Philippians Chapter 1:1-2
16-18 One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that. 19-22 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood. (The Message) Acts 16: 16-22
Acts 16:16-22 (expanded version)
16 Once, while we were going to the place for prayer, a ·servant [slave] girl met us. She had a ·special spirit [spirit/demon of divination/prediction; L Python spirit; C Python was the serpent god that guarded the Delphic oracle; the term came to be used of the ability to predict the future] in her, and she earned a lot of money for her owners by telling fortunes. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, shouting, “These men are ·servants [slaves] of the Most High God. They are telling you ·how you can be saved [L the way/path of salvation].”
18 She kept this up for many days. This ·bothered [annoyed; exasperated] Paul, so he turned and said to the spirit, “By the ·power [L name] of Jesus Christ, I command you to come out of her!” ·Immediately, [L That very hour] the spirit came out.
19 When the owners of the ·servant [slave] girl saw that their ·source for making money [hope of profit] was gone, they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the ·city rulers [leaders; authorities] in the marketplace. 20 They brought Paul and Silas to the ·Roman rulers [magistrates] and said, “These men are Jews and are ·making trouble in [disturbing] our city. 21 They are ·teaching things [advocating customs] that are not ·right [permitted; lawful] for us as Romans to [L adopt/accept or to] do.”
When Jesus was on the earth, he had an amazing capacity for compassion for those who were bound by the “strongman” – the Evil one. He even sought out such people. These were people who were bound by the kingdom of evil, and Jesus brought them the message of the God’s kingdom – hope, light, peace and servant-hood. This was in contrast to despair, darkness, suffering and slavery. Paul comes to Philippi and is confronted by one (a young girl) bound by the strongman.
Slavery was a common practice in the Roman Empire. Scholars think that 1 out 3 in the roman empire were slaves. Slaves earnt money for their owners. Money in the Hellenistic world of the Roman Empire was important. To try and take away the slave girl’s owners’ source of income would have threatened them directly and they will respond with deadly intent. The servant/slave girl in this passage was a young girl. She may have even been sold by her parents or discarded at birth or a very young age. This was a common practice at the time of the early church. The Roman empire was dependent on cheap slave labor. Slaves were the house maids, street cleaners, trades people, mine workers or even forced to fight in the arenas. Young children were often sold or caught into slavery.
The slave girl had the spirit of python – python spirit that was used to predict people’s futures and she earnt money for her owners. The Spirit of Pythia as a pagan origin from approx. 8 C BC to around 4 C AD. There was a temple at the Foot of Mt Parnassus where the people believes that the god Apollo slew a large python who protected the Oracle of Delphi (in ancient times this was the place of worship of Mother Earth – Gaia) There were vapors coming out of the ground in a cave and a young girls (the Pythia) would be seated above the vapors which cause a halogenic trance state and she would utter ‘oracles’. The young girl who followed Paul around, was bound by the strong man (the evil one). She was bound those who owned her; but she was also bound the evil spirit in her. Do we understand that whilst she is bound by the evil one, God wants her set free because she was created in the image of her creator? God loves even the ‘bound ones.
In Matthew 12:29 (GNT), Jesus tells us - 29 “No one can break into a strong man's house and take away his belongings unless he first ties up the strong man; then he can plunder his house.
Ordinary people looked for signs. They wanted to know they would have enough, be cared for, have a better future. Those who predict the future were sought after.
So, this brings us a question – what do we seek? Do we seek to know the future for comfort, to know we have enough? Today, many people seek horoscopes, fortune telling, so that they can have some comfort about the future.
This young girl kept following Paul and his team around and shouting out her message - “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
Paul looked beyond the noise and saw the person. He saw what Jesus saw – a girl enslaved with no free choice. Paul knew Jesus paid the ransom for this young girl. We can’t pay the price. Only Jesus could.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Paul commands the evil spirit to come out of her. She is set free!
If Paul had not intervened then this young girl may never have been set free from the spirit who ‘owned’ her. By the power of the name of Jesus, Paul set this young girl free from the python spirit. She now longer was bound by the evil one. Jesus had bound the strongman and taken away his possession; the life of the young girl.
Paul didn’t take action against the girl – he took action against the evil spirit that had enslaved her. He did this in the name of Jesus Christ. This tells us that Jesus Name has power. His Name should be given reverence. Pray for those who take Christ’s name and discard it with careless words or use it as blasphemy. They may not understand what they are saying, the evil one does and he uses Christ’s name this way to bring Jesus dishonor. But it also is an enslavement for those who don’t understand. How can they escape being bound if they don’t know the Savior?
We don’t know what happened to the young slave girl after her interaction with Paul. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to think that this young girl was part of the church that met at Lydia’s house? That she might hear the words of Jesus Christ. That she would know that she has been bought with a great price for her freedom?
As Jesus had bound evil spirits during his ministry on earth, so Luke shows us that the Holy Spirit was at work in God’s people who were bringing the message of shalom (peace); that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life – the only way back to the Father. (John 14:6)
God’s redemption through Jesus Christ brings Shalom (peace) – it brings peace, healing and restoration to broken, confused and hurting people who are bound by the evil one.
This story challenges us to seriously think about:
· What is our responsibility to see free the young ones enslaved to the ‘gods’ of our culture? Drugs, alcohol, DV, MH, family breakdown, unemployment, social disconnection, youth suicide?
· Are we compassionate, or do we just hope that someone else will deal with the issues our youth are facing?
· How do you, how do I bring God’s shalom (peace) the people in our world today?
· How do we live showing Jesus Christ so that our culture is impacted by His message?
· The spiritual battle is real – it was in Paul’s time. It is today. We only have to look at the world we live in to see this.
· Are we able to hear the cry for help or do we only hear the voice that aggravates or annoys us?
· Are we sensitive to the voices crying out for help, or are we hardened by the culture we live in?
In our culture, it’s every person for themselves. People are willing to climb over the top of others to reach their goals and they have no concern about the damage that’s left in their wake.
But Christ tells us to Love God and Love our neighbor. To live the Christian life is not always easy; it is, however, worthwhile.
Next week we will see how Paul setting the slave girl free from the Pythia spirit sets himself and Silas on a collision course – God’s kingdom and the world’s kingdom.