Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling. As she followed Paul and us she cried out, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the servants of the Most High God” (16:16-17 CSB).
A few years ago, my son Trevor and I planned to hike up North and South Bubble “mountains” in Acadia National Park during a vacation trip. As we reached the far end of Jordan Pond and started our ascent, we saw a trail marker for South Bubble. There I made a serious miscalculation. “It’s only four-tenths of a mile to the top!” Right, but it was also hot, steep, and the granite path was exposed to the sun. I also was not in good physical condition. It was not an easy path, and as a result, we only climbed South Bubble.
True Christianity is a good path, since it is a saving relationship with Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. But it is not an easy path. Perhaps in the sheltered, Christianized west, it has seemed easy, but that was always more apparent than real. Had professing Christians been more zealous and faithful, we might not have wrongly assumed that it was easy.
Now we live in a rather twisted kind of intolerant pluralistic culture. We must face challenges from postmodernism, various eastern religions, and the pursuit of personal pleasure that tolerate anything except a truly Christian viewpoint. (If you doubt this, try to tell others the gospel, especially in public settings.) Christians must regain our balance and strength, so that we do not collapse on the trail. Since we are united to Christ, we will certainly follow the trail to the end in heaven, but we ought to want to be useful along the way. So, let’s look at this picture of the early church and learn from the experience of that great pathfinder, the apostle Paul.
True Christianity will always have to confront other religions and philosophies (16:16-18). In western civilization, this was not the case for many centuries, as institutional Christendom provided a Christian illusion as the dominant outlook. Under the protection of Christendom, true Christianity could influence western culture with little challenge from other religions or philosophies. This happened because of three events.
- The “walling off” of Europe from Muslim expansionism
- The elimination or total suppression of competing cultures in the Americas
- The salvation of many people through great revivals, such as the Reformation and the First Great Awakening
Part of our present problem in this time of change is the need to retool our thinking. Years ago, Bob Dylan wrote a song called, “The Times They Are a Changing.” He was right, as our culture changed very quickly, but Christians did not listen. We can’t waste our time looking back at supposed “good old days”, which weren’t as good as we imagine. (Most people never read history books!) The old ways are gone forever. We must live in the culture God has permitted to develop since World War II. Therefore, we need to pray.
Usually, the church must compete in a non-Christian world for survival or expansion. This was Paul’s situation at Philippi. In God’s providence, he was breaking a new trail into the utterly non-Christian continent of Europe. When Paul, Silas, Luke and a couple others went to Philippi, they were the only Christians anywhere in the west! They were entering a new world uninfluenced by God’s Word, the Bible, and the ideas that flow from being true followers of Jesus.
Christians must be aware of various aspects of life in a culture where true Christianity is challenged. We must know the reality of the spiritual forces of evil. The Philippian slave girl in our text was under the control of a demon, and so she could do what was beyond natural human ability. True Christianity acknowledges the existence of spiritual powers that are unholy and wicked. They have power—sometimes great power (Matthew 24:24).
We must realize that wickedness will misuse truth for evil goals. What the slave said (16:17) could be heard as true, if you don’t realize her context. Her intent was mockery and disruption of Paul’s evangelistic mission. Some in our day think, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” The Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul did not share that view. God’s work must be done in God’s way (Romans 3:8; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Timothy 1:13-14; Titus 2:7-8
Our great need is to comprehend and lay hold of the greater power of God the Holy Spirit (16:18; cf. 1 John 4:4). This requires love of God and truth and… prayer.
Grace and peace, David