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"One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortune-telling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone's attention to us by yelling out, 'These men are working for the Most High God. They're laying out the road of salvation for you.' She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, 'Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!' And it was gone, just like that." Acts 16:16-18 (The Message).
So what was the problem? Didn't this girl give Paul just the sort of publicity he needed to get his message across? Wasn't she helping him in his ministry?
At face value it seems that his reaction was a bit harsh. He interfered with this girl's owners' source of income and he cut short the publicity she gave him by her psychic "insight" into who he was and what he was doing.
Let's look at the issues a little more closely.
First of all, Jesus had the same problems with demon-possessed people. The demons in them had no option but to acknowledge who He was but that did not mean that they did it by their own free will. They were enemies of Jesus, aligned with the devil, and knew very well who the real Master was. Jesus refused to accept testimony from them.
Only people who freely and willingly submitted to Him as Lord had reason to testify. Even then, He would not allow then to speak until His work on the cross was complete. Publicity for the wrong reasons hindered rather than helped his ministry.
Paul, likewise, would not accept publicity from someone who did not bow to Jesus as Lord. This girl's babbling was not a testimony to the salvation she experienced. She was mouthing words she was forced to speak from the "squatters" who dominated her.
Secondly, the girl was not only owned by unscrupulous masters; she was possessed by an even more unscrupulous spirit who controlled her thoughts and actions. She was a slave in every sense of the word, exploited by her human masters for money and by a demonic spirit who drove her to do his bidding day and night. She was doing to Paul what the demon did to her, tormenting him with her words.
Why he did not act immediately is not clear. Perhaps he was preoccupied with the ministry he was engaged in. Perhaps it took him a while to become irritated by the girl's tailing him and shouting. Perhaps he was reluctant to fall foul of her owners because he was already in enough trouble with antagonistic Jews.
Finally her condition got to him. In the name of Jesus he evicted the squatter and released her from her so-called "gift" which was nothing but a chain around her spirit. We have no idea what happened to her. No doubt her masters took it out on her as well as on Paul and Silas. They could not control the owners' treatment of the girl, but at least she was free from the inner torment that had enslaved her spirit. Did she perhaps respond in faith to the Most High God she had so mindlessly proclaimed? We would love to think that she did.
Paul was a man who knew who he was in Christ. He was not afraid to engage the enemy of the Lord Jesus Christ, not to win the battle already won on the cross but to take the spoils of war which belonged to the winner. No wonder the demons said to the sons of Sceva who were trying to drive them out, "We know Jesus and we know Paul, but who are you?" and beat them up until they fled!
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