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Acts 16:16-40

Lesson Focus:

Jesus’ liberating message of good news is often met with stiff resistance.  As we proclaim this message we must understand that we might suffer for it. 

Lesson Outcomes:

Through this lesson students should:

  1. Understand that Jesus’ message of good news disrupts and unsettles those who seek to oppress and enslave others.

  2. Understand that there are oppressed and enslaved people, not just spiritually, all around us.

  3. Be challenged to see the oppression and enslavement around us and encouraged to take action.

Catching up on the story:

Paul and his companions have entered into Macedonia at the Spirit’s leading. Previously, they had been blocked from traveling elsewhere because of the Spirit. They decided to stay in Philippi, an important city in the region. While they were there, they met a group of believers in God who gathered regularly outside the city to pray. Paul and his companions met with them and they soon came to faith in Jesus and were baptized. Among them was a woman named Lydia. She was a dealer in purple cloth and likely a wealthy individual. After Paul baptized Lydia, she prevailed upon Paul and his companions to stay with her. Paul and his companions stay in Philippi for some time.

The Text:

An Exorcism: Acts 16:16-18

Paul and his companions are still in Philippi and have seemed to have established a routine. We are not told how long they have been in the city, but it has been at least one week, because they are headed out of the city to the place of prayer.

One day, while they were heading out to prayer, a slave girl began to follow Paul and his companions around. This girl was not just an ordinary slave girl, but one who, as we will learn in a few moments, is possessed by an evil spirit. This evil spirit had allowed the girl to tell the future, making her owners a great deal of money.

Literally, this girl had a “Python spirit.” This means that it was understood that she was like the oracle at Delphi who was inspired by the god Apollo, the Pythian deity. It was commonly believed that Apollo was embodied at Delphi in the form of a Python snake (Witherington III, 494). For some reason, this slave girl had fastened herself on to Paul and his companions, following them around for days.

While she followed the men around she would proclaim that “these men are slaves of the Most High God.” Our normal tendency, when we see a phrase like this, is to imagine that the slave girl and the demon that possessed her were making a truthful confession about Paul and his companions. Indeed, Jews of the day would have perhaps understood this phrase the same way. There were, however, few Jews living in Philippi at the time and so the phrase would have been heard much differently. Among the people of Philippi the phrase “Most High” would have only indicated that these men followed a god who they believed was at the top of all the gods in the pantheon (Witherington III, 495).

The girl’s cry and confession began to annoy Paul. Looking at the original text, Paul is more then annoyed. The word translated “annoyed” carries with it a deeper sense of unease. Literally, Paul is deeply troubled by the girl and her words. He is troubled not because the confession comes from an evil source, but because her message about who they follow and what they offer is misleading. “The very word ‘salvation’ without further explanation would often connote health or healing or rescue to a pagan” (Witherington III, 495). Paul is more than capable of proclaiming the gospel on his own and in a way that will not be confused as a pagan message.

Being so deeply disturbed, Paul decides to do something about the situation. He turns to the girl and orders the spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come out of her. At that moment the demon left the girl. She is now free.

The Reaction: Acts 16:19-24

As you can image, this exorcism at the hands of Paul does not sit well with the slave girl’s owners. The owners are mad that their prospects for making money have dried up. The girl is all but useless to them now. There is an important point to be made here, the good news concerning the freedom and kingdom that God has brought through Jesus Christ is not always understood as good news for everyone. It is not good news for those who have benefited from the oppression and enslavement of others. It is not good news because the freedom which Christ brings and longs for us to share with others always costs oppressors something, usually money. This is one of the reasons the gospel encounters resistance all over the world, even today.

In an attempt to recover damages, the girl’s owners drag Paul and Silas into the marketplace to face the authorities. The charges that the owners bring against Paul and Silas deals less with their direct actions and more with the consequences that they perceive might happen if they are allowed to move about unchecked. They are accused of “disturbing the city.” Furthermore, they are Jews, that is, outsiders and