Today we are going to start reading through Ephesians, but before we do that, I want you to understand the background of this book. Paul was writing to the new church at Ephesus, a city with quite the history. The first information I’m going to share is from The New Inductive Study Bible, with comments from staff at Precept Ministries overseen
by K. Arthur.
“Ephesus, the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire, was the home of the temple of the goddess Artemis, sometimes referred to as Diana. Of all the deities in Asia, none was more sought after than Artemis.
But by the time of Paul, Ephesus’s position as a centre of trade was lost because the harbour became unnavigable. From that point on, the worship of Artemis became the city’s means of economic survival. The tourist trade and pilgrim trade associated with Artemis made many people in Ephesus wealthy. Silversmiths made their living selling images of this goddess and her temple. Innkeepers and restaurant owners grew rich from the large influx of worshippers who travelled great distances to see the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world. The temple treasury even served as a bank loaning large sums of money to many, including kings. And since Artemis was the patroness of sex, prostitutes sold their bodies without condemnation in the two-story brothel on Marble Road. Although Artemis was the main attraction, all sorts of magic and sorcery were conjured up in Ephesus.”
Paul stayed briefly in Ephesus on his second missionary journey (Acts 18: 18 – 21). On his third missionary journey Paul stayed in Ephesus for over 2 years. Chapter 19 tells us quite the story of what happened during his stay there, and that is what I want you to read today.
Acts 19: 1 – 7 (NLT)
“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul travelled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers. 2 “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked them.
“No,” they replied, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 “Then what baptism did you experience?” he asked.
And they replied, “The baptism of John.”
4 Paul said, “John’s baptism called for repentance from sin. But John himself told the people to believe in the one who would come later, meaning Jesus.”
5 As soon as they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.”
Paul finds some men in Ephesus who have a garbled picture of Christianity. They are likely Jews who heard about John the Baptist, and realized that this new message was more important than the rituals they experienced in the traditional Jewish faith. After talking with Paul, they understood that Jesus was the complete sacrifice for sin, and faith in who Jesus was, and what Jesus had done was the crucial belief. Paul lays hands on them and there was evidence of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling as they spoke in various languages. I’ve included an excerpt from the Inter-varsity Press New Testament Commentary Series about why the laying on of hands, speaking in tongues, etc. were common in the early church and not so common now.
“As we reflect on conversion experiences at Pentecost, in Samaria and at Caesarea with Gentile God-fearers, what is unique to the various first-century situations and what is normative for all time? Unique items, given to demonstrate to various groups and to Jewish Christian observers the direct incorporation of various groups of non-Jews into the body of Christ, are the apostolic laying on of hands and the extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit’s presence, speaking in other languages and prophecy. Necessary precedents having been set, there is no need in God’s economy for their normative repetition in every Christian’s experience (Acts 15:7-11). But “repentance, faith in Jesus, water baptism and the gift of the Spirit . . . belong together and are universal in Christian initiation” (Stott 1990:305; Lk 24:46-47; Acts 2:38-39).”
Acts 19: 8 – 11
“8 Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. 9 But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus.10 This went on for the next two years, so that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord.
11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.”
This is the early church. The apostles had amazing power given to them by God to validate what they were saying about Jesus. Paul refers to this power in Romans as well: “Yet I dare not boast about anything except what Christ has done through me, bringing the Gentiles to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. 19 They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of Christ from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.” (Romans 15: 18 – 19 NLT)
Acts 19: 13 – 22
“13 A group of Jews was travelling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this.15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.
17 The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honoured. 18 Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. 19 A number of them who had been practising sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.
21 Afterword Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. “And after that,” he said, “I must go on to Rome!” 22 He sent his two assistants, Timothy and Erastus, ahead to Macedonia while he stayed awhile longer in the province of Asia.”
Now that is an interesting story. We see some Jews blending mysticism, Jewish beliefs, and some Christian ideas as they gained a reputation for casting out evil spirits. God obviously decided to put a stop to this. The result was amazing! The message about Jesus ‘spread widely’.
Acts 19: 23 – Acts 20: 1
“23 About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. 24 It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. 25 He called them together, along with others employed in similar trades, and addressed them as follows:
“Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. 26 But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! 27 Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshipped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!”
28 At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheatre, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s travelling companions from Macedonia.30 Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him. 31 Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheatre.
32 Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander forward and told him to explain the situation. He motioned for silence and tried to speak. 34 But when the crowd realized he was a Jew, they started shouting again and kept it up for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
35 At last the mayor was able to quiet them down enough to speak. “Citizens of Ephesus,” he said. “Everyone knows that Ephesus is the official guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, whose image fell down to us from heaven. 36 Since this is an undeniable fact, you should stay calm and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, but they have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess.
38 “If Demetrius and the craftsmen have a case against them, the courts are in session and the officials can hear the case at once. Let them make formal charges. 39 And if there are complaints about other matters, they can be settled in a legal assembly. 40 I am afraid we are in danger of being charged with rioting by the Roman government, since there is no cause for all this commotion. And if Rome demands an explanation, we won’t know what to say.” 41 Then he dismissed them, and they dispersed.
Acts 20: 1 (NLT)
When the uproar was over, Paul sent for the believers and encouraged them. Then he said good-bye and left for Macedonia.”
This chapter in Acts has given us a picture of life in Ephesus. It was a culture dominated with idolatry and the occult, also with an emphasis on wealth and power. Anything that threatened those things created a fuss. I want you to stop a moment and think about our culture and values. What do we think are the important things in life in Canada? Can you think of 5 things that we value? Do those things clash at all with our Christian values and faith?
Tomorrow we are going to look at Acts 20 when Paul says good-bye to the elders and leaders of the church in Ephesus as he leaves for Jerusalem, and a future that he is concerned about. What does Paul say to them? What is he concerned about the most?
Our song for today is Keep in the Moment by Jeremy Camp