The Work in Philippi: Part 5 of 14
by John Lowe
A SAVING GOSPEL
18 And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour.
For a long time Paul hesitated to do anything about the situation. The girl was not for sale, she was too valuable a piece of property for that; otherwise he or Lydia might have bought her and then set her free from the possessing “spirit” without any unpleasant consequences. Paul was realistic enough to know he would be asking for trouble if he freed the girl from her demon possession, since she was still legally someone else’s property. Besides, who could tell what cruelties the wretched girls heartless owners might work on the unfortunate slave once she could no longer put money in their pockets?
Still, Paul was “grieved.” He was grieved for the damage being done to the cause of “Christ.” He grieved for the poor, lost, demon-possessed slave girl. His heart went out to her in all her lostness. An evil spirit is a terrible guest to have haunting one’s soul and possessing one’s body.
This woman seemed to always be there, always following them from place to place, always shouting that they were servants of the “Most High God” and proclaimers of “a way of salvation.” She was telling the truth now. Why not let her continue? When the devil tells the truth about the Church, a danger is created. Satan, though the father of lies, will declare the most important truths, when he can in so doing serve his purposes.
None of this would have been very clear to Gentiles. The term “God Most High” was a common Old Testament term for God, but the same term was equally common in the Gentile world and was particularly applied to Zeus. Neither would “way of salvation” be immediately clear to a Gentile. The Greco-Roman world was full of “saviors.” Savior/deliver, salvation/deliverance were favorite terms.
These acclamations may have been true enough, but they were open to too much misunderstanding for pagan hearers. The truth could not be so easily condensed for those from a polytheistic background. Jesus might be seen as just another savior in the bulging pantheon of Greek gods.
At last Paul could stand it no longer. Throwing caution to the winds, he invoked the mighty name of the Lord “Jesus Christ” This was the common formula for exorcism, and it is used for the first time here in acts. and, before that name, the evil spirit (demon) fled; in obedience to his command and apostolic authority. The ability to cast out demons was a special ability of Christ’s apostles (Mark 3:15). The girl was set free from a spiritual captivity worse than any slavery devised by Rome. Her chains fell off! Her soul was set free! But now she could no longer prophesy. Her ability to tell fortunes was gone.
PAUL AND SILAS SEIZED
19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers,
There are some businesses that ought to be destroyed, businesses that trade on people’s vices, pander to lusts, undermine society, wrecked homes, ruin health, and spread disease. There are thousands of people today involved in peddling drugs, in selling liquor, in encouraging people to smoke, in selling pornography. They represent vast and powerful interests. There is money to be made in these things, big money. Such evils should be suppressed. They should be dealt with by society as a Doctor deals with cancer. But woe to those who try to put a stop to them—especially if action is taken by one individual acting under the spur and lash of conscience.
The callous exploitation of the slave girl was financially profitable. Her emancipation spoiled the business. The girl’s owners were enraged. The two men responsible were Paul and Silas, so they hauled them off to the authorities. Paul and Silas had the law on their side. So much for the law. It should have protected the girl, but it protected a very questionable business, not to mention that it legalized slavery. We have laws today that protect pornography and perversion, laws based on the right of free speech and civil rights. God calls such practices, “legal” or not, SIN.
The first-person narrative stops at verse 17 and does not return in Acts until Paul’s return to Philippi in 20:6. Luke and Timothy dropped out of the picture at this point. Only “Paul and Silas” got the brunt of the owners’ anger and were dragged before the magistrates.
THE RACIST CHARGE
20a And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews . . .
This probably explains why Luke and Timothy were not molested. Luke was obviously a Gentile and Timothy, who was half Gentile probably looked all Gentile. Anti-Semitism was a convenient way to prejudice the mob and influence “the magistrates.” Anti-Jewish sentiments were as prevalent in Roman times as it is in modern times. It becomes epidemic under certain conditions, but it is always prevalent in Gentile society.
Paul and Silas looked like “Jews”—they were Jews. “These men being Jews” were objects of hatred, contempt, and suspicion by the Romans, and at this time there was more than the usual prejudice. Jews were not like other people. They did not worship the gods, they were clannish, and they would not buy meat in Gentile markets. They were rich, and they pulled strings. In short, anti-Semitism had plenty of fuel for its flames.
There was nothing wrong with Paul and Silas being Jews. Roman law protected Jews. It was, however, a racial charge well calculated to prejudice a fair trial in Philippi. The emperor Claudius issued an order around that time expelling the Jews from Rome (18:2). This may explain why they apprehended only Paul and Silas, since Luke was a Gentile and Timothy a half Gentile.
The “magistrates,” who probably were the same as the “rulers” of verse 19, would be the two men who tried civil cases and were generally responsible for maintaining law and order.
THE RIOT CHARGE
20b These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city,
The magistrates were Romans. The Greek word for “magistrate” is strategos, an indication of Luke’s accuracy. Philippi was a colony, and its magistrates bore the same title as those at Rome, praetors, for which Luke’s Greek word is the exact equivalent. As a Roman colony, Philippi was administered by two such magistrates after the pattern of Rome itself. Hence the seriousness of the charge that the two wondering Jews were making trouble in the city. Roman Colonies were supposed to be models of peace and decorum, and to disturb the peace would be a reflection on Rome itself. The magistrates would see any riot as a reflection on themselves. The expression “do exceedingly trouble” occurs only here in the New Testament and suggests that a riot was feared. In any case, Paul and Silas were accused of instigating such a riot. Though not specifically stated, there was probably the additional charge of illegal proselytizing for Judaism, but the evidence is that Jews were not forbidden to proselytize until the time of Hadrian, well into the second century.
THE RELIGIOUS CHARGE
21 And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.
Note the contemptuous contrast in the charge between “being Jews” (v. 20) and “being Romans” (v. 21). The owners of the slave girl were careful in their charges to avoid the real issue of her healing and their resulting loss of profit. It did not take much to show Paul and Silas in a bad light.
The charge that their religious teaching was unlawful has a familiar ring—it is the charge many a missionary has had to face. It is heard still in many countries where powerful religious and political systems hold sway. Those seeking to spread the gospel in communist lands, in lands where Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam hold sway are familiar with the charge. Up until recently, Roman Catholic countries excluded the gospel by use of the courts. Today the great enemy of Judaism and Christianity is “radical” Islam which has violently murdered thousands of helpless people by hanging, burning alive, beheading, etc.