Summary: When everything is theoretical,everyone loves to coexist, everyone celebrates diversity. Interfere with their lifestyle and you become part of the problem, not part of the solution.
To say that there is one God hinders social harmony.
To claim that there is only one way to salvation is an affront to our diversity.
To allege that a belief is wrong is the ultimate bigotry.
Christians are the problem - Christians not part of the solution.
Paul and his companions run into serious trouble in the city of Philippi. What Paul believes about God is very different than the majority of people in the city. Now, to one extent, to the people of Philippi, what Paul believes is what Paul believes, and Paul’s belief is Paul’s belief; But when Paul’s belief interferes with the beliefs of the local population, that is another thing altogether.
Why can’t we all just coexist?
You believe what you believe, I believe what I believe. Whatever you believe is whatever you believe.
Have you seen those coexist bumper stickers? I always laugh when I see a coexist bumper sticker. You know, the ones where a symbol from each major religious system is used to create the word coexist. There are several different versions, but usually they try to include Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Wiccan, and Christianity. The message is that all these religions are a little bit different, but they all carry the same message, so let’s just get along. What is funny to me is that the coexist bumper sticker is an oxymoron. See, with the exception of Christianity and Judaism all the religious systems mentioned are diametrically opposed to each other.
Is there one God or are there many gods, on maybe there is no god at all, just energy? Which one? They all can’t be correct or there is a self contradiction involved, either one is correct or another is correct. Are we reincarnated and live many lives as bugs, animals and humans or do we have one life, one physical birth and one physical death? It is either one or the other? Are we saved by the grace of God or are we saved by our many good works, or is there no concept of salvation? Either there is salvation or there is not salvation. The coexist bumper sticker is, an adhesive oxymoron.
People in our day want to believe it all, it is all good, they want to believe. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and I found a common conclusion of among my friends was, “Well, who is to say what is right, it is morally wrong to say anyone has corner on what is right when it comes to religion.”
This thought is nothing new. People have believed this for thousands of years. In fact, this is the belief that Paul and his companions run smack into in the city of Philippi. Paul, by his actions and by what he has already taught in the city, challenges this common belief: All religions lead to god.
When we read our scripture, we find Paul and the guys are just living their lives, on their way to prayer to meet with the new Christians in the city of Philippi and this slave girl starts harassing them. Day after day the girl shouts, (verse 17) “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
So….what’s the problem? These men are the servants of the Most High God aren’t they? Yes they are. And aren’t these men are telling others the way to be saved? Yes they are. So again, what’s the problem here? Shouldn’t Paul and the gang be thrilled with this free advertising? Wouldn’t this girl attract many to hear the message of the Gospel?
When we read this verse it appears to be great advertising; To us it appears that Paul is just tired of being pestered, and so he finally blows his top, but the reality is that it is an all out attack on the Gospel. The reality is that the slave girl is telling everyone that Paul is a henotheist, she is telling everyone that one God is as good as another. What this slave girl is doing is claiming that Paul’s god is as good as any other god.
To Jewish ears what the slave girl is saying is true. Jews would take the term “the Most High God” to refer directly to the Lord God. (Gen. 14:18-20; Num. 24:16; Dan. 3:26) The Jews were monotheistic and considered that there was only one God, Yahweh, and there were absolutely no other gods. So when Jewish ears heard the girl, they would take what the girl has to say as referring to the one and only God.
Pagan ears, they would hear a very different message.
Here in the city of Philippi, the residents were polytheists, people who believed that there were many gods. The people of Philippi were also henotheist, they would worship one particular God, but they also accepted the existence of other gods. What people in Philippi did was choose a god to follow, they chose a god to be devoted to, they followed one god among the many gods they believed in. They didn’t believe in one god any more than any other god, yet they had to be practical. There were so many gods, and one could not serve them all, so people made a choice of which god they would serve. They believed in them all, but were devoted to one god.