A Tale of Two Women

Acts 16:11–24 (NKJV)

11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. 15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

Acts 16:11-15
Lydia, seller of purple

Paul, Silas, and Timothy had journeyed to Macedonia (the part which is now included in modern Greece) to a city called Philippi. They visited the area normally designated for prayer by the river. As they spoke to the women there, a certain woman–Lydia–was a worshipper of God and invited the men to stay at her house, and they consented. God provided for this missionary team, whom had taken no provision for housing or sustenance other than basic needs. When an individual or a group steps out in faith, God will prepare the way before them and provide. Trust Him as you go in His name and in His Spirit.

16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days.
But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. 19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.
20 And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” 22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

Acts 16:16-24
Slave Girl, Fortune Teller

In a stark turn in this story of ministry in Philippi, a demon-possessed slave girl followed the team, cognizant of their power through the Spirit, and verbally identified them regularly on their way. This girl normally was a fortune-teller who brought her masters good wages. While this was a picture of the powers of evil recognizing the power of God in an individual, it was not done in a way that brought endorsement or credibility, but perhaps fear, and definitely a nuisance, to the team’s evangelistic efforts. Therefore, Paul cast the demon out of the girl, thus setting her free and, subsequently, ending the run of profit for her masters. This caused an immediately negative reaction on the part of the girl’s owners, who had them brought before the magistrates for teaching customs detrimental to the Roman community. This created a riot among the people, and the magistrates had Paul, Silas, and Timothy beaten with rods and imprisoned in stocks.

The contrast between Lydia, seller of purple, and the unnamed slave girl, fortune-teller, is stark. Lydia was a woman of faith, hard-working, independent, and gracious. The slave girl was demon-possessed, in forced labor, bound in slavery, and annoying. Lydia sought to help the team and even give them housing. The slave girl, while apparently announcing the greatness of the men who brought the gospel to Philippi, actually intended to disrupt their work and prevent revival. One (Lydia) provided a house for rest and refreshing. The other (slave girl) sent them to a prison house for punishment. They both recognized that these were men of God, on a mission to save souls and win new Christians. There response and their effect on the team were much different. One blessed and provided, and the other identified and disrupted. Which woman will you be? Will you support and bless the work of God, or will you disrupt and mock it? What will you learn from the tale of two women?

Artwork from Word Biblical Commentary Bible Atlas, http://www.womeninthescriptures.com/2011/03/lydia.html, and https://obscurecharacters.com/2014/10/11/philippian-furtune-teller/

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