Silas: Brother in a Dark Hour

Silas: Brother in a Dark Hour

Why did Jesus send out both the twelve Apostles (Mark 6:7) and the seventy disciples (Luke 10:1) in pairs?

Perhaps, like swimming buddies at summer camp, it was to help with matters like injuries or illness on the road. Perhaps it was to guard against false accusations (Matthew 18:15-16).

Perhaps it was because Jesus knew, with the pressures and stresses of the work, with the persecutions His disciples would face, there would be times they needed to draw strength and faith from one another.

In Acts 15, we first meet a man named Silas. He was one of the “leading men among the brethren” chosen by the apostles to go to Antioch (Acts 15:22). There, “Judas and Silas, being prophets themselves, encouraged and strengthened the brethren with a lengthy message” (15:32).

In Acts 15:40, Paul chose Silas to come with him on his second missionary journey. Silas helped Paul reason in the synagogue in Thessalonica (Acts 17:4) and eventually fled with him to Berea (Acts 17:10). Soon, Paul had to flee Berea too, but Silas remained there with Timothy to strengthen new churches (Acts 17:14). They reported back to Paul toward the end of the second journey (Acts 17:15, 18:5). Later, Paul mentions Silas’s work at Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:19). Silas is a cosigner of both Thessalonian letters (as “Silvanus”). Silas was an amanuensis to Peter (1 Peter 5:13).

But the most famous scene involving Silas happens in Philippi, after Paul had cast an evil spirit of divination out of a slave girl.

The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods. When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet into the stocks. But about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened (Acts 16:19-26). 

I must imagine this was one of the most difficult moments of Paul’s ministry. He had only just begun to answer God’s Macedonian call a matter of matter of days (16:18). Still, he boldly presented the gospel in opposition to the Pantheon, and he was successful enough to throw the city into confusion. Then, he rescued a slave-girl of an unclean spirit, which was clearly profitable for her owners, but horrible for her. In an instant, he found himself seized by a lawless mob, beaten with rods, and chained in darkness of the Roman jail. Was God still blessing him, or not?

It sure feels better to have a companion in suffering. Paul’s part in this ordeal must have been made more bearable by the presence of Silas. When Paul’s ankles hurt, Silas could commiserate and cheer him up. When Paul experienced worry or doubt, Silas could remind him of their role. Together, they could brighten their situation by thinking of stories from the Old Testament prophets who endured, and by singing songs of God’s greatness and faithfulness. I have no reason to think that Paul couldn’t have survived without Silas, but I’m also confident that Silas’s presence was a huge boost.

It reminds me of this important passage, which illustrates brotherhood in four ways:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). 

Brothers “have a good return for their labor.” They contribute toward a common goal. They share insight, experience, and encouragement. Many hands make light work.

Brothers “lift up” a fallen companion. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). Brothers conduct spiritual rescue missions (Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20).

Brothers stay close and “keep warm.” The church is a group in which each member can find strength and comfort when bad news comes, when sickness invades, when persecution draws near. Brothers are “made complete in the same mind” (1 Cor. 1:10).

And brothers share in the common defense. Not even the king of the jungle (1 Peter 5:8) will attack a tough knot of determined beasts, horns facing outward and ready to defend each other. When brothers stand together, Satan thinks twice. Perhaps this is why Paul writes to the same Christians where his ordeal occurred, hoping to hear that they were “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, in no way alarmed by your opponents” (Philippians 1:12). Like a braided rope, all the fibers must be bound in unity.

This was undoubtedly a difficult night for Paul, which God made more bearable with the presence of his fellow prisoner Silas. And what a wonderful outcome their faith and joy provided to the lost of Philippi, that before the night was out, the Lord visited Philippi, and the Roman jailer and his household were brought out of the darkness into the light (Acts 16:27-34)!                                                                                                    —John Guzzetta