MY PERSPECTIVE, Gary Damron
A commercial that’s catchy, but slightly irritating, asks, “What’s in your wallet?” A more important consideration is what’s inside.
To illustrate, we’ll be looking at another encounter Paul had with conflicts, within the fledgling church, with Jews, and now with an even different segment of the population. His first convert in Philippi was an eager seeker of God named Lydia who sold purple cloth. But the success story quickly turned as he and Silas ended up in jail.
Luke the writer of Acts begins the story. “It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer…” Apparently this was the custom of Paul and his companions who met regularly with God to prepare for things to come. Interestingly, the problem came from another source telling of things to come as they encountered a fortune-telling slave girl “who was bringing her masters much profit” (Acts 16:16).
In Greek lore there was an oracle at Delphi that predicted outcomes, and the same word is used to describe her ability. She followed after Paul and his companions, recognizing them as “bondservants of the Most High God” (Acts 16:17), though she hadn’t yet met Jesus whom they followed. There’s a difference in knowledge versus knowing. I’ve shared before, but my favorite verse is, “’This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’” (John 17:3).
The scripture says after many days, Paul was “greatly annoyed” or worn out from the incessant words coming from the girl. “’I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!’ And it came out at that very moment.” The way the spirit of divination “came out” of the girl was “in” the name of Jesus. The same way, “in” Jesus, we’re able to come “out” of the things possessing us: habits, attitudes, fears, or things we think we can’t live without.
Immediately after the girl was delivered, her masters grew angry. In the past when Paul had come into conflict it was with Jews over religious issues. Now these Gentiles were stirred up against him because of financial reasons. Instead of rejoicing in hope because of her deliverance, they seized Paul and Silas because “their hope of profit was gone [out]” (Acts 16:19) [the same word used for the spirit coming out of the girl].
The Roman accusers played the race card as they brought the Christians before the authorities. “’These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews’” (Acts 16:20). Within a short time, the accused were stripped, beaten and securely fastened in an inner prison (Acts 16:22-24), where we’ll leave them until next week.
Paul and Silas are an example of what binds or makes a man free. Henry David Thoreau was thrown in jail for an act of civil disobedience. When outsiders offered to pay his taxes, he wrote, “If there were a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was still a more difficult one to climb or break through before they could get to be as free as I was.”
In their place of prayer, God had prepared Paul and Silas’ hearts for imprisonment and everything else they would face. He has the power to liberate from what binds - entertainments, appetites, guilt and fears. “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
Philippians is a short letter, and characters in Philippi are mentioned only briefly. Yet the message was the same for Lydia who was seeking and the slave girl who was possessed. It’s what’s in the heart that matters, and with Jesus anyone can be free no matter their situation.