Beaten, Bruised and Singing
Ephesians chapter 6, verse 12 tells us, "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places."
From this, we understand that we as believers are engaged in a spiritual battle. This battle can take many different forms. Depression, anger, and various emotional issues can have their source in spiritual struggles.
One thing we know about the evil one is that he is a liar. In John chapter 8 verse 44, Jesus tells us, "He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies."
When we first meet the devil in Genesis chapter 3, he tempts Eve to sin using a lie. This is his primary weapon. Ephesians 6 describes spiritual armor. In this description, we have a helmet protecting our mind called salvation. We have a sword; it is the word of God. We have a belt called truth. Much of the armor is dedicated to defending against the lies of the evil one.
As we might expect, the apostles and the early Church encountered spiritual opposition. Acts chapter 16 verses 16 through 34 gives an account in which we see an excellent example of how spiritual battles are fought and won. As we look at this account, we will find encouragement and strength for our daily lives.
The account begins, "One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortuneteller who earned a lot of money for her masters. She followed Paul and the rest of us shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.’" (Acts 16:16-17)
Let me just take a moment here to say, we must expect the lie.
The evil one had been at work in the lives of the people of Philippi long before Paul and his companions arrived. This demon-possessed girl is evidence of this fact. Not only is there evidence of the work of evil spirits, but there is obvious greed at work. Humanity, without Christ, is not only deceived about the work of evil spirits, but often humanity eagerly embraces some forms of this work.
We must expect the lie. It is in the culture around us. It is at work in the lives of all who do not know Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:4 gives us a simple truth. It says, "Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe.” Satan blinds the minds of those who do not believe by getting them to believe lies. He inoculates them against the truth.
For example, Islam acknowledges that Jesus lived but not that he is God or that he rose from the dead. Islam recognizes that there is but one God, but denies the truth of the Trinity. Or, as another example, our culture in America preaches the fact that God loves everybody, but denies the consequences of sin, the existence of hell and the justice of God. Another lie that leads many astray is the teaching that all roads lead to God. This teaching would have us believe that Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus and others are all great teachers leading us to the truth. These are all lies formulated by the god of this world to blind the minds of those who do not believe.
The story continues as the text tells how this demon-possessed girl continued day after day with her shouting. Finally, Paul got so exasperated that he turned and commanded the demon to leave the girl.
The evil one is relentless and his attack is incessant. The slave girl was speaking the truth, but she was doing it in a way that would both disrupt and discredit the ministry of Paul and his companions.
Even today, the evil one works in much the same way. He will work to disrupt or discredit the ministry of the gospel. If he can distract us from the work, his purposes are accomplished.
Everything we have seen in the story so far points to the fact that the evil one works to stop the spread of the gospel. As we continue the story, we see physical opposition to the spread of the gospel. The slave girl’s owners make accusations against Paul and Silas. A mob forms against Paul and Silas, and the city officials have them severely flogged. Then they are thrown into prison and locked up with their feet in stocks.
This is physical opposition to the gospel, and it continues even to the present day. Throughout history, the evil one has sought to stop the spread of the gospel with physical opposition. Torture, imprisonment and even death have been and continue to be used.
To the human eye without faith, it appears that the evil one has won. Paul and Silas are locked up. However, let's consider their response.
In verse 25, we find Paul and Silas praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. This displays the confidence that we have through Jesus Christ our Lord. Although the devil may oppose us, we have certain victory in Jesus Christ.
Jesus assures us of his victory.
In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (ESV) The rock that Jesus promises to build his Church on is the confession that Peter made that Jesus is the Christ the son of the living God. The gates of hell are all the opposition that the evil one has raised up against the knowledge of God.
What we see happening in Acts chapter 16 is a picture of how, in spite of all that the devil can throw up against the gospel, he cannot stop its spread. At the heart of the gospel message is the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. This is the foundation of the Church. The devil opposes this truth.
The Apostle John teaches us to recognize the lie of the evil one by checking what is said about Jesus. He says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.” (1 John 4:2-3)
Satan has built gates to stop the message and/or the messenger that would proclaim Christ. However, Jesus assures us of his victory. He said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it." 1 John 4:4 adds to this the following statement: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (ESV)[ii]
It was this faith, this assurance of victory that was behind Paul and Silas singing through the night. They were beaten, bloody and bruised and yet their assurance of victory found them singing through the night. We should always be confident of this very thing that he who began a good work in us will perform it until Jesus Christ returns. (Philippians 1:6)
As we continue the story of acts chapter 16, we read that while Paul and Silas were singing, suddenly there was a massive earthquake. The doors of the prison burst open. The chains of every prisoner fell off. The jailer, thinking all the prisoners had escaped, pulled out his sword to kill himself.
At this point, we should add an explanation of the jailer's behavior. The jailer was entrusted with prisoners and his only job was to produce the prisoners when the prisoners were called for. If the prisoners were not produced, the jailer's life was forfeit. It was a simple and effective way to prevent prisoners escaping. However, in the case of Paul and Silas, this system failed, but none of the prisoners escaped. The locked doors and chains no longer held any of the prisoners. Only the power of God kept them in the jail, and so they all remained in their cells as if the doors were still locked.
Against the power of God, the powers of darkness do not stand a chance. The grave could not hold Jesus. The prison and the chains could not hold Paul and Silas. In the case of Jesus, when he was going to the cross, he could have called an army of angels to deliver him but he went willingly to his death in order to accomplish the purposes of God. In the case of Paul and Silas, God did not have to let them be arrested, but in order to save the jailer and his family, God allowed them both to be beaten and jailed.
The world may think the church is beaten, and that there is no hope for Christians. However, "Despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
When the jailer realized that the prisoners were still there, he was overcome by the revelation of the power of God. He thought his life was over, but it was miraculously saved by the prisoners remaining in their cells. Notice his reaction. He ran to the dungeon and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. His first question was, "What must I do to be saved?"
Remember, the slave girl had told everybody that these were the servants of the most high God and that they were telling them how they must be saved. Until this jailer saw the power of God displayed, he put no confidence in the words of the slave girl. However, God used a miraculous display of his power to open the eyes of the jailer. The blindness of mind was removed.
Their reply was simple. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." (Acts 16:31) This is the truth that Peter confessed when he said, "You are the Christ the son of the living God." This is the foundation upon which the Church is built. And, this is the power that overcomes the evil one.
1 John 5:4-5 tells us, “For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.
Paul and Silas overcame by faith. Their faith was displayed in their singing in the middle of the night. You and I will overcome by faith. Have confidence that whatever we encounter, the one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.