The Philippian Jailer: What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Amy Jones
I was looking at the story of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16. What a story! It starts with Paul and Silas “having church,” as we say.

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

They were praying, singing and worshiping, and I just wonder what that sounded like. I’d imagine they were singing Psalms that confirmed who Christ was, like Psalms 2 or 22, but that’s just my guess. They may have written hymns themselves. They were certainly praying.

And the prisoners were certainly listening. You see, Philippi was a Greek city under Roman rule. I can’t possibly imagine what kind of sounds were usually in their prison at midnight, and I don’t want to. Probably not too G-rated. I’d also imagine that the songs coming from these Jewish men, who’d been converted to Christianity and filled with the Holy Spirit, would be a strange change.

Then comes the earthquake, and the jailer wakes up. Everyone’s chains are off, and the jailer is certain that they’ve all run away. I’ve never thought about why the other prisoners didn’t run; maybe they were curious as to what would happen next. Maybe they were scared and in awe of this God who could loose their bonds, and they immediately wanted to follow Him.

But the jailer thinks he’s toast and is ready to draw his sword on himself when they say “We’re all here!”

He’s never seen a night like this. He’s napped through the worship service, but he wakes up to find that all the prisoners stayed even though they’d been freed. And instead of attacking him to ensure their escape, they tell him “everything’s ok!”


“Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?””
‭‭Acts‬ ‭16:29-30‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
The word “saved” really struck a chord with me tonight. This was a Greek/Roman jailer. He wasn’t a Southern Baptist or Church of Christ or of any Bible Belt denomination in the American South. There was no American South. There wasn’t even a Bible.

He wasn’t raised with the word “saved.”

I feel like “saved” has become a dangerous label. We ask “do you know you’re ‘saved’”? We say “I’m ‘saved,’ so I’m ok.” We look at someone and wonder if they’re “saved.”

And I get that “saved” can be an easy codeword for a real relationship with Christ. It can also be a false god in and of itself. I called it a “dangerous label” because sometimes the privilege of saying “I’m saved” is the goal, rather than the privilege of letting Christ transform you into a worthy vessel.

But let’s get back to our jailer. What did he mean by “saved?”

He could have meant escaping punishment from his superiors, but I don’t think so. I think he saw the unadulterated truth of the gospel. That there is only one true God who is all powerful. That He can provide peace in the middle of a chaotic prison. That He can set any captive free. That, once free, prisoners know they’re no longer prisoners and can treat a jailer with love and see him as a person, not an enemy.

I think he’s begging for what they had. I mean he ran to these prisoners and “fell down trembling” before them. So they tell him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.””
‭‭Acts‬ ‭16:31‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

And immediately, he’s transformed into a worthy vessel. He takes these prisoners home, he and his family all become baptized believers, he actually cleans and doctors their wounds, feeds them, and praises God with them!

Yep, if “saved” means transformed, then that’s the picture of it!

1 Comment

Kara - November 19th, 2021 at 7:40pm

Amy, this is profound. Such perspective on scripture I have read many times, but never really understood the depth. Beautiful writing!