When I was a teenager working in a bookstore at the mall, I came across a quirky little book called The Philippian Fragment by Calvin Miller. The premise of the book is wonderfully simple. A pastor mysteriously uncovers and translates an early Christian manuscript of letters between Eusibus, an early pastor of Philippi, and his friend Clement of Coos. The letters are a rib-tickling reminder of one of my favorite themes: the more things change, the more they stay the same.
As I read today’s chapter and the experiences of Paul and Silas in the Philippian dungeon, I was reminded of Pastor Eusibus’ experiences in the same cell with Coriolanus, a member of his flock (who was constantly a “thorn in his side”).
Here is 3 Clement Chapter 7:
1. Coriolanus has been arrested and has now become my cell mate. At first I protested to God that there was no justice in the universe. Coriolanus now and my own possible martyrdom in the future! Gradually I am adjusting.
2. We have lived together without resentment. 3. Tuesday night Coriolanus made a magnificent discovery. Near the base of the wall he found the Latin names Paul and Silas etched in the stone at the end of a prayer. 4. We noticed that the cell wall was crossed by fissures that could have been caused by a great earthquake. 5. Suddenly it dawned on us that perhaps this was the very cell where the Apostle Paul was a prisoner.
6. Remembering how Paul and Silas sang at midnight as God sent an earthquake to open the doors of the jail, we took courage. 7. “Do it again, God!” cried Coriolanus near midnight. He began to sing a hymn in monotone, and I joined in. We praised God at full volume with some of the great songs of the faith. 8. Ever and anon we stopped to see if we could hear even the faintest rumblings of a quake. By three in the morning we still had not raised a tremor and decided to give it up. There seemed so little to rejoice about. 9. Suddenly a jailor who had heard us singing sprang into the cell.
10. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he asked.
11. We told him in great joy.
12. “I can’t do that,” he said. “It’s too risky.”
13. As he left, he yelled over his shoulder, “Would you cut out the noise. It’s three in the morning.”
14. Still, I felt better for simply having praised Him. Praise clears the heart and dusts the mind of selfishness. It lifts the spirit and transforms the prison to an altar where we may behold the buoyant love of Christ. 15. It is not jailors who make convicts. It is the self-pitying mind that makes a man a captive.Praise frees us. The jail cannot contain the heart that turns itself to attend the excellency of Christ. 16. “Gloria in excelsis!” deals with stone walls and iron bars in its own way.
17. When morning finally came, I was elated. I found a flint rock in the cell and scratched our own names above the etching of Paul and Silas: 18. “Eusebius and Coriolanus—We sang at midnight and felt much better the next morning.”
19. Was it foolish, Clement? 20. It is always right to praise God, and maybe my inscription will help the next who occupy this cell to remember the principle, earthquake or not.
Miller, Calvin (2011-04-11). The Philippian Fragment (Kindle Locations 875-889). NOVO Ink. Kindle Edition.
I am reminded today that God doesn’t always work in formulas. Just because Paul and Silas’ songs of praise raised an earthquake doesn’t mean it will happen the same way again for me. It’s still a good idea to sing praises, however, if only to raise our spirits.