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The Conversion of the Philippian Gaoler

by Ian McPherson

The circumstances surrounding the conversion of the Gaoler at Philippi are interesting indeed. Paul had a vision of a man saying "Come over into Macedonia, and help us." ---Acts 16:9 In obedience to the Lord Paul and his companions went straight through Asia to Macedonia. As soon as they arrived they went down to the river where people worshipped and converted a woman named Lydia and her household. It was not long however before Paul and Silas were dragged before the rulers of the city. They were whipped and put into the "inner prison" with their feet placed securely in "stocks." (Acts 16:24).

Roman prisons had three compartments. One was called "Communiora" which had light and fresh air. The second was called "Interiora". This was shut off by strong iron bars and locks. Paul and Silas were in the "Tullainium" which is a dungeon where people were placed to die. This was top security. Their feet were placed in stocks which was a heavy piece of wood with holes into which the prisoner's feet were placed and stretched in such a way as to cause constant agonising pain. The Gaoler, feeling that his prisoners were safely locked away, went to sleep. It was about midnight that the events surrounding this Gaoler's conversion took place.

Paul and Silas were not feeling sorry for them selves. In the inner prison they were actually singing praises to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them (16:25). Isn't it wonderful how Christians can feel secure, even in circumstances like this. We cannot help but think of Christ's words -- Matthew 5:11-12 "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. (12) Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." It was not unusual for Christians to suffer persecution and still rejoice. We see in Acts 5 how the apostles were flogged and warned by authorities to be silent about their faith. However Acts 5:41-42 says: "And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. {42} And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ."

SUDDENLY THERE WAS A GREAT EARTH QUAKE (26) This startled the Gaoler and caused him to awake in terror. His first reaction was that the prisoners had escaped. If prisoners escaped, then under Roman law the gaoler would have been executed. To avoid this terrible fate the gaoler drew his sword and was about to kill himself. However just about this time he heard Paul yelling out in a loud voice "Do thyself no harm: for we are all here." ---Acts 16:28.

THE GAOLER THEN ASKED A MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION "Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, {30} And brought them out, and said, "Sirs, WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?" ---Acts 16:29-30.. The answer that Paul and Silas gave was, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." ---Acts 16:31. Unfortunately this verse is sometimes used to support the "faith only" doctrine. We will notice however that there is no "only" after the command to believe here. The "faith only" gospel is declared by James to be of Satan not of God (James 1:18-19). Biblical faith is not consummated without obedient response .(Rom 16:26).

There are two other occasions in Acts where the question "What must I do?" was asked. It was asked by three thousand grief stricken Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:37). Peter's reply is recorded in Acts 2:38 " ... Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." In Acts 2:41 we see how 3000 obeyed his command .... "Then they that gladly received his word were baptised: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.". The question was also asked by Saul of Tarsus. As he was on the way to Damascus to have Christians persecuted and killed, he saw the Lord in a vision and was struck blind. It is important to notice that the answer was not given directly by Christ but rather, Christ directed him to "Go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do." ---Acts 22:10. After being in Damascus for three days, praying. and fasting, a disciple named Ananias gave him the answer to the question. He said; "And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." ---Acts 22:16 . We notice that in both Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16 that "be baptised" was included in the answer. As we look at the conversion of the Gaoler we will see how he was also required to be baptised.

THE GAOLER HEARD THE WORD OF THE LORD ---Acts 16:32 "And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." This refutes the idea of anyone being saved without hearing the gospel. In fact we are taught plainly that the only source of Biblical faith is the word of God. Romans 10:17 says "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." No one in the Bible was ever saved by the Holy Spirit coming upon them directly. We notice also that it was the word of God they heard, not the word of men. Galatians 1:8-9 warns "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (9) As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." Faith is certainly planted in our hearts by the Spirit of God, but it is done so indirectly through the agency of the Spirit's sword (The word of God) (Eph 6:17).

HE REPENTED OF HIS SINS This is demonstrated in that the gaoler "washed their stripes" (Acts 16:33). Their "stripes" were the wounds that he had previously inflicted upon them when they were mercilessly whipped and imprisoned earlier. Bathing their wounds was a demonstration of the fact he was sorrowful for what he had done to them, and did what he could to make it right. Repentance involves more that simply sorrow. Biblical repentance must be demonstrated by fruit. At his defence before King Agrippa, Paul said: "But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." --- Acts 26:20. Repentance is absolutely necessary for salvation. Jesus said "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). It is interesting that John the Baptist refused to baptised anyone who had not demonstrated fruit of repentance (Luke 3;7-8). There are several examples of demonstrated repentance in the Scriptures. Zaccheus for example said he would repay four fold, any money that he might have stolen (Luke 19:8 ). The Magicians burnt their books (Acts 19:19). On the other hand, there are several examples of people missing out on salvation because they refused to repent. For example, Herod would not leave his unscriptural wife (Matt 14:1-10), and angry Jews would not give up their religion (Acts 7:54-59)

HE WAS BAPTISED Acts 16:33 ---- "And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptised, he and all his, straightway." We notice that his household was baptised. Some have used this in support of infant baptism. However the context plainly tells us that all his house heard the word. There are many households that do not have babies in them. There is no justification anywhere in scripture for infant baptism.

We notice that the Gaoler was not declared to have obeyed Paul's command to believe on the Lord Jesus until after he was baptised. Acts 16:34 says "And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." Biblical faith is linked to baptism on many occasions. For example we read in Galatians 3:26-27 "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (27) For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ." Notice that we become a child of God through faith when we are baptised. This is consistent with Christ's teaching in Mark 16:16 "He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" Baptism is not a meritous work, but a work of faith. Even faith is declared to be a work (1 Thess 1:3 ---2 Thessalonians 1:11; John 6:29)

Baptism was part of that which the gaoler heard (32). We cannot preach Jesus without preaching baptism (immersion in water). Baptism therefore was part of what Paul taught the gaoler on that night. Baptism is not an act to show that we have been saved, but rather it is a part of the plan of salvation. 1 Peter 3:21 says "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:" This is why the gaoler eagerly heard the gospel and responded by being baptised the very hour of the night that he heard and understood. May God help each faithful preacher to include baptism in the plan of salvation, and each hearer to humbly accept it as part of gospel obedience.

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