- Sermon Notes
When the Heart Must Sing
In Acts chapter 16, Paul is on his second missionary journey, but he is not traveling with Barnabas as he did on their first journey, this time he is with Silas. We’ll understand more about that soon. It’s actually a very important part of our story.
The theme of this chapter is their response to suffering. Before this chapter is over, Paul and Silas will be falsely accused, dragged before the chief magistrates and as a crowd rises up together against them, their robes are torn off and they are beaten with rods as thick as a man’s thumb.
They are then thrown into prison, into the inner prison which would be dark and damp, while being fastened with stocks and bonds; not the investment type of stocks and bonds, but cold steel fastened onto their bruised and beaten bodies.
We are not surprised that they are going through troubles. Jesus Himself said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
We are not surprised that they are suffering. Jesus also said, “If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you… because they do not know Him who sent Me.”
What surprises us and encourages us out of the story, is how they respond to that suffering, to that tribulation. This is important for us to understand because we all know what it means to be beaten up by life; a maybe we should say that we know what it means to be beaten down.
There are many different types of troubles. Many troubles simply come from the unfairness of life. You probably already figured this out, but life is not always fair. There are many troubles we don’t deserve, you might say. Paul and Silas certainly didn’t deserve this trouble, they are falsely accused.
Other troubles we bring on ourselves; either through wrongful or sinful decisions or immaturity. We actually see that in this story as well. When Paul and Barnabas decided to go on this second journey, Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark, but Paul insisted that because John Mark had deserted them on their first journey, he should not go on this one.
We then learn that a sharp disagreement arose between them and they separated from one another. Barnabas took Mark along with him and Paul chose Silas. These friends had a terrible argument; this is trouble they created themselves.
Barnabas is known as an encourager and insists that John Mark be given another opportunity. Paul has a reputation as being a firebrand and insists that John Mark is weak and must be left behind.
We see Paul growing and changing, however. Later, he writes and asks that Mark be sent to him. “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:11
This is the same Paul that later wrote, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Ephesians 4:29.
There is a lot for us to learn out of these verses. We need to take hold of these spiritual lessons for our own lives. How we respond to difficulties and troubles is an indication of our maturity. Someone once said that people are like teabags; the true flavor comes out only when they are in hot water.
I. Strengthen Yourself in the Lord
- This is one of the most important lessons in life I think we’ll ever need to learn.
- Discouragement often comes with troubles and we have to be very careful because the discouraged heart does not respond as God desires.
- Paul and Silas suffered brutality and are now held in the inner prison which would be dark and damp and cold. Then, about midnight, they started praying and singing hymns of praise to God.
- What did they sing? I wonder if they might have sung the words to, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” Those words were written by the prophet Jeremiah in Israel’s darkest hour.
Lamentations 3:21-24, This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.”
- Complaining is a common way that people respond to problems and it isn’t very helpful.
- The attitude of complaining actually comes from immaturity and lack of faith. Many people also complain about God, almost as if they thought they could badger God to do what they want.
Illus - “Well this is a fine how-do-you-do. So this is how you treat Your missionaries. Is that it? I was doing You a favor! This isn’t right! In fact, this is inappropriate.”
- It’s interesting that Paul wrote to the church that was started in this very city of Philippi, saying…
Philippians 2:14, 16, Do all things without grumbling or disputing… holding fast the word of life.
- You only have to look at the grumbling Israelites in the desert to know what God thinks about the attitude of complaining.
Illus - They grumbled and complained because they were tired of manna even though it was a daily miracle of provision. And besides that, it tasted like doughnuts! But God decided to teach them a lesson so He gave them quail, so much quail, in fact, that they became sick of it. Literally. They started snorting it out their noses.
- Be careful because complaints may turn into bitterness and bitterness is like a root that makes all the water in the well bitter.
Hebrews 12:15, See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.
B. Praise is better than complaining
- I realize I just used that same title, but there I focused on the dangers of having a complaining heart, now I want us to understand the significance of having a heart that praises God.
- When they prayed and sang hymns of praise, their souls were strengthened in the Lord.
- That’s what we need; in times of difficulty, we need our soul strengthened, that’s the only way we’re going to respond with faith and hope.
Illus - When David came to one of his darkest hours, even to the point that his men began to speak of stoning him… he strengthened himself in the Lord.
1 Samuel 30:6, Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
- Here’s the bottom line; we need our heart in the right place. Only then can God teach us and show us what He desires to do.
Illus - One of the classes I teach every summer is Principles of Parenting. One of those principles is, “never correct a child when they are upset.” In other words, if their heart isn’t in the right place you can teach them nothing. Get their heart in the right place first. The same is true in marriage, if the heart is not in the right place, nothing good will come of it and arguing only makes things worse. Get your heart in the right place first and then God can speak to your heart.
Psalm 42:5-6, Why so downcast, O my soul? Why so downcast within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.
Psalm 63:6-8, I think of You through the watches of the night. Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.
- We need a theology of thanksgiving. We need to find that song in the night; even though we don’t feel like it. We need to give thanks by faith.
Habakkuk 3:17-18, Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hind’s feet, and makes me walk on high places.
II. Trust that God will make a Way
- Paul and Silas are just trusting God in this. They’re not asking God for an earthquake. In fact, when the doors were opened and the chains fell off, they didn’t leave.
- Now we see that this was about the heart of the jailer. Many believe that he later becomes one of the leaders in the church.
A. God uses your faith to touch others
- Verse 25 makes a point of telling us that as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, the prisoners were listening to them.
- In a similar way, the jailer saw their heart and their character and their faith and when Paul called out that he should do no harm to himself, he responded, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
- Our faith has a direct impact on those around us. When people see you going through troubles and yet your faith is steadfast, it’s powerful evidence that your faith is real.
- You never know who is listening or watching as you go through trouble.
Illus - I learned this the hard way. I remember golfing and having a bad day. I started muttering to myself, obviously angry, but little did I know that someone was watching me.
- Our children are watching to see how we will react, our co-workers are watching…don’t react out of frustration… wait on the Lord.
- You never know what God might do. Wait on the Lord. If you become impatient or frustrated, you will react badly.
Proverbs 20:22, Do not say, “I will repay evil.” Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.
- God often works in unexpected ways. They were not set free from this prison by doors that were opened by the earthquake, they were set free by the heart that was opened in the jailer.
- You never know what God might do. Wait for the Lord. Remember, God knows what He is doing.
Illus - Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and thrown into a pit. They sold him into slavery, he was unjustly accused by Potiphar’s wife, thrown into prison, forgotten by a friend he had helped, and yet not a single complaint. “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good,” he later said to his brothers.
- Many people have dreams for their lives and that is good. But trust God and be faithful, waiting on the Lord. Dreams are not fulfilled from emptiness, dreams are not fulfilled from wrongfulness; dreams are fulfilled by the hand of God when we walked in faithfulness.
C. God will make a way of transformation
- We see now that God used the earthquake to open the heart of the jailer who came to Paul and Silas asking, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
- And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved, you and your household.”
- The jailer took them to his house and they spoke the word of the Lord to his family. They also believed and were baptized.
- Through all these troubles and trials God was making a way for the gospel because that is the power of God for salvation and transformation.
Illus - As a believer, this man brought about a change of heart. He is now a man of kindness and grace.
- The key is the word “believe.” That word means more than simply agreeing that God sent His Son; it means to cling to, to hold onto; to apply to your life.
- A pastor of a so-called mega-church once said that people don’t understand the word “saved” and we shouldn’t use it. But we do understand it. If a lifeguard saves or a firefighter saves, we get that.
- Jesus saves us from eternal judgment.
Illus - Some people say, “I tried the Christian thing that didn’t work for me.” That’s like saying, “I tried the gym thing and it didn’t work for me.”
Acts 16:16-40 NASB