Paul in Ephesus


Acts 19

In addition to being a man of faith, Paul was a man of action. From the time he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, when he changed his allegiance for all of time and eternity, he was rarely in one place for long. He was a man driven by this God-given command: to take the good news about Jesus Christ to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people). He took his commission seriously and pressed on through trial and tribulation. When comparing his work to that of those who called him a fool and who boasted in a worldly way, he described his life as follows:

"I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jewish people the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and often gone without sleep. I have known hunger and thirst and often gone without food. I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin and I do not inwardly burn?" 2 Corinthians 11:23-29

Wow! What a testimony! Yet many in today’s world are suffering in the same way and are honoured to do so! This was how Paul was until he knew that he had finished what God intended for him to complete:

"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing." 2 Timothy 4:6-8.

Then he was content to go to be with the Lord. Nobody could take his life until it was time for him to go – until he had completed his commission. Could you and I say that of our lives? Could we say that we know what God has commissioned us to do? Will we possibly be able to say that we have worked at it with all our might and that we have finished the race? We cannot answer these questions for others, only individually for ourselves, for only we know of our own relationship with God. Only we know what He has given us to do.

Third missionary journey

Paul knew that his life was never going to be easy again, even before Ananias, in fear and trembling, obeyed God and went to the man who had split families, dragging people off to prison and death for becoming believers. (Acts 9:10-16) So Paul’s life had now entered a new phase: his third missionary journey. He could not keep away from those he cared for so passionately, those for whom he had risked his life, those who had responded to the call of Jesus on their lives and had become believers in the most difficult of circumstances – in riots, in prisons, under persecution and who still remained faithful to their Lord and Saviour. Paul’s entire existence was focused on extending God’s kingdom and strengthening those who were young and weak in the faith.

This journey was to be one of almost four years and was accomplished by walking, taking passage on ships and on horseback. The roads were at best wide tracks and, although seasoned by his previous journeys, at least some of the countryside would have been unknown to him. As Acts 19 takes up Paul’s story, we find the worldwide nature of the gospel explained. Apollos was now at Corinth in Achaia, preaching the gospel. Paul, on the other hand, was tramping through the interior of Asia Minor, also preaching the gospel and encouraging the believers, before finally arriving in Ephesus. There he found some believers. On his previous trip, he had been unable to spend any more time reasoning with the Jewish people in the synagogue, but he had promised to return to Ephesus (Acts 18:21). Paul was now fulfilling his promise. When you and I promise to return and continue our discussions with those who are interested in knowing more, we should endeavour to keep our promises. When we do, we may be surprised to learn that God has already built on the foundation that we laid and that our return gives us the opportunity to encourage the new believers to go further.

There is always further to go with God. Until the end of our lives, we will continue to learn more of Him. When we go to be with Him in heaven, we will go on exploring the unending riches of his grace, mercy and love. God never designed His kingdom to be finite. He designed it to be like Himself: infinite and boundless, full of people and complete in every aspect, expressing more than we could ever experience. Have you experienced that fullness and expansiveness of God? Have you opened up your life to Him, given up your life’s ambitions in exchange for His ambitions for you, traded in your worn out and tired life for His action-packed excitement? You can do just that and gain a whole new lease on life so that, when you finally meet God face-to-face and give account of your life, you will hear Him say: "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Matthew 25:21 (NKJV)

Acts 19:1-7

Holy Spirit Helper

Paul did not beat about the bush. He asked some straight questions: "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when (or possibly "after") you believed?" The response was both frank and revealing: "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." (Acts 19:2). These people acknowledged that they had only been obedient to the extent of their knowledge at the time (from the teaching of John the Baptist). But "as soon as they heard this, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then, when Paul laid his hands upon their heads, the Holy Spirit came on them and they spoke in other languages and prophesied. The men involved were about twelve in number." Acts 19:3-7.

