Acts 16:16-24: Vested Interests.
16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned round and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her. 19 When her owners realised that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, ‘These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practise.’ 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.NIV UK
In 2 Corinthians 11:25 Paul states that three times he was ‘’beaten with rods’’. This was one of those occasions. The suffering of Paul and Silas, like Christ’s, was unjust. If we are faithful to Jesus we cannot expect less. The church is engaged in a very real battle with invisible, evil powers, and there are days when this seems more evident than others, like the one recorded here. Regularly it is when we go ‘’to the place of prayer’’ that we encounter the enemy, because he hates it. It’s a lethal weapon to be used against him. In today’s story the girl was controlled by an evil spirit. But as powerful as these beings are, the Lord Jesus is very much superior. When the command to leave came ‘’in the name of Jesus Christ’’ (18a), this demon did not take long to pack his bags. He was off, and she was free! However, when vested economic interests are challenged by the gospel, you can expect a big stink to be made, and that’s what happened here (19ff). F.B. Meyer comments that whereas worldly people care most about their money, what moves the hearts of believers is the captive state of people who are lost; those enslaved by the devil. We know that people matter way more than things. It’s been pointed out that to a large extent the accusation was true (20, 21). By preaching Christ in a Roman colony like Philippi, they were in fact breaking the law of the Roman Empire. According to Roman law, it was illegal for anyone to preach a strange or foreign religion among Roman citizens. But Paul and Silas were not even given a proper examination at law. On the basis of the crowds’ outcry against them the magistrates assumed they must be guilty as charged, and had them beaten. If Jesus was hated by the world, we will be too. We must not be surprised if we find ourselves unfairly treated.
Well, this is not the end of the story, thank God, but we leave our heroes in dire straits (24). In Roman prisons these stocks were placed so that the prisoner’s feet would be spread widely apart, causing intense discomfort. They were held in the most secure part of the prison, and they were in pain. What did they do next? What would you do next?
Humanly speaking, there was no hope of escape for Paul and Silas. However, we are not speaking in merely human terms.