35 But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.” 37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed. (Acts 16:34-40 (ESV)
Paul stands up for his rights, he does not tolerate injustice. There is tension within Christian ethics. There is Christ’s command to turn the other cheek, but there is still also responsibility to maintain order, to defend the innocent, the oppressed and the poor. We can’t all be Amish, Mennonites, or Quakers. The pacifism of these groups is often tempting to a Christian. People ask how you can shoot someone, execute them, and still love them. I’m really not sure that is possible, though I guess it is worth a try. Thing is sometimes it is love of the innocent, love of family, love of neighbor and community that makes it necessary to shoot, execute, or prosecute others, so that you can ensure peace, law and order for those you love. Perhaps shooting a person who is attacking you and yours is a hard thing to do while showing love for them, but it is not showing love to allow your neighbors or your family to be raped and pillaged either. In the same way, standing up for your own rights, and not letting a person run roughshod over you is sometimes the only way to defend others in a similar situation. Paul chastises the Corinthians for making use of the court system to oppress each other. Yet, I’ve seen so-called Christians then twist this verse to oppress fellow Christians as they slap them across the face and tell them to turn the other cheek, and finally the only recourse is the civil court system. Paul himself shows that turning the other cheek is not always the same as saying, “Thank you, sir. May I have another?” He demands an apology, he demands that that magistrates acknowledge their guilt. When they do so, he forgives them and doesn’t press any further. He could have tried them in the courts and sought their punishment further. And yet here too Paul gives a Christian witness to the heathen of the city. It’s yet one more opportunity for him to show them the love of Christ, to show them the mercy of God, by extending to them the mercy he has been shown.
In any case, Paul and Silas take their time leaving town. They gather once again at Lydia’s house with the rest of the Christians of the city, one imagines that here the jailor’s household also shows up, that he can preach to them before he leaves and offer words of encouragement. Words of encouragement, we can learn from these what the content of a sermon should be, what our own relations to fellow Christians should be. Too often we run around not so much being our brother’s keeper, as being big brother. Sermons can become little more than harassment to do this or that, and condemnation for failing. Hell fire and brimstone. It’s so easy to apply the law. The heathen are great at it too. Atheists perfect the art of law application, even when living the life of a hedonist. It is what the world knows and it is oppressive in all its forms. This is not what Christianity is supposed to be, nor the sermons, or our interactions with others. So Paul admonishes us to encourage and build one another up. To do this we start with the gospel, start from the gospel, because here we find the love of Christ for us, the forgiveness of our sins. We love because he first loved us. He builds us up into his temple, that we can build others up also. Having been loved, we love. And in his encouragement to us, we encourage others.