November 20, 2022


Passage: Acts 16:16-24

16 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, ESV

Someone asked a group of clergymen a question concerning the Apostle Paul.  If he were with us today, to what denomination would he belong?  A Catholic priest claimed Paul right away, in in the name of the Father, the Son, and mother Mary.  A Pentecostal pastor spoke in tongues, but through an interpreter he said, “Paul would preach with us.”  A prosperity gospel preacher promised to reveal the real church Paul would join, if you send five hundred dollars to his ministry.  Then a Baptist spoke up and said, “I don’t think he’d change, he’s always been one of us.”

Almost every Christian tradition ties to trace their traditions back to Jesus, the Apostles, and Paul.  But I cannot picture Paul wearing pointy hats and profiting from indulgences.  I don’t see him in this passage enjoying his best life now down in the Philippian jail.  Given what Paul has written about homosexuality, I don’t think he’d identify as a United Methodist.  But, given what Paul has written about election and predestination, he probably would be either be a Presbyterian or a Reformed Baptist, depending upon what he’d do with the baby.

Our church would like to think we are like Paul because of our adherence to strict biblical doctrine.  We have formed our congregation with Elders and Deacons just as the New Testament prescribes.  We worship according to the regulative principles of Scripture and feel like Paul would fit in right with us.  But there is one vital area of New Testament Christianity where Paul and his partners put us to shame.  It is in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with lost people.

What did they have that we possibly lack?  What did they do that we have not been willing to do?  What can we learn from them to improve our evangelistic enterprise?  This text shows us some things, hard things, we should emulate in order to catapult our congregation from being a good church into being a gospel church, from merely enjoying one another to bringing others to Jesus Christ.

Challenge the Ungodly

Among the most ungodly things in the whole world are human trafficking, false religion, and demonic activity.  Paul faced all three in Philippi.  Here was a “slave girl,” used by her captors to make money.  She had a “spirit of divination,” literally she spoke for the python, the symbol of worship for the false Greco-Roman god Apollos.  And at the end of the day, Paul cast out “the spirit,” an actual demon, who was behind the whole travesty.

Women and girls are still trafficked in our day, not so much for fortune-telling, but for sex.  This is because we live in a sex-soaked society which claims validity for all sorts of sexual expressions expressly forbidden by the word of God.  One of the main reasons lost people remain lost is because they prefer their sexual activity over a savior from such sin.  Who will challenge the ungodly, call sin a sin, not with self-righteousness but with love and kindness, so that conviction of sin will lead to repentance and faith?

False religion abounds in our day.  Atheism is a false religion.  Agnosticism is a false religion, they just don’t know it.  Catholicism and Methodism and Baptist-ism are false religions when devoid of the authority of Scripture and the exclusivity of the biblical, historical gospel of Jesus Christ.  Men and women and boys and girls are fooled and trapped in such false religions.  Who will challenge the ungodly, not with an air of superiority, but with an ache to lead people out of darkness into everlasting light?

Demons haven’t died, either.  They still roam the earth like a lion, like their arch-demon, seeking whom they may devour.  They use sex.  They use false religion.  They use alternative spiritualities.  They use music and media.  They get into people’s minds, a form of possession if you will, and sometimes take over the whole body.  Why else to you think people molest children, shoot up schools, and mount pulpits to denounce the Bible and claim other ways to Heaven other than the Lord Jesus Christ?  Who will challenge the ungodly, and do battle with the devil if necessary to save a soul?

You may think this preacher is getting a little melodramatic.  What does stopping human trafficking, false cults, and demonic school shootings have to do with sharing the gospel?  Everything!  If some Christian had lovingly and courageously reached out to some of these perpetrators with the gospel, and if by God’s grace they were saved through faith in Jesus Christ, then such atrocities would never have happened.  Perhaps we can stop others from happening in the future, with persistent, powerful presentations of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ungodly, and anyone without Jesus Christ is ungodly.

Become the Unpopular

Beware, however, if you are willing to be brave and challenge the ungodly with the gospel, for you will also have to be willing to become the unpopular.  A remnant will come to Christ.  But the crowd will turn on you like fleas on a dog.

When Paul turned out the demon, the slave owners turned on Paul and Silas.  Timothy and Luke were not targets, probably because they were not spokespersons for the gospel at this point, only helpers, and maybe because they weren’t full-blooded Jews, as anti-semitism has a very long history.  And when the crowd had to decide whose side they were on, the ungodly traffickers or the godly missionaries, guess who they chose?

Americans crave popularity and American Christians are not much different from the general population.  It usually hits us in grade school then pervades over the rest of our lives until we become grumpy old men and women and just don’t care anymore.  But we Christians need to not care now.

Fear of rejection is the reason most Christians don’t share the gospel with others.  Let me assuage your fears.  Most people are going to reject you.  Many will be mad at you.  The crowd will say bad things about you.  On the other hand, some will be saved.  It’s the some we are after, not the popularity.

Embrace the Uncomfortable

Paul’s and Silas’ reward for sharing the gospel and challenging the ungodly was becoming unpopular and most uncomfortable, to put in mildly.  Actually, they were stripped, beaten, thrown into prison, then the inner prison, then locked in an awkward position into “stocks.”  Please remember that last word.

Paul and Silas are now in the uncomfortable care of a Philippian jailer, a man we will meet more fully in the next text, and what a glorious gospel story it will be.  His conversion is prefaced by something that set Paul and Silas to singing.  That something is the last word of this text, “stocks.”

The next time you face fear in speaking up for the gospel and the word of God, the next time you risk unpopularity for being a sold-out Christian, or maybe even losing a job or social status or some other thing because of your witness for Christ, just be glad your feet are not in the “stocks.”  Or, pray that they were.

“Stocks” is the Greek word “xulon.”  It literally means tree or wood, or most precisely a piece of wood from a tree that is formed into something that inflicts punishment upon a person.  In the case of Paul and Silas and the Philippian jail, wooden shackles were attached to their feet to cause them pain and keep them in prison.  And yet the “stocks” set them free to sing and witness for the Lord.

Can you think of another time when wood from a tree was cut to form a devise designed to inflict punishment, pain, even death upon a person?  Yes, you can.  So could Paul and Silas.  It set them to singing, rejoicing, and witnessing even more for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Of all the modern expressions of Christianity in the world, the one I hate the most is the so-called prosperity gospel.  I hate it because it is about money, health, wealth, popularity and power.  It is not about the cross.

I prefer the un-prosperity gospel, the one given to us by Christ, and carried by Paul and Silas.  The one to which the cross is central.  The cross is the only hope for the ungodly.  The cross when carried properly will make us ever more unpopular in this world.  The cross carries great discomfort, even to the point of death.  But what is this life worth, if we cannot carry the cross into the hearts and homes of a lost world?

Church, we are not here to prosper.  We are here to proclaim the gospel.  The cross of Jesus, this symbol of suffering and death, is central to who we are, what we do, how we worship, and the work we do for Christ.  Let us never be ashamed of the cross.  Let us be ashamed, rather, if we do not love it and share it like Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke.  Go to the ungodly.  Be unpopular.  Enjoy a little discomfort.  And take the un-prosperity gospel to a lost and dying world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *