Guarding the Integrity of the Gospel
The authorities having beaten Paul and Silas the day before now send to the jailer to “let those men go.” In other words, we’ve taught those wandering Jews a lesson and they’ll know better than to disturb our city again. So the jailer, the born-again jailer who knows Paul and Silas to be the innocent and righteous men that they are, comes with what he supposes to be good news: “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” One might think the preachers would have been glad to go, but not Paul. Paul and Silas had been the victims of a grave injustice just the other day and were not going to let the Philippian magistrates off the hook so easily. You see, Paul and Silas were Roman citizens which was quite a status symbol in the ancient world. And with Roman citizenship came certain perks, like the investigation of charges before presumption of guilt and exemption from degrading forms of punishment. Paul’s words tell the story: “They have beaten us publicly uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison.” If the question be asked why Paul and Silas didn’t declare their Roman citizenship the day before, the answer probably lies in the supposition that they were not given the chance in what became a melee. So Paul demands that the magistrates come and take them out, personally, to face the men they had so unjustly mistreated. Upon hearing this, the magistrates come humbly before Paul and Silas and plead with them to leave the city as they probably did not wish to deal with anymore altercations with the slave girl’s masters over the apostles. So Paul and Silas visit the brethren which might have been meeting at Sister Lydia’s house, encourage them, and bid them farewell. We know from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians that there was a warm relationship between them.
So why waste a devotion over this seeming insignificant detail? The notes in my ESV Study Bible (2120) make a good point: Paul was seeking to protect the integrity of the gospel. If Paul and Silas simply sneak away from Philippi, then the owners of the now healed slave girl and the Philippian magistrates would have succeeded in proving the apostles to be vagabonds and the gospel snake oil. The infant church in Philippi would have been considered illegitimate and seditious from the start. By showing his credentials, so to speak, Paul proves that he is no traitor and that the authorities in Philippi or elsewhere have nothing to fear from the gospel or the churches. In sum, Christians are not only citizens but exceptional citizens, and our obedience to just laws and deeds of hospitality commend the gospel to others and guard its integrity. Guard the integrity of the gospel by your deeds today.