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The Broken Woman of Acts 16


An Abused and Broken Slave Girl Restored. 

Acts 16:16-24

Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke are now at Philippi, and with Lydia’s conversion, the church at Philippi has been born. But the mission at Philippi continues and we see:-

1 Only Christ Can Truly Heal Broken People. “ I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her

We are all broken people.  The next person we encounter in the narrative is certainly broken, a mentally ill slave girl, and the contrast with Lydia couldn’t be more stark.  But this incident teaches us a very important truth, that Jesus saves people no matter what their social status, their monetary value or their influence in society.  Let’s think clearly about this incident.


Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay
  • The apologue.   The story of this woman is found in Acts 16:16ff.  We don’t know her name, or even if she had one, other than ‘slave.’  She would have been bought and sold in slave markets, physically, sexually and emotionally abused, flogged and beaten, until the balance of her mind was greatly disturbed.  In her tormented state she practised ‘divination’ – the word suggests that she spoke out of an elated state, perhaps she was hearing voices in her head and spoke out to those who listened.  The word ‘divination’ in Greek is πυθως = a mythical spirit who guarded the temple of the false god Apollo at Delphi, but later became used to describe a ventriloquist, someone who could project their voice so that it appeared to be coming from elsewhere. As the missionaries went about the town the slave girl followed them, crying out, ‘these men are servants of the Most High God who proclaim to you the way of salvation.’  Paul became concerned about this.  To a Jew, the ‘Most High God’ was the One and Only God of heaven, YHWH, but to a Greek, that phrase would be used of Zeus, the chief deity in the Greek pantheon of false gods.  There needed to be clarity, for there is no God but Jehovah, and no way of salvation outside of Christ.  Paul acts.  But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.  
  • The analysis. But why do I say that this woman was suffering from mental illness when the Bible clearly states that she was possessed by a spirit, and the HE came out of her?  I’m not for one minute denying that illness, whether mental or physical has demonic roots, after all, illness came into the world along with sin.  But for the spirit of divination here, please don’t think of a little horned monster with green skin and red tail.  This woman was not in control of her own mind, possessed. Not necessarily understood as a supernatural infestation. Don’t think of ‘the Omen…’.   
    • A modern example.  A few weeks ago I officiated at the funeral of a young ex-soldier.  His mind was possessed by his experiences, and he would age screaming after dreadful nightmares.  The imbalance of his mind became too great.  One day he took an overdose of tablets, lay down on his bed and waited for it all to end.  It was and is the devil’s work, just as certainly as is war itself, and pestilence, and plague and cancer and heart disease and murder and envy and hatred and evil…    
    • A Greek insight.  The Greek pagans had a strange attitude to mental breakdowns and illnesses.  They thought that such people had been gifted by the gods, who had taken away their mind, and replaced it with the mind of the gods themselves, so that through her they could speak to them.  The superstitious people at Philippi thought that this poor demented woman, with her irrational mutterings was able to tell fortunes…  So her owners had a wonderful business proposition, they would hire her out, and for a price you could listen to her rantings, and no doubt you would hear something that could be applied to your own future. It was a profitable enterprise indeed.
  • The application. We are all often broken – sin not only affects our hearts but our minds. Cf Lockdown mental illnesses.  In the best of us. The most worthy of us, the most religious of us, – Everything is broken. 

In the Name of Jesus, this woman is cured of her illness! In the Name of Jesus the power of Satan is broken and defeated!   Revelation 20:3  IN THE NAME OF JESUS (ONLY) IS THERE SALVATION, for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved…  Acts 4:18   So powerful was the message, the declaring of Christ, that the girl was set free from her sickness of mind that very same hour.  Only Christ is the answer!

Incidentally, the job of the church is to minister to those with troubled, dispossessed minds – simply to proclaim Christ, and to do so boldly and with confidence, and unapologetically.  Here’s the Lord’s own strategy:-  Psalm 148:2-3  

2 A Great Hinderance to the Healing Work of Christ.

Now, finally, let’s see a great hinderance to Gospel work, to the proclamation of that powerful Name, the saving name of Jesus.  One of the strategies that the devil uses to best advantage to stop people being saved.  What do you think it is?  We get a hint in this passage.  A girl has been rescued, wonderfully delivered, and a great work has been done.  Paul has done a GOOD THING, has rescued a soul from sin and distress.  But her masters were not happy!  V19  

What made them so antagonistic to the gospel?  Self interest!  The opposition to the gospel lay in the wicked heart of men and woman, who cared more about themselves, their own sinful pleasure and desire for worldly advancement than about the distress of someone less fortunate in life than themselves.   

The masters of the demented slave girl at Philippi were so incensed with their loss of income that they took drastic and devilish action:  They bore false witness and put their innate racism on open display.  V20   They referenced their own cultural pride. v21  They resorted to mob action and  violence. V22   They wrongly imprisoned them.  V23-24.  

There’s a reason why self-interest is incompatible with the Christian life.  The Christian life is not about ME, and what I can get out of life.  It’s the very opposite. Luke 9:33   Self interest always leads to ungodliness, butting ourselves first, means putting God and the Gospel well down our list of priorities.  The biggest hindrance to the gospel is MEism.  

So, another soul has been rescued in Philippi, but the effects of the Gospel in changing lives is not always appreciated by the watching world, and now the apostles are being persecuted once again.  Paul and Silas are in the Philippian Gaol, fast bound in chains, in the deepest dungeon.  The story of what happens next is legendary, and we’ll look at it in our next study.

© BobMcEvoy January 2021

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