When God is Big… is a sermon series examining what happens when you have a bigger vision of God. When God is Big…Chains are Broken: This world can be really tough. And it can be so tempting to turn to certain substances or behaviors to try and escape from reality. Whether it’s binge drinking or endless social media scrolling, our tendency toward compulsive overconsumption is unhelpful and frankly destructive. However, there is hope in Jesus for freedom and healing. Recorded on Oct 24, 2021, on Acts 16:16-34, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. And today, we’re finishing a sermon series called When God is Big… In this series, we’ve considered how a bigger view of God changes everything, including how we live out our values and how we might deal with our various struggles. Well, today, we get to address one of the main issues that people in our culture struggle with today, which is the struggle of addiction. And the first question is, is this really a problem for us? Undoubtedly, you’ve probably heard of the opioid crisis, but for many of us, that issue might feel far away. Is this something we need to be paying attention to as followers of Jesus today, well, I think the answer is yes. According to the CDC, Wisconsin has the second-highest rate of binge drinking in the country and is almost tied for first place. A CDC study from 2015 showed that almost 25% of adults in WI (that is, 1 out of 4) had engaged in binge drinking in the past 30 days. And I believe the trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic and all the other social and political turmoil of the past few years have only accelerated this trend. It might be more like 1 out of 3 adults or even higher today. Now I get it. In this world, there seems to be stress and various threats coming from all directions. So it’s no wonder to me that more and more, people are falling into addictive patterns of behavior or turning to substances to try and escape reality for a time. That’s understandable. But it’s not just alcohol that’s a problem for us, is it? In her book, Dopamine Nation, Dr. Anna Lembke repeatedly refers to addictive behavior as ‘compulsive overconsumption,’ and that phrase was helpful to me to better understand what’s going on here. However, by that definition, almost everyone may wrestle with a certain degree of addictive behavior. Just think about the phrase ‘compulsive overconsumption’ and think about your relationship with your phone or your social media feed or with gaming or even your TV. We don’t even watch TV anymore, we binge-watch. Think of the struggle that so many people have with pornography or merely of watching the news. We know these things aren’t really helpful or healthy for us, and some are downright destructive patterns of behavior — but we just can’t stop. So given the difficulty and trauma of this broken world, are we hopelessly bound by these substances/behaviors, or is it possible to find freedom from compulsive overconsumption? The answer is yes, freedom is possible, healing is possible in Christ. In fact, one of the great benefits of the gospel of Jesus is its power to break the various chains that bind us in life. But how does this work? Well, if you have a Bible/app, please open to Acts 16, starting with v.16. My goal today is to show you that when God is big, chains are broken. Let’s start with v.16.
Acts 16:16-18 (NIV), “Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally 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.”
Let’s pause here. And first, let’s remember that the book of Acts in the Bible is the second book in a two-part series including Luke and Acts. Luke is all about the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and Acts is all about what happened next, what happened in the church after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. And we see what happened when the gospel started spreading out further and further from the epicenter of Jerusalem as the disciples of Jesus were faithful to do the work of the Great Commission to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. Here in Acts 16, we have the Apostle Paul as his coworkers in the Greek city of Philippi around the year of 50 AD. You might notice that Luke is including himself in this story saying, “Once when we were going…” which many scholars believe is because he was with Paul during this part of his ministry. But here in Philippi, we have the second of three stories of gospel impact or the fruit of Paul’s ministry there. The first story centered on a wealthy businesswoman named Lydia. The second story here is about the very opposite kind of person, a female slave who was being exploited for her ability to tell the future. Now, in case we might be tempted to think that something like this would never happen today, that we modern people wouldn’t be fooled into believing in a fortune-teller, I’d like to call your attention to the fact that most of us drove past a fortune-telling business on our way to church this morning. There’s one right out on the corner before you turn in here which has been in business for years. Now, Paul would’ve known that this practice wasn’t just a bad idea, it was expressly prohibited under the OT Law. Dt 18:10 says, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.” That’s pretty clear. Of course, in the Greco-Roman context of Philippi, and apparently for us in Appleton today, this was just part of normal life. So what happens? Well, Luke has a funny way of describing the interaction saying that it’s almost as if the Apostle Paul heals this girl because he’s annoyed with her. I think he was probably annoyed because she had been following them around shouting about who they were and what their message was. And it’s very difficult to have a conversation with someone or to do any sort of Bible teaching when someone is standing there shouting at you. So what does Paul say? “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” And at that moment, Luke records, this evil spirit left her, she was healed, she was free. Now, this was obviously good for the girl, but how do you think her masters felt when they realized what had happened? Let’s cont. in v. 19.
Acts 16:19-24 (NIV), “When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.”
