….the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had inflicted many blows on them, they threw them in jail…. (Acts 16:22-23)
We all know what happens next. The morning after the jailor and his family were baptized, the chief magistrates send an order to release Paul and Silas. However, Paul responds by saying,
They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now they are going to smuggle us out secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary let them come themselves and escort us out! (Acts 16:37)
Paul’s words are reported to the chief magistrates, who upon hearing that the men were Roman citizens promptly came and apologetically escorted Paul and Silas from the jail.
Why didn’t Paul reveal his status as a Roman citizen and forego the beating? Was it because he was a masochist and enjoyed the pain it brought? Or, is there some other explanation that can explain Paul’s willingness to withhold information that would have likely spared him the flogging?
Paul’s letter to the Philippians may afford us some initial answers. These are listed in no particular order…
(1) Paul juxtaposes belief in Christ with suffering for him in Phil 1:29. It seems Paul desires the Philippians to understand that on behalf of Christ they were not only given grace to believe, but also grace to suffer.
(2) At the core of Paul’s thinking lies this simple yet profound truth about life, for me, living is Christ and dying gain (Phil 1:21). Paul saw his life inseparably connected with the life of the crucified and risen Christ.
(3) Perhaps with the previous point in mind, Paul says, My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead (Phil 3:10-11). Paul juxtaposes resurrection and new life with sufferings and death. Paradoxically, the power of resurrection life produces suffering and death, which Paul sees as fellowship with and conformity to Christ and his narrative of death and resurrection (cf. Rom 6:4-11).
So, was Paul a masochist? I think not. Paul didn’t gain pleasure through the actual pain he received. However, he did gain pleasure and joy insofar as the sufferings he was willing to endure would mean participation with and conformity to Christ (Phil 3:10) and the advancement of the gospel (Phil 1:12-13).