When you and I discover something in the word of God that we know we should respond to, do we wait? Do we put it off? Do we justify our stance? Or do we just get on with it (as these men did) and put ourselves in a position where God can use us again and again in His work? God only wants the best for us. He wants to strengthen us and to empower us as we learn to walk with Him. There is so much more that God wants to teach us, if we will only listen to His voice. As Christians, we can only take people as far as we ourselves have come. If that is not very far, then God will bring others in to do the work that we ourselves could have done, if only we had obeyed God in the first place. Let's stop paddling in the shallows so far as our Christian lives are concerned and move out into deep water, where we can swim in the power of the Holy Spirit. (Ezekiel 47:1-12)

Then we shall be inundated and empowered to live our lives with God and for God, where all that we do counts towards forcing back the powers of darkness and helping to bring in the kingdom of Jesus. When we live in the centre of the will of God for our lives, there is no need to struggle at it. We can let Him guide us, as we step out for Him in the direction He has planned for us to go. We don’t have to wait around. Rather, we can get on with life! We can move in the general direction that we know to be right for us and God will guide us further along the way. That’s the way Abraham did it - and David and many others in the Old Testament who serve as examples for our lives. (See Genesis 12:1.)

When the men heard what Paul had to say and obeyed the command of God for their lives, Paul placed his hands on them and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. This is the normal, Christian life. Being baptised in the Holy Spirit is normal; speaking in tongues is normal; prophesying is normal. Don’t argue, just do it!

Acts 19:8-12

Having sorted out this small group of believers, Paul got on with life in Ephesus and did what he always did: he went to the synagogue. They let him stay for three months this time. They listened to him while he argued persuasively about the kingdom of God but, eventually, they could stand it no longer. They were convicted by what he had to say and became obstinate. They refused to believe and publicly declared that "the Way" that Paul was advocating was bad. Having set themselves resolutely against Paul and his teaching, they refused to listen any further and Paul saw that the time had come to move on. God is patient and loving, otherwise Paul would never have bothered going there in the first place, but Jesus cautioned us about throwing our "pearls before pigs". (Matthew 7:6) These people were wasting Paul’s time and were preventing others from hearing and accepting God’s plan for their lives. So, Paul and the disciples left and started to meet in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. (Acts 19:9) On his second, missionary journey, Paul had been prevented from preaching God's word in the province of Asia. (Acts 16:6) Now it was time for them to hear. The fact that Paul moved out from the synagogue, where the Jews and the others who met there had refused to listen any more to the word of God, gave Paul and his companions the freedom that the Holy Spirit needed to reach those who needed to hear. So, Luke says:

"This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the Province of Asia heard the word of the Lord." (Acts 19:10)

What a difference! Now everyone had heard and God was able to do extraordinary (special, unusual) miracles there through Paul. Even sicknesses were cured and evil spirits driven out of them when they came into contact with handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul. (Acts 19:11-12) These were miracles of the same type that Jesus did when he walked through the Galilee before His crucifixion.

Acts 19:13-22

It is one thing to be a believer and to use the Name of Jesus (because you have received the authority to do so), but it is an entirely different thing to do as the seven sons of Sceva did. Sceva was a Jewish chief priest and his sons would have been brought up with "religion" (Acts 19:13-16). It is a fact that Satan and his hordes of demons must bow the knee to the Name of Jesus (Philippians 2:9-11). But, when that Name is used by those who only want to work a magic spell or cast a horoscope, without the authority that goes with it, they should be careful of the consequences. I'm sure that these seven sons had not expected to be beaten up and badly injured, running for their lives from the house. I am equally sure that Satan will not bow the knee to his own people. They are the ones who have already bowed the knee to him! He does not respect them for it. If you have been misusing Jesus' Name, now is the time to change sides! Repent (turn away from your wrong life, and say you are sorry); confess your sins (agree with God about what He says) and ask Him to move in and take control of your life - and you will be saved! God will begin the transformation of your life on earth and your future destination – to be with Him for ever when you die - will be assured. You will move from death to life. You will be released entirely from the power of your past life and receive the assurance that all your sins are forgiven.

This was not the case with Sceva’s sons. They were playing in a league that was way too high for them. They were dealing with power of which they had no concept. It is exactly the same with those who begin to dabble in what they regard as small, insignificant and perhaps immaterial things. They may go to a palm reader, have their tea leaves read, or get involved in tarot cards or a ouija board, or even go to spiritualist meetings. None of these seems to be an important issue, but it is what is behind them that sucks people in. Mediums do not contact the dead beyond the grave. They access demons who pretend to be those people. Because the loved one remaining on earth is in a vulnerable position and is prepared to believe, the demonic confidence trick can be achieved very easily. If you are involved in any of these things (or something similar), GET OUT NOW WHILE YOU STILL CAN!

