Paul and Silas were clicking along from city to city until the Holy Spirit forbid them from heading north into Bithynia. They instead responded to a vision that Paul had about a man who said, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
The twosome hurried to Troas, boarded a ship to cross the northern tip of the Aegean Sea, and landed in Neapolis. They then journeyed thirteen miles by foot to Philippi.
The city of Philippi had a population of 2000 people and a large Roman garrison. It was the chief city in the province of Macedonia, but the Jewish population was too small to support a synagogue, which required ten Jewish men.
Thus, Paul and Silas searched for and found a Jewish prayer meeting along the banks of the Gangites River. The two spoke to the Jewish women attending the meeting where a woman named Lydia was converted and baptized as a believer in Christ. Paul and Silas then stayed at Lydia’s house.
All of this sets the stage for a powerful scene.
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.” (Acts 16:16-17)
If we use our New Testament Bibles – which Paul and Silas did not have at the time – how would we judge the accuracy of the slave girl’s prophetic words? We would have to admit that the girl’s words were accurate because Paul and Silas were God’s servants and did proclaim the gospel.
Yet, Paul was greatly annoyed by the slave girl’s proclamations and said to the spirit in the girl:
“I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her…” (Acts 16: 18)
As the Apostle Paul demonstrated in this scene, spiritual discernment is a two-sided coin. On the one hand, we need to know if the prophetic words line up with scripture, and on the other hand, we need to know what spirit backs the prophetic words. Is it the Holy Spirit, a demon, or our own fleshly spirit?
How can we do this?
(Continued in Part 4)