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. – Acts 16:16-24
You would think that when God preempts your efforts, you might decide to stand down. Not so. On so many levels. Paul and Silas are met by a slave girl who was demon-possessed, and who used her dark magic to tell fortunes. She – led by the evil spirit – hounds and mocks Paul in an effort to discredit the work of God through these two servants. When Paul turns on her and orders the evil spirit to come out of her, she is freed from this possession. But her owners are also bereft of the income she brought to them.
Perhaps it is understandable: you take one’s source of income – especially ill-gotten gain – and he will fight you all the way. He won’t give up. Evil will serve ungodly lucre. Mammon is a powerful and seductive god. People do not easily lay it aside.
Are we so different? Too often and too easily we keep hold of our pet sins, our little peccadilloes. We even excuse them as minor vices against the backdrop of more heinous crimes and evil acts. Sin does not easily let go, nor do we easily let go of sin. In fact, as long as we are in this world we will battle against the sinful desires of the flesh. We are simil justis et pecatur – at the same time saint and sinner.
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that the purposes of God will not be thwarted. Not only does he desire to bring us closer to him and make us more like Jesus, he desires to spread his rule and reign into the hearts of more and more people. So while Paul and Silas are led off to prison, and Lydia and the others in that area no doubt wonder and worry about what the next days will bring, God is preparing an earthquake! Paul and Silas will continue to trust in God and sing his praises. There will be a strategic move of the gospel message. The Word of the Lord will grow.
In the mean time, however, Paul and Silas will be led to the inner prison. Their feet will be put into stocks. Evil will not relent. ButGod’s will is not to be thwarted. This ought never give us excuse to sin. But it should give us courage whenever we face persistent evil as we pursue God’s purposes and plans in our lives.