These people living in Ephesus had heard the word of the Lord and, once the details of God’s amazing work in healing the sick, combined with what happened to the seven sons of Sceva, got out (Acts 19:17-20), the kingdom of darkness was driven back and the glorious freedom of the kingdom of God was upheld as people began to get rid of their magic books and artefacts publicly, in order to live fully in the light of God’s authority. Whenever the light is turned on, darkness must retreat. This is a physical law, but it applies to the spiritual world also.

Acts 19:23-41

Once the church was beginning to get established, Paul sensed that it was time to think about moving on. He wanted to go to Jerusalem via Macedonia and Achaia and also expressed his desire to visit Rome. He decided to send Timothy and Erastus ahead to Macedonia – a place that God had called him to on his previous (second) missionary journey. On that occasion, when he was trying to discover where to go next, he had seen a vision of a man from Macedonia, asking him to go and help them (Acts 16:6-10). For now, Paul decided to stay just a little longer in Ephesus, but it was then that a riot occurred.

When people begin to understand the word of God and to act on it, not only do their lives change, but so also do their priorities. They may determine to spend more time with their families, get rid of their pornographic magazines and media or become more honest. Whatever they decide to do, it will have an effect on their communities, particularly when large numbers of people change their priorities together. This is exactly what happened in Ephesus. It changed their economic priorities and Demetrius (and the other silversmiths who made their living from making silver shrines of Artemis) began to feel the pinch. No longer was the goddess so much in demand! (Acts 19:25-26) Now a downturn in trade is one thing, but not when it looks likely to continue indefinitely. Demetrius and his colleagues were concerned that this could become permanent. What an effect the gospel had created! (Acts 19:27)

When God moves in, idols and other influences move out. Following God will affect our lives in many ways: how much we go shopping or travelling; what we give to charity; how selfishly we behave and all manner of other things. It will have economic, social and spiritual effects for the good of the family, the neighbourhood, town, city, country or continent where it occurs. There are many examples of this in the United Kingdom where spiritual revival has occurred. For example, read about the Cornish Revival in the 19th Century, the Welsh Revival from 1904 to 1907 and the Hebridean Revival in the early 1950s. People simply stopped going to pubs, dance halls and similar places and they closed down.

Paul wanted to put a stop to the riot, but the people were acting irrationally and even Paul’s friends (who were officials in the province of Asia) begged him not to venture into the theatre which had become the focal point of the disturbance. Paul’s influence had touched all levels of society as he preached the gospel. It wasn’t just the sick or impoverished and we can expect something similar today. Indeed, we already see it as sports personalities, TV stars, lawyers and government officials take their stand for Jesus in public life, alongside the poor, lonely and sick. God is no respecter of persons. The Jewish people were fearful that they might be blamed for the disturbance, so they pushed Alexander to the front, but that just made it worse. The crowd chanted for a further two hours: "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" Finally, a city official quietened the crowd down. He used simple logic to convey to the people that their demonstration was really futile. (Read Acts 19:35-39.) He also was worried that Roman troops might be called out to quell the riot. If that happened, then the civic (and regional) authorities would be called to account – probably being summoned to Rome where, at the very least, they would have been ignominiously removed from office. In addition, the entire town would have been put under martial law, taking away many freedoms. (Acts 19:40)

In this case, the law of the land protected the believers and the the power of the mob was held in check, but the ultimate law – God’s law  - will prove eternally faithful. Those who, over the years, have not been released but instead have been tortured and killed, will stand as shining examples - as martyrs for their faith. (See Hebrews 11:32-40.)

So, where do you and I stand on the issue of our faith? Are we prepared to stay strong in the face of opposition? Is Jesus the most important person in our lives? When we die and face Him as our Saviour, will He be able to say to us: "Well done, good and faithful servant"? Will we join those countless people who, in our own life times, have held their faith so precious that they have stood their ground, even when tortured or put to death for their faith? Paul and his companions knew beyond any shadow of doubt where their allegiance lay. Their lives had been changed and enhanced for ever. Nobody could take away the joy of their salvation. Compared to them, what a small price we have to pay now. Moreover, the Bible says:

"If you want to keep from becoming fainthearted and weary, think about His patience as sinful people did such terrible things to Him. After all, you have never yet struggled against sin and temptation until you sweat great drops of blood." Hebrews 12:1-4

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