As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and a 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.
Reading this passage got me thinking: What’s one of the easiest ways to discredit the truth?
With a false witness.
Paul, Silas and Luke are in Philippi, where they were to do ministry. Meanwhile, this slave girl with a “spirit of divination” shows up (read: she’s a demon possessed fortune-teller), and starts following them and shouting that “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”
The thing that’s interesting is she’s telling the truth.
They are servants of the Most High God, and they are there to proclaim to the Philippians the way of salvation.
She does this solely to hinder their work.
This girl, a slave, has made her owners rich with her fortune-telling. No doubt she’d have something of a reputation for being accurate. So by following them and telling the truth about who they are, she could very easily be assumed to be part of Paul’s team.
Sneaky, isn’t it?
But I have to wonder if it’s still happening today. Here are a couple of examples:
Recently I watched a video of a well-known pastor whose theology is extremely suspect. In this video, he was talking about Job, and God’s response to Job’s demands for answers. And he was, as far as I can recall, actually correct. He got the point of the passage (and communicated it properly). This is a guy who, based on his writing, believes that humanity has authority over Scripture, that we need to believe in ourselves and that social justice is the gospel, among numerous other issues.
But he still got it right.
Another time, I watched a clip of a holy-roller type televangelist, one with a sharp suit and a lot of bling. This guy, at a conference, calls out an “evangelist” as a false teacher, one whose stories of kicking people in the stomach to heal them and falsely saying that Jesus would come make a guest appearance at his circus (only to say “I meant spiritually” when Jesus didn’t show up physically) and adultery are renowned.
The funny thing was, the holy roller was exactly right in everything he said, biblically. Every word.
This guy, who has falsely claimed to heal men and women, told lies, distorted the truth, got it right.
So what’s the deal?
Either these guys, who are really, really messed up in their theology in many areas, are still legit brothers. Or…
I’m not trying to turn this into a paranoid “discernment” ministry website blog post that goes shooting people if they pronounce a word incorrectly or if a pastor makes a minor error. Lord knows, there’s enough of those already. And I’m also not claiming to know what only God knows for certain with the two examples above. But this passage gave me pause.
I wonder if this is part of what Paul was talking about when he told the Ephesian elders that wolves would rise from among even their own number just a few chapters later. That not only would these wolves rise up to devour the flock, but they would be a hindrance to the work of the true church in this way: That as a false witness, who gets so much wrong, but occasionally gets it right, they have the best opportunity to discredit the truth.
I’m not saying we need to start doubting the salvation of those around us or our own for that matter (if you’re a believer, that is. If not, “Hi!”). Frankly, such things are dishonoring to Christ. But we should always pause to give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to bring to light anything that’s conflicting in our actions and beliefs.
Do we have a pattern of behavior that serves no purpose but to hinder the gospel?
Do we continue to run unabated into dangerous theological ground, refusing to heed correction from pastor, friends and (ultimately) Scripture?
Or, do we seek repentance for our incorrect doctrine and our sinful patterns that are a stumbling block on the way to the stumbling block of Christ?
Do we ultimately, as our deepest desire, want to see Jesus made great?
Some things to think about.