would have been accustomed to working in dark, hot, dusty conditions, with the most debase characters of Philippi.

Religious Background / Initial Hearing of the Word – Paul and Silas found Lydia among the group of women who were praying by the river on the Sabbath day (Acts 16:13, 14).  Luke further describes her as being a woman “who worshipped God.” She was what we might call “churched”.  It is “at church” that she initially heard the good news of the Gospel, believed, and was baptized (Acts 16:15).

From the scriptures, we cannot determine if the jailer was a “religious” man.  We might call him an “un-churched” man. Being a “jailer” it is probable that he would have been shunned by the religious elites of Philippi.  It’s in the prison that he has his initial exposure to the Gospel.  His exposure to the Gospel was by what he briefly saw in the life of Paul and Silas while in prison.  Luke records in Acts 16:25 that Paul and Silas were “praying and singing” while locked in the stocks and undoubtedly he would have heard their prayers and songs before he fell asleep.

We can learn two valuable lessons by contrasting these two early converts in Philippi.

The Gospel is For All – We sing the old song the Gospel is For All, but do our actions show that?  When we contrast Lydia and the Philippian Jailer, who would you most likely think would be the better candidate for the Gospel?  The well-to-do seller of purple or the inked up, rough necked jailer?  Too many of us would say Lydia is the better candidate.  You might rationalize that she is more “noble” than the jailer, she already has a religious background, and she is willing to sit through a “sermon”.  But Paul did not make such a distinction, he understood that the Gospel truly is for all, not just the “churched“ and well-to-do.

Why do we only attempt to reach those who are just like us?  Think about the folks that you invite to a worship service or bible study, are they just like you?  We might be tempted to say “The Gospel just doesn’t reach people like it once did.”  But the problem is not with the gospel; it is with us!  We should be saying, “WE just don’t reach people like we once did!” There are Philippian Jailers all around us if we are willing to reach out to them.  It might be a young person with long hair and weird clothes, or  your foul mouth, red-neck, co-worker.  Better yet, it could be your cashier this morning at Wal-Mart who is a single mom with two kids whose barely making ends-meet.  These people need the gospel just as bad and the well-to-do sellers of purple.  But it’s up to us to take it to them.

More Sermons are Lived Than Preached – The Philippian Jailer’s initial exposure to the gospel was not through hearing a sermon at church, but was by watching and listening to Paul and Silas praying and singing.  More sermons are preached through the acts of daily living than from pulpits or bible classes.  What kind of sermon are we preaching?  A teller one day was helping me complete a transaction when a friend of mine who worked there came up to say hello.  The teller asked me later how I knew this person.  I told her we attended church together, to which the teller commented, “I’ve known him for years and didn’t know he went to church.”  What a sad commentary.  Would one of your co-workers or friends say that about you?  Let us “preach” everyday the good news of the gospel through our actions, speech and above all our hope (1 Peter 3:15).  By these means we can open the door to the Philippian Jailers of our lives.

I would like to think that when Paul’s letter to the Philippians was read that Lydia and the Jailer were seated together.  The one thing these two very different people had in common was their belief in Jesus as the Son of God.  After Paul taught them both, the scriptures say that they both believed and were baptized.  This is the glory of the gospel; that it is able to save both men and women, rich and poor, and the high class and low class.  The gospel is truly for all but it is up to us to take it to everyone, not with prejudice, but without reserve.  We must not only be able and ready to teach as we can; but living our faith everyday so that we can reach out to the lost.  From this day forward will we share the gospel with everyone?

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