The Apostle Loved to Sing

A young John McKeel famous for “making a joyful noise” as a teenager

I grew up attending “Third Sunday Singings” in Seattle. It was a great place to meet girls – until they heard me sing. I would remind them the Bible says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord,” but I couldn’t compete with Lou’s beautiful tenor voice, so I hid away in the back with the other teenage boys whose voices were cracking.

The Apostle Paul was a singer. Do you remember how they sang after he and Silas were beaten with rods, locked in the deepest, darkest part of the prison, and fastened in stocks?

“These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:20 – 25).

How strange! If they were weeping or shouting or even cursing their plight, that I could understand, but “singing”? No wonder “the prisoners were listening to them”! Crazy Jews, but have you ever wondered what they sang? Somehow “Blue Skies and Rainbows” doesn’t seem a likely selection. A “singing hymns” means “sing in praise to, sing in praise of.”

What did they have to praise God for? The honor of being beaten is one possibility. Later, Paul told the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Colossians 1:24). In other words, Christ suffered, and since we are in Christ, we will suffer too. However, I think we are given a clue concerning what the apostles were praising God for a little later on in the same chapter of Acts. God sent an earthquake that was so violent, it opened all the prison doors, broke open the stocks, and set everyone free (Acts 16:26). Rather than being dishonored, the jailer drew his sword and was about to kill himself when Paul intervened:

“When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” (Acts 16:27 – 28)

Now pay attention to the jailer’s response:

“And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” (Acts 16:29 – 30).

Why would he ask, “What must I do to be saved?” Why not, “Why are you still here?” I believe he heard the words of their hymns. These were not ordinary men. They were servants of the Most High God, and their songs were about the Gospel: God’s plan for saving the world.

Songs, hymns, and spiritual songs teach (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19) – even if you’re just making a joyful noise.

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