By Mark Buchanan
“Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling…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” (Acts 16:16, 18, NIV).
Who cares for slave girls? Paul does.
Before he met Jesus, this man cared only for his own outsized ego and self-serving ambitions. But now he twists in knots over the fate of one little girl, thrice enslaved: by a demon that possesses her, by owners that exploit her, by customers that pay to use her.
The word the NIV uses to capture what Paul feels about this – annoyed – hardly tells the story. The word in Greek means he was deeply troubled. Strong’s Concordance defines that word this way: “depleting grief that results in piercing fatigue.”
Annoyed? No. Paul’s heart is breaking. He’s not just frustrated. He’s wasted. He’s devastated. He is soul-sick and bone-weary with sorrow and rage.
And all this for one little slave girl no one else really sees and everyone else only uses: the people who pay for her services, the owners who pimp her for profit, the demon who rages in her unchecked.
Until Paul shows up. Oh, he waits several days before acting, as his grief and anger mount.
Why does he delay? Well, Paul knows what his actions will provoke, what they will cost: a riot in the city, a brutal beating for him and Silas, a night in jail. And, of course, their successful evangelistic campaign brought to a sudden and complete halt.
I don’t think Paul fears any of it. I just think he has to weigh it out – all that loss and suffering in exchange for the freedom of one little slave girl.
In the end, he deems the exchange worth it. She goes free. Paul and Silas are beaten, shackled, imprisoned.
Why does he do it? I think the answer is simple: it’s what Jesus would have done.
Or better: It’s what Jesus does – sets captives free. Jesus did it for Paul. Jesus did it for you.
And then he sent us into all the world, to announce that freedom and enact it for everyone.
Especially little slave girls.