Calvary Road Baptist Church

ďCAN YOU SING IN THE DUNGEON?Ē

Acts 16.25

 Can you sing in the dungeon? When you find yourself in the dungeon, do the others in the dungeon hear you singing?

Okay, so you have never been in a real dungeon, but you have run out of money before you ran out of week. You have faced dwindling prospects in a dead end job. You have hit the wall of disciplining a child who seems unable to respond, unwilling to comply, stubbornly resistant to correction, or so terribly unconcerned about doing anything, or amounting to anything, that you have come to the end of yourself. Perhaps you find yourself married to a spouse who seems irrationally stubborn, incomparably lazy, irretrievably negligent, irresponsibly wasteful, incorrigibly unromantic and uncooperative, or having some other attitude or disposition that defeats you, discourages you, or throws you into fits of despondency. It may be that your innermost thoughts have always predictably drifted toward notions of companionship, family, and children. Perhaps you have the greatest personal desire to both provide and receive warmth and tenderness. You just want to hold and be held, but you find yourself without a spouse and with no prospects in sight. Or you find yourself in a marriage that is unfulfilling and exasperating.

These are some of the dungeons we frequently find ourselves in. They are dungeons constructed by circumstances beyond our control. They are pits we have been tossed into by people who do unreasonable and unconscionable things that unfairly and unjustly wreak havoc in our lives. It may be a boss. It may be a coworker. It may be a spouse. It may be a former spouse. It may be a child. It may be a mom or a dad. It may be an acquaintance or a so-called friend. It may be some insane consequence imposed upon you that results from irrational actions taken against you by someone you do not even know. Whatever it is, from physical confinement to emotional entanglement, from duties and obligations to situations you simply cannot get out of, you are penned in and denied freedom of action and choice. In short, you are in a physical, emotional, financial, marital, parental, professional, or some other kind of circumstantial dungeon.

It is a dungeon you cannot get out of. It is a situation you cannot extricate yourself from. Oh, you could, if you were willing to trash your testimony. Divorce, bankruptcy, abandonment, or some other reputation ruining or relationship destroying move on your part would quickly free you from your dungeon. However, you are a Christian, and no matter how miserable you happen to be, you know you would be more miserable breaking out of your dungeon than remaining where you presently are. That said, you still hate it in the dungeon. As much physical pain as Paul and Silas felt when their feet were made fast in the stocks, so does it seem to agonize you to be in the emotional, or professional, or relational stocks you find yourself in.[1] You refuse to break out, because that would be wrong. However, you want out. Perhaps you think of leaving your spouse, or of your spouse dying. Maybe you want your child to be raised and gone . . . now! You are so miserable. The whole situation is just so terribly unfair.

Have I described your feelings? Have I come close? Are there times you are overcome with despair? Are you missing the joy of your salvation? Do you feel spiritually tired, emotionally exhausted, and frustrated beyond discernible remedy? Is your spiritual load so heavy it seems burdensome to breathe? Turn to Acts chapter 16, and stand for the reading of Godís Word, where we will read about Paul and Silas:

1      Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek:

2      Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.

3      Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.

4      And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.

5      And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

6      Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia,

7      After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

8      And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas.

9      And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.

10     And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

11     Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis;

12     And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days.

13     And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.

14     And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.

15     And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.

16     And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:

17     The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation.

18     And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.

19     And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,

20     And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,

21     And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.

22     And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them.

23     And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:

24     Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.

Imagine how the Apostle Paul and Silas felt. All they were doing was serving God and bringing people to Christ. They were not harming anyone. They were not looking for trouble from anyone. However, they found themselves stalked by a demon-possessed girl, after which they were physically assaulted, restrained, and lied about to the authorities. At that point, their clothes were stripped off; they were beaten half to death with rods, and then tossed into jail.[2] As if that was not bad enough, the jailor showed even more cruelty by placing them in the inner prison, the dungeon, and then painfully binding their feet in stocks. Imagine the temperature extremes in the dungeon, the nauseating stench, the dehydration exacerbated by the loss of blood, and the onset of shock. Being hungry and thirsty because they had been without food and water for hours, with no way to tend to their wounds, and with no way to relieve themselves except where they sat, the stifling heat of the day gave way to the chill as the sun set, their condition being made worse by their lack of clothing and worsening shock. Our civilization is so technologically advanced that we have great difficulty imagining the smells of that dungeon, much less the flies and gnats that swarmed and fed off the prisoners, and the cockroaches and rats that almost certainly attacked them.

