ONE: ROBBING SATAN (Acts 16:16-24)
Our first episode in this tale is titled “Robbing Satan” and it revolves around an exorcism. Paul having had enough of this demon-possessed girl following him around finally turns around and casts the demon out of her. Read verses 16-18.
After Paul led Lydia and the ladies prayer group to Christ, he and the other missionaries started joining them down by the river to pray regularly. Can I plug here the priority of praying together as believers? Apparently as Paul would go about town this slave-girl was tailing him and wouldn’t stop yelling to everyone what Paul and the others were doing. Let me just point out here that Paul didn’t seek her out – she sought him out. As we go about our business worshipping God we don’t need to look for the enemy. He is going to come to us. Let’s look at two things.
First, she was a slave girl who was possessed by a certain demonic spirit that enabled her to predict the future. The phrase “a spirit by which she predicted the future” in the Greek literally means “a python spirit”. In other words, she was a slave girl with a python spirit is all it says in the Greek. Well, everybody back then who spoke Greek knew exactly what that meant. It meant that person has the ability to tell the future by some spiritual agency (MacArthur pg 96)
If you own this girl and she can predict the future then buddy you are sitting on a gold mine. And that’s exactly what she was: a money-making slave who was enriching her owners. It’s interesting it says “owners” – plural. Maybe these kinds of fortune-telling slaves were pricey and so several people invested together to afford her. Certainly their ROI was proving well worth it. And like anyone protecting their investment, they wanted that demonic spirit to stay with her. Losing that spirit would mean losing huge profits. That can’t happen.
Second, why would Paul be annoyed with her? After all, she was yelling the truth to the public. Paul & Company were in fact servants of God and they were in fact telling everyone the way of salvation. Why wouldn’t Paul see her as a welcome supplement to their ministry? This always made me curious. I think an excellent explanation is given by J.B. Phillips (read page 325). Briefly:
First, Paul did not want anyone hearing him preach to think he spoke by the same spirit the slave girl spoke by. Application: the enemy is perfectly willing to use truth to advance lies. The most effective way to give credibility to a lie is to surround it with a lot of truth. The one falsehood is taken as truth because everything else being spoken is true.
Second, Paul did not want anyone to mistake him for a profiteer. Her message was sold for money and Paul did not want anyone to believe for a moment that salvation could be bought. Therefore, he could not have this commercialized prophet confusing the public into thinking Paul was all about profit.
Third, Paul did not want this girl preaching anymore because the ministry is done by the power of the Holy Spirit – not another spirit. We are not to yoke ourselves to unbelievers for service to God – there is no fellowship between darkness and light, between Beelzebub and Christ. We don’t rely on unbelievers or worldly tactics to carry out the Great Commission. We serve God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
What are we seeing here? We are seeing how Paul robbed this girl from Satan. She was delivered from the dominion of darkness and became a citizen of heaven, of the kingdom of light. He released her from the grip of this demonic spirit and if Jesus’ exorcisms are any indication she would have come to faith and salvation afterwards. I believe – and it’s just my speculation – that she would have become a believer and joined them at their place of prayer and fellowshipped with Lydia, the other women, and the budding local church.
But not only did Paul rob Satan, he robbed the owners of their lucrative exploitation of the girl. In other words, their money-making days were over. If you want to get on someone’s bad side go for their wallet. So what do they do? They want payback. They grab Paul and Silas and drag them in front of the magistrates. Notice here they didn’t grab Luke or Timothy, just Paul and Silas. It might be safe to say that since Luke and Timothy weren’t Jews they weren’t grabbed also.
Notice the accusation of the slave-girl’s owners. It wasn’t that they lost money. They pointed out that Paul and Silas were Jews (v20) and were advocating Jewish customs which Romans were not allowed to adopt. The charges were religious and racist – not commercial. The owners stirred up the crowd and pretty soon the magistrates were following the crowd and not the law.
What do I mean? Well, in order to appease the crowds the magistrates had Paul and Silas stripped, beaten, and imprisoned. No trial. Just reacting to the mob. Here’s the problem: Paul and Silas were Jews, yes, but, they were also Roman citizens. To beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial and subsequent determination of guilt was a serious violation of Roman law. What does that mean? The magistrates were in serious trouble (
Can I draw an application here? Do we listen to the crowds? Or do we listen to Jesus Christ? We need to be very careful we don’t let the crowd determine our actions. If it means standing alone to stand with Christ then stand alone. Besides, you’re never as alone as you think you are. Don’t get an Elijah complex. Others are standing for Christ too. More importantly, Jesus Christ stands with you.
