In Acts 16, Paul arrives in the city of Philippi. Not long after his initial contact with Lydia, he and his companions were on their way to prayer when they were confronted by a slave girl who was demon-possessed. Unlike the demon possessions in the gospels where the victims were unfit for society or stricken with physical ailments, this girl had the ability to foretell the future … kind of. But she was able to bring in a handsome profit for her owners. She loudly proclaimed, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”
She was one hundred percent correct.
Paul and his friends were absolutely servants of the Most High God. Most High God was a regularly-used Old Testament name for God. And the whole reason that they were in Philippi was to preach the gospel, the way of salvation. She nailed them. So why was Paul so irritated with her?
It was the demon talking, not the girl.
But the demon was telling the truth. Isn’t that a good thing?
Actually, it presents several problems which may give us some insight as we carry out the gospel.
Since the demon was saying the same kinds of things Paul was saying, the hearers would have a hard time seeing the difference between the occultism the girl and her masters were promoting and the life-transforming gospel Paul preached. The logical conclusion then is if the words were the same, then it really didn’t matter which one you followed, right? It’s the “all religions are the same” argument that we still hear today. That argument is patently false. Christ alone saves us by His atoning death as a result of His great grace, mercy, and love.
Second, Paul refused to accept the “help” of demons when it came to spreading the message of Christ. Granted, Romans and Greeks put a lot of stock in divination and having their message “certified” might have opened doors for Paul and his team. However, he was determined to seize the opportunities God presented him and to walk through the doors the Holy Spirit opened. He had enough discernment and faith NOT to partner with those who would ultimately undermine the gospel, no matter what kind of promotional advantage they offered. Even when it resulted in a riot, arrest, and jail. We, too, have to be wise and discerning as we carry out the Commission Jesus gave us.
Finally, no matter what the girl was saying, the reality was that she was in bondage, not to her owners, but to the demon that controlled her. Her “testimony” was empty and meaningless. Paul knew that until she was free of the demon and her heart changed, it didn’t matter that her words were true. We encounter people all the time who can use all the right “church-y” words but their hearts and lives show no evidence of transformation. We like Paul need to recognize what the root problem is. While we may not be able to command the chains to fall away, we can pray to the One who can.
So what can we learn from Paul’s encounter with a demon-possessed girl in Philippi?
The gospel stands alone among all other religious systems and messages.
In carrying out the gospel, make sure the only spirit helping is the Holy Spirit.
What’s in the heart matters, not the words.