So as a result of this miraculous healing, as a result of the incredible fruit of his ministry, the Apostle Paul, and poor Silas, were rewarded by being stripped naked (or close to it), severely beaten with rods, and thrown into prison. Welcome to Philippi, Paul. Now, this might serve as a reminder to all that there may be problems in your ministry when the impact of your ministry starts affecting the local economy. However, this wouldn’t be the last time that Paul got in serious trouble for disrupting ungodly/unjust business practices. This same issue would cause a riot in the city of Ephesus later in Acts 19. But here, after freeing the slave girl from the demonic spirit that was afflicting her, which also freed her from the ability to be exploited by her masters in making money off of her fortune-telling, now Paul becomes in need of a different kind of deliverance. He is bound and probably bleeding, he was in chains for the gospel. What would the Lord do about this? Let’s cont. with v. 25.
Acts 16:25-28 (NIV), “25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”
Now, I absolutely love the description of Paul and Silas in prison. If I ever find myself imprisoned for the gospel, I can only hope to have such a faithful attitude. What were they doing? They brought church into prison. About midnight, Luke says, they were praying and singing hymns to God. Now, don’t imagine the large prisons of our day, think of a smaller prison where the jailer and his family lived in the same building. Luke says that the other prisoners were listening to them and were probably wondering what on earth kind of men these Christians were who would rely on the power of God and be willing to sing hymns to him, even from their prison cell. I believe it wasn’t just the other prisoners who could hear them, but the jailer and his family as well because of what happened when he realized the prisoners hadn’t escaped. Look at that in v. 29.
Acts 16:29-34 (NIV), “29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.”
So we go from Lydia at the beginning of Acts 16 to the slave girl and now here to the jailer and his household as the third story of gospel impact here in Philippi. But why do you think the jailer asked about salvation when he realized these Christians and the other prisoners hadn’t escaped? Why would he ask, “what must I do to be saved?” Well, because who would act like this? What would give them such confidence and security and peace to pray and sing in the face of such dire circumstances? In the dark of night, falsely accused, condemned, wrongfully beaten, and in jail. What would motivate Paul to stay when he could’ve easily escaped after the earthquake had broken their chains? There must be something different about Paul and Silas. Perhaps the jailer had heard what the slave girl had been shouting about them, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” Clearly, he understood that the power of God was behind these events and wanted to know more about the salvation that Paul was talking about. So now, we have a free Paul who starts explaining the way of salvation/deliverance/freedom to the Philippian jailer and to his whole household. Paul doesn’t hold him responsible for his circumstances. In fact, he uses these circumstances to carry out his gospel mission. Sirs, what must I do to be saved? Great question. The answer is this: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” The gospel isn’t first what must we do, but what Jesus Christ has already done on our behalf through his life, death, and resurrection from the dead. We receive his work as a gift of God’s grace by faith and faith alone. We believe that this message is true and we trust Jesus with our lives. Luke says, “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.” They couldn’t just say, “Believe in Jesus,” because what would that even mean without a bigger understanding of the need to deal with the problems of sin and death and judgment and how the gospel is good news for all. So they explained to the jailer and his household who God is and what he had done in Jesus and what that would mean for them in terms of physical bondage, but also spiritual bondage as well. And I love the description of the jailer’s household after they heard and believed the gospel. Immediately they were baptized, so baptism is a response here of their faith, and then what? Then they started serving Paul and Silas and were filled with joy as they shared a meal together. And here we have a third story of salvation/freedom from bondage. The slave girl needed deliverance from an evil spirit but also the chain of slavery and exploitation. Paul and Silas needed deliverance from wrongfully and unjustly being imprisoned. And the jailer and his household needed deliverance from the power of sin and death through the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of these stories point to this wonderful truth:
When God is Big…Chains are Broken. Really, the story of Paul and Silas with the jailer and his household is a reflection of every Christian’s story of faith. Once divided and hostile to one another, once bound by the seemingly unbreakable chain of sin, we are brought together in unity and love and joy in Christ. This is our story in Christ today. We even share a meal together every month as a church, which is the Lord’s Supper, just like the jailer’s household and Paul and Silas. The stories here in Acts 16 reveal the power of God that is found in the name of Jesus. These stories illustrate our need for salvation from various chains in life, from our struggle with addiction to besetting sins, but especially of our greatest need of spiritual freedom from the twin chains of sin and death. According to the Bible, we are physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual beings. So in our struggles with addictive substances/behavior, in our propensity toward compulsive overconsumption, we’ll need strategies that address our physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual needs. The gospel provides the intellectual framework and the spiritual power needed to deal with our struggle with addiction, but many of us will also need help on the physical and relational side of life as well. We might find additional help from our doctors or from professional counselors here. We might find help reading books on this topic, as I have. We might find help with an accountability group. But at the end of the day, will it really be helpful if we’re still bound by the power of sin and death? If we don’t understand the way of salvation? If we never appropriate the power of the gospel and the Spirit of God? When God is small, we’re all on our own to deal with the trauma and chaos of this world. But when God is big, and our faith in Jesus is true, then sometimes immediately, and sometimes slowly but surely, chains are broken, freedom and healing are possible, and there is hope for everyone.