Select Page

Paul, the Prison Guard and the Two Great Commandments

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Lesson 29:
“The Lord Had Called Us for to Preach the Gospel”




In Acts 16, Paul, not uncharacteristically, gets thrown into prison. It starts with him casting out a spirit from a girl who was following them around. Those whom she served were angry because they had been making money off the spirit, so they took Paul before the magistrate and started a disturbance that ends with Paul in jail. Beginning at verse 23,

23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
25 ¶ And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.
27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.

So what happened here? The jailer, if his prisoners escape, faces execution. Peter’s jailer in Acts 12:19 met exactly this fate, “And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judæa to Cæsarea, and there abode.” Paul realizes the danger this man is in and that he is about to do something terrible and intervenes to protect him. He also stays in the jail. With his bands loosed and his door open, he can leave, but he chooses to stay because there is something more precious to him at that moment than freedom, that is, the jailer’s soul. Paul chooses not to press his advantage when the Lord has delivered it into his hand because by not doing so, it allows him to convert the jailer. Indeed, I think it is not uncommon that we can help change someone’s heart by first showing mercy when we don’t necessarily have to do so.

Now some might think, “maybe Peter should have stayed in the prison too.” Well, not so fast. His situation was different. Peter’s life was being threatened by Herod, who had recently had John’s brother James killed, whereas Paul was not in immediate danger of life, but only in prison because he irritated some people in consequence of casting out an evil spirit. In Peter’s case also, the angel specifically commanded him to get dressed and follow the angel out of the prison. So Paul’s choice to show mercy to the jailer also reflected the fact that his situation allowed greater latitude, but it is also a fine example of a profound principle:

As articulated by the Lord in Matthew 22:35-40

35 Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying,
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
38 This is the first and great commandment.
39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

By choosing to show mercy, and by not only considering our own needs, but equally considering those of our neighbors, we can be instruments in God’s hands to demonstrate the love of God and lead those around us to salvation.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This