17 June 2012. Acts 16:16-40
Taking responsibility is one of the problems of our present time. How often do you hear whose fault something is? How often do you hear “you made me do this”? How often do you hear “You make me angry” ?
The right question to ask, probably, would be “how often have you said or thought those things?” I will come back to those questions.
I have always loved this story of Paul and Silas in prison. But it turns out to be a very useful study in taking responsibility. Let’s step through the main scenes. ..
Paul and Silas are being harassed by a woman with an evil spirit. Her “owners” were rich and influential. Whether that slowed Paul’s actions or not we cannot know, but he chose to act. He could have gone to the authorities, the owners or the woman, but he chose none of the above. Regardless of the consequences, he went to the core of the problem – the evil spirit of divination – and drove it out of the woman.
Very often, we tinker around the edges of problems, hoping they will cure themselves, but they rarely do. Paul went to the core of the problem and faced the truth head on. Regardless of the consequences, I want to suggest that this is usually the best course of action.
Use that advice with caution, because facing the truth head on often has consequences, and you had better be prepared to face them.
Having faced the truth head on, Paul once again created some enemies. Stating the truth and living openly by the truth will do that. These new enemies, being people of influence, brought the police in on the basis of false accusations.
Please note that the best way to combat the truth is with lies. The question that faces each one of us every day is whether we will be the truth tellers or the liars, for there are many who oscillate between the two.
Paul and Silas are beaten and thrown into prison. In pain and lacking all control over their immediate future, they lie in prison singing praise to God. I assume they couldn’t sleep because of their injuries. When overcome with pain and injury, many of us choose to complain; few choose to praise God. Again, each one of us is responsible for how we respond to our circumstances.
God rescues them from their chains and their prison – they are free to go, so why didn’t they go running out? We don’t get told. But what we do get told is that Paul shows concern for his jailer – the man who could call guards and have them re-chained. As a result the jailer and his family come to know God.
The jailer is under strict orders to keep these men secure. The punishment for failure is public execution, the reason he almost kills himself. Still with the threat of that outcome, he chooses to believe in Jesus, be baptised, and apparently entertain Paul and Silas in his house. He is taking new responsibility – for himself and his family, for Paul and Silas – for the sake of Jesus.
When the magistrates announce that Paul and Silas can be released, one might imagine they would give thanks to God and go on their way. Just as you might also have in your mind that good Christians will avoid making a scene if they can. Paul was no such person.
He was willing to be ridiculed, flogged and imprisoned, but you would be mistaken if you think he was a push-over. He stood up for himself on many occasions – even eventually appealing to the Emperor himself.
So why was he willing to suffer? Why not declare his Roman citizenship at the beginning, to avoid the beating and the jail? Was the Spirit of God guiding him? Was he following a policy we don’t know about?
Too hard! We just don’t know. What he does show us is a person willing to face whatever came for the sake of Jesus.
Many of us would have just avoided the possessed woman, or gotten angry at her owners. Many of us would lie crying in the prison, dreading what was coming next. Many of us would have run from the prison at the first chance. Many of us would have quietly left as soon as permission was given.
Many of us blame others for making us angry, or frustrated, or late, or any other range of things – rather than accept that these things are coming from us. It is my anger, my frustration, my failing to deal with lateness.
Often we refuse to address the primary issue in front of us, and let things escalate inside of us until a small thing has become a big thing. Often we talk to others about some issue we have, instead of talking to the person directly involved.
The pandemic problem of irresponsibility is our problem as well. But we can be cured.
We can decide to begin facing things directly, and start doing it, even if only in small steps. Books can help us learn how to do it. We can retrain ourselves for inner honesty, to no longer blame others for our own reactions – no one can stop you!
I believe it is one of the freedoms to which the gospel calls us –the Spirit leading us into the truth about ourselves, and the journey into leading honest, healthy inner lives.
It was a mark of Jesus and has been a mark of the great people of God. I pray we also will discover it for ourselves.