Are you willing, at this point, to grant that it was considerably worse for Paul and Silas in that Philippian dungeon than the suffering you and I experience in our various kinds of dungeons? We feel concern, while they felt pain. We grow frustrated by events, while they likely fainted from loss of blood and dehydration. We feel the strain of things closing in on us, but they actually suffered a brutal beating. We suffer from at worst some form of emotional scarring, but they suffered actual wounds that left lifelong physical scars.[3] If you are like so many Christians here in the western hemisphere, you just might bellyache, complain, and feel sorry for yourself with the best of the gripers. However, what did Paul and Silas do? Our text for this morning, verse 25, tells us they sang in the dungeon: ďAnd at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.Ē

Let me ask you, this morning, can you sing in the dungeon? Paul and Silas were in a considerably worse dungeon than the worst dungeon I have ever been in . . . and they sang. Can you sing in your dungeon? Do you sing when you are in the dungeon? Or do you bellyache and crab about the situations you find yourself in? Can we all agree, this morning, that their throbbing and aching bodies made it pretty much impossible for them to feel like singing? Can we not also agree that their circumstances would not have been conducive to them faking it? So, I am asking if you can sing in your dungeon, when you do not feel like singing, and when there is absolutely no benefit for you to fake it. There are reasons for everything. Therefore, if you cannot sing in your dungeon, it may very well be related to three causes that you would do well to investigate.

Three considerations for you to ponder:

First, CONSIDER THAT YOUR FOUNDATION IS WRONG

In First Corinthians 3.11, the Apostle Paul writes, ďFor other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.Ē Not only is the Lord Jesus Christ the only real foundation upon which a church is built, He is also the only legitimate foundation upon which a personís life can be built. I know you are positive you are a Christian, but do you realize the danger of being too positive, of being too sure? Consider: If salvation is a matter of faith, then assurance of salvation must also be related to faith. Since we know faith wavers and needs to be reinforced and strengthened, what must that tell us about an assurance of salvation that appears to always be as solid as a rock? Such unwavering assurance tells us that such an assurance may not be related to faith, which we know wavers in every Christianís life from time to time, and therefore may not be real assurance but may be sinful and mistaken presumption.

If you cannot sing in the dungeon, it may be that you have nothing in common with Paul and Silas. Notice that the other prisoners, whose circumstances were far less painful than Paulís and Silasí, were not heard singing . . . because they were not singing in the dungeon. The reason Paul and Silas sang in the dungeon was that they had something to sing about. Could it possibly be that you do not sing because you have no song? Could it possibly be that you do not sing because you have nothing to sing about?

My friends, when it came down to a real analysis of the men in that Philippian jail that night, when the sun was down and everything was dark, the only noticeable difference between the two saved guys and the others lost in the darkness was the song. Therefore, if you have no song, does that not suggest at least the probability that you are just like the others in the dungeon . . . lost?

Next, CONSIDER THAT YOUR THEOLOGY IS WRONG

Everyone has his own theology. Your theology is basically the conclusions you have drawn from your life experiences, from what others have said to you, and from what you have gleaned from scripture about God and His dealings with you and with other people. If you are in the dungeon and you are not singing, it may be that you have no foundation, that you are not really a Christian. However, after thorough examination, if you are certain you really and truly do embrace the Savior, and then it is possible that though your relationship with Christ is real, your understanding of that relationship is flawed. Allow me to quickly review three theologies that are commonly held these days, two of them very wrong and one of them very Biblical and correct.

