The crowd joined in attacking (Paul and Silas), and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
-- Acts 16:22-24, ESV
Almost every Christian denomination tries to trace its traditions back to Jesus and the Apostles. But I cannot picture Paul wearing pointy hats and profiting from indulgences. I don't see him enjoying his best life now in the Philippian jail. Given what Paul has written about homosexuality, I don't think he'd identify as a Methodist. But, considering what he has written about election and predestination, he probably would be a Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist, depending upon what he'd do with the baby.
Actually, Paul would identify with any congregation committed to preaching and sharing the Gospel. Preaching it on Sundays is much easier than sharing it during the week, and it's the latter where the old Apostle really puts us to shame. What did he do that we seem unwilling to do?
Paul challenged the ungodly. Among the worst things in the whole world are human trafficking, false religion, and demonic activity. Paul faced all three in Philippi, a girl kept in slavery, emperor worship, and a devil himself.
Women and girls are still trafficked in our day, not so much for fortunetelling, but for sex. This is because we live in a sex-soaked society that claims validity for all sorts of sexual expressions expressly forbidden by the word of God. Forced or voluntary, wrong is wrong.
False religion abounds in our day. Atheism is a false religion. Agnosticism is a false religion, they just don't know it. Christianity cloaked in Catholic, Methodist, and Baptist clothing is false religion when devoid of the authority of Scripture and the necessity of the biblical, historical Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Demons haven't died, either. They still roam the earth like lions, seeking whom they may devour. They use sex. They use false religion. They use alternative spiritualities. They use music and media. They get into people's minds, a form of possession if you will, and sometimes take over the whole body. Paul got in the ring with them all the ungodly forces in his world.
Paul became the unpopular. When you challenge the ungodly you will also have to be willing to become the unpopular. A remnant will come to Christ. But the crowd will turn on you like fleas on a dog.
Americans crave popularity and American Christians are not much different from the general population. It usually hits us in grade school then pervades over the rest of our lives until we become grumpy old men and women who just don't care anymore. But we Christians need to not care now, for desire for popularity and fear of rejection leads to a crossroad of compromise.
Fear of rejection is the reason most Christians don't share the Gospel with others. Let me assuage your fears. Most people are going to reject you. Many will be mad at you. The crowd will say bad things about you. On the other hand, some will be saved. It's the some we are after, not the popularity or the comfort.
Paul embraced the uncomfortable. Paul's and Silas' reward for sharing the Gospel and challenging the ungodly was becoming unpopular and most uncomfortable, to put in mildly. Actually, they were stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, then the inner prison, then locked in an awkward position into "stocks."
"Stocks" is the Greek word that literally means a piece of wood formed into a punishing tool. In the case of Paul and Silas and the Philippian jail, wooden shackles were attached to their feet to cause them pain and keep them in prison. And yet the "stocks" set them free to sing and witness for the Lord.
Can you think of another time when wood from a tree was cut to form a device designed to inflict punishment, pain, even death upon a person? Yes, you can. So could Paul and Silas. It set them to singing, rejoicing, and witnessing even more for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christians, we are not here to prosper. We are here to proclaim the Gospel. The cross of Jesus, this symbol of suffering and death, is central to who we are, what we do, and how we worship. Let us never be ashamed of the cross. Let us be ashamed, rather, if we do not love it and share it like Paul. Go to the ungodly. Be unpopular. Experience a little discomfort. And take the unprosperity Gospel to a lost and dying world.
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]