Acts 16.16–24 ESV
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.
17 She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”
18 And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers.
20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city.
21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.
23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.
24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Without trying to draw any criticism, rolling eyes or “Here we go again” comments, you’d have to admit that the Church is quickly losing the ground it took so long to gain in regards to our influence and sway in the world. Cultures around the world are drawing thick lines and choosing to solidify their views on their own, despite the influence of Christ and the Church. In China, the cross is no longer allowed on buildings; in the US, God and His word are being re-defined; in Northern Africa and the surrounding Middle East, Islam has allowed the persecution of Christians to the point of horrendous death; and Europe is actually wrestling with whether or not to harbor our brothers and sisters as they flee terrorism and death.
Christ has been removed as the foundational building block on which we base our views on life. The word of God—the Scriptures—are constantly being reinterpreted based on society’s values instead of God’s, and there is an everyday attempt at making God into our image instead of us being made into His.
We see in our text today a similar sentiment. Paul and Silas are accused of disturbing the city and supporting ways that are not accepted in the Roman world. The people are feeling threatened because these Christians are quite frankly rubbing them the wrong way. Their beliefs and customs run against the grain of Roman culture.
Now, the men who are charging Paul and Silas are mad because Paul has taken away their source of income. The men were using a girl who was fortune-telling by way of an evil spirit in order to make money. Even though she was proclaiming the truth about Paul and Silas, Paul did as Jesus did and did not honor the words of a demon. Fortune-telling was forbidden by God because it was a trusting of power outside of God and a manipulation of the natural order. So, for Paul to honor the words of the demon (which weren’t being said to help Paul and Silas anyway) would have been to go against God’s created order.
The scene is particularly powerful in that Paul was able to show authority over the demonic spirit, buffering their testimony about Christ and the salvation He brings. Not to mention, the salvation message is highlighted here in order to show its superiority over material gain, the REAL reason the men were angry with Paul and Silas.
What we need to take away from this is that when it comes to the “goings on” of the world, we often times just don’t belong in culture and society. We don’t fit the mold that has been created in most cultures. We belong to the Kingdom of God, a kingdom that is breaking into this world. What we must accept today is that the world of the Scriptures, the Kingdom of God, breaks into this world through the Church. We are the gateway through which God and His kingdom are merging what is holy with what is being-made-holy.
In a world that is broken and separated from God through sin, we are the Paul’s and the Silas’ who are going from place to place, following the command of Jesus to go into all the world to make disciples. We make those disciples because it is God’s chosen way to enjoin each and every soul to Himself for each and every soul’s salvation and wholeness. We will be stifled, stalemated, rejected and rebuked but we do not answer to the world or what it thinks. We belong to a transcendent divine culture, a holy society, that when born in the hearts of a sinful people becomes a living saving reality, starting with individuals, and then moving into families, and then communities, and then spreading throughout the face of the earth.
But know this, that we are not sent into this world with a holy message in order to buck the system. This is not about being different to be different or for difference sake. We are different because God is different. If what we believe and say and do doesn’t jive with our community, culture or government then so be it. We are here to further the boundaries of a kingdom they don’t understand and it is our job to invite them into that kingdom, help them understand it and to show them our God by following hard after Him.
Yes, our life will offend many but that does not change the fact that like Paul, our job is to silence sin just as Paul silenced the demon. God is in the “flip it” business, taking what is old and making it new. And in order to do that, God must rid the house of what doesn’t belong. And so, we don’t fit, we don’t belong and that’s ok, because at the end of the day I want to be a part of what God is doing to restore, renew and redeem. The question is, “Do you?”