(Bible reading: Acts 16: 16-34)
Prompted by the Holy Spirit through a vision, Paul, together with Silas, traveled to Macedonia to preach the Gospel there. One day, a girl who worked as a fortuneteller and brought much profit to her masters followed them, and she did it for many days. Paul, disturbed by the fortuneteller’s actions, turned around and cast out the unclean spirit from her in the name of Jesus Christ. And she was freed instantly.
However, her masters were angered by what Paul had done, and so, they caught Paul and Silas and brought them before the magistrates where they were commanded to be beaten. After they received many stripes, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison and their feet were fastened in the stocks.
At this point, as one reads this part of the story, one can easily overlook the condition of Paul and Silas. One cannot imagine, or would neglect to imagine, the physical condition of the two apostles, and continue reading, possibly failing to grasp the powerful message of this passage.
I was fortunate to watch a program in History Channel about the methods and instruments of punishment used in ancient times, particularly during the Roman Empire. Historians discussed and demonstrated the use of “scorpion” whip, which had five “tentacles”, and at the end of each one were hooks. When the “scorpion” is whipped on the back of a person, the hooks bite into the flesh, and when the whip is pulled back, the hooks tear raw flesh with them.
According to Roman law on punishment, forty whips or stripes is the maximum number to be rendered to a guilty person. Beyond that could lead to the person’s death. In fact, some unfortunate people didn’t survive after being beaten.
If the one rendering the punishment went beyond the maximum number of whips, he in turn was punished. Therefore, to make sure that they didn’t go beyond the number, they only rendered thirty-nine lashes.
With this information, it dawned on me what Apostle Paul meant in 2 Cor. 11: 24:
From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
If, as what the historians have said, just a little beyond forty stripes could kill a person, what could be the condition of one receiving one stripe shy of that number but half-dead?
I can now see Paul and Silas in my mind: fastened at the stocks, fresh blood dripping from bare, wounded, aching bodies. The beating took its toll on their bodies and they were probably slumped in a corner of the inner prison.
For days they had been preaching the Gospel, praying and just doing the will of God. In return, they were beaten half to death. If they remained slumped on the floor, enduring the painful sting of their bleeding wounds, praying and hoping that an overnight rest would at least assuage the pain, this wouldn’t have made them less faithful.
But at midnight, they sang praises to the Lord. (Can I hear Halleluiah!?). What drove them to raise their hands and open their lips to sing praises to the Lord amidst their raw pain? There is more than faith here, something higher, greater.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13: 13)
It was love, fervent love for the Lord! A love that remains humble and sacrificing, and never giving up. A love that remains totally surrendered whatever the cost.
It’s “faith which worketh by love”. In Galatians 5: 6, Apostle Paul clearly expressed it:
…The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (NIV)
It is faith that expresses itself through LOVE.
[Love] bears all things, believes all things [faith], hopes all things [hope], endures all things. (1 Cor. 13: 7, brackets mine)
Love rejoices [praises, gives thanks] in the truth (1 Cor. 13: 6).
If this happened in our time, I know it would have been easy to lose faith and hope in the Gospel. Questions would have flooded the soul: “Why, Lord? Oh, why?”
But Apostle Paul looked not upon his stripes, but upon Him who is invisible. And he saw with spiritual eyes, and knew for certain whom he had believed. He “saw” what the other heroes of faith that were before him did.
And while they praised, the Lord sent a great earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken, the doors were opened, and everyone’s bands were loosed.
Was their praising powerful because they sang with all their might? Nay, I believe they couldn’t have sung robustly for they were physically weak after being beaten with many stripes. But I believe that their praising was powerful because it was coming from hearts and souls that were ablazed with love for the Lord. And that’s what the Lord saw. And it was what moved Him.
Praise plus love equals power!
This event led to the salvation of the prisonkeeper and all of his household. After the prisonkeeper had washed their stripes, Paul and Silas preached the Gospel to them and baptized them. And this was past midnight.
In great trials that come our way, if we set our hearts in proving our love (faith, hope, love) to the Lord, He will reciprocate it with a great miracle. We see this formula in Paul and Silas’ experience, in the testing of Abraham (he loved God so much he was ready and willing to offer up his son), in the endearing story of Daniel (he praised the Lord and prayed despite the newly-passed law banning such), and many others.
In great trial of affliction, even being nigh unto death, these three remain: faith, hope, love. This is the more excellent way (1 Cor. 12: 31).
Trial + Love [Faith, Hope, Love, Praise] = Miracle [salvation, healing, deliverance]
This is the powerful, miracle-inducing formula.
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Mat. 22: 37)
It wouldn’t be the first and greatest commandment for nothing.
So what moves God? It is active love. For love never fails (1 Cor. 13: 8).
To God be all the glory!