Today I will spare you a running illustration by using one that is 99% as good – one about baseball. Imagine you are watching some kids play baseball and you note rather quickly and easily that the game is totally out of control. Among crazy antics are the following scenarios …
- The batter pops up a ball to the second baseman, and just as he is about to catch it, the runner who was on first base flattens him so that the ball hits the ground and everyone is safe.
- Next there is a ground ball to the shortstop with runners on first and second. The shortstop does not choose to throw to a base; rather, he hits the baserunner going toward third in the back of the head with a throw, rendering him momentarily unconscious.
- A batter hits a ball between the outfielders and immediately runs to second base, returning to home plate over top of the pitcher’s mound, doing a chicken dance at the end and claiming he hit a home run.
After these events, everyone on both sides is totally frustrated and a gang fight breaks out between teams.
At that point you feel you need to restore order and safety, so you step between them and explain the rules of the game as Abner Doubleday invented them in the 1800s! Those children who listen are able to learn the game of baseball and enjoy playing it correctly. But another group of them simply think you are no fun at all, and they write you off as a legalistic lawgiver who is interfering with everyone’s individual rights and creativity. In fact, this second group goes to the police station and tells the authorities that you are a child stalker, getting you temporarily thrown into jail.
I admit that this is a pretty wild story, but it is no more “out there” than the one that Paul and Silas experienced in our passage for today from Acts 16 …
Acts 16:16 – Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
This is a rough start for the gospel ministry in Europe. The slave girl was possessed by a demon, and she was used by her owners for their personal gain. A humorous fact here is that the demon spoke the truth about the missionary team, whereas the crowd told a lie. Though her description was factual, the association with her constantly being nearby was a distraction that Paul finally addressed boldly.
Since Timothy was a half-Gentile and Luke fully Gentile, they did not get the same treatment. The Emperor Claudius had recently thrown all of the Jews out of Rome, and likely this impact and prejudicial feeling extended to the Roman city of Philippi.
The gospel message is not going to be popular in a secular world – then or now. It calls people to a submission to God rather than their own desires – to submit to the rules of the Life Race as God instituted them, so as to have any hope of true success. The messenger of this teaching is therefore going to be discredited and ridiculed as holding to dangerous teachings. The preacher of the gospel is going to be pictured as extreme and eccentric, even with efforts directed toward marginalization.
But none of this should deter us from sharing the words of life with those who are lost. God uses even the worst of circumstances for good and for the gospel message to have impact, so let us not lose heart in being faithful to do and speak what is true and right.