A recent historical survey of Protestant hymnals ended up with a list of 27 hymns that have endured through time. These included “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” “Holy, Holy, Holy!” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The author of the survey observed, “[These hymns] focus on such foundational themes as the enduring triumph of the Cross, assurance in the ultimate rule of Jesus, and prayer for the continuing experience of God’s love.”
In short, these classic hymns remind us that language is for praising the Lord! And as we see in today’s narrative, praising the Lord brings Him glory in ways that bear witness to unbelievers. In the name of Jesus, Paul had cast an evil spirit out of a fortunetelling slave girl, earning the enmity of her owners. Because their profits were diminished, they dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities of Philippi and made vague, xenophobic accusations (v. 21). Mob justice led to the two men being beaten and imprisoned.
Acts does not record that Paul and Silas complained or argued. There is not even a record whether they prayed for rescue or release. What is recorded is that in jail they prayed and sang hymns. These are the actions of men who have hold of hope and life! With God, they had all they needed. That’s why the other prisoners were listening, perhaps incredulously (v. 25). When God miraculously sent an earthquake and opened the prison doors, Paul and Silas sensed that He had a greater purpose than simply their release. So instead of escaping, they stayed and took the opportunity to lead their jailer and his household to faith in Jesus (vv. 29–34). They used the gift of language to bring glory to God and others to faith in Christ.