First, there is Arminian theology. We do not have the time to go into any depth, so allow me to briefly summarize Arminian theology as a reaction to the harsh and coldly dogmatic Calvinism that prevailed in northern Europe at the beginning of the 17th century. Arminianism was embraced by John Wesley and became its most successful advocate. The most essential feature of Arminianism is the notion that someone can lose his salvation after he has been born again through faith in Christ. How does this error affect a Christianís capacity to sing in the dungeon? Sometimes a person who holds to Arminian views finds himself in a deep valley, or as we are picturing it today a dark dungeon, and begins to entertain the thought that he has somehow lost his salvation because of some sin he has committed. What if a person is experiencing a dungeon-like time in his life? If he thinks he has lost his salvation, though Arminianism never comes out and declares just what it is that breaks the bond between a saint and the Savior, he becomes so discouraged at the thought of being someone who once was, but is no longer, a Christian that he loses the joy a believer must have to sing in the dungeon.

Next, there is prosperity theology. Though prosperity theology is Arminian in its essential character, it is actually far worse than classical Arminian theology. You might think of contemporary prosperity theology as Arminian theology that is far more corrupt than the evangelical Arminianism of John Wesley. If the key feature of Arminianism is its belief that salvation, once gained, can be lost or discarded, prosperity theology adds even more grave errors to Arminianismís most obvious flaw. The most prominent error is related to oneís physical health. Prosperity theology holds the position that healing is in Christís atonement, meaning that no spiritual Christian should experience physical ailments such as disease or permanent injury. Thus, if a serious or fatal disease overtakes someone, the prosperity theology of Frederick K. Price, Joyce Meyers, Benny Hinn, Creflow Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, and others, teaches it to be an indication of a lack of faith and that such a condition is the fault of the Christian experiencing it. Prosperity theology does not stop there, however. Adherents of prosperity theology also advance the notion that God wants you to be rich and materially prosperous in every way. Therefore, if you are not rolling in clover, if you are not raking in the money, if you are not swinging business deals and becoming wealthy, then you must have some sin in your life that is blocking the exercise of faith and hindering Godís financial blessings in your life. In other words, if you are not rich it is your fault. Imagine a person who watches Christian television and actually believes that nonsense. What is he to do if he lives in India, or Ethiopia, or rural California, and faces dire poverty? It is his own fault. What happens when that woman is diagnosed with breast cancer? It is her own fault. Real faith and spirituality, say the advocates of prosperity theology, would get you over that and will always bring healing and money into your life. What do the proponents of prosperity theology say when you remind them that the Apostle Paul had a thorn in the flesh that afflicted him, a physical ailment that was most likely almost blinding?[4] As well, how do they react when you read Second Timothy 4.20 to them, where the Apostle Paul writes Timothy and tells him, ďTrophimus have I left at Miletum sickĒ? Of course, prosperity theology types refuse to deal with such objections honestly. However, you can see how someone trapped in the personal dungeon of a serious illness, or a financial reversal, or a profoundly difficult marriage, would beat himself up because he thinks there is something seriously wrong with his relationship with Christ. So sad.

The correct view of Godís dealings with people is what I would term Pauline and Petrine theology. Read some passages with me and you will see why I label the correct view after Paul and Peter.

Romans 5.1-5:

1      Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

2      By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

3      And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience;

4      And patience, experience; and experience, hope:

5      And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

Romans 8.28-30:

28     And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

29     For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.

30     Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

First Thessalonians 3.4: ďFor verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.Ē

First Peter 4.12-13:

12     Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:

13     But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christís sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.

