Paul’s First Bit

Phil Christman

Read: Acts 16:16-24

These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. (v. 20)

It’s hard for people who have never been there to “remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them” (Heb. 13:3). Thankfully, the Bible shows us how—most of all through Paul, who did his share of time. We’ll examine his story over the next several days.

Paul’s first bit happens in Philippi, a financial capital originally founded to help King Philip II of Macedon control the nearby gold mines. Wealthy cities are naturally obsessed with predicting the future. Today, we have market forecasters on Wall Street; in Paul’s day, they had soothsayers—such as the slave girl who clamorously followed Paul and his companions around until he finally cast the fortune-telling spirit out of her.

When Paul exorcised the slave girl, he ruined a sound business plan. The young woman’s exploiters reacted accordingly. They had Paul beaten and jailed on the charge that he was, in effect, a weirdo, an ethnic outsider who upset the order. We still jail people for being not so much harmful as outside some norm. Think, for example, of the undiagnosed mentally ill, nonviolent addicts, or the black man who was arrested on a charge of “obstructing pedestrian traffic”—for standing in his own doorway. By preserving this moment in Paul’s story, the Holy Spirit reminds us that we as Christians shouldn’t fit too smoothly into the order of things, either. —Phil Christman

Prayer: Lord, remember and defend those who mean well, but don’t fit in.