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Trouble Bites Back

Acts 16:19-24
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. They brought them before the magistrates and said, 'These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practise.’ The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. (NIVUK)

Paul and Silas were preaching the gospel and teaching the new believers how to live their new life in Christ (Acts 16:13-15). A demonised slave girl, whose owners made money out of her fortune-telling occult powers, was following the apostolic team and shouting out the truth about the gospel. But Paul did not want Satan to pretend to validate the gospel ministry or mock the message. So Paul commanded the evil spirit to come out of her. Instantly, she was quiet and in her right mind (Acts 16:16-18).

The slave owners realised they had lost their income. They arrested Paul and Silas and dragged them before the magistrates in Philippi. For whatever reason, the city did not welcome Jews: there were not enough men (10 were required) to start a synagogue, which was why God-seekers met by the riverside (Acts 16:13). So the charge of being Jewish was enough to stir up a crowd. To quell a potential riot, the magistrates seized the initiative and had them publically stripped and beaten.

Then they were taken into the jail – as much to calm the crowds as to punish Paul and Silas. Clearly they were politically dangerous prisoners. Philippi was a Roman military centre, and any disturbance in the city would have been seen as a weakness of the civic authorities, with severe penalties to those in charge. So the missionaries must not be allowed to cause more disturbance or try to escape. Incarcerated in the inside cell with their ankles trapped in stocks, the men could give no more trouble that night, or so everybody thought.

The gospel is powerful to change people's lives as they repent and receive Jesus Christ (Romans 1:16): it also attracts opposition (Philippians 1:7). Satan's kingdom is threatened by gospel truth proclaiming that Jesus can set people free from the devil's grip. Most hostile people have no idea that they are collaborating with the Evil One when they try to stop believers speaking about Jesus, but they are. From a human point of view, believers may feel impossibly overwhelmed – trapped by the evil which they had wanted the gospel to expose and Jesus to defeat. Instead of success, ministry seems a disaster. Those are real feelings, and opponents may seem to have the advantage. But the Lord is waiting to show His hand of power. Trust Him and wait for His answer.

God of patient love. Thank You for understanding the hostility of sinners, which Jesus suffered on the cross. Forgive me for my despondency when opposition seems to trap me and I can see no way out or through the situation. Please help me to trust in Your infinitely superior love, wisdom and power; and be willing to praise You while I wait for Your deliverance. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams