Yesterday, I met with the ecumenical clergy group that meets for breakfasts on Wednesday mornings to discuss the Lectionary passage for the upcoming Sundays. I'm not usually a Lectionary preacher these days, but the Bible study and fellowship between pastors is invaluable. Ironically, the Lectionary passage for this coming Sunday corresponds to the Acts passage this week. So I want to let you in on some of our discussion of this scripture. Acts 16:16-24 (ESV) says:
|"I command you in the name of Jesus...come out of her."|
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.
As we discussed this enslaved girl in the book of Acts, immediately, our thoughts turned to the horrible ten-year captivity of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, as well as the six-year-old girl who was with them. We would like to think that this kind of bondage does not take place in our own backyard, but we know that if an ordinary place like Cleveland, Ohio is home to such human slavery, it is also right under our noses without our ever seeing it. We are horrified (and we should be) by such brutality, degradation, humiliation, and inhumanity that they suffered. But we need to take the horror that we feel and apply it toward working for the ending human trafficking in this country and worldwide. I encourage you to visit the human trafficking website to learn more about what you can do to help. Don't let your response be to simply shake your head in despair. Like Paul and Silas, Christians are called not just to have pity on those who are in captivity. Jesus came to set the prisoners free. As they liberated this poor girl from enslavement to demonic possession, so we should work against human trafficking and other kinds of slavery everywhere.
One pastor in our group pointed out that Paul surely must have understood the consequences of his actions, before he set her free from demonic oppression. This may be the reason why he waited several days before he relieved her of the demon. Perhaps he was considering the cost to himself. The anger of the girl's owners, the wrath of the crowd, and the strength of the soldiers must certainly have been on his mind. Yet, Jesus modeled willingness to lay himself down for the sake of others. Our Lord bore our sins upon His body, and carried our afflictions to His own pain. So we must stand in defense of the downtrodden, and act on behalf of the enslaved--no matter what the cost to ourselves.
In our group, we discussed the possible fate of this slave girl, once she had been set free from demonic chains. The Bible never tells us whether or not she was freed from slavery by her owners. Just because she was no longer burdened by demonic possession, that doesn't mean that her masters no longer had a use for her. Perhaps she was freed, but maybe she wasn't. Yet hope is found in the knowledge that a church sprang up in Philippi, because of the apostles' ministry. Among that group of believers were free people as well as slaves. It just might be that this young woman found comfort and peace among God's people. Physical slavery was a socially accepted reality in Paul's day, yet slaves knew freedom the moment they stepped into the church. At least, I hope this was the case for the girl in our story today.
What can you do...and what can your church do, to end the blight of slavery in the modern world? What can you and your church do to relieve the suffering of those who are in spiritual bondage to Satan? I hope you'll pray that God will show you ways to help, and that He will bring you face to face with people who need to be set free. Visit the websites mentioned in this article and on the pictures I've shown. And make yourself available as a source of freedom to those around you.