Online Bible Commentary
Standing Up for Our Rights
Acts 16:35 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, "Let those men go." 36 So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, "The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace." 37 But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out." 38 And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. 39 Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed. (NKJV)
The time is about A.D. 50. Paul is on his second missionary journey. Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke have now traveled to Europe and are in the city of Philippi in the Roman colony of Macedonia.
Paul and Silas have been imprisoned overnight by the magistrates in Philippi. They were accused unjustly of disturbing the peace, beaten with rods, and thrown into prison without a trial. Overnight the Lord had caused an earthquake which allowed the two missionaries to lead the prison guard and his household to the Lord.
Now, the next morning the magistrates have decided to release Paul and Silas (v. 35). The previous day the magistrates had allowed their emotions to be inflamed by a mob and, perhaps, having slept on their decision decided that they should not have impulsively beaten and imprisoned Paul and Silas. Or perhaps the earthquake had spooked them. Or they may have felt the beating and night’s stay in prison were punishment enough for disturbing the peace. The Scripture is not clear as to their line of reasoning.
Nevertheless, the magistrates sent their attendants, called lictors, to release Paul and Silas. Lictors were like their assistants. They would carry out the orders of the magistrates.
When the prison guard informed Paul and Silas that the magistrates had sent their assistants with the news to release them, the two missionaries were not satisfied (vv. 36-37a). Speaking to the assistants, Paul said "They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out" (v. 37b).
Paul wanted the magistrates to know that they were “uncondemned”, beaten and imprisoned without a trial. He wanted to speak to the magistrates directly to, not only, voice his displeasure with the treatment that they had received, but also wanted them to know that they were Roman citizens.
Roman citizens typically would carry small wooden tablets, like a passport, identifying themselves. Perhaps Paul had his with him. Roman citizens had rights within all Roman provinces and the rights of Paul and Silas had been violated. They had not been given a fair trial.
When the assistants returned and informed the magistrates that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens “they were afraid” (v. 38). They knew, for sure, now that they should not have acted impulsively in punishing Paul and Silas. They were negligent in not asking the men if they were Roman citizens.
So the magistrates came, in person and apologetically, begging the two missionaries to leave the prison (v. 39a). At this point the magistrates just wanted to put this embarrassment behind them.
They did not want news of this injustice to go up the ladder. They wanted Paul and Silas out of sight and out of mind. So they asked Paul and Silas to leave Philippi (v. 39b).
But the two missionaries did not leave Philippi immediately. They stopped by to encourage and comfort Lydia, their first convert in Europe, before departing the city (v. 40).
As Christians, we are told to turn the other cheek when facing injustice. This is Biblical. However, there are times when we are to stand up for our rights. This passage was an example of one of those times.
We are permitted to stand up for our rights, as Christians and as citizens. Paul and Silas boldly stood up for their rights. They saw an injustice and chose to right the injustice. Righting an injustice is also Biblical.