Possessed and Privileged
Show me, Lord, the secret of true joy in every circumstance of life as I trust You today.
Read Acts 16:16-40
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
“Social responsibility becomes an aspect not of Christian mission only, but also of Christian conversion. It is impossible to be truly converted to God without being thereby converted to our neighbor” (John Stott).
This passage provides two classic examples of Gentile conversion. The “place of prayer” (16) may be the same spot beside the river where Paul and his friends had first met Lydia (13). If so, what a contrast this scene presents to the orderly, reverent worship of that first group of women! A poor girl is demon-possessed, oppressed by people who exploit her condition. She has no possibility of freedom while her powers of prediction enrich her owners. The liberation of this girl was inevitably controversial, triggering a charge that the activity of the evangelists is socially disruptive and anti-Roman!
The second conversion concerns a man in the service of the Roman Empire. The jailer regards his honor and prestige as supreme values, so that when these are threatened by the supposed escape of his prisoners, he contemplates suicide! Conversion, or “being saved,” results in a complete transformation of values, as he took his prisoners to his house, “set a meal before them” and, together with his family, “was filled with joy” (34).
The possessed girl and the privileged civil servant enter this narrative from different points on the social scale, but in both cases the encounter with Christ brings them freedom, personal transformation, and membership in a new community. Being “saved” is not a matter of merely accepting certain propositions about Jesus, but results in radical change of life and in “the values by which we measure success in life” (Justo Gonzalez). Perhaps we need to take another look at how we understand conversion today.
Imagine a church in which Lydia, the slave girl, and the jailer are members. What might Paul’s words in Philippians 2:1-4 mean to them? Compare this with your church today.
Lord, I know often I am a pleaser, afraid to speak out or stand out. Empower me to show others the difference You have made in my life.
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