And it happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a certain slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortunetelling. Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God,who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation.” And she continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit. “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very moment. —Acts 16
For some reason, the phrase “Paul was greatly annoyed” really jumped out at me as I was reading. Here is a helpful commentary from Bob Deffinbaugh at Bible.org:
The soothsaying slave girl was absolutely correct about Paul and his party—they were “bond-servants of the Most High God,” who were “proclaiming the way of salvation.” It was not because she was wrong that she was silenced. It does not even seem that it was because she was demon-possessed. Some seem to think that Paul only gradually realized that she was demon-possessed, and that when he was convinced of her condition, he delivered her from her demonic oppression.I think that there was no doubt of her demon-possession. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus never diagnosed a case of demon-possession which was not known as such when the demonized person was brought to Him. He delivered demonized people because those who brought them knew they were demon-possessed. Thus, demon-possession was not something difficult to diagnose.
Paul simply did not feel any compulsion to deliver this young woman. Just because she was possessed did not obligate him to deliver her. And surely we must say that Paul was in no hurry. What was it, then, which prompted Paul to finally act, and to cast the demon from her? Was it some kind of inner guidance? Was it a clear sense of God’s leading? Or was it simply his exasperation and disgust at her incessant speaking, which proved to be annoying and distracting? Frankly, I think it was the latter, and not the former.
To me (and I know this is venturing into the unknown, unrevealed motivation of Paul, to some degree), Paul said something like this to himself, “O for goodness sake; I’ve had enough of this continual interruption. I’m going to take care of this matter once and for all. I’m going straight to the source of this and put a stop to it.” My imagination is not running entirely loose, for the only other time this expression (“greatly annoyed,” verse 18) is found is in Acts chapter 4, of the agitation and consternation of the Jewish religious leaders over the preaching of the apostles, indicting Israel and especially its leaders for killing he Messiah:
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being GREATLY DISTURBED because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead (Acts 4:1-2).
Why is it that we are so reluctant to accept Luke’s words on face value? Why do we make every effort to avoid the conclusion that Paul cast the demon out of this slave girl because he was “fed up,” “angry”? The reason is that we want “spiritual ministry” to be the result of very pious-appearing attitudes and actions. We do not like to think that God’s will could be done because someone got mad. And yet we have already seen that the division of Paul and Barnabas resulted from an argument (all right, if you feel better for me saying so, a “strong contention”).