Silas—A Source of Encouragement
FROM early in Christian history, the activity of faithful traveling overseers was vital both in encouraging congregations of God’s people and in spreading the good news to the most distant parts of the earth. Among the earliest overseers to be appointed was Silas, a prophet and a leading member of the Jerusalem congregation. He played a key role in important developments in the preaching work and was one of the missionaries who first evangelized European territory. What made Silas particularly well qualified to do all of this? And what characteristics of his personality would we do well to imitate?
The Circumcision Issue
When the potentially divisive question of circumcision arose about 49 C.E., the governing body in Jerusalem needed to circulate clear direction among Christians to settle the issue. In these circumstances, Silas, also called Silvanus, appears in the Bible record. He may have been one of the decision makers who was then selected as an emissary of “the apostles and the older men,” to communicate their decision to the “brothers in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia.” In Antioch, Silas and Judas (Barsabbas), in company with Barnabas and Paul, delivered the dispatch they carried, evidently relating by word of mouth the events of the Jerusalem meeting, the conclusions reached, and the contents of the letter. They also “encouraged the brothers with many a discourse and strengthened them.” The happy outcome was that the Christians in Antioch “rejoiced.”—Acts 15:1-32.
Silas thus played a significant part in settling this fundamental issue. But his assignment was not an easy one. There was no way of knowing how the Antioch congregation would react to what had been decided. Thus, “it needed someone with a lot of wisdom and tact to expound what the apostles had written in their letter,” notes one commentator. The choice of Silas for this delicate assignment tells us something about the kind of person he must have been. He could be relied upon to represent the governing body’s directives faithfully. He must also have been a wise overseer who could exercise a conciliatory influence when the congregation was threatened by controversy.
Travels With Paul
Whether Silas returned to Jerusalem after that mission or not is uncertain. In any case, after a difference between Barnabas and Paul over John Mark, Paul chose Silas, who was in Antioch at that time, for a new journey aimed initially at revisiting cities where Paul had preached during his first missionary tour.—Acts 15:36-41.
The choice of Silas may have been influenced by his positive attitude toward the Gentile mission and by the authority that he as a prophet and a spokesman for the governing body could lend in delivering their decisions to believers in Syria and Cilicia. The results were excellent. The book of Acts relates: “Now as they traveled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem. Therefore, indeed, the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”—Acts 16:4, 5.
As the missionaries traveled on, the holy spirit twice diverted them from their projected route. (Acts 16:6, 7) Timothy was added to the party en route, in Lystra, after unspecified “predictions” concerning him. (1 Timothy 1:18; 4:14) Through a vision to Paul, who also had the gift of prophesying, the traveling companions were directed to sail for Macedonia, in Europe.—Acts 16:9, 10.
Beaten and Imprisoned
In Philippi, “the principal city of the district,” Silas went through an unforgettable ordeal. After Paul expelled a spirit of divination from a slave girl, her owners, seeing that they had been deprived of a source of income, dragged Silas and Paul before the city magistrates. As a result, those two underwent the indignity of being presented in public as evildoers, having their outer garments torn off them, and being beaten with rods in the marketplace.—Acts 16:12, 16-22.
Not only were such floggings dreadful punishments, pushing human endurance to the limit but, in the case of Paul and Silas, they were also out of order. Why? Roman laws established that no Roman citizen could be beaten. Paul had Roman citizenship, and likely Silas did too. After “many blows” had been inflicted on them, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison where their feet were secured in stocks. These were “a horrible instrument,” explains Gustav Stählin, “in which the prisoners’ legs could be divaricated as widely as desired, in such a way as to prevent sleeping.” Yet, in the middle of the night, their backs no doubt covered with painful wounds, “Paul and Silas were praying and praising God with song.”—Acts 16:23-25.
This tells us something else about Silas’ personality. He was joyful because they were suffering for the sake of Christ’s name. (Matthew 5:11, 12; 24:9) That was evidently the same spirit that during the previous Antioch mission had enabled Silas and his companions to be effective in encouraging and strengthening the congregation, causing their fellow Christians to rejoice. The joy of Paul and Silas must have increased when they were miraculously released from prison by an earthquake and were able to help the suicidal jailer and his family exercise faith in God.—Acts 16:26-34.
Neither Paul nor Silas were intimidated by the flogging and imprisonment. When word was sent to have them released, they refused to sneak ashamedly out of Philippi, as the magistrates expected. They stood their ground and turned the tables on those arrogant and arbitrary officials. “They flogged us publicly uncondemned, men who are Romans, and threw us into prison; and are they now throwing us out secretly?” asked Paul. “No, indeed! but let them come themselves and bring us out.” Fearful of the consequences, the magistrates found themselves obliged to entreat the two to depart from the city.—Acts 16:35-39.
After thus impressing their rights as Romans on the minds of the authorities, Paul and Silas complied with the magistrates’ request—but not before taking leave of their friends. In harmony with what was by now a characteristic of the whole preaching tour, Silas and his partner once again “encouraged” the brothers and then departed.—Acts 16:40.
From Macedonia to Babylon
Not demoralized by what could otherwise have been a negative experience, Paul, Silas, and their companions pressed on to new missionary fields. In Thessalonica they faced difficulties again. Because of Paul’s success in his ministry over a period of three Sabbaths, jealous opposers stirred up a mob, making it wise for the missionaries to leave the city by night. They went their way to Beroea. Upon learning of the accomplishments of Paul and his companions in that city, the opposers came all the way from Thessalonica. Paul proceeded alone, while Silas and Timothy remained in Beroea to look after the group of newly interested ones. (Acts 17:1-15) Silas and Timothy rejoined Paul in Corinth, carrying good news and possibly a gift from faithful friends in Macedonia. This must have enabled the needy apostle to discontinue secular work, which he had taken up in the meantime, and with vigor return to full-time preaching. (Acts 18:1-5; 2 Corinthians 11:9) In Corinth, Silas and Timothy are also referred to as evangelizers and as Paul’s companions. So it is evident that their activities did not slow down in that city either.—2 Corinthians 1:19.
The use of the pronoun “we” throughout the letters to the Thessalonians—both of which were written from Corinth in this period—has been taken to mean that Silas and Timothy contributed to the writing. The idea that Silas was engaged in scribal activity, however, is based principally on what Peter says about one of his own letters. Peter says that he wrote his first letter from Babylon “through Silvanus, a faithful brother.” (1 Peter 5:12, 13) While this could simply mean that Silvanus was the bearer, the diversity in style between Peter’s two letters may indicate that he used Silas as a penman to write the first letter but not the second. Thus, another of Silas’ manifold talents and theocratic privileges was perhaps that of being a secretary.
An Example to Be Imitated
When we stand back and look at the things we know that Silas did, his record is impressive. He is an excellent example for modern-day missionaries and traveling overseers. He selflessly covered great distances at considerable cost to himself, not to gain material advantage or prestige, but to help others. His aim was to encourage them with wise and tactful counsel, well-prepared and warm discourses, as well as his zeal in field ministry. Whatever your role is among Jehovah’s organized people, if you similarly strive to be positive—even in the face of adversity—you too will be a source of encouragement to your fellow believers.
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Paul’s Second Missionary Trip
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