by Roger McCay
14 June 2020
Scripture Passage: Acts 16:16-19
Link to Audio Version
C.S. Lewis in his preface to the Screwtape Letters (a book, which publishes the fictional letters from a senior to a junior demon advising him on his work, oppressing a gentleman in England) gives this apt statement:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.
Today, we are going examine, in part, elements of the first error Lewis mentions. As Westerners, what is classified by most as “evil” (within individuals or society) is often parsed down to psychological disorders, sociological and societal disadvantages or maladjustments, and so forth, without consideration for the possibility of outside spiritual forces at work in the person, persons, communities, and even nations. This is merely the logical conclusion of secularists, who do not have room in their worldview for supernatural powers, except for entertainment in movies and such.
Now, often, the secular conclusions as to why individuals or groups are acting in destructive ways are valid, to a point. There are, indeed, psychological disorders, and sociological and societal issues that contribute to “evil” behavior (as Christians would define it). However, in the Scriptures, we see a larger picture, as there are two sources of evil that are often discounted, redefined, or deflected and redirected among secularists: the sin in the hearts of human beings and demonic forces.
As for the latter source, the Scriptures are absolutely clear that there are demonic forces at work that seek to overturn God’s order of things and bring oppression and misery to mankind. As for the former, the Scriptures are also clear that the sin of human beings is the source of uncountable miseries in this world. As Christians, we need to keep these two sources of evil in mind, as we deal with evil and sin on a daily basis, and as we see it take place in the broader world.
The sway of the secular mindset is powerful and pervasive, which makes it easy to lose the larger picture that Scripture paints for us as to the nature of things in the world. As such, there is a tendency to either discount, or just overlook, the forces behind those who are under the sway of evil.
Now, as you can imagine, what I just said could easily lead to many rabbit trails, even very relevant ones concerning what is going on today. But, due to obvious limitations of a sermon, let’s focus on the microcosm of the specific evil we see in our passage today, which has applications towards the larger picture. The passage is about a young girl whose life is captive and completely under the sway of two evil forces: demonic and human exploitation.
And, I’ll mention this up front, because this poor girl’s situation is so depressing. There is a real solution to evil. The solution lies in one name—the name of Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at the first force of evil in her life. The evil of demonic exploitation—v. 16.
16 As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.
We are introduced, in v. 16, to a slave girl, some think around thirteen to fifteen years old, who was on the socially opposite end of the spectrum from Lydia, whom we looked at last week. Lydia, if you recall, was a Gentile; a wealthy, intelligent businesswoman; and she was the head of her own household. She also had a belief in the God of the Jews, but she needed to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. In contrast, this young girl was a demon possessed slave who was exploited by her owners for profit. The contrast between the two is stark. Yet, the gospel hones in on a shared need between them: the need for redemption; the need for Jesus.
Sometime (maybe a week or more) after the group of missionaries first met Lydia and the ladies at the Gangites River for worship, they were, presumably, heading back to that location for prayer. On the way, they were accosted by the girl, whom your English translation likely says had “a spirit of divination,” like in the ESV, NASB, and KJV. The NIV says “a spirit by which she predicted the future.” Now, I’m not sure why the Bible translators chose to go with such general terms, but they did, and they miss the specificity of the term that Luke actually used to describe her. In the original Greek text, she is literally said to have a πνεῦμα πύθωνα—a “spirit of Python.” This is a very specific reference, and knowing what it means helps us to better understand the dynamic of what was going on.