But the slave-girl’s deliverance is actually the first in a series of successive events culminating in the salvation of one man: the city jailer.
TWO: RELENTLESS SINGING (25)
So we not only see how Paul robbed Satan and how that landed him in jail, and cross paths with the jailer, but, now, we come to the second episode and hear our beloved prisoners in their “RELENTLESS SINGING”. Notice verse 25 with me, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
Midnight! You would think after getting the tar beat out of them they would be snivelling, not singing, or passed out – not praying! But nope. They missed prayer meeting earlier in the day so the prayer meeting was moved to the prison. All night long. Can I plug the importance of prayer again? And added to the prayer meeting was an all-night hymn sing. What hymns do you think they were singing? In Christ Alone? How about those most appropriate words in the first and last verses:
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand…
No guilt in life, no fear in death,
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath.
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.
In the dark of night, civil rights violated, physically beaten, publicly humiliated (stripped), unjustly imprisoned, bleeding and aching and these men are relentlessly singing praise to God. Not humming quietly to themselves but belting it out because it says all the prisoners listened to them.
How would we be in their situation? Would we be in their prison choir? When we go through hardships and we are in the darkest hour of our own trials are we praising God still? For that matter how are we when lesser things happen to us?
Application #1: This points us to a very important truth about the Christian life: God is to be praised in the good as well as the bad of life. When under the severest testing of his faith, suffering badly, Job refused to curse God and said, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” The reality is bad things happen in this world. Out there. And, to us. But there is a time when all will be made right, the tears will be wiped away, and perfection will come. We do not hope in this world, but, we hope in God. And we praise Him on the mountain top and in the valley.
Application #2: Also, it is a fact that God allows trials to come as a way of testing our faith. What will we say about God in the midst of them? Will we still praise Him? Obey Him? Worship Him? Not to long ago I came across a quote by Epictetus, “Were I a nightingale I would sing like a nightingale; were I a swan, like a swan. But as it is, I am a rational being, therefore I must sing hymns of praise to God.” Will we still be rational and praise God in the midst of our trials?
Application #3 Also, we may even find that difficulties come as a way of reminding us not to look to the things of the world – circumstances, looks, success, money, pleasure, possessions, even good things like physical health, spouses, and kids – as the stabilizers of our joy. Only God, who never changes, who is always constant, is to be the One in whom we find our ultimate joy. He is the Stabilizer of our joy.
Illustration: H. Taylor pg.316-317 on his peace in trials.
The balance is this: that while we find joy in things of the world we must never find less joy in God than any of them. That’s what is meant in loving God with all your heart, and that is what is meant in the statement whoever does not love me more than son or daughter is not worthy of me. That is what is meant by first love. That is even what is meant in you shall have no other gods before me. God is our all in all, all our joy, all our delight, all our love, all our supply.
How might all of this been affecting our main character? As the jailer, he was not a sissy. He sees the underbelly of society all day every day. He is responsible for keeping the criminals locked up tight. He understands authority, structure, order, rules and no-nonsense, black and white views of the world. He probably had carried out the flogging of Paul and Silas, or, supervised it, or, at least witnessed it. He probably sneered at them for being Jews, hating them for bringing Jewish customs to stain his glorious Roman city, and was therefore happy to give them what they deserved.
But, what was it about their attitudes as the evening wore on? They weren’t like any other prisoners he’d had before. They weren’t defiant or bitter. They weren’t crying “foul” and claiming they were “innocent”, like all inmates always do. They just took what was given them – not with a defeated and beaten countenance, but, more like they were above it somehow. Like their dignity was not overcome. Could it be a growing contrast was felt in the jailer’s heart between himself and his two prisoners? They had something he didn’t. They seemed more free in that prison than he felt himself. Their chains couldn’t bind something deeper about them, yet while free to come and go he felt chained in his soul. With each prayer and each hymn as the night went on the jailer saw ever more clearly the difference between himself and them. Like Iago said of Cassio, “He hath a daily beauty in his life that makes me ugly.”
And they spent their time praying. What did he hear them saying to their God again? Something about God forgiving the magistrates – which seemed very odd indeed. And their singing. They just kept singing. The songs were quite beautiful actually, and seemed to beautify the dank, dirty, dungeon like atmosphere of the jail. Everyone else thought so too since all could hear them and no one said anything. How did that one go? “In Christ alone, my hope is found….” The songs were so pleasant the jailer was able to have the best sleep he’d had in awhile.
Yes, as he dozed off, with the hymn in his mind, he thought to himself something about these guys was different.