This time of year we are inundated with requests and pleas for donations. They call on the phone, they mail us fliers, they approach us in public places. All these overwhelming requests can turn anyone cold towards helping others…to the point of thinking, ” I can’t give, I can hardly get by with what I have!” Paul addressed this in II Corinthians 8:2 – where he explained even though the Church in Macedonia was going through severe trials and extreme poverty, their joy of the Lord overflowed and welled up into rich generosity towards others. God has proven over and over again that you can’t out give Him. So allow joy and thankfulness to fill your heart this Holiday Season as you give generously to others…not out of your lack, but out of His riches.
Earlier in the day, Paul and Silas had been stripped, severely flogged and then thrown into prison. So we now find them hours later holding their own praise and worship service to a rather captive audience of fellow prisoners and guards. They could have wallowed in their sorrow and pain, but instead chose to worship God. When we praise God in the midst of impossible situations, the atmosphere changes and with it, our attitude. Our eyes are taken off the incurable, the grief-stricken, the hopeless dilemma…and allows God to work in miraculous ways. It says here that the earthquake caused all the prison doors to open…not just the one to Paul and Silas’s cell, and that everybody’s chains came off…not just theirs. When our focus is on praise rather than on self-pity, everyone around us will be blessed.
Felix, the Governor of Judea, was well acquainted with the “Way”…in fact he was even married to a Jewess named Drusilla. So as he listened to Paul speak about faith in Jesus Christ, conviction hit a little too close to home. Conviction by the Holy Spirit is an intense persuasion…a laying bare of our personal sin, and the realization of the judgment to come if we don’t repent. Paul saw this force at work by the Holy Spirit first hand and later wrote to the Thessalonians, “Because our Gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” (I Thessalonians 1:5) Never underestimate the power of conviction by the Holy Spirit…for it is unrelenting and able to reach where no human words can.
The Apostle Paul wasn’t speaking to non-Believers in this passage. Rather, he was directing the faithful to stop judging one another. You probably know someone who has been deeply wounded at Church by some hyper-critical Carnal Christian, and now because of that, has turned their back totally on Christianity and anything to do with God. For them, they can only see hypocrisy in fellow Believers that should be showing the love of Jesus…but instead are negative and critical. Such Carnal Christians are a hindrance and a barrier to the Gospel Message.
The Apostle Paul was given a thorn in his flesh…some chronic, painful condition that plagued him continually. And even though he had prayed three times for the Lord to take it – it remained. This was the same Paul who preformed extraordinary miracles, (Acts 19:11)…cast out evil spirits, (Acts 16:18)…and raised people from the dead, (Acts 20:10). But the prayers of his own healing went unanswered. Now many of us would react very badly if we had a great Ministry but were unable to be healed personally of some very visible disease. But Paul didn’t allow it to make him bitter, or doubt his worth. Rather, he looked at it from the viewpoint of his dependence on the Lord and his need for humility. For he writes in Philippians 4:13, “I can do everything through Him Who gives me strength.” Paul gained his strength through his weakness…for God in His infinite wisdom gave Paul what he needed, not what he wanted.
Even though the Disciples had lived, traveled, and witnessed miracles by Jesus – this was now becoming tough times. Jesus was gone, they were on their own, and preaching the Good News was becoming more and more difficult. They had been thrown into jail…again, when an angel broke them out. But rather than telling them to flee for their lives, he commanded them to go right back to the Temple and speak. How many of us would have the same kind of boldness and courage to go right back into enemy territory? They realized the life-giving Word they preached overshadowed the momentary fear they felt.