In the 1970’s demons captivated charismatics. They searched for demons of gluttony, demons of lying, demons of insomnia. A demon lurked behind every bush. Naturally that extremism gave demon-believers a bad name. The devil dressed in long red underwear didn’t help either. Evil spirits eventually were left to a few Catholic exorcists or to Hollywood.
Yet, it’s impossible to believe the Scriptures and deny the demonic. From the serpent in Eden (Genesis 3:1; Revelation 12:9) to the devil tempting Jesus (Mark 1:13) to John warning that the evil one controls this world (1 John 5:19) to Satan’s last day frenzy (Revelation 12:9; 20:2), the existence of spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12) is frighteningly unmistakable. Like a disturbed beehive, they seem particularly stirred up when the Gospel is advancing . . .
One day as we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a young servant woman who had an evil spirit that enabled her to predict the future. She earned a lot of money for her owners by telling fortunes. She followed Paul and us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God! They announce to you how you can be saved!” She did this for many days, until Paul became so upset that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I order you to come out of her!” The spirit went out of her that very moment (Acts 16:16-18, TEV).
Author Luke rejects any idea that this slave-girl was a fake. She “had an evil spirit that enabled her to predict the future.” Furthermore, she was a money-maker for her owners. People paid to have their fortunes told. What she announced as she followed Paul and the others was true. But it cast them in a bad light. The “Most High God” was a familiar term for the Supreme Being among Jews and Gentiles alike. (Kind of like a politician giving the generic benediction: “And may God bless the United States of America! Which God exactly?) “Saved” was the object of many prayers and vows made to “the Most High God”, especially of those who belonged to the so-called “mystery cults.”
Paul finally lost it. Unable to contain his annoyance any further, he turned and ordered the spirit out of the girl. in “the name of Jesus Christ.” “The spirit went out of her that very moment.” It was almost laughable. I can see Paul steaming hotter with each step. And finally casting out the irritating little demon.
But it really wasn’t funny. It was good news, of course, for the slave-girl, though whatever damage she might have done to her previous customers remained. But it wasn’t good news for Paul and Silas . . .
When her owners realized that their chance of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the authorities in the public square. They brought them before the Roman officials and said, “These men are Jews, and they are causing trouble in our city. They are teaching customs that are against our law; we are Roman citizens, and we cannot accept these customs or practice them.”And the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas. Then the officials tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered them to be whipped. After a severe beating, they were thrown into jail, and the jailer was ordered to lock them up tight. (Acts 16:19-23, TEV).
The slave-girl belonged to them; under Roman law they held property rights, which Paul and Silas had now made worthless. Beside Paul and Silas were traveling Jews propagating religious superstition. So the owners dragged them before the magistrates, who had them beaten and locked up in jail.
We’ll meet Paul and Silas in jail next time. (We already know what happens, right?) For now, though, let’s figure out why Luke (inspired by the Holy Spirit) included this incident. (Doing that is always helpful for interpreting a passage.)
Reason 1: to show the reality of evil spirits. Paul underscores this years later when he writes:
Put on all the armor that God gives you,
so that you will be able to stand up against the Devil’s evil tricks.
For we are not fighting against human beings
but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world,
the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age.
So put on God’s armor now! Then when the evil day comes,
you will be able to resist the enemy’s attacks;
and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground
(Ephesians 6:11-13, TEV).
Wicked spiritual forces are real. And, while we are to love every person, we are to resist the spiritual enemy’s attacks by putting on all the “armor” that God gives us , , ,
So stand ready, with truth as a belt tight around your waist,
with righteousness as your breastplate, and as your shoes
the readiness to announce the Good News of peace.
At all times carry faith as a shield;
for with it you will be able to put out all the burning arrows
shot by the Evil One. And accept salvation as a helmet,
and the word of God as the sword which the Spirit gives you.
Do all this in prayer, asking for God’s help.
Pray on every occasion, as the Spirit leads.
For this reason keep alert and never give up;
pray always for all God’s people
(Ephesians 6:14-18, TEV).
Reason 2: to show the greater power in the name of the Jesus Christ. Paul and Silas possessed no inherent power over the demon, but Jesus did—and does. The invocation of his name forced the demon to flee immediately. (Notice, by contrast, Paul’s lack of “showmanship” some TV preachers display! Maybe that’s why he never got his own show.)
It was the power of his name that gave strength to this lame man.
What you see and know was done by faith in his name;
it was faith in Jesus that has made him well, as you can all see
(Acts 3:16; see also Acts 4:10,30; 8:12;10:48).
Not to recognize our enemy is to minimize the power of evil. To minimize evil’s power is to “play around” with what God calls sin. And to “play around” with sin’s power is to make ourselves potentially vulnerable to the cosmic powers of this dark age. We should be warned.
At the same time, we mustn’t fear demons lurking around every corner. The name by which we are known—the name of Jesus—is infinitely more powerful. We must trust in that name. Live by that name. Speak that name. Honor that name. Willingly, gratefully bow before that name. And remember . . .
The reason the Son of God appeared
was to destroy the devil’s work
(1 John 3:8, NIV)
THERE IS POWER IN THE NAME OF JESUS TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN!
Listen and watch! Stand and live! In Jesus’ name!