This week we’ll read three short stories from the Book of Acts in the Bible, that show different people with different interests encountering the Christian message.
Yesterday, we read about a wealthy woman who welcomed the Christians who came to her town. She wasn’t above listening to the Christian story, or being baptized, and put her resources toward the Christian movement.
Today we’ll see the story of some people who reacted quite differently, and found Christianity a threat to their way of life. Remember, this is in Luke’s voice, since he wrote the Book of Acts.
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. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” 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.
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. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
(Acts 16:16-24 ESV)
This is admittedly a strange story. An evil spirit speaks through this slave girl, and seems to be speaking the truth, and yet Paul is greatly annoyed by it. I guess the words were true, but they were spoken with malice intentions. Perhaps they were distracting people, or meant in mockery.
Either way, it was a problem, and Paul commanded the spirit to leave her alone, and that’s what happens. Trying to do a good thing for her….just released her from this terrible affliction, an affliction that other people have been using for their own profit.
Problem is, she’s a slave who tells fortunes through this evil spirit, and her slaveowners just lost their source of income. They have some influence, and have Paul and Silas dragged before the magistrates. They manage to influence the crowd as well, and the ending is not good for Paul and Silas, who find themselves in chains being beaten. Christian message upsets their status quo – using vulnerable people, owning people, harnessing dark forces for profit, and so on. All that has to change if Christianity even comes to their town and people stop buying fortunes, and so they want it stopped.
Just recently, I found myself in the same room with a family who are missionaries, and they can’t even say where. Just too dangerous, if people find out that they are sharing the good news of Jesus with people, and have a small church meeting to study the Bible.
The people with influence in their culture would either prevent them from entering the country again, or expel them, or worse.
But other times, Christians find themselves in trouble because of employers. I recently read news of a woman working in healthcare in the UK who shared some literature with another colleague, and has lost her job.
There are many ways Christians can be seen like Paul and Silas here, as advocating customs not lawful, or at least not popular, in prevailing culture. Those who have influence can attack vociferously.
I also read an online news article about the positions of different Christian groups on Canada’s new prostitution legislation. The first comment below the article was asking what happened to separation of Church and State. First, that’s not even a Canadian phrase, it’s part of US policy, not Canadian! But either way, the idea persists. Secondly, this person seems to think Christians should not even comment on our nation’s laws, that we have no right to speak because we are Christians. You can see how easily people with influence, even just a Twitter account, can attack people with whom they disagree, and right now Christians are an easy target.
Back to the story in Acts, it looks like they’re absolutely stuck – in jail. But as you’ll see tomorrow, there are some surprises in store, and so they shouldn’t give up hope yet.
Question: How does the Christian faith threaten influential groups in our culture? What would they have to change, if they decided to follow Jesus and be transformed by his Holy Spirit?
Meeting with a Group? Your discussion questions are in this week’s Group Study Guide[permalink append=”#comments”]Discuss the Challenge[/permalink]