A Slave Girl Set Free by Christ: Lessons for Us
Luke records the following remarkable encounter between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of Light.
Acts 16:16-22 ESV 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. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods.
Now, this girl was the property of her owners. Legally. On the surface of it, Paul had no right to go meddling in her owners’ affairs. If they wanted, they could pick up Paul’s own Scriptures and cite chapter and verse for their God-given rights:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.
(Ephesians 6:5-8 ESV)
Yet Luke includes this account in his Acts of the Apostles as a righteous demonstration of the freeing, mighty work of Jesus Christ over the devil.
What has all this to do with abuse? Plenty.
These Scriptures do not conflict. That is impossible. God’s Word is not yes and no, but, yes! So that when the Bible speaks of slaves submitting sincerely to their masters, it does not do so in an absolute, unbreakable, inviolable spirit. It is always a good thing for an oppressed, down-trodden person to be set free. Slave or not. In the same way, the Scriptures speak of wives submitting to their husbands. Now, however you happen to interpret that instruction, we all must conclude that surely if a slave who is owned as property can be set free from abuse, a free woman can be set free from an abusive, oppressive marriage (or a husband if it is a case of the wife being the abuser). Just as the Scriptures that speak of slaves submitting to their masters do not negate Christ’s redemption from oppression, so the Scriptures that instruct us about marriage simply cannot be taken to be given in an absolute, unbreakable, inviolable spirit. Among other things, this means that I am NOT messing with some husband’s “property” when I point his wife to freedom.
Notice one more thing that largely explains why so many churches and professing Christians will not stand with abuse victims. See what happened to Paul and Silas? The mob turned on them and beat them and would have done even more. Everyone should have been rejoicing at the slave girl’s freedom. Instead, they were riotously raging because their own personal benefits got messed with.
And so the same old story goes on….for now. But only for now.