ISSUE: 2016, Volume 13, Issue 2
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Philo of Byzantium identified Seven Wonders of the ancient world. These were the mustsee tourist destinations – the original ‘bucket list’! Seven monuments of amazing architectural endeavour were located across the Mediterranean and Middle East, from Zeus’ statue at Olympia to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders, was sited at Ephesus. It was supported by 127 columns and featured sculpture from some of the greatest artists of the age. This temple was the favourite Wonder of Antipater Of Sidon: ‘When I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the other [Wonders] were placed in the shade’. 1
In Christian terms, there was a far more significant spiritual building at Ephesus, Eph. 2. 22. The church at Ephesus was probably established during Paul’s second visit. The Ephesian church subsequently appears throughout the New Testament. Other visitors apart from Paul include Apollos, Acts 18. 24, Aquila and Priscilla, v. 26, and Timothy, 1 Tim. 1. 3. The church received a letter from Paul, then a final communication from the Lord Jesus via John, Rev. 2. 1-7. Ephesus has more coverage than any other local church in the New Testament.
In this review, let’s think about the place, the preaching and the opposition, mostly from Acts chapters 18-20.
Ephesus was a key city in the Roman province of Asia, modern-day Turkey. This strategic port was a routine intermediate location for people travelling east or west. Bruce 2 describes it as ‘the greatest commercial city of Asia Minor’. It was renowned for its silver, whether currency, Acts 19. 19, or pagan trinkets, v. 24. Paul initially made a brief visit, Acts 18. 19, but he promised to return. His second stay was much longer, over two years, 19. 10. This was the greatest recorded duration that Paul spent in any location. Maclaren 3 notes that ‘the most populous cities were his favourite fields’. Paul knew that if he preached at Ephesus, then gospel ripples would spread across the region, 19. 10.
When he later wrote to the Ephesian Christians, Paul reminded them that they were ‘in Christ’, Eph. 2. 6. We share the same privileged place by divine grace.
Paul used various locations for preaching. He started in the synagogue, Acts 19. 8, which was his standard practice, Rom. 1. 16. After his expulsion by the arrogant Jews, he moved to the lecture hall of Tyrannus, a public education establishment, Acts 19. 9. It seems that Tyrannus did not need its facilities during the middle of the day. Due to the hot Mediterranean climate, most Ephesians would have an afternoon break. During this interval, Paul would borrow the classroom. He sacrificed his siesta so he could preach the word. Plenty of others gave up their midday break as well to listen to Paul. Would we listen to the word of God if it caused inconvenience?
Paul’s preaching involved discussion, ‘disputing and persuading’, Acts 19. 8. However, his subject was consistent, ‘repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’, 20. 21. As well as public preaching, he taught ‘from house to house’, v. 20. Aquila and Priscilla always had an open home for the scriptures and the saints, 18. 26.
Paul’s message was not restricted to evangelism. He also taught new believers ‘all the counsel of God’, 20. 27. This material is further expanded in his letter. The key point is that doctrine should not only affect our head intellectually, but also our heart devotionally and our feet practically. The Christian faith was known as the ‘way’ in Ephesus, 19. 9, 23. This involves our daily walk as believers, Eph. 4. 1, 17.
Paul’s activity is described, but we also learn about his attitude, Acts 20. 19. He was characterized by humility and self-sacrifice in service, v. 24. This was genuine Christ-likeness. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to display the same attitude, Eph. 5. 2. We must also follow his example.
Paul wrote to other churches while he was at Ephesus. He described his circumstances: ‘A great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries’, 1 Cor. 16. 9. Whenever there is opportunity, there will also be opposition. Paul found this throughout his missionary service. At Ephesus, opponents included religious Jews, Acts 19. 9, materialistic pagans, v. 24, and false Christian teachers, 20. 30.
Although our society is different, we still have opportunities for ‘redeeming the time’, Eph 5. 16, and sharing the gospel. Therefore, we should stand against opposition, as Paul instructed the Ephesians to do. We must rely on the sure resources provided by the Lord, ‘the whole armour of God’, 6. 11.
1 See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Wonders_of_the_Ancient_World for details.
2 F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1988.
3 Alexander MacLaren. Acts, http://biblehub.com/commentaries/maclaren/acts/20.htm