Witnessing To Your Enemy

Is there someone that you’re really not 
comfortable talking about Jesus with? Did
 you know you bring honor to God by sharing
 the message with them? Acts 16:25-34
 The following is the transcript from the Sept. 18, 2016 service at the Little Brown Church, Nashua, Iowa. 

Acts 16:25-34 (NIV)
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.  The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
Have you ever wondered about all the jail stories in the Bible? My thinking is this: No prison. No jail. No guard or soldier could ever have held any of the Apostles of Christ. 
So (if that’s true) why is it that in our reading for today in Acts 16, Paul and Silas have this opportunity to escape… but they don’t? The cell doors were opened; the shackles had fallen from their feet. All they had to do to gain their freedom was run for it. 
But they didn’t because God wanted them there. Paul and Silas were THERE… in Philippi… in that jail… on that night… because God wanted them there. God didn’t want them leaving that jail because God wanted them to talk to someone. He wanted them to witness to this jailer and his family. 

Now that being said – I want us to think about WHO this jailer was.
Do you think this jailer was a friend of Paul and Silas’? No, he wasn’t.

He didn’t go and visit them in their cell before the earthquake.
He didn’t go down to their cell to loosen their chains.
He didn’t go down to their cell to bandage up their wounds or put medicine on their cuts.
He didn’t go down to talk about Jesus or ask them to pray for him. 
Paul and Silas were HIS prisoners, not his friends. And notice what it says in Acts 16:24,
“Having received such a charge, (the jailer) thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.” KJV

The jailer wasn’t told to put them inside the “inner prison” AND he wasn’t instructed to put their feet in stocks. So, why would he do that? Why treat them so roughly? 
Because, he regards them as criminals; I mean – after all – the entire town had condemned these two men. Obviously, they were guilty. In his mind - they deserved what they got and they deserved to be where they were. And if he can help make them a little more uncomfortable… he’s more than happy to oblige. 

And here is something else I think - I’m convinced that Paul and Silas understood all this. 
They knew this man had already prejudged them.
They knew he didn’t think much of them.

They knew that if he got his chance, he would probably make their lives miserable if he could.

One of the things that strikes me about the story in Acts 16 - is how unjust it all is. Paul and Silas were nice men trying to do the will of God. They had faithfully preached the Gospel and even freed a woman from demon possession.

And the jailer was right there being part of the injustice they suffered. He was just as mean and vindictive as everyone else. He was part of the cause of their misery. Paul and Silas would have had every reason to hate and despise him. But, instead, they witnessed to him!

Now, there might come a time when you have the opportunity to witness to someone like that.

Someone who doesn’t really like you
Someone who doesn’t want to be around you
Someone who has hurt you or someone you care for 
Someone who is mean spirited and harsh

Whatever the reason, you don’t like them. And you’d just as soon not witness to them. They’re not the kind of people you want in church with you. You don’t want to talk to them about Christ because – frankly - they don’t deserve Christ. What they deserve is - well - to go the other place.

Think about that for a moment. Is there someone that you know that makes you feel that way? Someone you’re really not comfortable talking about Jesus with? 

In other words, if you and I got what we DESERVED, we’d ALL go to hell; but God so loved the world (you and I) He gave His only begotten Son.
And what happened to his ONLY BEGOTTEN SON? (He was crucified) God paid a terrible price so that you and I could move out of the camp of enemies and objects of wrath and into the family of God, becoming His friends and His family. 

But at one point, we were enemies… we were objects of wrath. Paul KNEW this, because he had been an enemy of Jesus. It was Paul who had been part of the death of the first Christian martyr to die for his faith (Stephen). Paul is thought to have even been one of the ringleaders of that crowd, holding the cloaks of those who threw stones at Stephen’s defenseless body until he died. But, Paul was just getting started. For some time after that, Paul persecuted the church. He went,
“from house to house, he dragged off men and women” and had them thrown into prison.” Acts 8:3

Just like this jailer had thrown him into this jail. And yet, God had saved him. 

Now it was Paul’s chance to repay God’s kindness to him… and to witness to this jailer. To offer to this man the salvation God had so freely given to him. 

And if we are given an opportunity to witness to people who’ve not been nice to us, it becomes OUR CHANCE to repay God for His kindness in saving us as well. It’s our opportunity to show God “we get it.” To show God that we understand that Jesus died for ALL mankind… even the ones we don’t like. And in that action we can bring honor to our God.