We do not have the time to properly study these passages in their contexts, but these four passages reveal several things: First, there is no contradiction inherent in a real Christian really suffering. In other words, Christians will be tossed into real dungeons, and will find themselves in various metaphorical dungeons of an emotional, a health, a financial, or of some other type. Second, God not only controls everything, but everything that happens to a lover of God is a good thing. That is what Paul taught and that is what Peter taught. Can you imagine, for just a moment, what happens to a Christian who reads Paul and who reads Peter and actually believes what those two apostles wrote? Can you imagine experiencing something that is discouraging, debilitating, extraordinarily painful, and destructive to your physical well-being? To put it another way, can you see yourself in a dungeon and gaining some insight into the good that God is said to be accomplishing through your painful or heartbreaking experience? This is how your theology, your view of how God deals with you and the control He exerts over everything, can affect your desire and your ability to sing in the dungeon. It is somewhat like a prisoner of war suffering the privations of life in captivity suddenly learning that his side has won the war and his comrades are on their way to rescue him. Though starving and diseased, would he not rejoice upon hearing that good news? So it should be with you in your dungeon.

Next, CONSIDER THAT YOUR COMFORTER IS GRIEVED

 You certainly know from John chapter 16 that the Lord Jesus Christ promised His apostles Another Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God, who indwells those of us who know Christ as our savior. Do you also realize that the precious Holy Spirit can be quenched and can be grieved?

Turn to First Thessalonians 5.16-22:

16     Rejoice evermore.

17     Pray without ceasing.

18     In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

19     Quench not the Spirit.

20     Despise not prophesyings.

21     Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

22     Abstain from all appearance of evil.

Notice how the command to continually rejoice, to continually pray, to always give thanks, to pay proper respect to the preaching of Godís Word, and to do right at all times, is wrapped around the prohibition to ďQuench not the Spirit.Ē Do you suppose there is a connection between those activities and a quenched Third Person of the Trinity? I certainly think so.

Now turn to Ephesians 4.29-31:

29     Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

30     And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

31     Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice.

Notice how the command to always speak the right things and to avoid at all costs a bad attitude that leads to bad actions and bad speech is wrapped around the command to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.

Imagine yourself in a dungeon. Perhaps it is a real dungeon, as the one Paul and Silas were in. Or it could be the personal dungeon you find yourself in so frequently, where you feel so terribly isolated and frustrated, so hopeless and forsaken. Why is it that you do not sing in the dungeon? Some do not sing in the dungeon because they are lost. Others do not sing in the dungeon because they are Christians with a warped understanding of Godís dealings in their lives. Still others are believers, with a sound theology, but they are grieving the Holy Spirit by personal sins they are committing. Let me lay out some factors related to this third possibility for your consideration. Your willingness to and ability to sing in the dungeon comes from several interrelated relationships:

First, your intimacy with Christ. Paul and Silas were in that Philippian prison for preaching Christ, for serving Christ, and for living the Christian life. Their relationship with the risen Savior was real, and vibrant, and strong. It is one thing to know facts about God being in control and about Christ being glorified by all things, but it is quite another thing to be on intimate terms with this One Who is despised and rejected by lost men. It is when you are close to the beloved Savior that His words mean so much more to you: ďIf the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you,Ē John 15.18. A Christian is wonderfully comforted when he realizes that part of the reason for being cast into his dungeon is that he so resembles his Savior that those seeking his harm are striking out at Christ by striking out at Christís own.

Next, the indwelling Spirit. Are you grieving the Spirit of God who indwells you? Are you quenching Him? Understand that known disobedience to Godís will for your life, and wrong priorities in your life, including wrong attitudes and improper speech, are things the Spirit of God simply does not like. Be mindful of the fact that your inner joy and peace of mind and heart are the direct result of the work of the indwelling Spirit in your life. The fruit of the Spirit, which includes joy, wells up from the unencumbered presence of the indwelling Spirit. However, if you knowingly commit sin, if you intentionally disobey God, if you speak hurtful things that hinder the advance of the gospel and work to diminish anotherís opinion of the Savior, the Holy Spirit simply will not give you joy and inner peace. He will be quenched and grieved by your disregard. While your relationship as a child of God is most obviously and most consciously with Jesus Christ, remember that the Holy Spirit who indwells you mediates that relationship. The Spirit of God is Christ in you the hope of glory, and He is the change agent in your life to enable you to see and to interpret all of lifeís varied experiences from Godís perspective.

