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DECEITFUL AND BEYOND CURE
"When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with this accusation, 'These men are disturbing the peace -- dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our law and order.' By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.
"The judges went along with the mob, had Paul and Silas's clothes ripped off and ordered a public beating. After beating them black and blue, they threw them into jail, telling the jail-keeper to put them under heavy guard so there would be no chance of escape. He did just that -- threw them into the maximum security cell in the jail and clamped leg irons on them." Acts 16:19-24 (The Message).
Wow! All that just because Paul set a girl free! Talk about injustice! Who were the agitators and who were the ones subverting law and order? Certainly not Paul and Silas.
What lay at the bottom of this furore? Money! These slave-owners were mercilessly exploiting another human being for the sake of money. They were turning her spiritual torment into an income for themselves with no regard for her dignity or humanity. It's no wonder that the Holy Spirit acted quickly to release her from demonic oppression when Paul intervened!
Her owners could not come out with the real reason for their protest. What would it look like for them if they dragged Paul and Silas into court shouting, 'These men have just set this girl free from demons and now we can't make money out of her any more'? What an exposure of their own wicked hearts, exploiting the plight of the girl and the gullibility of the public!
What did they say instead? "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to practise." Acts 16:21 (NIV). How true was that? Who was throwing the city into an uproar? They were. Where and to whom were Paul and Silas speaking? They were speaking to the women outside the city at the place of prayer near the river. So who was deceiving whom?
This is our story. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Jeremiah wrote this damning diagnosis of the condition of the human heart:
"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?" Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV).
So intent are we on protecting our name, our image, and even our motives that we lie to ourselves and to the ones who are closest to us. The results are alienation and broken relationships, anger, bitterness and resentment because we are unwilling to take responsibility for what we do and say.
What would have happened had the slave-owners resolved to tell the truth? Would they have resorted to the action they took against Paul and Silas? If they were honest, might they not have admitted that their treatment of the girl was wrong and perhaps even set her free because they had been unfair to her?
The miracle of the gospel of Jesus is that it changes our hearts. It enables us to see things from another perspective; truth replaces deception and teaches us to be humble enough to be real with ourselves and others. Only God's grace can set us free from our inborn lying natures and embrace who we really are -- people created in the image of God who are being transformed from our old corrupt selves into the character of Jesus.
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