Paul repaid God by witnessing to someone who didn’t like him and had mistreated him. If we want to follow in his footsteps in this, how can we accomplish it – when the person we’re trying to witness to doesn’t particularly like us?

Well, first we need to make it OBVIOUS who we belonged to.

Paul and Silas were beaten, thrown into an inner prison and fastened in stocks. But about Midnight - what do they end up doing? 

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25

They were worshipping God, right there in that jail. And everybody heard them. Everybody in that jail knew these two men belonged to Jesus because even in jail they worshiped Him.

When we think of worshipping, we think of the things we do here on Sunday Mornings. And so, when we think worship… we think “CHURCH BUILDING”.

But the early church didn’t have church buildings. They didn’t have 
choir lofts 
worship bands
glass doors
greeting centers

And so, when they worshipped - they worshipped everywhere. Mostly in homes, sometimes out in the public square, sometimes down at the riverside. But occasionally, even in prison.

And when they worshipped, they witnessed. People SAW how much Jesus meant to them. Every act of worship should be viewed as a witnessing tool;
singing, praying, studying our Bibles. 

We need to realize that worship is NOT something we do just here in this building. Worship is something that we must learn to do beyond these walls, because – when we worship – we witness.

So the first thing Paul and Silas did was - they made it OBVIOUS who they belonged to. Everybody in the Prison KNEW they loved Jesus and belonged to him.

The next thing they did was to make it obvious that they cared for the jailer.

When the earthquake shook that jail, it shook that jailer’s world as well. When he woke up, he saw that all the prison doors are open and he was convinced that his life is over. If the prisoners escaped – he would pay with his life. And so he decided to avoid the horror of execution by taking his own life. 

Paul sees this and he could have let the jailer take his own life. I mean why should he be concerned? This jailer had hurt them. He’d been mean to them. Paul didn’t owe this guy anything. Why should Paul care?

But Paul did care. He SHOUTS out: 
"Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!" Acts 16:28

He knows why this man is afraid, his life is in the balance, and, knowing that, he reaches out to him.

That’s where we need to watch for that kind of opportunity to share Jesus.
It helps to realize that this is the kind of person the rest of the world turns its back on. The world tends to look for the companionship of those who are successful, who have it all together. People who are attractive and connected. 
But when a person’s life is falling apart they often go elsewhere. 

But Jesus taught us to reach out the hurting and wounded; when they’ve lost their job, their marriage, their home, or a loved one. These are times when people need the message of hope from God. And that’s why it’s so critical that we step up when people are down.

I mean, let’s think about this for a moment. The jail is shaken by an earthquake that opened the prison doors and loosed the shackles of the prisoners at exactly the moment everyone is paying attention to Paul and Silas worshiping God. 

Now, do you really think that was a “coincidence?”  I don’t think so. It wouldn’t take a genius to connect the dots and associate the God of these men with the earthquake that shook their world.

But that doesn’t entirely explain the sudden interest in this jailer’s salvation. Why would he so suddenly ask what he must do to be saved?

Because God was at work softening his heart. Jesus said,

“I will send (the Holy Spirit) to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” John 16:7b-8 

The Spirit’s job is to convince men of their sin, of their need for righteousness and the fact that there is a coming judgment. When we witness to people about Christ, it isn’t all about us. God is at work behind the scenes convincing them of their need for salvation. He prepares the hearts of those who we can witness to.

And if we’re watchful – if we’re paying attention – we can find God at work… and reach out to those who need Jesus.

So, what do we tell people who as “what must I do to be saved?” We tell them the same thing Paul did:
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved— you and your household." Acts 16:31 

That’s what Paul and Silas told the jailer… then, they went home with the jailer and explained to him and his family what it meant to believe in Jesus.

1. They would have taught this jailer and his family that they needed to believe Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God.
2. They would have taught them that they needed to believe that they were sinners and that only Jesus could remove that sin.
3. They would have taught them that they needed to believe that Jesus had to be the Master of their lives.
4. And they would have taught them that they needed to be buried with Jesus in the waters of baptism.

As Acts 16:33 says 
“At that hour of the night, he and all his family were baptized.”

But before you can tell people about Jesus - especially someone who doesn’t like you - you need to do two things: 

  • Be obvious about who you belong to and 
  • Make it obvious that you care for them as individuals