Third, other believers. In Ephesians 4.29, which we just looked at moments ago, Paul referred to ministering grace to those who hear you speak. Keep in mind that he wrote those words from a Roman prison, where several friends were at his side ministering to him. Ever think about the importance of Silas to Paul that night in that Philippian jail? You see, your tendency is to isolate yourself in your dungeon, and fretfully try to work through the problems of life yourself. However, some problems simply cannot be worked through. Paul and Silas saw no solution to their problem that night in the dungeon. They were not looking to impress anyone and could not imagine anyone being in a position to help them. It is safe to say that each one had reached the end of his rope, and someone (perhaps Paul, perhaps Silas) had something to say to the other. Thus, grace was ministered at that time of great need.

Fourth, by scripture. Did one of them quote scripture? We do not know, but it is likely. Did life-integrated scripture well up into their minds from their hearts? Without a doubt. What do I mean by life-integrated scripture? I mean Godís truth that you actually live. There is no way those two men of God had not committed vast portions of scripture to memory. However, beyond memorizing Godís Word, they had certainly hid Godís Word in their hearts, as Psalm 119.11 advises: ďThy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.Ē This is how Bible truth becomes what I have termed life-integrated, so it can bubble up into your mind from your heart when you find yourself in great need of consolation.

Fifth, by experience. Remember Romans 5.1-5, which I read earlier? In that passage, the Apostle Paul ties such things as tribulation, experience, and hope together, asserting that Christians glory in tribulations. The point Paul is making is that dungeons are a part of the Christianís life, and that each time we are tossed into a dungeon we become better at handling the dungeon experience. So, how does all this work? Romans 5.5: ď. . . because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.Ē So you see, this is all interrelated. The Christian life is hard, with lots of bumps and bruises along the way, and plenty of dungeons to live through. After a while, the child of God begins to discern a pattern to it all. God is in control. Christ reigns supreme. The indwelling Spirit greatly comforts those who are not grieving and quenching Him by their gripes and complaints that challenge His wisdom, power, and love. The Word of God provides objective direction during such dark and disconcerting times. Other Christians minister grace to you, unless you foolishly isolate yourself from them. And experience gradually gains wisdom for you.

The final component is prayer. What is the Christian without prayer? A prayerless believer is just like everyone else. As powerless as you were before your conversion, so powerless are you after your conversion, apart from the strength of your prayer life.[5] Notice, in our text, that ďat midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.Ē Do you see the sequence? It was when those two men, perhaps because they had encouraged each other and ministered grace to each other, began to pray, their hearts were then filled with joy, and they began to sing praises unto God.

All Christians have their dungeon experiences, even if all Christians do not necessarily find ourselves in real dungeons. So, the question is not whether or not you will find yourself in some kind of dungeon. You will. The real question is whether you will sing in the dungeon. If you cannot sing in the dungeon, there is something wrong with your Christianity. If you do not sing in the dungeon, you are of no good to anyone else in the dungeon.

Can you sing in the dungeon? If you cannot, something is terribly wrong. You may be lost. However, if you truly are converted and you cannot sing in the dungeon, you have issues with Godís power, with Godís wisdom, and with Godís sovereignty, that need swift resolution. Or, the issue may be one of sinning. If these issues are not addressed and resolved, your dungeon experiences will do you no good, will do no one else any good, and will not glorify God and exalt the Savior as those experiences can and should in a Christianís life.

Let us be a people who sing in the dungeon. However, before you will ever sing in the dungeon, you must first pray in the dungeon. Can you come boldly to the throne of grace, Hebrews 4.16? You can if you know Jesus Christ.



[1] Acts 16.24

[2] See footnote 2 on W. J. Conybeare & J. S. Howson, The Life And Epistles Of St. Paul, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987 reprint), page 234.

[3] Galatians 6.17

[4] 2 Corinthians 12.7; Galatians 4.15

[5] Romans 5.6; 6.19



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